Intelligence collection management

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Intelligence collection management is the process of managing and organizing the collection of intelligence information from various sources. The collection department of an intelligence organization may attempt basic validation of what it collects, but is not supposed to analyze its significance. There is a blurry line between validation and true analysis. There is often an argument about this in the U.S. intelligence community, where the National Security Agency may, in the opinion of the Central Intelligence Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency, try to interpret information when such interpretation is the job of another agency.

Collection disciplines[edit]

Some disciplines which are more postprocessing of raw data than collection are:

Collection guidance[edit]

Possibly at the director level and possibly within the collection organization, depending on the particular intelligence service, the process of collection guidance assigns collection to one or more source managers. They might order reconnaissance missions, they might provide extra budget for agent recruitment, or they might do both, recognizing that they are taking away reconnaissance missions from another target.

Research in collection guidance[edit]

This is often an art, and sometimes an auction for resources. There is joint UK-US research on applying more formal methods. One method is using "semantic matchmaking" based on ontology, originally a field of study in pure philosophy, but now finding a number of applications in intelligent searching. Specifically, the researchers match missions to capabilities of available resources.[1] They define ontology as "a set of logical axioms designed to account for the intended meaning of a vocabulary."

The requester is asked the question, "What are the requirements of a mission?" These include the type of data to be collected (as distinct from the collection method), the priority of the request, and the need for clandestinity in collection.

Collection system managers are asked, in parallel, to specify the capabilities of their assets. Preece's ontology is focused on ISTAR technical sensors, but also considers HUMINT, OSINT, and other possible methodologies.

The intelligent model then compares "the specification of a mission against the specification of available assets to assess the utility or fitness for purpose of available assets; based on these assessments, obtain a set of recommended assets for the mission: either decide whether there is a solution—a single asset or combination of assets—that satisfies the requirements of the mission, or alternatively provide a ranking of solutions according to their relative degree of utility."[citation needed]

NATO collection guidance[edit]

In NATO, the questions that drive the entire collection management process are Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR). PIRs are a component of Collection Coordination and Intelligence Requirements Management (CCIRM), focused on the collection process. They tie the intelligence effort to the operational scheme of maneuver through Decision Points (DPs). These questions, further refined into Information Requirements (IRs), enable the Collection Manager (CM) to focus assets on a defined problem. Without this synchronization with the operational plan, it would be impossible to ensure the intelligence focus meets the Commander's requirements and priorities.[2]

Collection discipline selection[edit]

Once a PIR, defining the raw information to be collected, exists, then both discipline specialists and resource schedulers need to select the appropriate collection system and plan the collection mission, taking into account the capabilities and limitations of our collection platforms. Even with modern technology, weather, terrain, technical capabilities and enemy counter-measures all play a part in determining the potential for successful collection. Through a detailed understanding of all available platforms, all tied to specific questions related to the PIR, the collection manager (CM) synchronizes available assets, Theatre and Corps collection, individual national capabilities, and coalition resources such as the Torrejon Space Center to maximize capabilities.

Finding alternative collection disciplines[edit]

Often, despite the desirability of a given method, the information required may not be collectible due to some interfering circumstance. The most desirable platform may not be available. For example, weather and enemy air-defense might limit the practicality of using UAVs and fixed wing IMINT platforms. If air defense is the limitation, planners might request support from a national-level IMINT satellite. Even if a satellite will do the job, the orbits of available satellites may not be suitable for the requirement.

If weather is the issue, it might be necessary to substitute MASINT sensors that can penetrate the weather and get at least some of the information. SIGINT might be desired, but terrain masking and technical capabilities of the available platforms might require using a space-based or long-range sensor, or exploring whether HUMINT assets might be able to provide the information. The collection manager must take these effects into consideration and advise the commander on the degree of situational awareness available for planning and execution.

Other sources may take considerable time to collect the necessary information. MASINT depends on having built a library of signatures of normal sensor readings, so that deviations stand out. Cryptanalytic COMINT can take an unknown amount of time to gain significant entry into a cryptosystem, with no guarantee of success.

