GEOG 885
Advanced Analytic Methods for the GEOINT Professional

What is Intelligence Analysis?


The following is a summary of parts of the RAND report Assessing the Tradecraft of Intelligence Analysis.

“Analysis” in the U.S. Intelligence Community has many meanings. The multiple components of the analysis cycle began with policymakers and military leaders, whose concerns would be turned into taskings for the major collectors. The take from those collectors is then processed at various levels, ultimately to be incorporated into all-source analysis, then disseminated back to policymakers and leaders. The cycle notionally distinguishes between intelligence sources and the analytic processes that are used to transform the raw data from these sources into intelligence products.

The intelligence cycle may be contrasted with the intelligence analytic cycle, which, according to the RAND report, typically includes three forms of analysis—technical processing analysis, single discipline analysis, and all-source analysis. However, the distinction between the first two types and all-source analysis is being blurred because of this use of tools, such as GIS, to integrate multiple intelligence sources.
Some suggest a continuum in the forms of analysis from collection system outputs at one end to analysis at the other. Along this continuum, there is a transition region where the data is used to support analysis. Past this transitional area, analysis splits into puzzle-solving and mystery-framing.

A puzzle tests the ingenuity of the solver and is “solved” with information. In a puzzle, one pieces together the puzzle pieces in a logical way in order to come up with the solution. In the past, a common intelligence puzzle was to piece together intentions based on capabilities. Puzzle-solving involves pulling together many sources of data and information and, using that evidence, identifying new patterns or trends and developing new knowledge. At the extreme of the puzzle-solving are complex puzzles. An example of a complex puzzle is the intentions of a secretive, heterogeneous, and fast adapting terrorist organization. Terrorist intentions are difficult to determine by looking at capabilities because terrorism is the tactic of those without great resources. In other words, for the terrorist threat, not only can intentions not be determined by looking at capabilities, but capabilities themselves have a strong mystery element to them. This brings us to the mystery-framing.

According to RAND, mystery-framing includes political and societal questions related to people, such as regional issues, national intent, or group intentions and plans. Here, understanding is much more a matter of subjective judgment, intrinsically less certain. The logic train is different for mysteries because no data can “solve” them definitively. They can only be framed, not solved, and thus the logic of argument and analysis is as important as the evidence, often more so. In the geospatial realm, information is always lacking because of accuracy, detail, or relevance. Therefore, many geospatial intelligence questions are verging on mysteries because the analyst can never provide definitive answers. Mysteries involving human perceptions about culture benefit from the insights of intelligence analysts who have learned through the experience of dealing with intelligence mysteries over a long period of time.

Within the geospatial community, the challenge is to move from processes that are driven purely by the data collected to ones driven by the problem to be solved. For geospatial, the move toward more problem-driven collection raises questions about different styles of analysis and the different requirements for analysts. For example, NGA’s concept of “geospatial intelligence” and its fielding of a geospatial framework provides a rich baseline from which to conduct analysis. Building and maintaining the framework is primarily “gathering,” which requires a highly efficient production process. By contrast, "hunting," or problem-centric analysis, requires empowering analysts in ways very different from the familiar production processes.