What is Intelligence Analysis?

Intelligence analysis may be referred to in a national security context, or in a business intelligence context. The two fields have many elements in common. According to the RAND Corporation, intelligence analysis is the process by which the information collected about an enemy is used to answer tactical questions about current operations or to predict future behavior. Intelligence analysis uses information collected from human beings. as well as information gathered by satellites, computer networks, science and technological surveillance or financial records. Analysts review all of the information gathered by each potential means of data collection, and prepare reports analyzing and making recommendations for action or further intelligence gathering.

Steps in the Intelligence Process

Intelligence analysis is the fourth step in a five-step intelligence cycle. Before analysis can occur, planning takes place to determine priorities and methods for intelligence collection. Intelligence collection consists of all of the different methods involved in gathering information that could be used as actionable or analyzable intelligence. The information is then processed, and analysis and production of reports can take place. Intelligence analysis represents the step in the process when data and information are reviewed and assessed. After analysis occurs, reports are then produced, and disseminated among decision-makers and policy groups.

Analytical Tradecraft

Intelligence studies programs teach aspiring intelligence industry professionals skills and principles of working with information that has been collected through various forms of intelligence gathering. Analytical tradecraft relies upon objectivity, including rigorous evaluation processes that are “tough-minded” in their approach. Tradecraft utilizes rules that guide evaluation processes. These rules also help to reduce the potential for intentional deception and false conclusions. One of the primary principles used by intelligence analysts is “be bold and honest” even when the opinions they have formed may prove unpopular with colleagues and superiors.

The Importance of Reality Checks

Intelligence analysts prepare reports that are read by political and business leaders. Leaders may often have pre-conceived notions about many different situations in which intelligence is gathered and reports are prepared. Intelligence analysts are expected to be able to realistically present the dangers and opportunities in any given intelligence circumstance. They are also expected to realistically analyze and present the motives, objectives, vulnerabilities and strengths of opposing players in a political, or a business, situation. They also need to be able to provide a realistic summation of alternatives and tactical choices available to leadership and decision-makers.

Related Resource: What is a Criminal Investigation Specialist?

Intelligence analysis can be used for military and national security purposes, but it is not limited only to government organizations and military conflicts. Business intelligence is a related field in which analysts work with data that is collected through a variety of methods, including consumer data and behavior. Competitive intelligence analysis allows businesses or organizations in various sectors to compare their performance with other organizations, and establish tactical and strategic policy goals accordingly.

Intelligence analysts are urged to follow best practices in their field, which include being aware of potential traps or false intelligence trails prepared by enemies. Such traps can confuse the data that analysts work with, and cause them to form incorrect analysis and results from the intelligence that has been gathered.