Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Part 8 -- Previous Attempts To Define Intelligence/Law Enforcement And Private Sector Attempts (What Is Intelligence?)

Part 1 -- The Problem Of "Intelligence"
Part 2 -- The Importance Of A Clear Definition Of Intelligence
Part 3 -- The Reasons For A Lack Of A Definition
Part 4 -- What Would A Good Definition Look Like?
Part 5 -- Previous Attempts To Define Intelligence/Legislative Attempts
Part 6 -- Previous Attempts To Define Intelligence/Agency Attempts
Part 7 -- Previous Attempts To Define Intelligence/Expert Attempts

The search for a definition of intelligence is not limited to the realm of national security. Businesses routinely collect intelligence on their competitors and on the economic environment, while law-enforcement officials have adopted a number of intelligence initiatives designed to help prevent crime or catch criminals. If intelligence, as a concept, is to mean anything at all, it should be large enough to contain not only the national security community but also the intelligence communities within business and law enforcement. Failure to establish such a comprehensive definition damages—perhaps fatally—the notion of intelligence itself.

Intelligence in the private sector suffers from two problems. First, just as the word “intelligence” itself has a very different meaning to psychologists and members of the national security community, so does “business intelligence” mean two different things to many business professionals.

The most common definition of the term is in the context of a partially or wholly automated decision support system for a business and has nothing to do with the kind of intelligence discussed in this series of posts. Here business professionals use the word "intelligence" to describe, for the most part, what the business knows about itself and, as a result, the word “intelligence” is more closely associated with the psychological definition of intelligence than with what national security professionals mean by intelligence.

Central to this popular definition of business intelligence are various software packages that track a wide variety of the generally reliable data associated with the business such as sales, inventory turnover and production. Intelligence studies students looking for “business intelligence” jobs are often frustrated, for example, by the requirements for experience with SAP and COGNOS and other “BI” software. This internally focused type of business intelligence work, which relies on hard numerical data from reliable sources, does not resonate at all with the externally focused meaning of intelligence with which most intelligence studies students are familiar. Yet, the fact remains, this is the most popular meaning of the term "business intelligence" in the private sector.

Beyond the dissonance created by the term “business intelligence”, private sector intelligence suffers from yet another problem: diffusion. There are so many intelligence-like functions within the business world that it has been very hard to pin down what intelligence, in a private sector context, really means. For example, intelligence analysts work in marketing departments as well as personnel security departments (particularly in companies with a global presence). Intelligence analysts help perform background checks as part of due-diligence investigations for the banking community (looking very much like law enforcement professionals when they do so) but also participate in more traditional “political risk assessments” for business consulting firms like Price-Waterhouse-Coopers (in much the same way and using the similar data and tools as the CIA). Financial analysts trying to pick the next hot stock and intelligence analysts looking at the competition both use much the same data and with some of the same purposes in mind but are looked on as entirely different professions.

The distinctions between these professions seem very real to the participants but, in many ways, those differences are ones merely of scale or target and not method or ultimate purpose. Furthermore, in many cases, what the private sector intelligence community is doing looks very much like exactly what the law enforcement or national security communities are doing. The only difference is who is paying these intelligence professionals’ salaries and the purpose to which the intelligence is put.

This diffusion in the private sector intelligence community is similar to the early days of the US national security community, where information was “stovepiped” along channels named for the source of the information. The US Intelligence Community is still struggling with its stovepipes and it is likely that the private sector will struggle with theirs for some time to come. Despite this, there have been some attempts to define intelligence within some of these channels. For example, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, states that intelligence is "any combination of Data, Information, and Knowledge concerning the Business environment in which a company operates that, when acted upon, will confer a significant Competitive advantage or enable sound decisions to be made." This definition is much like other intelligence-is-information definitions but adds an unhelpful clause implying that, unless intelligence is acted upon, it is not intelligence.

The law-enforcement intelligence community is somewhat better off, but just barely. For example, the Department of Justice's October 2003 National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan defined intelligence as "the product of systematic gathering, evaluation, and synthesis of raw data on individuals or activities suspected of being, or known to be, criminal in nature.” This definition did go further than any other in identifying intelligence as more than mere information but chooses to limit its scope in a way that ignores one of the great theoretical advances in criminal justice in recent years: community-oriented policing.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) defines community-oriented policing as "a policing philosophy that promotes and supports organizational strategies to address the causes and reduce the fear of crime and social disorder through problem-solving tactics and police-community partnerships." Intelligence that does not serve this purpose -- that focuses exclusively on criminal individuals and activities—would seem to be considerably less useful under this modem policing strategy. This is why, perhaps, the law enforcement community chose to use a different definition in the November 2004 report, funded by the DOJ, Law Enforcement Intelligence: A Guide For State, Local And Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies: "Law enforcement intelligence, therefore, is the PRODUCT of an analytic process that provides an INTEGRATED PERSPECTIVE to disparate information about crime, crime trends, crime and security threats, and conditions associated with criminality. (Caps in original)"

This might be interpreted as an advance in law enforcement intelligence, an improvement on older thinking, were it not for the fact that in the exact same month and year, November 2004, another publication (funded, of course, by the DOJ) reaffirmed the 2003 definition! Law Enforcement Analytic Standards was an attempt to establish minimum standards for law enforcement intelligence analysts. It traced its intellectual roots to the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan and as a result, focused on "lower crime rates, whether through apprehension, suppression, deterrence, or reduced opportunity." This bizarre game of dueling definitions clearly only muddies the theoretical waters even further.

Tomorrow -- Defining Intelligence

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