What is the intelligence cycle and why do we use it?
Successful security risk management involves careful planning and preparedness rather than ad-hoc crisis response. Successful intelligence analysis requires something similar, and for specialists in this field the intelligence cycle serves as a planning and preparedness blueprint. But just as any set of guidelines must be regularly updated to be effective, the intelligence cycle needs to be reevaluated for its new life in corporate security. As a tool that has been perfected in the public sector, the cycle must adapt to private sector realities, including new consumers, new requirements, limited resources, and, at the core, a new mission.
There are many ways to describe the intelligence cycle (or “the cycle” as it is sometimes referred to). In short, it is both a theoretical and practical model for conducting the intelligence process. Although there are many variations, the cycle usually consists of six steps: planning and direction; collection; processing; analysis and production; dissemination; and evaluation and feedback.
In one imagined scenario, these steps would be implemented in the following manner:
The head of corporate security reports from a meeting of executives that the company is planning to build a facility in another country. Senior leaders need intelligence on security risks around the planned site, and you agree to create a report on crime, terrorism, and natural disaster risks in two weeks (planning and direction). As head of the intelligence team, you find raw information from local media reports, law enforcement records for the area, and credible disaster risk databases (collection). After considering the reliability of the sources and converting the raw data into easy-to-read graphs (processing), you decide which information to use. Now it’s time to write the actual report (analysis and production), and submit it via email and hardcopy to the interested company’s decision makers (dissemination). Via the head of corporate security, you check in two weeks later to find out how the report was received (evaluation and feedback).
This approach is useful across most types of intelligence work, whether protective intelligence or global security intelligence. In recent years, even investigators have adapted the cycle to serve their needs. Of course, the intelligence cycle’s usefulness is not the only reason that it is has become both the standard reference point for analysts and a framework for many private-sector analyst training programs. When government employees move into the private sector, they bring the cycle with them.
At the lower levels of the corporate intelligence ladder, intelligence analysts come from a diversity of backgrounds. One can find among them English and psychology graduates, young regional specialists, data-savvy social media analysts, and budding think-tankers. The middle and top sections of the ladder are starting to diversify, but it is well known that former military and three-letter-agency employees still are hired disproportionately within corporate security departments. Intelligence leaders, therefore, have been raised on the intelligence cycle, and whether or not they innovate in other areas, many consider the cycle a fundamental model to follow.
Challenges facing the intelligence cycle model
There’s a degree of uncertainty regarding the origins of the intelligence cycle. Depending on whom you ask, it was conceived around the time of the French Revolution or during World War I. In any case, it seems to have become an intelligence community staple in the Cold War period, and during that time, there was no shortage of criticism of the model.
Much of the criticism has decried the cycle’s oversimplification of the intelligence analysis process and its inaccuracy. Are there enough steps? Who actually drives the cycle? Is the cycle unidirectional or does it really flow both ways? These and many other questions are routinely discussed regarding the cycle’s usefulness or need for revisions.
This begs the question of whether a reevaluation is needed. Some would make the case that rethinking the model is unnecessary. The intelligence cycle was always meant as a rough model with the key being the fluidity of its application to any environment, whether public or private. It is true that many of the current challenges facing the traditional intelligence cycle model can be resolved by adaptable analysts and good training. Having said that, considering the nature of these challenges is itself a needed exercise.
click here to read more