Since time immemorial, intelligence has been a major aspect of any state’s security especially when going into war or countering threats to national security. While many pundits undermined the role of intelligence at the beginning of 20th century, the role of intelligence became pivotal and instrumental during the Cold War (Petersen, 2009). Apparently, national policies and decisions are usually made based on intelligence. This implies therefore that intelligence is imperative in informing policy and decision makers of all jurisdictions. In the contemporary world, strategic intelligence has become popular as security agencies and governments begin to come to terms with the value that intelligence might provide particularly when making actionable decisions (Fain, 2013). According to Gookins (2008), policy makers and governments ought to integrate all the components of strategic intelligence that include Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) for efficiency and effectiveness. This paper explores the value that strategic intelligence provides to decision makers in addition to the importance of covering all components of intelligence as opposed to dealing with each component separately.
The value that strategic intelligence provide to national policy and decision makers
At the outset, strategic intelligence involves the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence information in order to help government agencies and other organizations to come up with the appropriate action plans. Contrary to many loose definitions of strategic intelligence, it is usually not a plan. It is, in essence, the idea behind a particular policy or plan undertaken by policy makers and decision makers. Gookins (2008) articulates that strategic intelligence is valuable for policy and decision makers in the sense that it allows them to have a foresight and insights about important current events. The rationale is that strategic intelligence entails using the most current information to help the security agencies to adopt the right action plans that might alleviate the situation (Fain, 2013). For instance, the current events that are unfolding in Iraq and Syria following the rise of the ISIL terrorists can be addressed using the appropriate strategic plan that emanates from the strategic intelligence. Undoubtedly, the concerted efforts to neutralize the threats posed by such insurgents and terrorists depend heavily on the strategic intelligence that hugely informs the most appropriate decision.
Moreover, strategic intelligence is valuable for increasing situational awareness of the policy makers and decision makers. While many experts and scholars have consistently undermined the importance of strategic intelligence especially to accurately predict the future, it is equally imperative to point out that, strategic intelligence cannot predict the future (Gookins, 2008). However, it can analyze and provide more awareness about a situation using the available information (Cilluffo et al., 2002). This will not only help the policy makers and decision formulators to have an accurate understanding of a situation by exploring the various likely outcomes of a situation. As elucidated by Shulsky & Schmitt (2012), the accuracy of a strategic plan to neutralize specific threats to national or international security dwells heavily on the awareness of the situation. To that end, strategic intelligence is valuable for increasing situational awareness.
Not only does strategic intelligence allow policy makers and decision makers to make long-term strategic assessments of specific issue but also align those interests with their strategic interests. Jervis (2006) posits that the strategic intelligence has always played an important role for making long-term plans and based on long-term assessment of a situation. This implies that strategic intelligence can help to forecasts future trends of an issue based on the current information available via all components of intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination (Clark, 2004). For instance, consistent analysis of the available information gathering of pariah states such Somalia can help the international community to come up with the right strategic plan to address the situation not only in the short term but also in the long term.
It is imperative to mention that intelligence community consisting of agencies and institutions usually conduct strategic intelligence. The information gathered allows policymakers to increase their ability of system thinking. This involves perceiving, synthesizing and integrating various elements and functions as a system in order to attain desired goals and objectives (Fain, 2013). The rationale is that the strategic intelligence illuminates on the deficiencies of a specific plan and provides the basis through which certain elements and functions of intelligence community can work in harmony to achieve the common purposes. For instance, such agencies as Central intelligence Agency (CIA) National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) can use strategic intelligence to coordinate their operations and strategic plans to achieve a common purpose (Jervis, 2006). It is therefore the role of the intelligence community to help the policymakers with the appropriate information leading to a systematized thinking.
Another value of strategic intelligence is that it helps policymakers to come up with long term political and sometimes, economic factors and other trends in the future. According to Shulsky & Schmitt (2012), it is increasingly difficult to deal with non-state actors in the modern world. For instance, tracking down non-uniformed militants who have a loose network in any part of the world is a major challenge. Strategic intelligence enables the policymakers to come up with a right plan. The plan usually aims at preventing, preempting and disrupting planned criminal activities and attacks from such criminals (Cilluffo et al., 2002). This is possible because strategic intelligence leads the discovery of the enemy’s weak points and appropriate communication of the findings to critical decision makers as well as the policymakers. As Gookins (2008) attests, the major value of strategic intelligence is to ensure that security apparatus are they before the bomb goes off. By making timely inferences and analyzing the current data, strategic intelligence helps in evaluation of a specific current policy, their inefficiencies and the most appropriate course of action and other alternatives (Clark, 2004).
Finally, strategic intelligence is more important that it has ever been particularly in the wake of information and social age. Intelligence community must come up with ideas that allow the analysis of information to be done in a more refined way than it was done three decades ago (Clark, 2004). Given the fact the volume of information available today has dwarfed the amount of information that public could access some years ago; it is the role of the strategic intelligence community to seek new ways of analyzing open source intelligence (Petersen, 2009). This will lead to refining the information and coming up with the accurate plans that can lead to plans that addresses long-term issues. Gookins (2008) argues that strategic intelligence faces a huge challenge of increasing its ability to provide policy makers with accurate information and a narrow range of alternative courses of action. To that end, it is critical to underscore the fact that strategic intelligence provides insurmountable amount of value for policymakers and decision takers. However, the decision makers should always be wary not to confuse the role of strategic intelligence as aimed to making mere predictions about the future.
