A Guide to Criminal Intelligence


    This article will be looking at criminal intelligence as a tradecraft. It will outline the ways in which criminal intelligence is applied and how it assists investigators and others who are part of law enforcement agencies in investigative processes. In addition, it will take a look at how criminal intelligence is used for strategy building for crime-preventative measures, success stories with criminal intelligence being at the center of that success, and commonly asked questions that will be answered.

    1.0. What is Criminal Intelligence?

    The National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom defines intelligence as information that has been analysed or rather, verified (source). This analysed information, which is now called intelligence, is used for strategic purposes. These purposes, according to the NCA, are then organised into different categories. These categories include strategy, operations, and tactics (source). 

    A common misconception is that intelligence is strictly used for national security causes. However, intelligence is used for a variety of purposes. For example, business intelligence is used as a form of strategy to understand what the business can do better in order to reach its goals (source). We, as humans, use intelligence in our everyday lives in order to make decisions (source):

    1. You know there was a huge storm last night that knocked down trees that are now laying in the middle of the road that you normally take to work; check the news to see if the area is clear.
    2. You need to find a reliable babysitter for your child, so you do research online (open source intelligence – OSINT) and talk to friends and coworkers (human intelligence – HUMINT), in order to find the right person for the job. Looking for verifiable information.
    3. You have exams to study for and you study the topics that your professor talked about the most throughout the semester, as they will most likely be on the final exam. 

    With the understanding of what intelligence is, what exactly is ‘criminal intelligence’ then?

    Criminal intelligence is a field of intelligence that allows law enforcement agencies, investigators, etc, to make decisions on their approaches to a certain crime, criminal or both (source). These decisions are based on what the criminal analysts working on a particular case or set of cases, provide through their analysation processes of the information they obtained (source).

    2.0: What do Criminal Intelligence Analysts do?

    In criminal intelligence, the focus is on the making of preventative measures for criminal activity and contributing to the solving of crimes (source). Criminal intelligence analysts gather and also use available intelligence (criminal profiles, forensic data, shared intelligence, human sources (HUMINT), etc) to understand past and/or current criminal activity (source). Additionally, They create warnings with the assistance of the intelligence collected to help law enforcement agencies mitigate future threats (source). Furthermore, they make briefs for law enforcement agencies and collaborate with other departments in the law enforcement or intelligence fields (source).

    These tasks are significant as they are the backbone behind understanding criminals and also criminal activity. Strangely enough, criminal intelligence is a relatively new phenomenon (source). Moreover, it only became a consistent actor in law enforcement agencies in the 1990s (source).

    Ultimately, it was the practice of criminal intelligence that improved investigative processes immensely. Before criminal intelligence became a key actor in law enforcement agencies, there was a lack of information on, and a struggle to comprehend the acts of crime and the people committing those crimes (source).

    American National Archive //FBI Agents. Original Source:

    3.0: Criminal Intelligence Needed?

    Aside from criminal intelligence being the backbone or rather, the foundation for understanding criminal activity and criminals, it is a practice that has made the investigative process for law enforcement agencies much more efficient. Additionally, it has made our human understanding of criminal activity and criminals much more clear. 

    3.1: How Criminal Intelligence Has Made Investigative Work Much More Efficient:

    Criminal intelligence analysts observe and interview witnesses and suspects (source). They provide another set of eyes to look for clues from sources that tie in with the investigation (source). These sources can include things like receipts, banking records, journal entries, etc (source). Furthermore, finding reasons to get search warrants to look for additional evidence (source). They analyse the information that is put into investigative reports (source). This allows investigators and other law enforcement workers to focus on their own roles (source).

    1910s Police Arresting Criminals Witnessed by Accusing Parlor Maid//Photo by Americanstock//Roberts Armstrong//Classic Stock. Original Source:

    3.1.1: How Criminal Intelligence Has Made Our Human Understanding of Criminal Activity and Criminals Much More Clear:

    Verifiable information (analysed information), looked at to find patterns and also trends. This helps with developing preventative measures in relation to crime (source). Criminal intelligence also provides a sociological understanding of the functions and realities of criminal activity and criminals (source). As a result, this educates law enforcement agencies and the public on crime action and prevention (source).

    Criminal intelligence is essentially a practice needed for investigations, preventative measures, and also awareness. Understanding this practice, how it works, and how it can contribute to the safety of communities, is beneficial. Especially when it comes to being aware of one’s own community. 