Collection support resource management[edit]

Having a collection platform of the right type available does not mean it will be useful, if the facilities needed to receive and reduce the information are not available. Two factors directly affect this process, the physical capabilities of the intelligence systems and the training and capabilities of the intelligence section.

Collection platforms able to collect tens of thousands of pieces of information per hour need to have receivers that can accept that volume. Today's impressive collection capability, even with improved self-generating reports, can quickly overwhelm inexperienced or understaffed analysts. While the CM is primarily concerned with the collection phase, they also need to be aware whether the analysis function for the requested system has the resources to reduce and analyze the sensor data within a useful time period.

IMINT and SIGINT ground stations may be able to accept sensor data, but the networks and information processing systems may not be adequate to get the data to the analysts and commanders. The biggest violator of this issue is imagery intelligence derived from UAVs and fixed wing IMINT platforms. In recent years commanders and staffs have become accustomed to receiving quality imagery products and UAV feeds for planning and execution of their missions. In exercises this is often done with high-speed fixed networks; however, in a mobile and fluid battle it would be nearly impossible to develop a network capable of carrying the same amount of information.

The CM must decide if an analytic report rather than the imagery itself will answer the question, and when a hard copy image or video is required, the CM must inform staff members of the cost to the IT network and HQ bandwidth.

Ultimately, collection management is the cornerstone upon which intelligence support to ARRC operations is built. Since the starting point for the collection process is the commander's PIRs, they serve as a critical component of the staff planning process, ensuring that they directly support the commander's decision-making.

CIA collection guidance[edit]

"Intelligence requirements" are a formality introduced after WWII. After an initial phase where the field personnel decided priorities, an interim period began in which requirements were considered "as desirable but were not thought to present any special problem. Perhaps the man in the field did, after all, need some guidance; if so, the expert in Washington had only to jot down a list of questions and all would be well."[3]

In a third phase, by the early 1950s, a consensus was established that a formal requirements structure was needed. Once that machinery was set up, however, the challenge was developing "specialized methodologies" for requirements management. Those methodologies first felt to be needed were those used against the Sino-Soviet Bloc, and the radical changes in the threat environment may make some of those methodologies inappropriate.

Requirements can be cast in terms of the analysis technique to be used, of a proposed collection method, of subject matter, of source type, or of priority. Heffter's article says that not every problem is a special case, but may be a problem that is "central to the very nature of the requirements process. One cannot help feeling that too little of the best thinking of the community has gone into these central problems—into the development, in a word, of an adequate theory of requirements."

"But there is often a conspicuous hiatus" between concepts of requirements, produced at a high managerial level, "and the requirements produced on the working level. Dealing with general matters has itself become a specialty. We lack a vigorous exchange of views between generalists and specialists, requirements officers and administrators, members of all agencies, analysts in all intelligence fields, practitioners of all collection methods, which might lead at least to a clarification of ideas and at best to a solution of some common problems."[3]

The problem of priorities[edit]

The challenge is to present needs based on priorities, and then determine the best way to meet those prioritized needs based on an effective use of the collection means available. Heffter's paper is centered on the management of priorities for the use of collection assets, and the three factors that need to be brought into balance are:

  • administration and system (for example, the top-level directive);
  • intellectual discipline, involving analytical method and an appropriate [method of specifying needs in a formal way];
  • training and responsibilities of the individual intelligence officer.

"...Each of the three kinds answers a deep-felt need, has a life of its own, and plays a role of its own in the total complex of intelligence guidance". Since Heffter focused on the problem of priorities, he concerned himself chiefly with policy directives, which set overall priorities. Within that policy, "requests are also very much in the picture since priorities must govern their fulfillment".[3]

Types of requirements[edit]

In the most general formulation, a collection requirement is simply "a statement of information to be collected". There are several tendencies that really do not help to add precision:

  • Analysts publish lists of all their needs in the hope that somebody will satisfy them.
  • Theorists and administrators want a closely knit system whereby all requirements can be fed into a single machine, integrated, ranged by priorities, and allocated as directives to all parts of the collection apparatus.
  • Collectors demand specific, well-defined requests for information, keyed to their special capabilities.

