When one first raises the subject of intelligence operations, the mind tends to wander off into fantasies of cloak and dagger. The reality is far more mundane.
The term “intelligence” describes a systematic process of gathering and analyzing information. An example will help to illustrate the point.
A commercial organization does not know how much its competitor intends to produce this year. It has learned from the competitor’s suppliers that the competitor has increased its orders for raw materials. Therefore, the organization assumes the competitor intends to increase production during the coming year.
This may at first seem like a reasonable assumption, but there are other possibilities that may be equally valid. For instance, ordering a larger quantity of raw materials may indicate the competitor intends to introduce a new line of product, rather than to increase production. Alternatively, it may fear the possibility of a shortage of raw material during the pandemic.
My experience over the years has proven that intelligence can never be more reliable than the source of information from which it is obtained. I would also add that every source of information is liable to error.
Some errors will result from innocent mistakes. Others from negligence or deliberate deceit.
In open societies, there are numerous sources of information.
As a result, errors, no matter what their cause, can be cancelled out if reference is made to sufficient sources of information. In contrast, in closed societies, the number of sources are limited.
If there is only one source of information, the recipient of that information is at greater risk that the source will be providing the information only because it serves his or her own interest to do so.
Intelligence gathering can be undermined if the target of intelligence gathering effectively contaminates it with disinformation. If the opponent does not want its competitors to know what it is up to, then it has every incentive to feed them a diet of misleading information.
Despite its limitations, reliance upon intelligence is often necessary. Complacency when one realizes that an opponent is likely to do something, even if one is not sure what, is always a prescription for disaster. There is much to be said for the old adage that one should prepare on the assumption that the worst will prove true.
The goal of intelligence operations is to remain in touch. Organizations succeed or fail for many reasons, but very often where an organization fails it can be tracked back to a growing lack of understanding concerning what is taking place within its environment and how those changes will affect its situation, business and affairs.
An effective approach to intelligence has at least three and sometimes four aspects, namely:
- the collection and assembly of information;
- the analysis of the information so assembled;
- factoring the insight obtained through that analysis into decision-making and behaviour; and
Intelligence systems must often deal with an avalanche of information. The ability to make effective use of that information confers a major advantage over competitors.
To that end, it is necessary to ensure both that necessary information is obtained and that irrelevant or trivial information is filtered out.
To do so, an organization must process some form of systematic method of providing a digest of intelligence to decision-makers in a timely manner and in a format that enables them to make decisions proactively.
The U.S. National Security Agency defines intelligence to mean “knowledge and foreknowledge of the world…(that is) the prelude to…decision and action.”
The term “foreknowledge” refers to knowledge concerning what is likely to happen in the future.
Its greatest practical value lies in the extent to which it can be employed in the present in order to adjust the anticipated future to something more advantageous to the organization.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.