Tuesday, January 4, 2011

RFI: Who Invented The Intelligence Cycle?

If there is one thing that virtually every intelligence professional, every intelligence sub-discipline, every intelligence training course uses, it is some version of the Intelligence Cycle. 

If you don't believe me, do a quick Google image search on the words "intelligence cycle".  While virtually none of the cycles are the same and virtually no intel professional will swear that this is how intel actually gets done, it appears to be one of the few things that everyone -- national security, law enforcement and business -- uses.

A number of years ago, when I began to question the utility of the cycle (more on that later), I also began to do research on where the cycle came from.  Who invented it?  When? And under what circumstances?  Why did the inventor think that a cycle was the best representation of the intel process? 

While you can find the cycle everywhere, I could not find any answers to these basic questions.  While I haven't been particularly aggressive in my research, I have asked numerous old-timers and intel historians and no one has been able to point to anything definitive.

Recently, though, while playing with Google's new Ngram Viewer, I ran across the 1948 book, Intelligence Is For Commanders by LTC Phillip Davidson and LTC Robert Glass.  Both were either instructors or had been instructors at the Command and General Staff College when they wrote the book and it was clearly influenced by the US Army's experience in WWII.

What really intrigued me, though, was their very explicit use of the term, "Intelligence Cycle".  I have scanned in a copy of their cycle and you can see it in the picture at the top of the page.  What is clear from the context of the book is that the intelligence cycle was not a new concept in 1948.  
Just a quick note on Intelligence Is For Commanders:  If you are at all interested in intelligence history and, in particular, military intelligence history, you have to get a copy of this book.  It comes complete with a packet of old school onion skin transparencies that are examples of 1948 analytic methods that later evolved into Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield  (In fact, one of the authors, Phillip Davidson went on to become the first officer in the Military Intelligence Corps to reach the rank of General).  That is just the tip of the iceberg; for the historically minded, this book is full of interesting tidbits about how intel was done back in the day...
In other research, I have been able to trace some descriptions of the intel process (which sound like the intel cycle but aren't called that) back to the 1920's.  What I am really interested in, though, is who was the first person (or organization) to refer to the intel cycle as the intel cycle and when and why did that happen?

Here's how you can help:

Stories.  When were you first exposed to the intelligence cycle?  Under what circumstances?  I am interested in responses from all three sub-disciplines of intel.  I think it would be fascinating to trace the intel cycle as it migrated through the years from the national security community to the law enforcement and business communities.

Books or manuals.  If you know of any books or manuals that specifically mention the intel cycle, I would be interested and would be particularly interested in any that were written before 1948.  Just give me the names and I will have my team of crack Graduate Assistants track them down.

Any other leads.  This is a bit of a detective story so any ideas that you might have to push the investigation along would be most appreciated.

Finally, I would really like you to leave your story, book or other lead in the comments below so that everyone can follow along.  If you want to contact me directly, though, my email is kwheaton at mercyhurst dot edu.
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Will McGill said...

I could have that book scanned by one of my crack grad students and posted for the community... my guess is that it is public domain by this point.

What say you?

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


Sorry, copyright, since the copyright law of 1976, extends 70 years after the author's death and one of the authors died in 1996. Stupid law but there it is...for more of what we are missing out on see: http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/pre1976


Pat said...

The Rand Paper Series, pg 7311, Rand Corporation (1946) includes a reference to NATO and the intelligence cycle.

. . .points in the Sinai desert, only to find the vehicles dispersed long before those photos could be assessed and delivered to a combat unit in time to scramble a flight of fighter-bombers to attack the target. NATO forces may not face a comparably slow intelligence cycle today. . . .

Available at
Google Books

Bryan said...

In that figure, the gears won't all go the direction shown. Just sayin'.

InvestmentMAGE said...

Sun Tzu devoted an entire chapter on the use of Spies, in the Art of War.

Nothing on the intelligence Cycle, but still worth a look.

Greg A. said...

Bumping an old blog post: I heard someone mention that Big Data may kill the intelligence cycle. It's an interesting thought and would transform the industry.

Pat said...

Robert Clark's target-centric approach deals effectively with a steady stream of inputs collected based on existing requirements sets. Collectors can assess collection needs from the ever-changing operating picture. But the maintenance of existing requirements sets and the development of new ones still require periodic evaluative processes. The cycle still exists, just not in a tight loop.