The Intelligence Cycle is a concept that describes the general intelligence process within a civilian, law enforcement or military intelligence agency. The intelligence cycle is the process through which intelligence is obtained, produced, and made available to users. In depicting this cycle, the United States Intelligence Community uses a six-step process. Other nations may describe this cycle differently; however, the process is largely the same. The steps in the intelligence cycle are explained in the following illustration:
Planning and Direction. The first step in the cycle, planning, and direction involve the management of the entire intelligence effort, from the identification of a need for data to the final delivery of the intelligence product to the consumer. The process consists of identifying, prioritizing, and validating intelligence requirements, translating requirements into observables, preparing collection plans, issuing requests for information collection, production, and dissemination, and continuously monitoring the availability of collected data. In this step, specific collection capabilities are tasked, based on the type of information required, the susceptibility of the targeted activity to various types of collection activity, and the availability of collection assets.
Collection. The second step, collection, includes both acquiring information and provisioning that information to processing and production elements. The collection process encompasses the management of various activities, including developing collection guidelines that ensure optimal use of available intelligence resources. Intelligence collection requirements are developed to meet the needs of potential consumers. Based on identified intelligence, requirements collection activities are given specific taskings to collect information. These taskings are generally redundant and may use a number of different intelligence disciplines for collection activities. Tasking redundancy compensates for the potential loss or failure of a collection asset. It ensures that the failure of a collection asset is compensated for by duplicate or different assets capable of answering the collection need. The use of different types of collection systems contributes to redundancy. It also allows the collection of different types of information that can be used to confirm or disprove potential assessments. Collection operations depend on secure, rapid, redundant, and reliable communications to allow for data exchange and to provide opportunities for cross-cueing of assets and tip-off exchanges between assets. Once collected, information is correlated and forwarded for processing and production.
Processing. The third step, processing, is the conversion of collected information into a form suitable for the production of intelligence. In this process, incoming information is converted into formats that can be readily used by intelligence analysts in producing intelligence. Processing may include such activities as translation and reduction of intercepted messages into a written format to permit detailed analysis and comparison with other information. Other types of processing include video production, photographic processing, and correlation of information collected by technical intelligence platforms.
Production. The fourth step, production, is the process of analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, and integrating raw data and information into finished intelligence products for known or anticipated purposes and applications. The product may be developed from a single source or from all-source collection and databases. To be effective, intelligence production must focus on the consumer’s needs. It should be objective, timely, and most importantly accurate. As part of the production process, the analyst must eliminate information that is redundant, erroneous, or inapplicable to the intelligence requirement. As a result of the analytical effort, the analyst may determine that additional collection operations are required to fill in gaps left by previous collection or existing intelligence databases. The final intelligence product must provide the consumer with an understanding of the subject area, and draw analytical conclusions supported by available data.
Dissemination. The fifth step of the intelligence cycle is dissemination. Dissemination is the conveyance of intelligence to the consumer in a usable form. Intelligence can be provided to the consumer in a wide range of formats including verbal reports, written reports, imagery products, and intelligence databases. Dissemination can be accomplished through physical exchanges of data and through interconnected data and communications networks.
Evaluation. Continually acquire feedback during the Intelligence Cycle and evaluate that feedback to refine each individual step and the cycle as a whole.
Constant evaluation and feed-back from consumers are extremely important to enabling those involved in the Intelligence Cycle to adjust and refine their activities and analysis to better meet consumers’ changing and evolving information needs.