These differing desires can cause friction or can complement one another. These tendencies are capable of complementing each other usefully if brought into reasonable balance, but their coexistence has more often been marked with friction.

The characteristics of a requirement:

  • need
  • compulsion or command; stated under authority
  • request, without the connotation of command, but a specific intelligence meaning

In intelligence, the meaning of "require" has been redefined. Under this interpretation, one person (the "customer") makes a request or puts a question to another of equal status (the collector), who fulfills or answers it as best they can.

There is a sort of honor system on both sides, albeit with a degree of mutual suspicion:

  • the requester vouches for the validity of the requirement
  • the collector is free to reject it
  • if he accepts it, the collector gives an implied assurance that he will do his best to fulfill it, which the requester is free to doubt

In any event, the relationship is a mutual one, and in its pure form is free from compulsion. The use of direct requests appeals particularly to the collectors, who find that it provides them with more viable, collectible requirements than any other method. It sometimes appeals also to the requester-analysts, who, if they find a receptive collector, are able by this means to get more requirements accepted than would be possible otherwise. Again, it is sometimes disillusioning to both, if the collector comes to feel overburdened or the analyst to feel neglected.

These three connotations of need, compulsion, and request are embodied in three kinds of collection requirement, which are arbitrarily given names: the inventory of needs, addressed to the community at large and to nobody in particular; the directive, addressed by a higher to a lower echelon; and the request, addressed by a customer to a collector.

The requirement as inventory of needs[edit]

Current intelligence watch centers, as well as interdisciplinary groups such as the Counterterrorism Center, can create and update requirements lists. Commercial customer relationship management (CRM) software or the more powerful enterprise relationship management (ERM) systems might be adapted, quite flexibly, to managing the workflow, with separation from the most sensitive content. No collector is directed (required) to collect on the basis of these lists; the lists are not addressed to any single collector. CRM, ERM, and social networking software routinely help build ad hoc alliances for specific projects. Also see NATO Collection Guidance.

Simple business relationship as with CRM and ERM. Compare to semantic web and mind maps with related but different functions.

Some responsible individuals in clandestine collection (branch chiefs and station chiefs) have refused to handle the Periodic Requirements List (PRL) on the grounds that these are "not really requirements," i.e., they are not requests to the clandestine collector for information which only he can provide. Intelligence requirements in the PRL may be crafted to elicit information from a specific source, thereby sidestepping the normal request process which could have resulted in denial.[3]

In most cases, however, the PRLs are selectively utilized for guidance despite their character as inventories. There are several reasons for this. Revised three times a year, they are the most up-to-date statements of requirements.

Their main subject, current affairs of chiefly political significance, is one which engages the interest: the inventory of needs can have great value as an instrument of analysis within the intelligence production office that originates it. The one thing it cannot do is to contribute significantly to the resolution of the priorities problem.

The requirement as directive[edit]

At various times in intelligence history, directives for collection missions have come from the top-level interagency policy boards. They have almost always been short and clearly prioritized. Directives, a word implying the exercise of authority, often come from lower managerial levels.

Directives are most practicable in the following circumstances:

  • (a) where a command relationship exists;
  • (b) where there is only one customer, or where one customer is incomparably more important than the others;
  • (c) where a single method of collection is involved, and where this method has very precise, limited, and knowable capabilities.

Technical collection methods are the most unambiguous, and priorities have real meaning because they deal with real resources that can be scheduled. HUMINT, however, is flexible but involves a much wider range of methods. In short, it combines a maximum need for direction with a minimum of the circumstances that make direction practicable.

Agencies with requirements for HUMINT also prepare lists of priorities, whose benefits include that they have established goals, provide a basis for planning, and summarize some of the most critical information needs of consumers. When most useful, these lists also are clearly prioritized.

The requirement as request[edit]

Most requirements fall into this category, including a large majority of those bearing requirement tracking identifiers in the community-wide numbering system administered by a central group. A request may range from a twenty-word question to a fifty-page questionnaire. It may ask for a single fact or a thousand related facts. Its essence is not in its form or content but in the relationship between requester and collector.

