Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions.
This is achieved by providing an assessment
Intelligence analysis
Intelligence analysis is the process of taking known information about situations and entities of strategic, operational, or tactical importance, characterizing the known, and, with appropriate statements of probability, the future actions in those situations and by those entities...

 of available data from a wide range of sources, directed towards the commanders' mission requirements or responding to focused questions as part of the operational or campaign planning activity. In order to provide an informed analysis, the commander's information requirements are first identified. These information requirements are then incorporated into a process of intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination.

Areas of study may include the operational environment, hostile, friendly and neutral forces, the civilian population in an area of combat operations, and other, broader areas of interest. Intelligence activities are conducted at all levels, from tactical to strategic, in peacetime, the period of transition to war, and during a war
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...


Most government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

s maintain a military intelligence capability to provide analytical and information collection personnel in both specialist units and from other arms and services. The military intelligence capabilities will interact with civilian intelligence capabilities to inform the spectrum of political and military activities.

Personnel selected for intelligence duties may be selected for their analytical abilities and personal intelligence before receiving formal training.

Levels of intelligence

Intelligence operations are carried out throughout the hierarchy of political and military activity.

Strategic intelligence

Military strategy
Military strategy is a set of ideas implemented by military organizations to pursue desired strategic goals. Derived from the Greek strategos, strategy when it appeared in use during the 18th century, was seen in its narrow sense as the "art of the general", 'the art of arrangement' of troops...

 intelligence is concerned with broad issues such as economics, political assessments, military capabilities and intentions of foreign nations (and, increasingly, non-state actor
Non-state actor
Non-state actors are categorized as entities participating or acting in the sphere of international relations; organisations with sufficient power to influence and cause change in politics which are...

s). Such intelligence may be scientific, technical, tactical, diplomatic, or sociological
Sociological intelligence
Sociological intelligence is military or competitive intelligence concerning the social stratification, value systems, and group dynamics of a population....

 but these changes are analyzed in combination with known facts about the area in question, such as geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

, demographics
Demographics are the most recent statistical characteristics of a population. These types of data are used widely in sociology , public policy, and marketing. Commonly examined demographics include gender, race, age, disabilities, mobility, home ownership, employment status, and even location...

, and industrial capacities.

Operational intelligence

Operational intelligence is focused on support to an expeditionary force commander and will be attache to the formation headquarters.

Tactical intelligence

Tactical intelligence is focused on support to operations at the tactical level, and would be attached to the battlegroup. At the tactical level briefings are delivered to patrols on current threats and collection priorities, these patrols are then debriefed to elicit information for analysis and communication through the reporting chain.

Intelligence tasking

Intelligence should respond to the needs of the commander, based on the military objective and the outline plans for the operation. The military objective provides a focus for the estimate process, from which a number of information requirements are derived, information requirements may be related to terrain and impact on vehicle or personnel movement, disposition of hostile forces, sentiments of the local population and capabilities of the hostile order of battle
Order of battle
In modern use, the order of battle is the identification, command structure, strength, and disposition of personnel, equipment, and units of an armed force participating in field operations. Various abbreviations are in use, including OOB, O/B, or OB, while ORBAT remains the most common in the...


In response to the information requirements the analysis staff will trawl existing information identifying gaps in the available knowledge. Where gaps in knowledge exist the staff may be able to task collection assets to collect against the requirement.

Analysis reports draw on all available sources of information, whether drawn from existing material or collected in response to the requirement. The analysis reports are used to inform the remaining planning staff, influencing planning and seeking to predict adversary intent.

This process is described as Collection Co-ordination and Intelligence Requirement Management (CCIRM).

The intelligence process

The process of intelligence has four phases: collection, analysis, processing and dissemination. In the United Kingdom these are known as Direction, Collection, Processing and Dissemination.


