An Intelligence-Led Approach to Anti-Doping



The traditional athlete testing-based approach to anti-doping (AD) has failed to provide an effective response to the doping problem and does not accurately represent the prevalence of doping in sport.  Technological developments, globalisation and the wealth of athletes and sports teams prevent the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from keeping up with new substances, methods and techniques.  AD organisations lack a strategic understanding of the doping phenomenon and do not provide adequate protection to the right of athletes to participate in clean sport.  The recent swathe of doping scandals exemplifies this and underscores the need to change anti-doping strategy.

Doping damages the integrity of sport as the achievements of athletes are tarnished and ‘superhuman’ performances lose their meaning.  Doping is also rapidly becoming a public health issue as ordinary members of the public turn to performance-enhancing drugs to emulate the achievements or physiology of their sporting heroes.  However, they lack the supervision of a medical professional and the substances taken often from unreliable sources.  This is particularly prolific in the age of the internet. 

As a result, the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) established an intelligence-led approach to AD.  It encourages a holistic understanding of doping to detect, deter and prevent early in the supply chain.  This future-oriented, strategic approach is likely to involve the sacrifice of shorter-term tactical priorities, such as the exposure and punishment of dopers in an effort to neutralise their suppliers.  Diverging tactical and strategic priorities are familiar problems in intelligence and a comprehensive framework should be able to accommodate and overcome this problem.  


UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) subscribe to the National Intelligence Model (NIM).  This framework provides a foundation for intelligence-led anti-doping as an emerging practise area that requires a collaborative multi-agency approach.  An important element of the NIM is the dual provision for tactical and strategic intelligence priorities.  While this can amplify the element of competition between these diverging priorities and act to the detriment of intelligence quality, it ensures the representation of all relevant issues to decision-makers

In all intelligence practice areas, the analysis must be embraced as a core principle.  AD organisations, including UKAD and WADA, recognise intelligence analysis as an intellectual discipline involving logic and empirical reasoning.  Intelligence-led anti-doping includes the use of structured analytical techniques and empirical assessments of the reliability and accuracy of information.  Crime Pattern Analysis and “Hot Spot” identification generate geographical insights of the doping supply chain. This allows for targeted and upstream disruption of the supply chain, as well as providing strategic intelligence and identifying emerging hotspots. Network Analysis was particularly important in the infamous Lance Armstrong USPS Cycling Team investigation, where connections to a team doctor were able to expose the extent of the doping culture.  The value of network analysis to penetrate the tight-knit circles involved in sport highlights the significance of sport-specific expertise in intelligence-led anti-doping and suggests scope for human intelligence.  This will be further explored in Part II. 

Some traditional obstacles to analysis are particularly present in intelligence-led anti-doping.  Analysts must be aware of influence from bias, preconceptions and the media’s sensationalism of doping scandals, such as was seen recently in the investigation into Bradley Wiggins.  Additionally, analysts must avoid the effects of the lack of separation of powers between the organisations setting anti-doping policy and the organisations investigating violations of that policy.  Nevertheless, analysis should be embraced as an integral and guiding principle of anti-doping.  In order to maximize effectiveness, it must be embedded holistically throughout the agencies involved in intelligence-led anti-doping.  In the UK, mutual subscription to the NIM should help facilitate this.   


The emergence of online doping marketplaces have been a key motivator of intelligence-led anti-doping. Online black markets are heavily encrypted to protect the anonymity of buyers, sellers and administrators and are notoriously problematic for anti-doping.  However, studies have demonstrated the ability to analyse large volumes of data to identify and monitor popular doping substances and “keywords” and uncover new trends.  This guides intelligence-led screening and investigations, drives analysis and directs customs inspections and targeted disruption of the doping supply chain.  These approaches appreciate the cyclical nature of intelligence and the continual monitoring of trends to feed future collection and analysis requirements at both the tactical and strategic level.  Whilst this study was conducted on a relatively small and academic level, it can be scaled up with an appropriate injection of resources and expertise.  Intelligence-led, information-centric approaches are particularly suitable to combat online doping marketplaces: intelligence frameworks and analytical tools can be applied to gather tactical and strategic intelligence and gain a better understanding of the phenomenon.