An important variant on the request is the solicited requirement. Here the request itself is requested by the collector. The collector, possessing a capability, informs the appropriate customer of the capability and asks for specific requirements "tailored" to it. The consumer and collector then negotiate a requirement and priority. In clandestine collection, solicited requirements are regularly used for legal travelers, for defectors and returnees, and for other sources whose capability or knowledgeability can be exploited only through detailed guidance or questioning.

The solicited requirement blends into the jointly developed requirement. Here collector and consumer work out the requirement jointly, usually for a subject of broad scope and usually on the initiative of the collector.

System and administration[edit]

A department or agency which engages in collection primarily to satisfy its own requirements generally maintains an independent requirements system for internal use, with its own terminology, categories, and priorities, and with a single requirements office to direct its collection elements on behalf of its consumer elements. The same requirements office that performs these internal functions (or perhaps a separate branch of it) represents both the collectors and the consumers in dealing with other agencies. See NATO Collection Guidance.

Where, as in the CIA, the consumer components are dependent on many collectors and the collection components are in the service of consumers throughout the community, no such one-to-one system is possible. Each major component (collector or consumer) has its own requirements office.

Requirements offices are middlemen, and must have some understanding of the problems not only of those whom they represent but of those whom they deal with on the outside:

  • a consumer requirements officer must find the best collection bargain he can for his analyst client;
  • a collector requirements officer must find the best possible use for the resources he represents, while protecting them from unreasonable demands.

Informality sometimes greases the wheels. Matters of substance are regularly discussed by one requirements officer with another. Requirements offices may not see the negotiated requirements until the consumer and producer agree.

Where the collection situation is such that effort on a low-priority target does not actually detract from the effort that can be devoted to a high-priority target, little harm can be done. Again, where the analyst and collector are both highly knowledgeable and responsible, the results can be excellent. But priorities are slippery.

If the collector shows no interest in a requirement marked "urgent," the requester may try proof, persuasion, or pressure. He may indeed, anticipating resistance, have originally indicated a relationship between his requirement and one of the Priority National Intelligence Objectives. He is almost certainly right that a relationship exists, but there may be doubt of its cogency. It is possible to tie a very small requirement to a very big objective. Early warning is important, but not everything described as early warning is equally important. The collector may still be unimpressed.

A committee concerned with requirements might intervene. Historically, these committees included:

  • Economic Intelligence Committee
  • Scientific Intelligence Committee
  • Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee
  • Guided Missile and Astronautics Intelligence Committee.

There might be equivalent requests today from the Counterterrorist or Counterproliferation centers. The requirements situation has many other significant systems and phenomena, including:

  • the special, closed requirements systems governing technical methods of collection
  • Watch Committee with its General Indicator List
  • Critical Collection Problems Committee

Discipline: method and language[edit]

To illustrate problems in method, we may draw once more on the experience of the top-level body. The system recognizes three priorities, based on the degree to which a nation could be benefited by the achievement of an objective or harmed by the failure to achieve it.

One problem is that two priorities simply do not provide enough span. Top-level committees have tried to resolve this by various devices—arranging certain related targets in an internal order of importance; describing certain targets as substitutes for others; or treating targets as subordinate to "basic requirements", which are sometimes expanded into several paragraphs.

A second difficulty is that a requirement related to a given priority level is really not necessarily more important in itself than another requirement. In some cases, the reasonable choice is to concentrate on a lower-priority yet informative requirement that is easier to satisfy than one of arbitrarily higher priority.

Still a third difficulty is that a requirement meriting a given priority in the context of total U.S. security interests does not necessarily merit the same priority in the context of a particular collection method. The economic stability of a certain friendly country may be of great importance, yet may not require clandestine collection at all, but lend itself to OSINT, even possibly outsourced OSINT.

Such words as objective, requirement, target, and request must be relied on to mean at least approximately the same thing to everybody. This happy state cannot be attained by promulgating official glossaries, but only through continued, careful discussion of common problems by persons from all parts of the community.