    Anti-Knife Event with Young People in the UK//Nottingham, England//Simon Rawles

    4.0 A Day in the Life of a Criminal Intelligence Analyst 

    ‘Performing’ criminal intelligence is not a simple, step-by-step process. As a result of the nature of the field, it is really an umbrella term for the variety of processes that there are in the field. There are also a variety of areas or rather departments that criminal intelligence analysts can focus on. For example,  Interpol, a top international criminal police organisation, has the following departments: 

    1. Corruption 
    2. Counterfeit Currency and Documents 
    3. Crimes Against Children 
    4. Cultural Heritage Crime
    5. Cybercrime 
    6. Drug Trafficking
    7. Environmental Crime 
    8. Financial Crime 
    9. Firearms Trafficking 
    10. Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling 
    11. Illicit Goods 
    12. Maritime Crime
    13. Organized Crime 
    14. Terrorism 
    15. Vehicle Crime 
    16. War Crimes 

    It is important to note that how criminal intelligence analysts conduct their work in each department is different. 

    Check out the video below, where a criminal intelligence analyst who works at Interpol in the Environmental Crime Department, goes about their day: 

    A Day in the Life of an INTERPOL Criminal Intelligence Analyst (CIO)

    This second video is a quick clip, describing the job of a criminal intelligence analyst further. This is a job description in 60 seconds: 

    My Job In 60 Seconds – Crime & Intelligence Analysis

    This third clip below is a clip from the Profiling Evil podcast, where criminal intelligence analysts discuss their day-to-day job and how they assist law enforcement in investigations: 

    Profiling Evil Podcast – How Can Intelligence Analysis Help Law Enforcement Investigations?

    4.1: A General Guide

    There are two kinds of intelligence analysis reports that Interpol criminal intelligence analysts produce – operational and also strategic: 

    Operational Analysis:

    The goal of this report is to make an arrest, a disruption of a criminal enterprise, a seizure, or the forfeiture of criminal proceeds (source). This analysis finds links between suspects, information gaps, investigative leads, and the roles criminals are playing (source). This report includes crime-specific alerts, suspect, investigative lead, and crosscheck, media/social media reports (source). Furthermore, it also includes the results of the operations conducted by police forces (source).

    Strategic Analysis:

    This analysis is an assessment of a crime-related threat, pattern/trend, and/or the behaviour of a criminal or criminals (source). It looks at factors that impact particular crimes and how crimes evolve over time (source). These reports are given to police departments and the outlines include crime trend, early warning, and environmental scanning reporting (source).

    4.1.1: Security Industry Association (SIA)

    To provide more insight into how criminal intelligence analysts perform, here is a general guide to the analysation process outlined by the Security Industry Association (SIA)

    Requirements – deciding on what information and data is relevant for a particular case. Ask yourself, what kind of information should I be looking for? And also, what information would be relevant to collect for this kind of case? (source).

    Planning and Direction – deciding on a strategy. What is your plan? How will you be collecting the information and data that you decided on? And also, how will you be collecting viable data? (source).

    Collection – collect the actual information and data through interviewing suspects and witnesses, surveillance, social media reporting, personal operations, etc. (source).

    Processing and Exploitation – gathered raw data now placed in the analysation process. A team of analysts will then need to read through all of this information and data. Depending on the case, translations, decryptions, and standardization processes may need to be applied (source).

    Analysis and Production – after the analysation process, information and data that was gathered is now intelligence; the viable information has been pulled out and processed by analysts, making this intelligence relevant. Can now attempt to make connections, links, and associations with the intel and the criminal activity and/or criminal (source).

    Dissemination – deciding action. What are your next steps with this intel? Arrests? Security warrants? “Effective actions depend upon effective intel dissemination” (source).

    Down below, is a diagram to outline this process: 

    Security Industry Association (SIA):

    5.0: The Skills Needed to Become a Criminal Intelligence Analyst: 

    Strong analytical, critical thinking, verbal, and written communication skills (source). Alongside those skills, research, and observational capabilities are crucial (source). Most importantly, patience is required (source). As an analyst, you are looking for information that does not exist yet (source). You need to have the patience to find the missing pieces (source).

    Teamwork as a skill is also important (source). The ability to work with others is something you would be doing in your day-to-day job as a criminal intelligence analyst (source).

    Additionally, the ability to recognise your own confirmation biases (source). It can be quite difficult to work in an environment where you need to think objectively and put aside everything you have ever been taught, believed in, advocated for, etc in order to complete a job (source). This is why the skill mentioned above (teamwork skills), is crucial as you will need multiple pairs of eyes to oversee your own work and you will need to be set for your colleague’s work. (source).

