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    What is an Intelligence Analyst?

    The intelligence analyst has the task of collecting and analysing the raw information found through various sources and translate it into “finished” intelligence. Translate in this case does not mean that the analyst has to translate the information from Spanish to English. For example, an intel analyst has to piece together all the information found, interpret this data, and form a judgement and or prediction to provide decision support for the end customer.

    The role of the intelligence analyst can be found both in the public and private sectors. The public sector includes for example organisations at the federal, state or local level and government agencies. On the other hand, the private sector includes think tanks and Businesses.

    Intelligence Analysts are Specialised

    • Based on source, which means focusing on a particular type of source of information. HUMINT (Human Intelligence) is intelligence gathered from human sources, OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) from open sources, such as the Internet or more specific social media intelligence (SOCMINT), SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) from interception of signals, and GEOINT (Geospatial Intelligence) from satellites and maps.
    • On a specific subject, such as a geographic area, or a type of group (non-state actors or terrorist groups), or a type of threat (nuclear, strategic or tactical).
    • On a discipline, such as military, scientific, weapons intelligence, economics.

    Douglas MacEachin, senior official and career analyst, defines intelligence as “a profession of cognition”, meaning that it is about identifying anomalies and patterns in someone’s behaviour, which could explain past events and could point to future developments.

    Talking about the future, the infallibility factor cannot be present in the analyst’s equation.

    In a governmental and political setting, the intelligence analyst has to gather information from different sources in order to prevent an attack, identify new challenges or assess a threat. The final goal is to advise policy-makers on a particular topic and better equipped them to respond, and consequently to support them for future planning.

    Dave Hagen, assistant teaching professor for the Northeastern University, better describes the role of the intelligence analyst as someone who has to “research carefully, consider multiple sources, and make factually-based, analytical judgments that serve to inform policymakers, either in the public or private sector.”

    Requirements & Responsibilities

    In 1949, Sherman Kent, one of the pioneers of intelligence analysis, described intelligence as

    “a simple and self-evident thing. As an activity, it is the pursuit of a certain kind of knowledge… In a small way, it is what we all do every day… When a doctor diagnosis an ailment he usually does some preliminary intelligence work”.

    The comparison between medicine and intelligence analysis has been present in the intelligence literature for the past 60 years. A doctor and an analyst have to collect and evaluate information and data about a phenomenon, which often is not available through simple observation. Both the doctor and the analyst have to find a conclusion through symptoms, signs, and indications.

    Intelligence Analyst Skillset

    • Research and collect relevant information. A large amount of information does not mean that it is all useful or correct. The intelligence analyst has to assess what is necessary and prioritise it.
    • Always being up to date on events related to his/her area of interest.
    • Evaluate the validity, reliability, and significance of a piece of information.
    • Think out of the schemes and in a unique way. If all the analysts thought in the same way, the result of analysis would always be the same. The analyst has to be rigorous and imaginative when he/she consider an explanation for missing or contradictory data.
    • Draw analytical and fact-driven conclusions, without being biased by past experiences and previous judgments on the topic. The analyst has to be able to distinguish what he/she knows from his/her personal opinion. 
    • Be able to judge him/herself and doubt his/her own findings. The intelligence analyst has to be able to question his/her own hypotheses. According to Professor Immerman, “confirming or reinforcing evidence is no less valuable than that which disconfirms or disproves.”
    • Communicate the findings through detailed reports or presentations which allow the customer to fully understand the situation.
    • Speak more languages other than English. This is not absolutly necessary, but it would be an advantage since it would allow the analyst to gather information from more sources and understand different naunces and contexts.

    An Intellectual Activity

    As Lowenthal and Marks highlighted in their work:

    “we cannot stress enough the importance of recognising and understanding that intelligence analysis is an intellectual activity, not a mechanical one where the proper formula or recipe will produce the preferred outcome each time. Although the possibility that some analytic tools and information technology solutions will assist analysts is appreciated, they all remain tools that do not change the core substance of intelligence analysis: namely, the ability to read, think, and write critically…”

    In the past years, some scholars tried to define intelligence analysis as an art, some others as a science, or both. Tom Binkley once said:

    “truly good intelligence work must be a product of the logical analysis (science), married to the intuition and experience of the analyst (science and art), and then delivered in a meaningful, timely and concise manner that can be understood and acted upon by the consumer (no higher art form exists!).”

    The Intelligence Cycle

    Information and intelligence differ from each other. On the one hand, the information includes data about a specific topic or circumstance. On the other hand, intelligence involves a whole process of planning, collection, interpretation, analysis, and dissemination. This process is the so-called “Intelligence Cycle“.

    Direction

    Direction is the first phase of the intelligence cycle, and it sets the parameters for the intelligence objectives and requirements. The analyst has to try and define what the intelligence problem is. This phase focuses on what the customer needs.

    A good starting point to understand the customer needs is replying to the “Five Ws”, which are:

    1. What
    2. When
    3. Where
    4. Who
    5. Why

    Collection

    The collection phase, also known as data gathering, mainly focuses on research.

    During this phase, the analyst can acquire information, or raw data, through open, close, and technical sources. Open sources, such as books and newspapers. The close sources of information are the secret ones. In this case, the analyst gathers information through surveillance, interrogation or secret operations. Technical sources, such as electronic or satellite ones play a key role in contemporary intelligence.

    The so-called “-INTs” are used during this process to gather all kinds of information.

    Processing

    The processing phase includes collation, decryption, and interpretation.

    Arranging, gathering, and annotating related information; evaluating the reliability of information; critically examining the findings; estimating the likelihood of an event; assessing the usefulness of the information found are key steps that the analyst has to face during this phase.

    Analysis

    The analysis phase is a key process. It is not only reorganising new information and data in a new format. It converts the new information into something meaningful which includes implications and assessments of the collected data.

    This phase consists in converting basic information into finished intelligence. It includes evaluating, integrating, and analysing the available data.

    The analyst will tap into specific knowledge of the topic, logic, and what was learned during the previous analysis and will also have to consider the validity and reliability of the collected information.

    Intelligence analysts often employ structured analytic techniques (SATs) during this phase in order to transparently externalise internal thoughts and findings. These techniques such as the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) and Key Assumptions Check help to reduce the impact of cognitive biases and mirror-imaging, which means perceiving others as one perceives him/herself.

    Richards Heuer and Randy H. Pherson, in the book “Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis”, explain and categorise all the different types of SATs in order to better understand when and how to use them.

    Dissemination

    The last phase is the so-called dissemination phase. It is best described in the JDP 2-00 as

    “the timely conveyance of intelligence, in an appropriate form and by any suitable means, to those who need it”. Appropriateness, clarity, coherence, completeness, conciseness, correctness, and objectivity are features that must characterise this last report. It must capture the attention of the reader and have a BLUF structure, which means “Bottom Line Up Front”. 

    The role of the intelligence analyst is still not easy to understand, nonetheless, the literature on it has now increased. Many scholars such as Heuer, Pherson, Major, and Grabo helped to shape this figure, especially in the past years.

    An analyst is someone who never stands still because the world keeps changing constantly. His/her goal is to identify new challenges, threats or opportunities and draw various judgments and conclusions from them. To accomplish this, the analyst has to engage with the various phase of the intelligence cycle.

    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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