The final aspect of the language question, and perhaps the most important, is the skill with which requirements themselves are expressed. What is needed here is not different words, but surer ways of communicating the essence of a matter from one mind (or set of minds) to another. There is no way to achieve this except through a trained alertness to the perils of misunderstanding. Training is essential.

Source sensitivity[edit]

Intelligence is taken from such extremely sensitive sources that it cannot be used without exposing the methods or persons providing such intelligence. One of the strengths of the British penetration of the German Enigma cryptosystem was that no information learned from it or other systems was ever used for operations unless there was a plausible cover story that the Germans believed was the reason for Allied victories. If, for example, the movement of a ship was learned through deciphered Enigma, a reconnaissance aircraft was sent into the same area and allowed to be seen by the Axis, so that the detection was attributed to the aircraft. Once an adversary knows that a cryptosystem has been broken, they most often change systems immediately, cutting off a source of information. Sometimes, and perhaps this is even worse, they leave the system in place to deliver disinformation apparently from a genuine source.[4] See Handling Compartmented Information.

In the context of strategic arms limitation, a different sort of sensitivity applied. Early in the discussion, the public acknowledgement of satellite photography produced a concern that the "Soviet Union could be particularly disturbed by public recognition of this capability [satellite photography]...which it has veiled."[5] In the Soviet political context, revealing that "spies" could traverse the "Motherland" without being stopped by the Red Army, or the "Sword and Shield" of the organs of state security, was immensely threatening to the leadership.

Separating source from content[edit]

Early in the collection process, the specific identity of the source is removed from reports, to protect clandestine sources from being discovered. A basic model is to separate the raw material into three parts:

  1. True source identity; very closely held
  2. Pseudonyms, cryptonyms, or other identifiers
  3. All the reports from the source

Since the consumer will need some idea of the source quality, it is not uncommon in the intelligence community to have several variants on the source identifier. For the highest level, the source might be described as "a person with access to the exact words of cabinet meetings". At the next lower level of sensitivity, a more general description could be "a source with good knowledge of the discussions in cabinet meetings". Going down a level, the description gets even broader, as "a generally reliable source familiar with thinking in high levels of the government".

Ratings by the Collection Department[edit]

In U.S. practice ,[6] a typical system, using the basic A-F and 1-6 conventions below, comes from (FM 2.22-3 Appendix B, Source and Information Reliability Matrix). Raw reports are typically given a two-part rating by the collection department, which also removes all precise source identification before sending the report to the analysts.

Source Rating
Code Source rating Explanation
A Reliable No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
B Usually Reliable Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
C Fairly Reliable Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency, but has provided valid information in the past
D Not Usually Reliable Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
E Unreliable Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
F Cannot Be Judged No basis exists
Information Content Rating
Code Rating Explanation
1 Confirmed Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
2 Probably True Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
3 Possibly True Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
4 Doubtfully True Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
5 Improbable Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
6 Cannot Be Judged No basis exists

An "A" rating, for example, might mean a thoroughly trusted source, such as your own communications intelligence operation. That source might be completely reliable, but if it has intercepted a message that other intelligence has proved was sent for deceptive purposes, the report reliability might be rated 5, for "known false". The report, therefore, would be A-5. It may also be appropriate to reduce the reliability of a human source if the source is reporting on a technical subject and its expertise in the subject is unknown.

Another source might be a habitual liar, but give just enough accurate information to be kept in use. Its trust rating would be "E", but if the report was independently confirmed, it would be rated "E-1".

Most intelligence reports are somewhere in the middle; a "B-2" is taken seriously. Sometimes, it is impossible to rate the reliability of the source, most commonly from lack of experience with it, so an F-3 could be a reasonably probable report from an unknown source. An extremely trusted source might submit a report that cannot be confirmed or denied, so it would get an "A-6" rating.

Evaluating Sources[edit]

In a report rating, the source part is a composite, reflecting experience with the source's reporting history, the source's direct knowledge of what is being reported, and the source's understanding of the subject. In like manner, technical collection means can have uncertainty that applies to a specific report, such as noting partial cloud cover obscuring a photographic image.

