Intelligence is an often-misunderstood field, and counterintelligence perhaps even more so. Understanding what they are, however — and how they’re different — can help you and your group not only have an actionable plan but also guard against things like infiltration and other nasty operations that target you.

What is Intelligence?

As we discussed in my last article, raw information is not intelligence. In order to be considered intelligence, information has to be actionable and distilled. You perform that distilling process through the intelligence cycle. While it’s often described and used as a five-step process, the average prepper/patriot/etc. can often combine two of the steps.

  • Planning and Direction – What do you need to know? What do you need to achieve? What is the point of collecting? How are you going to collect it?
  • Collection – Actually going and getting the raw information for processing.
  • Processing and Analysis – In the military, the processing phase collates the information into a form that the analyst can use to perform their function in the next step. In a standard prepping/survivalist/patriot situation, you may very well be the planner, collector, and analyst. (That doesn’t mean, however, that you can skip steps in the process. You can’t — you’ll only be doing yourself and your group a disservice.) In the analysis part of the cycle, you convert the information into actionable intelligence that you can use.
  • Dissemination – Once you have actual intelligence, you need to give it to the people who need it. That may be members of your group who will carry out an action. It may be members of your family. It may be an ally you’re working with. It may even just be yourself.

There’s a review step as well, in which you go over what you did and how you did it. What did you miss? What could you do better? What worked? You may also find yourself stopping during the Processing/Analysis phase because you realize you need more or different information in order to fulfill your intelligence requirements — the ones you created during your Planning and Direction phase. So don’t be surprised if you end up making an internal loop with the Collection and Analysis steps, or even have to go back to Planning to refine your requirements.

The process of analyzing information and making it into something you can actually use and act upon can be a frustrating endeavor. It requires discipline and a variety of skills that come from both training and talent — and while you can learn the training even if you don’t have the talent for it, you can’t get by without training even if you have innate talent. If you do learn how to do it properly, however, you’ll be miles ahead of the average group, who often thinks gossip about so-and-so is intel. Again, raw information is not intelligence.

Speaking of training, there are several avenues you can take. You can take a class in it; I teach webinar classes on the subject so you can learn it from your recliner. There are also many free online resources for learning the process as well; a few of them can be found here, here, and here.

There’s another resource that explains the “why” of the intelligence process. Why do you need those steps? Why are they important? Why do you need to follow those steps? What do they accomplish?

The point of intelligence, according to the Dictionary of United States Military Terms for Joint Usage (Revision of February 1957), is “the product resulting from the collection, evaluation, analysis, integration, and interpretation of all available information which concerns one or more aspects of foreign nations or of areas of operation and which is immediately or potentially significant to planning.” For you as an individual or group prepper/survivalist/partisan, it comes down to this:

Intelligence is the result of taking raw information and processing it in order to 1) shape your perception of your situation/enemy/area of operation, and 2) understand what actions you need to take next. 

Now let’s talk about counterintelligence — which, by the way, is just as important. Intelligence tells you what to do next, but counterintelligence can keep you safe.

What is Counterintelligence?

If intelligence informs action, counterintelligence seeks to thwart action. Your goal is to prevent another party from gaining intelligence from you, or being able to act upon intelligence they’ve processed because you ensured their information is wrong or unusable. That means it requires a different set of skills.

The graphic below (from FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations) shows the difference between counterintelligence and Human Intelligence, specifically, but it also demonstrates an example of how intelligence and counterintelligence can work together — and against each other. If your enemy is working their intelligence process against you, counterintelligence can thwart those efforts. Where intelligence seeks to find things out and process that into something actionable, counterintelligence seeks to find the holes and vulnerabilities and exploit them.

Keep in mind, however, that counterintelligence still informs action as well — both against the enemy and in your own group — and that can make things uncomfortable. It’s the CI guy’s job to know where your group’s holes are and offer ways to patch those holes.

What? Your group doesn’t have any vulnerabilities? You’d be surprised. Every single individual has at LEAST one, usually far more than that. Put 5-10 people in a group and now you have not only each individual vulnerability (so you’re up to 20-40 problems already) but the inherent issues that come from team dynamics, which are also exploitable. In short, every single group that ignores CI principles and practice is running around with a whole lot of holes — holes that someone can exploit with little to moderate effort.

What kind of problems, you might ask.

A good CI professional understands everything from core motivators to body language to linguistic cues. He (or she) will pick up on clues that the average person will miss — and those clues can mean the difference between protection and exploitation.

CI is not a one-time deal. You don’t do an assessment of your group, and then announce that “okay, everything’s good, let’s go back to pew-pew exercises in the woods.” CI is ongoing; it’s a constant process of assessment, identification, exploitation, and neutralization. It’s finding and mitigating damage before it actually happens.

A lot of groups see intelligence as not worth their time — and they don’t even consider counterintelligence. Like it or not, you don’t have the same SIGINT capability as your adversaries. You don’t have the equipment, the training, or the abilities.

You can, however, learn the more human-based skills and fields. You can become very proficient at the following:

  • Detecting deception
  • Identifying good (and bad) actors
  • Profiling people within your group
  • Identifying prospective assets, associates, and allies
  • Finding vulnerabilities in yourself and your group
  • Mitigation plans
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities of your adversary

The list goes on. Those skills can be used in your group, sure, but they can also be used as a list of offensive tools; in fact, if you want to be any good at CI, you need to be offensive. If your CI is passive; i.e., you simply see it as a defensive tool and/or you think you can just put up a gate, you will be exploited. Don’t make the mistakes that so many else have — and continue to. Learn the basics of CI, get your group trained up on some of the concepts, and consider choosing someone from your group to become highly proficient. Your group’s effectiveness and security depends on it.