Many of the most important facts are well known, or may be gathered from public sources. This form of information collection is known as open source intelligence. For example, the population, ethnic make-up and main industries of a region are extremely important to military commanders, and this information is usually public. It is however imperative that the collector of information understands that what he collected is "Information", and does not become intelligence until after an analyst has evaluated and verified this information. Collection of read materials, composition of units or elements, dipostion of the same, strength, training, tactics, personalities (leaders) of these units and elements contribute to the overall intelligence value after careful analysis.

The tonnage and basic weaponry of most capital ships and aircraft are also public, and their speeds and ranges can often be reasonably estimated by experts, often just from photographs. Ordinary facts like the lunar phase on particular days, or the ballistic range of common military weapons are also very valuable to planning, and are habitually collected in an intelligence library.

A great deal of useful intelligence can be gathered from photointerpretation of detailed high-altitude pictures of a country. Photointerpreters generally maintain catalogs of munitions factories, military bases and crate designs, in order to interpret munition shipments and inventories.

Most intelligence services maintain or support groups whose only purpose is to keep maps. Since maps also have valuable civilian uses, these agencies are often publicly associated or identified as other parts of the government. Some historic counter-intelligence services, especially in Russia and China, have intentionally banned or placed disinformation in public maps; good intelligence can identify this disinformation.

It is commonplace for the intelligence services of large countries to read every published journal of the nations in which it is interested, and the main newspapers and journals of every nation. This is a basic source of intelligence.

It is also common for diplomatic and journalistic personnel to have a secondary goal of collecting military intelligence. For western democracies, it is extremely rare for journalists to be paid by an official intelligence service, but they may still patriotically pass on tidbits of information they gather as they carry on their legitimate business. Also, much public information in a nation may be unavailable from outside the country. This is why most intelligence services attach members to foreign service offices.

Some industrialized nations also eavesdrop continuously on the entire radio spectrum, interpreting it in real time. This includes not only broadcasts of national and local radio and television, but also local military traffic, radar emissions, and even microwaved telephone and telegraph traffic, including satellite traffic.

The U.S. in particular is known to maintain satellites able to intercept cell-phone and pager traffic. Analysis of bulk traffic is normally performed by complex computer programs that parse natural language and phone numbers looking for threatening conversations and correspondents. In some extraordinary cases, undersea or land-based cables have been tapped, as well.

More exotic secret information, such as encryption keys, diplomatic message traffic, policy and orders of battle are usually restricted to analysts on a need-to-know basis, in order to protect the sources and methods from foreign traffic analysis.


Analysis consists of assessment of an adversary's capabilities and vulnerabilities. In a real sense these are threats and opportunities. Analysts generally look for the least defended or most fragile resource that is necessary for important military capabilities. These are then flagged as critical vulnerabilities. For example, in modern mechanized warfare, the logistic train for a military unit's fuel supply is often the most vulnerable part of a nation's order of battle.

Human intelligence, gathered by spies, is usually carefully tested against unrelated sources. It is notoriously prone to inaccuracy: In some cases, sources will just make up imaginative stories for pay, or they may try to settle grudges by identifying personal enemies as enemies of the state that is paying for the intelligence. However, human intelligence is often the only form that provides information about an opponent's intentions and rationales, and it is therefore often uniquely valuable to successful negotiation of diplomatic solutions.

In some intelligence organizations, analysis follows a procedure, screening general media and sources to locate items or groups of interest, and then systematically assessing their location, capabilities, inputs and environment for vulnerabilities, using a continuously-updated list of typical vulnerabilities.


Critical vulnerabilities are then indexed in a way that makes them easily available to advisors and line intelligence personnel who package this information for policy-makers and war-fighters. Vulnerabilities are usually indexed by the nation and military unit, with a list of possible attack methods.

Critical threats are usually maintained in a prioritized file, with important enemy capabilities analyzed on a schedule set by an estimate of the enemy's preparation time. For example, nuclear threats between the USSR and the U.S. were analyzed in real time by continuously on-duty staffs. In contrast, analysis of tank or army deployments are usually triggered by accumulations of fuel and munitions, which are monitored on slower, every-few-days cycles. In some cases, automated analysis is performed in real time on automated data traffic.

