The Intelligence cycle is a cyclical set of procedures for the production of intelligence information, common to many police and military intelligence organizations. Similar and complementary to the OODA Loop.
The intelligence cycle is composed of five phases:
Intelligence requirements are generated by the Mission Commander who has a specific mandate, whether it is strategic, operational, tactical or counter. In order to carry out the mission, the commander needs certain resources: personnel, a budget, communications, infrastructure, and also information/intelligence from open and closed sources. The commander's requirement initiates the Intelligence cycle - direction to the intelligence team to provide timely, accurate, appropriate and consumable information to help make informed decisions and carry out the mandate.
The intelligence team then analyses the problem against a matrix of available collection sources and assets to generates the collection plan, a document that establishes what is required, its source and priority. Intelligence sources and assets could include HUMINT (human intelligence), Imint (imagery intelligence), Elint (electronic intelligence), Sigint (Signals Intelligence), publicly available (open source) information, etc. Each intelligence source and asset has different characteristics which can be used but which may also be limiting. Satellite imagery, for instance may depend weather, positioning, and time for analysis.
Once the collection plan is in place and raw or semi-processed information is coming into the analysis section, it is collated into a format that can and analysed for accuracy, relevancy, significance, and signature. The fact that someone switches on a radio every day may not be that significant, but the fact that one day a large number of radios are switched on or that none are switched on, is significant. Over time, intel builds up a profile of the behavior of the target.
The next step is to disseminate the intelligence. It is important to provide a timely mode of dissemination as well as one that is appropriate: a daily briefing (paper); a briefing (oral); a battle screen display that can be updated in real-time; a weekly summary. All are examples of dissemination and have different strengths and weaknesses. The disseminated product has a security rating, such as top secret and if multiple copies are distributed they are generally numbered or otherwised marked as a counter intelligence measure to protect and/or trace information leaks.
Operational intelligence should be actionable - i.e., the mission commander should be able to make decisions and initiate operations based upon the intelligence received. Some intelligence is taken from such extremely sensitive sources that it cannot be used without exposing the methods or persons providing such intelligence. Such was the case for Winston Churchill during the Second World War when reading Ultra/Enigma material.
The intelligence cycle is circular: upon dissemination, future intelligence-gathering efforts will likely be refined in an iterative process, using feedback from the mission commander to alter the scope or requirements, and thus initiating a new direction phase.