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The Intelligence Community

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 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia

Michael Goodman believes that although intelligence is not a new phenomenon, the academic study of it is an emerging field. (Goodman 2007) The intelligence cycle is generally considered to be composed of five phases: planning and targeting; collect; collection; analyze; and dissemination. (Diane Publishing Company 2000) The most important point in the information cycle is considered the analysis. Mike McConnell says that intelligence can only help, inform and to make decisions if information is processed through an analyst’s mind. (McConnell 2007)

Thus, United States’ National Intelligence Strategy supports the need to ““strengthen analytic expertise, methods, and practices; tap expertise wherever it resides; and explore alternative analytic views.” (Office of the Director of National Intelligence 2005) Arthur Hulnick writes that ““[t]he intelligence community needs to develop a twenty-first century analytic culture that differs from the conventional intuitive analysis of the past.” (Hulnick 2006) To note Rob Johnston’s effort to develop a taxonomy of intelligence analysis, arguing that “intelligence needs methodologists to help strengthen the domain of analysis.” (Johnston 2003)

David Singer states that the threat is now the main target of intelligence agencies. This idea is also argued by Ken Robertson in his effort to define intelligence:

“A satisfactory definition of intelligence ought to make reference to the following: threats, states, secrecy, collection, analysis, and purpose. The most important of these is threat, since without threats there would be no need for intelligence services.” (Robertson 1996)

Carl Von Clausewitz in “On War” (1832) defines information activity as “every sort of information about the enemy and his country—the basis, in short, of our own plans and operations.” A study of analytical culture has set the following definitions in consensus:

  • Intelligence is a secret state or group activity to understand or influence foreign or national entities.
  • The analysis of information consists in the application of individual and collective cognitive methods to weigh data and test hypotheses in a secret socio-cultural context.
  • Informational errors are factual inaccuracies in analysis resulting from insufficient or missing data. Informational failure is a failed prediction resulting from incorrect, missing, rejected, or inappropriate assumptions. (Johnston 2005)

Stephen Marrin considers two reasons for the failure of the development of intelligence theory: (Marrin 2012) 1) the fact that consensus has not yet been reached on the definitions that are precursors of the formulation of the theory, and 2) intelligence is a applied field, practitioners being basically against theorizations.

Intelligence can be considered as the process through which certain types of information are requested, collected, analyzed and disseminated, and how certain types of secret actions are conceived and carried out. (Shulsky and Schmitt 2002) Berkowitz equates the information community with that of a “Weberian classical” bureaucracy, characterized by centralized planning, routine operations and a hierarchical chain of command, manifested in the traditional informational cycle, like an assembly line. (Berkowitz and Goodman 2000)

“Intelligence is more than information. It is knowledge that has been specially prepared for a customer’s unique circumstances. The word knowledge highlights the need for human involvement. Intelligence collection systems produce … data, not intelligence; only the human mind can provide that special touch that makes sense of data for different customers’ requirements. The special processing that partially defines intelligence is the continual collection, verification, and analysis of information that allows us to understand the problem or situation in actionable terms and then tailor a product in the context of the customer’s circumstances. If any of these essential attributes is missing, then the product remains information rather than intelligence.” (Brei 1996)

In intelligence analysis, specialists distinguish three types of information products: (Duvenage 2010)

Operational intelligence, that assists and directs the collection or investigation on a continuous basis, and where the analyst is usually part of the investigation team, finalized by memorandums, operational plans and status reports, and visual analytical support such as diagrams, visual images, etc.

Current intelligence, which contextualizes the “snapshots” of an event or problem for the client in the form of text.

Strategic intelligence, that provides the client with estimates and/or warnings by presenting medium and long-term analysis of the nature, dynamics and impact of an event or problem.


Intelligence services are government agencies that deal with the collection and analysis of sensitive information in order to ensure national security and defense. The methods of intelligence gathering can include spying, interception of communications, cryptanalysis, cooperation with other institutions, and assessment of public sources. (Sfetcu 2016)

Intelligence services are currently focusing on the fight against terrorism, leaving relatively little resources to monitor other security threats. For this reason, they often ignore external information activities that do not pose immediate threats to their government’s interests. (Ehrman 2011)

Extremely few external services – CIA, SVR and, to a lesser extent, SIS, French DGSE and Mossad – operate globally. Almost all other services focus on immediate neighbors or regions. These services usually depend on relationships with these global services for information on areas beyond their immediate neighborhoods, and often sell their regional expertise for what they need globally.

Intelligence services are prisoners of government bureaucracy, subject to the same political forces and tendencies as any other. The political situations of intelligence services in authoritarian, totalitarian or corrupt states are more difficult to determine. The absence of effective legal frameworks and the importance of personal networks towards institutional relations for decision make it difficult to study. Examples in the history of communist block service suggests, however, that in these countries their intelligence services positions may be paradoxical. The dependence of these regimes on their repressive services, the integration of services into the governing apparatus, and the absence of any external control, offer to services immunity from external investigations and the pressure of reforms. (Ehrman 2011)

Even when acting legally, intelligence services protect and promote their interests. The result is that services are almost always engaged in complex political struggles on several fronts. The most important of these is the constant effort to raise as many resources as possible – people, funds and influence on decision-making – from their political superiors, and to oppose external changes.

