Intelligence Collection

By Todd M. Manyx Joint Force Quarterly 73

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Intelligence Collection Cover

In this companion piece to the authors’ 2010 work, Intelligence Analysis: How to Think in Complex Environments, Wayne Hall and Gary Citrenbaum have brought forth a superior forum by which to consider the challenges associated with intelligence collection in complex environments. Each author brings with him a lengthy résumé of credible service in the intelligence field. Hall is a retired U.S. Army officer with over 30 years of intelligence experience, and he has remained active within the intelligence field by participating in numerous seminars on intelligence training and intelligence transformation. Citrenbaum is actively involved in issues associated with intelligence transformation. Accordingly, both speak with authority on the issues they raise.

The authors’ background as educators clearly influenced the organization and prose. On a most positive note, the book is written clearly and in a conversational tone that educates and informs without being didactic. It follows a well-constructed framework that systemically scopes the issues the authors feel are restraints on the current intelligence enterprise’s structure and processes. The technical organization of each chapter will be familiar to professional students in that each chapter opens with a brief discussion of the issue followed by a logical and detailed examination. At the end of each chapter, the authors provide a synopsis that specifically details the central points and then explains how it ties into the next chapter. The benefit of this model is that it allows readers to quickly review the salient points with the option of delving into a deeper, more nuanced reading, should they desire.

The book is divided into 15 chapters that comprise the introduction followed by four principal sections in which the authors utilize an inductive reasoning model to organize and present their thesis. The nonintelligence professional will find the introduction and the sections on underpinnings and synthesis to be the most informative. The lengthy sections on operations and specifics can be appreciated by reading the synopsis at the end of each chapter.

The introduction provides a useful discussion of the conceptual framework that should underpin intelligence collection and analysis in complex urban environments representing the dynamic nonlinear conditions that produce the Complex Adaptive Systems that confound the ability of our national-level intelligence collection capabilities to react nimbly when supporting lower-level commanders. It also notes that the enterprise is essentially protecting itself from making the changes required when it resists the calls from experienced junior leaders who understand the changes needed but lack the seniority to effect them.

The introduction also presents the authors’ concept of what Advanced Collection should seek to do. At its most elemental level, Advanced Collection serves “a distinct purpose [to] find . . . often fleeting observables . . . at the right time, at the right place, and in the right activities” as they relate to the modern battlefield’s center of gravity, the populace (pp. 2, 5). Later, this basic concept is further refined, with Advanced Collection being “The creative design and use of technical, cyber, human, and open-source collectors in all domains in pursuit of discrete, subtle, nuanced, and often fleeting observables, indicators, and signatures” (p. 292).

In the subsequent chapters, Hall and Citrenbaum discuss the constantly evolving nature of the operating environment and define 11 specific challenges to working in the chaotic and fluid environments that our forces face, particularly in urban areas. They take care to note that by focusing on four kinds of patterns—human/social, technical, functional, and organizations—we can identify anomalies that will help focus the Advanced Collection effort. In detailing the numerous challenges we place on ourselves, the authors also take time to provide specific remedies to each problem.

The most useful chapter provides an in-depth discussion on critical thinking. This chapter makes clear that critical thinking has a deep bench of military theory behind it and is substantively different from the other forms of thinking discussed in other sections. Critical thinking is unique in that, while it is essential for the success of Advanced Collection, it supports every professional regardless of occupation or specific problem.

The intelligence field I work in today is not the same field I joined in the mid-1980s, and that is a good thing. No longer are we focused on the FM-100 series with its attendant foldout sections detailing how the Soviet Motorized Rifle Regiment would array itself on the battlefield with the expectation that collection plans could be derived from such blunt tools. Today the intelligence professional has access to infinitely more information, powerful tools, and, after more than a decade of irregular warfare, a solid understanding of what it will take to continue to improve our intelligence “fighting position” and remain relevant and valuable to commanders at all levels. The thoughts put forth by Hall and Citrenbaum are not a prescription on how we should “fix” intelligence. However, their ideas are provocative and will challenge intelligence professionals to reflect on how they can provide better support. They will challenge everyone else to consider the myriad elements that affect intelligence collection and how the consumer can help focus the intelligence enterprise and use intelligence as yet another arrow in the commander’s 21st-century quiver of weapons systems. JFQ