Intelligence is information concerning a foreign entity, usually (although not always) an adversary, as well as agencies concerned with collection of such information. It is intimately tied with the intelligence cycle, a process whereby raw information is acquired, converted into intelligence, and disseminated to the appropriate consumers.

The intelligence cycle, as defined in the United States Senate hearings of the Church Committee during the mid-1970s, consists of four or five steps. In the first of these, called either planning, direction, or planning and direction, intelligence requirements are determined, a plan for the collection is developed, and agencies are assigned to specific collection tasks. Throughout the intelligence cycle, this first step recurs in the form of continued checking on the productivity of collecting agencies.

The second step, collection, is probably the one that most readily comes to mind when the average person thinks of intelligence. Collection involves actions the layperson would call "spying." Collection includes the gathering of information through means such as surveillance of various types, as well as the cultivation of human contacts. Through these and other means, information sources are exploited, and this information is delivered to the appropriate processing unit.

The third and fourth steps, processing and production, are sometimes viewed as a single step. In the processing phase, raw data is converted into a more usable form; then that information is evaluated, analyzed, integrated, and interpreted to produce what is no longer mere information, but true intelligence. Suppose numerical data on a factory's output is collected; in the processing phase, these numbers may be put into the form of a graph, while in the production phase, an analyst determines overall patterns and what they mean.

Finally, there is dissemination, the step in which processed intelligence is distributed to the appropriate consumers, which are usually government or military officials.



Martin, David C. Wilderness of Mirrors. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.

Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1998.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, fourth edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.

Wright, Peter. Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. New York: Viking, 1987.


HUMINT (Human Intelligence)
Intelligence Agent
Intelligence and Counter-Espionage Careers
Intelligence Community
Intelligence Officer
Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT)
SIGINT (Signals Intelligence)

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