Successful anti-doping initiatives rely on multi-agency collaboration and information sharing, including with government ministries, law enforcement, customs and medical, pharmaceutical and veterinary regulators. In the UK, the subscription to the NIM by a range of public and private organisations facilitates and standardises collaboration, information sharing and a multi-agency approach to anti-doping.  Consequently, organisations involved in anti-doping should be able to collect, analyse and disseminate information in a harmonised, collaborative and cooperative manner.

It is particularly important for anti-doping organisations to build relationships with law enforcement as the trafficking of doping agents is often connected to a wider network of crime and corruption.  Both anti-doping organisations and law enforcement agencies have unique powers and expertise to allow them to form mutually beneficial relationships.  Law enforcement have powers to conduct seizures and interceptions, compel the provision of evidence and obtain bank records, thereby providing information and evidence that anti-doping organisations lack the power to collect. Equally, anti-doping organisations can provide expert witnesses and advice to help law enforcement with investigations and criminal proceedings.  Additionally, different standards of proof mean that where evidence is insufficient to secure a criminal conviction, it can be used to support a successful anti-doping disciplinary proceeding.  Effective collaboration with law enforcement is central to intelligence-led anti-doping and the growing public health issue should provide sufficient justification for the involvement of law enforcement in anti-doping. 


The transnational nature of doping means anti-doping requires international as well as intra-national cooperation to be effective.  Sport is inherently international and founded on bringing people together from across the globe. Consequently, the lack of global harmonisation in anti-doping fundamentally damages the integrity of intelligence-led anti-doping efforts.  The legal status of doping-related products varies considerably between countries within the same supply chain.  Additionally, many foreign law enforcement agencies lack the financial resources to take anti-doping seriously. This is exploited by performance enhancing drug traffickers who take advantage of countries with low risks of detection.  In order for intelligence-led and information-centric approaches to anti-doping to have integrity, there must be a globally harmonised and multi-agency commitment to codified information sharing obligations. 

There is evidence across the anti-doping community of organisations being proactive in developing their own codified intelligence-sharing practices.  For example, WADA have a Memorandum of Understanding with INTERPOL. However, most agreements exclude less economically developed countries, thereby ignoring the fact that doping is a global problem with transnational supply chains.  Without effective international information sharing practices, the success of an intelligence-led approach to anti-doping will be limited. 


The intelligence-led approach to anti-doping is still young and despite some positive aspects, there are clear obstacles to its implementation.  In the UK, the NIM provides a well-established foundation for intelligence-led anti-doping. It fosters effective collaboration between UKAD and other public and private agencies involved in anti-doping.  Additionally, there is evidence affirming the anti-doping community’s commitment to analysis as a central and defining principle of its intelligence-led approach.  However, these principles must continue to be embedded and embraced throughout the organisations involved in anti-doping for the intelligence-based approach to succeed. Online doping marketplaces are particularly suited to an intelligence-based response and are a key example of how a sound intelligence framework can successfully address and accommodate both tactical and strategic priorities. 

However, the lack of global harmonisation continues to pose a significant threat to the efficacy of intelligence-led anti-doping.  A successful intelligence-led anti-doping programme must facilitate consistent engagement with an intelligence framework in a globally harmonised manner. Additionally, it must promote collaboration and information sharing between AD agencies and the various public and private organisations involved in anti-doping.  Intelligence analysis needs to be the underpinning principle of anti-doping across the globe rather than a peripheral speciality for the well-resourced AD organisations.  As it stands, the lack of international harmonisation limits the efficacy of an intelligence-led response to anti-doping, threatening the integrity of sport and the health of athletes from the amateur to the elite echelons of the sport.

Table of Contents

Related Content

AI and Espionage: Espionage in a Developing Age

TYPE:_ Article
Tags:_ AI

Operation Ghost Stories: a Russian Spy Ring in the United States

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ North America

Josephine Baker: Actress Turned Spy

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Europe

An Overview of the Polish Intelligence Community

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Europe

Takeo Yoshikawa: The Spy Behind Pearl Harbor

TYPE:_ Article

Robert Fico: Assassination Target and Possible Covert Implications

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Europe

Stay in the loop

Get a free weekly email that makes reading intel articles and reports actually enjoyable.

Log in

Stay in the loop

Get a free weekly email that makes reading Intelligence Reports and Articles actually enjoyable.

Table of Contents



"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.