Saying “Yes” to Cross-Domain Intelligence Collection

man accessing a tablet that's project an orb of data

The “yes, and” way of thinking has been adopted from the improvisational comedy world to education, business, analysis, and other professions as a technique to foster openness to new or nontraditional ideas. In relation to intelligence collection planning in complex investigations, “yes, and” thinking can be a powerful tool to help guard against common analytic traps such as cognitive bias, anchoring, and mirror-imaging.

The concept of the “yes, and” mentality is this: Instead of saying “no” to an idea that seems too outside the box, the method involves agreeing with it and adding to it. Obviously, analysts and collectors cannot say yes to every idea that arises, but they can pause and consider what possibilities are there, especially in the collection planning process.

Intelligence is the best-disguised content in the world, and much valuable intelligence can be found in open sources by engaging with the right collectors. Unfortunately, we intelligence professionals often shun what is free and unclassified, and instead place undue weight on intelligence collected by secret means. Compared with traditional processes, cross-domain collection planning emphasizes the incorporation of a wide range of resources into intelligence-gathering efforts—as wide a range as possible for the given target of collection.

The following five steps can all but guarantee a successful intelligence collection effort using this approach:

  1. The first step is problem definition. This process requires the thorough identification and definition of the problem/target/topic/issue/threat as specifically as possible.
  2. After establishing the problem as clearly as possible, the intelligence professional needs to craft a specific and realistic set of priority intelligence requirements, which is the second step, requirements development.
  3. The next step is asset identification. An asset is any entity or resource that may have intelligence useful to satisfy requirements. To this end, a strong plan explores all collection possibilities, is based on all-source collection, and includes a range of agencies, organizations, and companies (in accordance with applicable laws, and as appropriate).
  4. In order to increase the efficiency of the collection process in terms of relevant inputs, the engagement plan is indispensable. Engaging with the right department or unit within an organization is crucial—just as intelligence requirements work best when they are as specific as possible, so does the engagement plan. The engagement plan for each organization should be appropriate for the way it does business. This is particularly important to keep in mind in cross-domain communications, in which unfamiliar policies, communications platforms, organizational cultures, jargon, and other factors come into play.
  5. Target network modeling is the fifth step and involves the process of organizing and linking collected intelligence. The use of a target network model (whatever form fits the need) keeps raw intelligence organized and gives it meaning in relation to other pieces of intelligence.

Cross-domain collection planning is a method of gathering intelligence that is inclusive, holistic, and open to information from an array of interdisciplinary resources that complement one another and lead to more robust analytic processes. More than an approach for collection, however, it is a powerful “yes, and” way of thinking systematically and strategically about what is needed and who can provide it.

This article is an excerpt from “Collection Planning: A Cross-Domain Approach,” originally published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Mediterranean and Balkan Intelligence (Volume 10, Number 2).