    Managing stress would be a wise skill to obtain. You will need to work unpredictable hours, have loads of information to look through, your workload will oftentimes be high, and you can not necessarily rely on the support of your family and friends (source). This is because what you learn and do in this kind of work environment is typically disclosed information. (source).

    INTERPOL Building//Lyon, France

    6.0: Avoiding Common Mistakes

    Like any field of study or work environment, there are common mistakes that people make while on the job. Intelligence analysis, whether or not it is criminal intelligence, comes with potential risks which then leads to intelligence failures – it is true that there have been great intelligence failures of our time. 

    In 9/11 for example, some argue, like Stephen Marrin for instance, a distinguished author and researcher in intelligence analysis, as well as an ex-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, that the result of 9/11 was not an intelligence failure but rather a failure of policy (source). Others argue, like Melvin Goodman, another distinguished author and ex-CIA analyst, that 9/11 was in fact an intelligence failure (source).

    Regardless of the argument, it is clear that sometimes, intelligence analysis can fail us. Whether it be the processes, the final decisions made based on the analysis, or the overall understanding of the analysis.

    6.1: Cognitive biases 

    These are not cultural biases, these are the biases we use to process information (source). HOW we process information comes from the way we THINK we should process information; it is a mental error (source). An example could be optical illusions (source). Our cognitive ‘error’ is what we see and how our brain defaults to processing this information based on what it sees, regardless of knowing that this is an optical illusion (source).

    6.1.1: Unkown Evidence

    While analysts are working with the evidence they have, it is important for them to keep in mind that there could be evidence that is not necessarily known yet – keeping this in mind can be a challenge (source). “Out of sight, out of mind” is a common problem among intelligence analysts according to some studies (source). 

    Fault trees – used to avoid this common mistake. Used to highlight all that could go wrong. Used for extremely complex systems such as nuclear reactors (source). 

    6.1.2: Evidence with Uncertain Accuracy

    It is a fact that the human brain can not cope with complex problems easily, pushing people to choose a simple course of action or decisions (source). Due to this, information is ignored and as well as the certainty of that information (source).  Information slips, misinterpreted, misunderstood, and miscommunicated (source). 

    6.1.3: Cause and Effect

    Analysts can sometimes assume that sociological events are mainly based on sociological factors without considering much else for example. Or that economic events are mainly based on economic factors (source). These assumptions also contribute to the ignorance of other important factors, causing the main problem (source). The entire list above is information that comes from the book, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, written by Richard Heuer, an ex-CIA member with 45 years of experience. 

    In terms of avoiding these mistakes, the best solution is to be aware of them, your own cognitive abilities, biases, and ways of thinking, and to recognize them when they arise. 

    Psychology of Intelligence Analysis//Richards J. Heuer, Jr.//A Book Containing all of the Relevant Information Needed to Avoid Common Mistakes of an Intelligence Analyst

    7.0: Tools and Resources

    For further engagement on criminal intelligence, what criminal intelligence analysts do, how they conduct their work, and their overall roles, here are a list of resources that may help you on your journey of discovering the wonders of this field.

    7.1.1: Book/Reading Recommendations

    Analysis of Criminal Intelligence from a Criminological Perspective: The Future of the Fight Against Organized Crime, author  – Daniel Sanso link

    Criminal Investigative Analysis, author – Amber Scherer and John Jarvis – link

    How to Become a Criminal Intelligence Analyst: Career Guide & Outlook, author, Euston College – link

    Strategic Thinking in Criminal Intelligence, author Jerry Ratcliffe – link

    Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, author Richards J. Heuer – link

    7.1.2: Video/Film Recommendations

    Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation with Intelligence – link

    A Day in the Life of Catherine, Intelligence Officer at National Crime Agency – link

    The Chilling Identity Theft Killers: The FBI Files – link

    Former FBI Agent Explains Criminal Profiling: Tradecraft – link

    Introduction to Criminal Intelligence Analysis Training – link

    7.1.3: Media/Website Recommendations

    Interpol’s website – link

    International Association of Crime Analysts website – link

    Association of Crime & Intelligence Analysts (ACIA) Podcasts – link

    BBC True Crime Podcasts – link

    CIA Podcast – link

    8.0: Frequently Asked Questions

    “Is criminal intelligence ethical?”