When a source is completely untested, "then evaluation of the information must be done solely on its own merits, independent of its origin". A primary source passes direct knowledge of an event on to the analyst. A secondary source provides information twice removed from the original event; one observer informs another, who then relays the account to the analyst. The more numerous the steps between the information and the source, the greater the opportunity for error or distortion.

Another part of source rating is proximity. A human source that participated in a conversation has the best proximity, but lower proximity if the source recounts what a participant told him was said. Was the source a direct observer of the event, or, if a human source, is he or she reporting hearsay? Technical sensors may directly view an event, or only infer it. A geophysical infrasound sensor can record the pressure wave of an explosion, but it may not be able to tell if a given explosion was due to a natural event or was an industrial explosion. It may be able to tell that the explosion was not nuclear, however, since nuclear explosions are more concentrated in time.

If, for example, a human source that has provided reliable political information sends in a report on technical details of a missile system, the source's reliability for political matters only generally supports the likelihood that the same source understands rocket engineering. If that political expert speaks of rocket details that make no more sense than a low-budget science fiction movie, it will be wise to discount the report. This component of the source rating is known as its appropriateness.

Evaluating the information[edit]

Separate from the source evaluation is the evaluation of the substance of the report. The first factor is plausibility, indicating that the information is certain, uncertain, or impossible. Deception always must be considered for otherwise plausible information.

Based on the analyst's knowledge of the subject, is the information something that reasonably follows from other things known about the situation? This is the attribute of expectability. If traffic analysis puts the headquarters of a tank unit at a given location, and IMINT reveals a tank unit at that location doing maintenance typical of preparation for an attack, and a separate COMINT report indicates that a senior armor officer is flying to that location, an attack can be expected.

In the previous example, the COMINT report has the support of traffic analysis and IMINT.

Confirming Reports[edit]

When it is difficult to evaluate a report, confirmation may be a responsibility of the analysts, the collectors, or both. In a large and complex intelligence community this can be a tense matter. In the U.S., the NSA is seen as a collection organization, with its reports to be analyzed by the CIA and DIA. In a cooperative or small system, things can be less formal.

One classic example came from WWII, when the US Navy's cryptanalysts intercepted a message in the JN-25 Japanese naval cryptosystem, clearly related to an impending invasion of "AF". Analysts in Honolulu and Washington differed, however, as to whether AF referred to a location in the Central Pacific or in the Aleutians. Midway Island was the likely Central Pacific target, but the US commanders needed to know where to concentrate their forces. Jason Holmes, a member of the Honolulu station, knew that Midway had to make or import its fresh water, so he arranged for a message to be sent to the Midway garrison via a secure undersea cable. They were to radio a message, in a cryptosystem known to have been broken by the Japanese, that their desalination plant was broken. Soon afterwards, a message in JN-25 said that "AF" was short of fresh water, confirming the target was Midway. [7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Preece, Alun et al. (2007). "An Ontology-Based Approach to Sensor-Mission Assignment" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  2. ^ Grebe, Carl. "ARRC [Allied Rapid Response Corps] Intelligence Collection Management Process". Grebe. Retrieved 2007-10-28. 
  3. ^ a b c d Heffter, Clyde R. "A Fresh Look at Collection Requirements". Studies in Intelligence (Kent Center for the Study of Intelligence). Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  4. ^ (Layton 1985)
  5. ^ Laird, Melvin R. (June 8, 1972). "Memorandum for Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Subject: Revelation of the Fact of Satellite Reconnaissance in Connection with the Submission of Arms Limitation Agreements to Congress" (PDF). Laird. Retrieved 2007-10-02. 
  6. ^ US Department of the Army (September 2006). "FM 2-22.3 (FM 34-52) Human Intelligence Collector Operations" (PDF). FM 2-22.3. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  7. ^ Layton, Edwin (1985). And I Was There: Breaking the Secrets - Pearl Harbor and Midway. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-04883-8.