In the last segment we talked about your AO and how to figure out what your boundaries are, as well as what your actual capability is within that area. Today we’ll focus on another problem area that gets a lot of misguided attention: information vs. intelligence.
What is Information?
You might see this as a stupid question, but it’s not. Information is data; it’s the facts, photos, knowledge, and other pieces that make up the raw material you use to create intelligence. Information is not intelligence. If you take nothing from this article series, understand that. Information is just that: information. It may or may not be true; it might be old or recent, credible or not. It’s not your job to collect as much information as possible and then make decisions about it, contrary to what you might think. In fact, far too many people do that and then wonder why their decisions turned out poorly. That happens because people do not take the time to correctly analyze, process, and distill their information into actionable intelligence.
I don’t care how many maps you have on your wall, or “contacts” you have that feed you information (in many cases, gossip and rumors), if you don’t know how to process information into an actionable, exploitable intelligence product, you’re off the mark — and all of your decisions and plans will be, too.
What is Intelligence?
Intelligence is what is created from information. That creation process is structured, it’s quantifiable, it’s logical. There is a cycle and system to it, and while entire books have been written about that process, it basically comes down to five steps (four for the average prepper since you’re probably not creating intelligence reports):
- Planning and Direction
- Analysis and Production
I want you to note a few things as you look at this list:
- Collection doesn’t even begin until you know what you’re looking to find out. Don’t get into the habit of collecting everything under the sun. One guy told me proudly, “My group collects everything; we then figure out what goes together and what matters later.” Don’t be this guy, because he’s wasting a lot of time and resources.
- Dissemination does not occur until you have analyzed and processed the information into something actionable and exploitable. Don’t be passing around information you picked up somewhere.
People seem to think that if information comes from a “trusted source” (which usually means one of your buddies who heard it from God knows where) that the information can be trusted as well. Unfortunately, you can be honest and still have bad information. You can be a person of integrity and still get facts legitimately wrong. Don’t have “trusted sources” who can tell you anything; keep in mind that they could be completely truthful in telling you the information they have — and still get it horribly, dangerously wrong.
Telling the Difference Between Information and Intelligence
Here’s a short list of things that others have passed on me as “intelligence.” Based on what we’ve learned so far, which pieces are actionable/exploitable and which pieces are just information that should NOT be acted on just yet?
- “I heard that John Smith from X Group is a fed.”
- “Antifa might be at the park this weekend with an armed demonstration.”
- “The gang activity in our state is increasing.”
- “My group member Jack is having an affair on his wife.”
- “I saw Mike talking to someone who was driving a Challenger with no markings and tinted windows who looked like a cop.”
- “If there’s a disaster, X Group is going to do Y.”
If you said that NONE of these things count as intelligence, you’d be correct. You’d have to distill the info into a workable and actionable product through corroboration, analysis of the source, and other things that go into the process. These statements have no real value to me unless they’re processed correctly and I can act upon them.
Knowing What to Collect
A lot has been made about understanding crime patterns and gang activity in your AO, but it means nothing unless you plan to do something about it. Are you planning some kind of one-man eradication operation to handle all the gangs in your neighborhood? No? Then what are you doing? You’ll see some people claim that you should know about this because if there’s a societal shift ever occurring, those people will become predators. What…because they aren’t predators now?
If you’ve read anything by Selco or others who have lived through a real-world SHTF situation, then you are aware that no matter how good and decent people are when things are good, in a SHTF they can and do become predators. So really, what is all that gang research giving you? Shouldn’t you be focused more on the people in your immediate day-to-day life so that you can see who has the collapsible personality and who can be trusted?
You could spend weeks or even months on gang and criminal research in your neighborhood but it’ll always be a bit behind, since those worlds are dynamic, always shifting in terms of power players and activities. Focus on the people who wave hello to you as you pull into your driveway. They’re a much closer, real potential threat. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be aware of what’s in your immediate area (such as the chop shop that is down the street or the meth addicts that live a few doors down or the general types of gangs that operate within your neighborhood), but you will waste a lot of time and resources if you think you need to stay on top of criminal activity happening in the southeast sector of your city when you live on the northwest side and it takes 30 minutes on a good day to even get there.
Now, if you have a child who walks 4 blocks to school, would knowing the addresses of all sex offenders between your home and her school, to include the connecting side streets, what they were convicted of, what they look like, and what their schedules are, be an actionable thing? Yes, because it will inform an ACTION on your part, such as choosing to drive your child to school.
With intelligence, you should always be looking to answer the question, “How can I exploit this?” Jack’s affair, for instance, is HIGHLY exploitable; if he’s in your group, he needs to go. If he was on your list of prospects, now you will NOT recruit him. If he’s a local politician who’s in the way of certain things you need to get done, now you have an avenue to get to him. There’s just one problem: you still don’t have intelligence. You have information — but you also have a question to be answered, and a goal to achieve. In this case, your question is whether Jack is ACTUALLY having an affair, and with whom. Answering that question, collecting for that purpose, and creating intelligence will inform your ACTION to leverage him for your own ends.
It’s not enough to “know things.” Lots of people know things. You need to learn how to understand what you’re looking for, how to collect what you need, how to process it into intelligence, and how to use that intelligence to inform your actions of exploitation. Otherwise, you’re just a fountain of gossip, random facts that might or might not be true, and nowhere to go with any of it.