I market these as facts but that’s not completely true. In reality they’re my opinions, which just so happen to be facts. My hope is to candidly describe the basic functions and purpose of an intelligence cell at the tactical level in a deployed environment. This one comes from an analyst’s perspective, and not one of a collector.

Former intel folks, this is one you probably won’t want to read, or will no doubt roll your eyes at while reading. For non-IC folks, hopefully this will shed some light on the highly mysterious and veiled world of intelligence.

  1. Bias aside, intelligence is a critical function.

I’m currently working in a capacity for the Department of Defense which requires me to perform all-source analysis of intelligence information that supports Force Protection of US personnel and assets at a forward operating location in Southwest Asia. I do this by working with a small cell whose sole purpose in life for six months is to do what I just mentioned. Pretty straightforward mission, and a critical one at that.

What does that mean? It means our interdisciplinary cell (you could use “fusion cell” here as well) analyzes ground threat reporting, performs intelligence preparation of the operational environment, provides force protection indications and warnings, and ultimately, works to identify emerging or imminent threats to US personnel and assets to our location so the mission can continue unimpeded by various threats. All of this combined helps solidify intelligence as a function critical to mission success.

I would say that intelligence also drives operations, but I’m undoubtedly biased. Regardless, good intelligence proves invaluable and you can never get enough, especially when you need more of it. It’s a critical function and I doubt anyone will disagree.

  1. Intelligence is part skill, mainly an art, and rather dynamic.

Before I forget, no, none of this is sensitive, or classified, or some kind of OPSEC violation. The NGA talks about intelligence preparation of the operational environment here, the USAF talks about intelligence fusion here, and DIA talks about indications and warnings here. They’re all fascinating subjects that I recommend looking into; they’re the bread and butter of our function.

Let’s look at some of the functions we perform, as paraphrased from the experts.

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Intelligence fusion is pooling several agency’s intelligence capabilities together in order to support the force protection of the location and its mission. I say location because that can vary depending on the mission. Subject matter experts from the counterintelligence, intelligence, security, etc. realms all fuse their capabilities together to provide the appropriate recommendation to the decision-makers, so they can make decisions that alter friendly posture and effectively counter the threat. Magical, isn’t it?

Indications and warnings is the process of identifying forewarning of enemy actions or intentions, imminent hostilities, attacks to our location, etc. Basically looking into our crystal ball of knowledge and identifying what the enemy will do before they do it. This is exciting in an environment in which there is a real threat with actual intent, capability, and a few other factors able to target you. Don’t get me wrong, being targeted is by no means a good “exciting”, it simply means guaranteed gainful employment on the analyst’s part.

Intelligence preparation of the operational environment is a continuous cycle and process, but essentially boils down to characterizing the environment in which you are working. That means understanding its ins and outs, its key players, providing information about the area and area of interest, assessing threats in the environment, and integrating it all together to form analytical conclusions about how it’ll affect what we’re trying to do there. The emphasis here is on something called predictive analysis, which is associated with our crystal ball of the future. Find out how the environment, its influences, and the threats and hazards will affect the mission, and plan accordingly.

  1. Not all, but most of our kind are complete nerds.

Maybe that was just me speaking for myself, when I say that we’re all complete nerds. While all of this may sound rather glamorous and exciting, the shine wears off when you realize we sit in an arguably cramped shipping container converted for storage and handling of classified information. With an impressive vault door that would make Captain Nemo jealous, we boast to operate what amounts to one of our AOR’s only “submarines”. We stare at computer screens daily for hours on end daily, discuss the finer points of various reports, and work to dissect the bits of information that may be the key to unveiling or unraveling the latest plot to harm our location, its personnel, or our mission.

Naturally, there’s lots of coffee or caffeinated tea, usually a gun or two in the ‘office’ when we arm up, and even pictures of all of our top personalities (read: extremist assholes) we believe to be involved in active plots or schemes to harm us. The only thing missing is the yarn tracing their connections throughout the room. For extra measure, we keep the lighting low for the ambience. Occasionally, we even get visitors.

Depending on what you’re into, this could sound like an absolute hell or the ideal working environment; I haven’t yet decided. Either way, someone has to do it and the work really isn’t that bad.

  1. Our sole purpose in life is to inform decision-making.

What do we do with our findings, you ask? Intelligence, at its very simple core, is used to inform decision-making. For national-level agencies like the CIA, DIA, or any other alphabet soup types, this typically means advising the senior leaders of our government so that they can properly institute or modify some type of policy. Caveat, I’ve never worked at the national level and am therefore not qualified to discuss its finer points. However, at the tactical level that means informing commanders and other unit-level decision-makers of information they need to make informed decisions that affect the posture, security, and welfare of their personnel and assets.

Here it is in theory: we get the information, learn all we can about it, get eyes on the problem from other subject matter experts, and then call in the bosses to share our findings. We share the info, make a recommendation, and a decision is made, usually on the spot. If the information is credible enough and we’ve got good reason to believe the threat is legitimate, an entire force changes its security posture or footprint, is put on alert, and braces for impact. If the info isn’t imminent, time-sensitive, or specific, the same process is followed but the changes implemented are adjusted according to how veracious the information is. At the very least, decision-makers are informed and their situational awareness is primed should anything further develop.

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Naturally, there are some finer points of intelligence analysis that accompany the intelligence cycle and other tools we utilize to safeguard the mission; however, that’s for another time. Such is life inside an intelligence cell.

I’d apologize for the abrupt ending, but my shipping container is calling and I was told anything over 1200 words would be immediately redacted.

Out here.

(Featured Image Courtesy: SOCOM)