Just as a blindfolded boxer would be severly handicapped in a fight, a military commander without intelligence is severly handicapped in a battle or war.
Noted comedian Groucho Marx famously stated that “military intelligence is a contradiction in terms”. Be that as it may, intelligence at all levels is critical for military commanders to make sound and timely decisions. This also goes for other decision makers in areas like homeland security and police, although for now we’ll focus on the military domain.
Intelligence means not relying on luck
From our previous post about knowledge and intelligence, we might remember military intelligence described as “a military discipline that uses information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions.” Just as a blindfolded boxer would be severely handicapped in a fight, a military commander without intelligence is severely handicapped in a battle or war. Both might hit their opponent on a lucky shot, but both would surely prefer not having to rely on pure luck to win.
This post will focus on some of the basic concepts within military intelligence, whereas a future post will delve into more detail on methods and systems.
What is required from good intelligence?
Firstly, let’s take a look at what a decision maker needs in order to make informed decisions. You guessed it – information. Or rather, intelligence, but we’ll come back to that distinction in a minute. This intelligence should ideally be correct, of course, or at least as correct as possible within the allotted timeframe and resources available. Most importantly, any uncertainties, which there always will be, should be codified. This is usually done using phrased like “most likely”, “probably”, “possibly” etc, all having specific meanings within their context.
Next, intelligence should be timely. The decision maker will have little use of intelligence such as “the enemy will probably attack us before, uh… yesterday.” We should ensure that the methods and tools we use to create intelligence also cater for timeliness, possibly as a trade-off with accuracy.
Lastly, intelligence should be accurate and relevant. Accurate means accurate related to the task at hand, so that in certain cases you might want to know in which room of a house a hostage-taker is, while in other cases you just need to know through which country the enemy army rolls. Relevant means relevant to the needs of the decision maker, who probably already struggles with information overload, and does not require any more than what he or she needs to make a decision.
Questions you should be asking
Although the commander might not ask for this directly, the methods used to create this intelligence should ensure the quality of the product, including traceability and source evaluation. How do we know that the sources can be relied on? Do we know that this information has not already been reported by someone else, so that we make a false confirmation? What happens if we at one point in time suddenly discover a flaw in a source or a method – will we be able to trace and annul all reports that were based on this flaw?
The methods, tools and not least the people involved should make sure that the intelligence produced is the best possible, by taking all of this into account. We’ll soon follow up how you can ensure you’re getting good intelligence in another, more detailed post.