Intelligence Gathering: Evaluating Sources for Objective Analysis

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Intelligence Gathering: Evaluating Sources for Objective Analysis

There is little doubt that the information revolution has changed the way all do business. Intelligence analysis is exception. More information is now available to the analyst than ever before. However, more information is not necessarily synonymous with better information. To intelligence consumers, the product is only as credible as the sources from which it comes. And this basic concept that "intelligence must be based on credible objective information" is the exact reason why it is important to evaluate sources for intelligence analysis.

This article will define both national and business intelligence, enumerate several factors of evaluation, consider some sources, identify some places which provide evaluations, and conclude with some ideas for further consideration. Also note that this article only considers open sources which are available for all to use. It will not delve into the secret, human, or technical means of collecting information.


To the lay person, intelligence might seem like secret documents produced by government agencies to run covert operations and topple oppressive regimes. Intelligence, however, is primarily a process of collecting raw data, filtering, analyzing, and finally coming up with some logical conclusions. Intelligence analysis is the art of telling a story about the past, present and possible future of a subject. The end of the process is delivering this "intelligence" product to someone who can act on it. The action can be nothing more than a confirmation of a decision-maker's activity or motivate the decisionmaker to modify their current actions.

Intelligence is considered useful if it:

Causes a decision-maker to alter a previously chosen policy or course of action.

Displays all aspects of a chosen policy or action. Plays a pivotal role in the decision-making process.

Forces an adversary to alter his execution of a policy or course of action.

Enhances the effectiveness of a chosen policy or diminishes the adverse effects of others' actions.

When considering the differences between national intelligence and competitive intelligence, one must look at the type of information collected and the end-users for each type of intelligence. In the case of national intelligence, the type of information collected includes topics that may affect the security (both political and economic) of a nation. Consumers of national intelligence may include military personnel, legislators, or those in the executive branch of a government. In the case of competitive intelligence, the type of information collected may be competitor's sales figures, marketing strategies, or reorganization activities.

The end-user of competitive intelligence may be marketing executives, investors, or the board of directors (including the chief executive officer) of a corporation. Since the analyst is not the end-user of his product, he must always consider his consumer, the "intelligence" requirement, and finally how this intelligence will be used.


In order to write plausible, objective intelligence, one must begin with sources that provide simple truthful facts. Since an analyst must look at all aspects of an event or situation, sources are sought which are authoritative, provide varied perspectives, and are insightful. Sources from which intelligence is produced must also be timely and easy to use.

Factors of Evaluation

There is no great difference between evaluating methods developed by library scientists and those of intelligence agencies. Both reflect on a source's accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, and content. However, intelligence agencies pay particular attention to a source's bias, veracity, and timeliness in order to evaluate it for analysis. Other factors to consider include a source's uniqueness, credibility, scope, depth, tip factor, and other costs of getting useful information for intelligence.

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