Packaging threats and vulnerabilities for decision makers is a crucial part of military intelligence. A good intelligence officer will stay very close to the policy-maker or war fighter, to anticipate their information requirements, and tailor the information needed. A good intelligence officer will ask a fairly large number of questions in order to help anticipate needs, perhaps even to the point of annoying the principal. For an important policy-maker, the intelligence officer will have a staff to which research projects can be assigned.

Developing a plan of attack is not the responsibility of intelligence, though it helps an analyst to know the capabilities of common types of military units. Generally, policy-makers are presented with a list of threats, and opportunities. They approve some basic action, and then professional military personnel plan the detailed act and carry it out. Once hostilities begin, target selection often moves into the upper end of the military chain of command. Once ready stocks of weapons and fuel are depleted, logistic concerns are often exported to civilian policy-makers.


Processing takes part in the brain and yields surprising effects. Instead of processing information mentally it is much easier to do it by means of computers.


The processed intelligence information is disseminated through database systems, intel bulletins and briefings to the different decision makers. The bulletins could also include consequently resulting information requirements and thus conclude the intelligence cycle.

It can also be leaked for political purposes by the Executive Branch or by whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg, PhD, is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War,...


See also

  • Battlespace
    Battlespace is a term used to signify a unified military strategy to integrate and combine armed forces for the military theatre of operations, including air, information, land, sea, and space to achieve military goals. It includes the environment, factors, and conditions that must be understood...

  • Aesopian language
    Aesopian language
    Aesopian Language is communications that convey an innocent meaning to outsiders but hold a concealed meaning to informed members of a conspiracy or underground movement. For instance, Person X is known for exposing secrets in an organization, so the organization leaders announce, "any members who...

  • Cryptography
    Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

  • Company Level Intelligence Cell
    Company Level Intelligence Cell
    A Company Level Intelligence Cell is a United States Marine Corps program that both pushes down 0231 Intelligence Analysts from their Battalion S-2 down to the rifle companies while simultaneously augmenting them with specially-trained 0311 Infantry who can conduct basic intelligence work.- Other...

  • Counter-intelligence
    Counterintelligence or counter-intelligence refers to efforts made by intelligence organizations to prevent hostile or enemy intelligence organizations from successfully gathering and collecting intelligence against them. National intelligence programs, and, by extension, the overall defenses of...

  • Disinformation
    Disinformation is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. For this reason, it is synonymous with and sometimes called black propaganda. It is an act of deception and false statements to convince someone of untruth...

  • Edmund Charaszkiewicz
    Edmund Charaszkiewicz
    Edmund Kalikst Eugeniusz Charaszkiewicz was a Polish military intelligence officer who specialized in clandestine warfare. Between the World Wars, he helped establish Poland's interbellum borders in conflicts over territory with Poland's neighbors....

  • Electronic warfare
    Electronic warfare
    Electronic warfare refers to any action involving the use of the electromagnetic spectrum or directed energy to control the spectrum, attack an enemy, or impede enemy assaults via the spectrum. The purpose of electronic warfare is to deny the opponent the advantage of, and ensure friendly...

  • Espionage
    Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

  • Intelligence cycle
    Intelligence cycle
    The traditional Intelligence cycle is a concept that describes the fundamental cycle of intelligence processing in a civilian or military intelligence agency or in law enforcement as a closed path consisting of repeating nodes. The stages of the intelligence cycle include the issuance of...

  • Intelligence (information gathering)
    Intelligence (information gathering)
    Intelligence assessment is the development of forecasts of behaviour or recommended courses of action to the leadership of an organization, based on a wide range of available information sources both overt and covert. Assessments are developed in response to requirements declared by the leadership...

  • Intelligence gathering network
    Intelligence gathering network
    In the broadest possible form, an intelligence gathering network is a system through which information about a particular entity is collected for the benefit of another through the use of more than one, inter-related source....

  • Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance
  • Interrogation
    Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information. Subjects of interrogation are often the suspects, victims, or witnesses of a crime...

  • Medical intelligence
    Medical intelligence
    Medical Intelligence is defined by the Department of Defense as:That category of intelligence resulting from collection, evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of foreign medical, bio-scientific, and environmental information that is of interest to strategic planning and to military medical...

  • Meteorological intelligence
    Meteorological intelligence
    Meteorological intelligence is information measured, gathered, compiled, exploited, analyzed and disseminated by meteorologists, climatologists and hydrologists to characterize the current state and/or predict the future state of the atmosphere at a given location and time...

  • Military secrets
  • Reconnaissance
    Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

  • Scenario planning
    Scenario planning
    Scenario planning, also called scenario thinking or scenario analysis, is a strategic planning method that some organizations use to make flexible long-term plans. It is in large part an adaptation and generalization of classic methods used by military intelligence.The original method was that a...

  • Spy satellite
    Spy satellite
    A spy satellite is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications....

  • Strategic intelligence
    Strategic intelligence
    1. Strategic intelligence pertains to the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence that is required for forming policy and military plans at the national and international level....

  • Technical intelligence
    Technical intelligence
    In a pure military context, Technical Intelligence is intelligence about weapons and equipment used by the armed forces of foreign nations .The related term, scientific and technical intelligence, addresses information collected at the strategic level.Technical intelligence is intended primarily...

  • Admiralty code
    Admiralty code
    The Admiralty System or NATO System is a method for evaluating collected items of intelligence. The system comprises a two-character notation assessing the reliability of the source and the assessed level of confidence on the information...

  • DIO (Australian Defence Intelligence Organisation
    Defence Intelligence Organisation
    The Defence Intelligence Organisation is an Australian government intelligence agency responsible for assessing intelligence obtained from or provided by other Australian and foreign intelligence agencies, supporting Defence and Government decision-making and the planning and conduct of Australian...

  • GRU
    GRU or Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye is the foreign military intelligence directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation...

     (Russian Military Intelligence)
  • Inter-Services Intelligence
    Inter-Services Intelligence
    The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence , is Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, responsible for providing critical national security intelligence assessment to the Government of Pakistan...

     and Military Intelligence
    Military Intelligence of Pakistan
    In Pakistan Defence Forces, the Directorate-General for the Military Intelligence , is a Pakistan Defence Forces intelligence agency and that is responsible for the military counter-intelligence. It also refers specifically to the intelligence components of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Unlike the...

  • MAD
    Militärischer Abschirmdienst
    The Militärischer Abschirmdienst or more officially Amt für den Militärischen Abschirmdienst , is one of the three federal intelligence agencies in Germany, responsible for military counterintelligence...

     (German Military Intelligence)

US specific:
  • Defense Intelligence Agency
    Defense Intelligence Agency
    The Defense Intelligence Agency is a member of the Intelligence Community of the United States, and is the central producer and manager of military intelligence for the United States Department of Defense, employing over 16,500 U.S. military and civilian employees worldwide...

  • Defense Language Institute
    Defense Language Institute
    The Defense Language Institute is a United States Department of Defense educational and research institution, which provides linguistic and cultural instruction to the Department of Defense, other Federal Agencies and numerous and varied other customers...

  • Document Exploitation (DOCEX)
    Document Exploitation (DOCEX)
    Document Exploitation is the set of procedures used by the United States Armed Forces to discover, categorize, and use documents seized in combat operations. In the course of performing its missions in the War on Terrorism, members of the United States Armed Forces discover vast amounts of...

  • United States Army Intelligence Center
    United States Army Intelligence Center
    The United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence is the United States Army's school for professional training of military intelligence personnel...

  • World Basic Information Library (WBIL)
    World Basic Information Library (WBIL)
    The World Basic Information Library is a joint United States Army and United States Navy program, which allows Reserve Component personnel of all United States Armed Forces branches to participate in contributing Open Source Intelligence information in accordance with tasking requirements from...

External links

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