Importance of covering all the five basic components of strategic intelligence
Apparently, strategic intelligence has various components that include (but not limited to) Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). In order to improve efficiency of gathering, analyzing and disseminating information, it is critical for intelligence community to cover all these areas instead of utilizing on one or two components to make conclusions and report findings to policymakers (Fain, 2013). From the onset, failure to cover all these components could lead to inaccurate findings and subsequently, wrong action plans. In lieu of the fact that intelligence community ought to add value to the policies and decisions that are undertaken by governments and states, it is imperative to provide as much accurate information as possible. According to Gookins (2008), inaccurate information has many detrimental consequences including the inappropriate actions.
For instance, Jervis (2006) says that the United States attacks on Iraq in the pretext of chemical weapons reflected a major shortcoming of the strategic intelligence community. In fact, many analysts say that the intelligence relied heavily on Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) and ignored other components intelligence (Cilluffo et al., 2002). It is understood that the consequences were clear ranging from increased instability of the country posed largely by insurgents to loss of property and lives (Jervis, 2006). The US also lost in terms of international public opinion and image regarding the invasion of Iraq. This is in addition to loss of financial and human resources that were used to execute the plan that the policymakers had put in place. While the role of tactical intelligence revolves around ensuring that the policymakers undertake straightforward actions, strategic intelligence largely involve long-term plans that might lead to long-term solutions (Jervis, 2006). In the case, the long-term solutions remain elusive despite the intelligence community having purported to have the accurate information regarding the threats posed by the hitherto Iraqi regime.
Further, failure to encompass all components of strategic intelligence might lead to reduced ability to collaborate with like-minded agencies to achieve a shared goal. The rationale is that policymakers that use ‘half baked’ findings from intelligence community might lose their credibility. This might end up severing their ability to develop strategic alliances that could have led to the achievement of the specific objectives. According to Jervis (2006), utilizing strategic intelligence to shape the policies and decisions at all levels of governance is a sensitive venture that requires extremely accurate sources of information. In case the information that is provided by various intelligence communities does not meet certain threshold, their credibility diminishes. For instance, many conspiracy theorists believe that the incompetence of the intelligence community was entirely to blame for 9/11. In fact, experts say that 9/11 was preventable but the lack of the appropriate security plan by the policy makers was the major challenge. Undoubtedly, strategic intelligence community informs such political plans (Petersen, 2009).
Other than the consequences of not covering all the components of strategic intelligence, it is important to highlight that covering all components lead to more reliable information and actionable plans. The reason is that not sources of information reveal exact information that the strategic intelligence team might use to inform the policy makers (Clark, 2004). Utilizing an extra component of information leads to increase in the precision of the information provided. In addition, it is essential to point out that the sources of intelligence complement each other for more precise and concise findings. For instance, open source intelligence might provide a clue of a certain event or situation while geospatial and imagery intelligence might enrich the information leading to the right course of action. Fain (2013) elucidates that the importance of utilizing all the components of strategic management is that it enriches the value of information sought while at the same time allowing the policy makers to envision and conceptualize possible future and trends of an event. To that end, components of strategic intelligence complement each other to the extent that it is impossible to either ignore one of them or gather information separately from each of them (Cilluffo et al., 2002).
Intelligence experts assert that separating the components of strategic intelligence could create inefficiencies in the coming up with timely findings for a specific event or situation (Cilluffo et al., 2002). Strategic information should always provide timely information that can help the policy makers and security agencies to respond to any threat immediately (Fain, 2013). As such, gathering, analyzing and disseminating information from all components in separate ways and then compiling the report into one could be time wasting. The rationale is that the information from different sources might not be consistent and therefore, take a lot of time and resources before authenticating it (Petersen, 2009). This is in contrast to a situation where intelligence community covers all components at ago and makes immediate decisions about the authenticity of the information they provide. Shulsky & Schmitt (2012) postulate that strategic intelligence community should always be guided by time factor especially in situations where information is vital for a swift action.
In essence, strategic intelligence revolves around the process of collecting, analyzing, evaluating and disseminating information to policymakers and decision makers for an appropriate plan of action. Contrary to many beliefs, the role of strategic intelligence is to help the policy makers to come up with the right courses of action and not predict the future. Using the available and most current data, the strategic intelligence community assists the policy makers to make the most informed decisions about a specific situation and develop strategic alliances, goals and plans of achieving common purpose. Strategic intelligence has various components that range from open source intelligence to signal intelligence that increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the intelligence community in relation to providing findings (Cilluffo et al., 2002). It is therefore imperative to cover all the five components of strategic intelligence to increase the accuracy, credibility and reliability of the information provided to policymakers. Utilizing the components separately could lead to inefficiencies and bottlenecks due to inaccuracies. it might also increase the vulnerability of a country from a particular threat due to the adoption of the wrong plans.