Elements Of Intelligence

Intelligence can be divided according to the type of activity involved into four parts, often referred to as “elements of intelligence”: collection, analysis, covert action and counterintelligence.

Collection refers to the gathering of raw data, through espionage; technical means (photography, interception of electronic communications, and other methods involving technology); exploitation of "open source"; or in any other manner. While collection is obviously fundamental to intelligence work, opinions differ regarding the relative importance of the various methods.

However good the collected information, however, it almost never speaks for itself. In other words, some analysis of the information is necessary if it is to be useful to policy makers and military commanders. In the vast majority of cases, the collected information is fragmentary, ambiguous, and susceptible to widely divergent interpretations. Thus, the process of analyzing the available information to make judgments about the capabilities, intentions and actions of another party is a vital part of the intelligence process. Even more difficult is the process of forecasting the future capabilities, intentions and actions of the other party.

Covert action differs from the other elements of intelligence in that while the others are concerned with seeing and safeguarding information, covert action seeks to influence events directly. In terms of intensity, covert action can range from persuasion or propaganda to paramilitary action; it has been described as “an activity midway between diplomacy and war.”

In its most general sense, counterintelligence seeks to protect against any harm that may be inflicted by hostile intelligence services.

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