Do you know your intelligence disciplines?
Looking for a crash course in all-source intelligence collection? #NatSecGirlSquad has moved all their programming online in in an effort to support flattening the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, a U.S. Navy veteran with 20 years of government experience, including expertise in Latin America and Africa, led a live Q&A with tips and hacks on pursuing a career in the intel field. Here are a few of takeaways from her session:
All-source intelligence strategy analyzes threat information from multiple sources, disciplines, and agencies across the intelligence community. After collection, analysts synthesize and place intelligence information into context, drawing insights about the possible implications to what the customer is asking.
All-source at its core is how you find an answer to a question – which means the first step is gathering information from your customer, and searching for what those questions are. This usually requires an initial meeting to see where the current gaps are in information, and to devise a list of questions (also known as essential elements of information or kicks).
Once questions are compiled for the customer, analysts brainstorm on how they can tap into similar customers who have the same questions, and set up community of interest (COI). For example, if you are working a narcotics case, the community would comprise all law enforcement, including agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or the Department of Defense (DoD).
The speaker warned that the most difficult part of this process is staying organized. Before moving forward with research, you need to organize your thoughts and priorities, grouping questions of similar nature and streamlining your approach. This can lead to expanding on your current questions or even developing a completely new set of questions. “All source intelligence is an iterative process that almost always goes through a few rounds,” she stated.
When the organizational piece is complete, analysts will work through each question, determining a plan on the best intelligence discipline to utilize.
Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is defined as any information that can be gathered from human sources. In Hollywood, these are the Jason Bournes & James Bonds. These are high risk roles, heavily dependent on people.
Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) is information derived from analysis of images and data associated with a particular location. This would be satellite imagery or processing and exploitation of images from space, to name a few. This is a puzzle piece in intelligence that allows you to get a section of the story. For example, your question is, ‘Is my neighbor thinking about getting a horse?’ GEOINT can’t read minds, but your neighbor putting in a new fence would be a good secondary indicator.
Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) is scientific and technical intelligence information obtained by quantitative and qualitative analysis of data. This could be the weight of a package or the value of an earthquake on the Richter scale.
Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) is another discipline that is unfortunately portrayed in Hollywood very horribly. SIGINT is intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether communications between people or from electronic signals not directly used in communication. This discipline, like others, has many implications for both the IC and private sector.
Open-source Intelligence (OSINT) is probably the fastest growing specialty, but is difficult due to misinformation on the web. OSINT is any data collected from publicly available sources to be used in an intelligence context, but doesn’t stop with the ‘open’ web. Analysts here also dive into the deep and dark web, and it is preferable that these analysts have language capabilities, although it’s not required.
ALL-SOURCE CASTS A WIDER NET
One of the best examples the speaker discussed was BBC’s Africa Eye, where the unit was able to geolocate the site of an attack, match topographical features from satellite maps, establish timeframes using shadows as sundials, and eventually confirm the killers’ identities by cross-referencing social media profiles with government records.
When it comes to collection strategies, analysts shouldn’t rely on one particular discipline. This can lead to bias, or ultimately missing key pieces of information to help you answer your question. Intelligence collection is about layering all of the pieces from each specialty to put the puzzle together.
The speaker advised #NatSecGirlSquad participants “You’re never going to get the one golden nugget; it comes in pieces and builds very slowly. It’s not instantaneous at all. This is more 5 Star Michelin and less McDonalds.”
Some projects that she has worked have taken 15 years, with the team is barely scratching the surface. But when the answers start to flow, it is extremely validating to say that you helped to build that product or paper.
TIPS ON ENTERING THE intelligence FIELD
When a customer gives negative feedback, take ownership of process and revert back to the beginning by rethinking your questions. Sometimes analysts prefer broad questions because they may have limited information on a subject. Other times the questions are too specific and there is a ton of context or information you are missing out on.
When it comes to personality traits, the speaker said her best analysts are flexible, creative thinkers, and quick on their feet. When she can, she’ll headhunt executive assistants due to their experience in anticipating what the boss wants. Creative types do well because they have an open mind, and she’s found that individuals who were previously lawyers or engineers have not been as successful. Having a personality is helpful, although that doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert! Having the ability to engage with hostile customers and take criticism well is key and lastly, someone with a curious mind or work ethic, who likes to pick things apart and go down rabbit holes, would excel in this field.
When it comes to job seeking in the IC, you should never pigeonhole yourself, because there are so many great options out there that you may just not know about. While the speaker was upset to not have the same job she had serving in the Navy, she couldn’t be happier she landed in this field.
Because #NatSecGirlSquad is a group of fierce females, the speaker closed with how being a female in the IC is…interesting. She, more often than not, is the only female in the room, so it could be daunting for an entry level individual to walk into this different world within the greater structure. Alas, hold your head high, stay confident, and perhaps the next Bourne movie will star a Jessica.