Intelligence services are not robotic institutions, but rather hundreds or thousands of people who make and execute decisions. There are few sociological or comparative open-source studies of intelligence officers. Foreign service officers tend to be of higher socio-economic classes. The nature of their work – living and operating in other countries, presenting themselves as diplomats or businessmen and interacting with political leaders in the country and abroad – requires university education, knowledge of languages and culture, and trust in interaction with diplomatic officials and politicians. People with these characteristics usually come from the upper middle class or above. Internal service officers tend to be from working classes and from lower middle classes. Their work is similar to police work, and as they perform their tasks on their home ground, the pulse of the street is more important than sophisticated elegance. (Richelson 1988, 72) (Shelley 1990, 479–520)

A feature of both internal and external services is that they behave like a caste. Except for the director, no outsiders hold a position of authority; In the world of intelligence, ambitious politicians, advocates, think tank analysts, and academics, who usually run in government positions, do not get in.

John Ehrman says that intelligence service management tends to be mediocre. (Ehrman 2011) In general, high-performance case officers assume leadership positions. Usually, they do not have any management training before taking up these positions, and then receive little systematic training. As a result, mid-level and top-level managers often have little interest in overseeing critical administrative and planning details or taking initiatives to change or upgrade services before a failure or crisis forces them to do so.

The main objective of intelligence organizations is to ensure security, a concept that assesses the degree of resistance or protection to what is bad. Certain concepts are common to several security domains:

  • Warranty – the level of guarantee that a security system will behave as it has been evaluated
  • Countermeasure – the way to stop a threat from triggering a risk event
  • Defense in depth – never rely on just one measure
  • Risk – a possible event that could cause a loss
  • Threat – a way to trigger a dangerous event
  • Vulnerability – a weakness of a target that can be exploited by a security threat
  • Exploitation – a vulnerability triggered by a threat.

Robert M. Clark believes that an organization is a system that “can be viewed and analyzed from three perspectives: structure, function, and process.” (Clark 2003, 277) The structure describes the parts of the organization, with an emphasis on individuals and the relationships between them. The function describes the organization’s product with a focus on decision-making. And the process describes the activities and knowledge that form the final product.


  • Berkowitz, Bruce D., and Allan E. Goodman. 2000. Best Truth: Intelligence in the Information Age. Yale University Press.
  • Brei, William S. 1996. Getting Intelligence Right: The Power of Logical Procedure. Joint Military Intelligence College.
  • Clark, Robert M. 2003. Intelligence Analysis: A Target-Centric Approach. Washington, D.C: Cq Pr.
  • Diane Publishing Company. 2000. A Consumer’s Guide to Intelligence. Diane Publishing Company.
  • Duvenage, Magdalena Adriana. 2010. “Intelligence Analysis in the Knowledge Age : An Analysis of the Challenges Facing the Practice of Intelligence Analysis.” Thesis, Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch. https://scholar.sun.ac.za:443/handle/10019.1/3087.
  • Ehrman, John. 2011. “What Are We Talking About When We Talk about Counterintelligence?” ResearchGate. 2011. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237421011_What_are_We_Talking_About_When_We_Talk_about_Counterintelligence.
  • Goodman, Michael S. 2007. “Studying and Teaching About Intelligence: The Approach in the United Kingdom — Central Intelligence Agency.” 2007. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no2/html_files/Studying_Teaching_6.htm.
  • Hulnick, Arthur S. 2006. “What’s Wrong with the Intelligence Cycle.” 2006. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/245493621_What’s_Wrong_with_the_Intelligence_Cycle.
  • Johnston, Rob. 2003. “Integrating Methodologists into Teams of Substantive Experts.” https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a525552.pdf.
  • ———. 2005. Analytic Culture in the US Intelligence Community: An Ethnographic Study. University of Michigan Library.
  • Marrin, Stephen. 2012. “Intelligence Studies Centers: Making Scholarship on Intelligence Analysis Useful.” Intelligence and National Security 27 (3): 398–422. https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2012.668082.
  • McConnell, Mike. 2007. “Overhauling Intelligence.” 2007. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/293761677_Overhauling_intelligence.
  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 2005. “National Intelligence Strategy of the United States of America: Transformation through Integration and Innovation.” https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/CHCO/nis.pdf.
  • Richelson, Jeffrey. 1988. Foreign Intelligence Organizations. Ballinger Publishing Company.
  • Robertson, Ken. 1996. “Intelligence, Terrorism and Civil Liberties.” https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JCS/article/viewFile/14756/15825.
  • Sfetcu, Nicolae. 2016. Cunoaștere și Informații. Nicolae Sfetcu.
  • Shelley, Louise I. 1990. “Policing Soviet Society: The Evolution of State Control.” Law & Social Inquiry 15 (3): 479–520. https://www.jstor.org/stable/828493.
  • Shulsky, Abram N., and Gary James Schmitt. 2002. Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence. Potomac Books, Inc.

Nicolae Sfetcu
Email: nicolae@sfetcu.com

This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/.

Sfetcu, Nicolae, “The Intelligence Community”, SetThings (February 19, 2019), MultiMedia Publishing (ed.), URL = https://www.telework.ro/en/the-intelligence-community/

PDF: https://www.telework.ro/en/e-books/the-intelligence-community/

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