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The virtuous military intelligence cycle

Posted 6 September 2017 · Add Comment

Graham Le Fevre, Senior Campaign Leader, Cyber Security & Information as a Service (IaaS), QinetiQ, extols the virtues of the intelligence cycle and tells us why its enduring principles continue to drive innovation.

The tried and tested military intelligence cycle was originally introduced as a working formula for collecting and analysing information and turning it into accurate and usable intelligence. Whilst the cycle was first publicly referenced in the US Church Committee investigation in the 1970s, it's in fact older than that. Since its creation variations of the cycle have been developed, yet the core principles – a flexible and dynamic system of checks, balances and processes for the development of intelligence  understanding – mean it's stood the test of time and is still used for planning and decision-making across different military forces around the world to this day. 

In a joint doctrine publication on ‘Understanding and Intelligence support to Joint Operations’ , the UK MoD argues that when applied, the military intelligence cycle “enables new approaches to solving intractable problems and exploiting opportunities”. It goes on to state that in operations there is a constant need for accurate and timely intelligence, which “requires a continuous systematic, but flexible process based on sound principles”; exactly what is provided by the military intelligence cycle.

A prevalent view is that the cycle’s principles of Direction, Collection, Processing and Dissemination enable the provision of security, so delivering operational advantage. The creation of an intelligence-driven environment stretching from technical R&D through to leadership decisions makes it resilient to outside influence, yet also adaptable. This is no more evident than when the cycle is not applied to critical operations or is applied incorrectly, meaning entire organisations can be left vulnerable.

A case in point is the recent surge in cyber-attacks against the shipping industry. Large supply vessel operators have increasingly digitised their ships in order to enhance efficiency and drive down costs across their operations, yet they have failed to anticipate and prepare for the rise in cyber-attacks that affect almost every other industry. In failing to implement a comprehensive process for securely collecting, gathering, processing and using location and on-board intelligence, the shipping industry has become a target for hackers, leaving operators reeling from major attacks. Maersk recently revealed that the NotPetya cyber-attack in June could cost the company as much as $300 million (£155 million) in profits.

The military intelligence cycle in practice
When used correctly, the military intelligence cycle is a failsafe approach to carrying out successful operations in any scenario. Border control is a major national imperative and exemplifies how the process-driven approach of the cycle can be used to secure a highly complex and multi-faceted environment with limited human resources. The cycle informs the creation of next generation ‘smart’ technologies designed to secure vulnerabilities at different parts of the border. It also allows border control agencies to collect, analyse, disseminate and action vast amounts of information rapidly and effectively. In developing these technologies and dictating how they are used, the intelligence cycle has created a responsive and effective border control infrastructure that provides significant operational advantages.

For example, innovative detection systems used by security services enable the handling and control of threats that come with large numbers of people using a border crossing or international transport terminal. The intelligence cycle dictates the need for rapidly analysed and unequivocal information on those using a crossing, as well as the expedited distribution of information on any potential threats uncovered by this intelligence. This has informed our technology development process and resulted in solutions which can identify in near real-time items hidden under clothes in mass-crowd situations. These kinds of technologies provide users with rapid and usable information about potential hostile individuals in  complex environments, allowing security personnel to monitor effectively and intervene quickly where necessary.
 
Threats from individuals crossing a border are not the only issues to contend with. Terrorist and insurgent groups are using increasingly sophisticated communications methods. The need to understand what these communications are has led to the development of tools that identify multiple signal types. One of these sophisticated signals intelligence tools can, when mounted on an airborne platform, quickly identify signals across large regions, pinpointing hostile transmissions and determining their source and location. This information is communicated almost instantly to security forces, allowing close observation of enemy operators within their live environment.

Using the intelligence cycle to determine who is trying to cross borders, where and how, is essential to preserve national security. The intelligence produced will highlight, for instance, the potential to penetrate the border by digging tunnels. This has led to the development of another unique technology to identify where tunnelling activity can be detected by turning a simple fibre optic cable into a sophisticated and accurate monitoring system, creating a nervous system that detects attempted crossings and identifies their nature.

As such technologies demonstrate, the intelligence cycle is still a powerful process supporting critical decision-making.  It remains core to defence operations and paramount in securing services and capabilities in high-risk scenarios. Importantly, it illustrates that the cycle is as applicable to a technology provider working to uncover threats and provide organisation security as it is to the military forces for which the cycle was originally conceived, offering both types of organisation operational advantage.

 

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