    It is true that there are issues surrounding intelligence collection; a debate that continues to be discussed in classrooms, training departments, and as well as among the criminal intelligence analysts themselves. Law enforcement agencies and intelligence companies/departments/sectors do have ethical guidelines and standards that must be followed. 

    “How does one become a criminal intelligence analyst?”

    Most of the time, it simply takes doing your own research and applying to a criminal intelligence position. Looking for individuals who hold at least a master’s degree; however, depending on experience and other qualifications, exceptions can be made; you would have to be a strong candidate for this. 

    “How much schooling do you really need?” 

    Similar to the answer provided above, by completing a master’s degree in a similar area (criminology, security, intelligence analysis, etc), you will be considered a ‘high quality’ candidate. By not having a masters, it does not mean your chances are completely 0 but you would need strong standing experience and other qualifications of some kind. 

    Once selected, further training by the company/organisation/department.

    “Is a lot of the work similar to what James Bond does?” 

    Pop culture sometimes makes us think that certain jobs and/or careers are these totally dramatic, exotic, and hardcore realities; a majority of the time, this is false. James Bond is a great character and the films are fantastic, however, this is not the kind of reference you should refer to when thinking about a criminal intelligence analyst job. In fact, James Bond was not even a criminal intelligence analyst, he was an intelligence officer (IO) or, as others would say, ‘spy.’ 

    “Am I able to have a personal life/family life with this kind of job?”

    Due to the nature of these careers, there are many things you will have to keep to yourself and among your colleagues. You are a person who will have access to sensitive information and intel, making it your responsibility to keep quiet. These jobs require integrity and loyalty. 

    Aside from that point, yes, you can still have a personal life/family life. You just have to be an individual that is willing but also able, to separate work and personal/family life. 

    “How much pay?” 

    Although they say money does not buy happiness, living in the world we live in today, money is an important part of our survival. This is a fair question, but difficult to answer. It depends on your credentials (considering a master’s would be wise if you are looking for higher pay), where you are working (which organisation), how long you have been working there, and which country you are in. 

    From the Original James Bond Movie//colaimages

    9.0: An In-Depth Look Into Risk Analysis

    As mentioned earlier, there are a variety of processes, strategies, and techniques for criminal intelligence analysis. Due to this reason, risk analysis will be the chosen process that this section of the article will look at through an in-depth lens. 

    What is it? 

    • Used for risk assessments (source). 
    • A way to identify the actions or inactions of law enforcement and criminal activity (source). 
    • Applied to look at the threats of criminal organisations or individual offenders (source). 
    • Supports criminal intelligence analysts in their decision-making regarding prioritisation (source). 
    • Scoring matrix – which criminal and/or criminals, criminal organisation, and other criminal acts placed as a top priority? (source).

    10.0: Criminal Intelligence Analysis: Success Stories

    The following are success stories due to the assistance of criminal intelligence analysis:

    Joseph Paul Franklin

    From 1976 up until his arrest in 1980, Joseph Franklin murdered 15 people (women, men, and children) (source). Alongside the crime of murder, he also robbed several banks to support his violent journey (source). 

    As he moved around between 11 states, committing his crimes, the FBI had a difficult time identifying and arresting him (source).

    Caught because of the criminal profiling process (a criminal intelligence analysis process) (source). 

    Ted Bundy 

    Recognised serial killer. Killed up to 100 women and girls. Official number undetermined (source). 

    It was not until American criminal intelligence analysts analysed information that came from the public (people posting information about him in public places), and the information about his psychological history, and childhood, that finally led to his arrest in 1978 (source). 

    An Australian Case 

    Criminal intelligence analysts made the connection between the National Disability Insurance Scheme and actively organised criminals involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, and violence (source). 

    These criminals are exploiting, according to Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission chief Michael Phelan, the system weaknesses in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (source).

    11.0: Conclusion

    As criminal intelligence continues to develop, so do the strategies, techniques, policies, and regulations for preventing and mitigating future crime. This further development continues to help neighbourhoods, communities, cities, and national and international arenas; additional reasons why criminal intelligence as tradecraft is significant. 

    Even though criminal intelligence analyst jobs are not always discussed in classrooms, among peers and family, or even on television compared to other jobs, it is clearly one that does provide great benefits to society.

    Allison Baddeley
    Allison Baddeley
    Allison is a Junior Intelligence Analyst with a focus on transnational organised crime (drug trafficking networks in particular), criminal intelligence, and terrorism.

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