The process of tasking, collecting, processing, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence is called the intelligence cycle. The intelligence cycle drives the day-to-day activities of the Intelligence Community. It starts with the needs of those who are often referred to within the Intelligence Community as intelligence "consumers"—that is, policymakers, military officials, and other decision makers who need intelligence information in conducting their duties and responsibilities. These needs—also referred to as intelligence requirements—are sorted and prioritized within the Intelligence Community, and are used to drive the collection activities of the members of the Intelligence Community that collect intelligence.
Once information has been collected, it is processed, initially evaluated, and reported to both consumers and so-called "all-source" intelligence analysts at agencies like the CIA, DIA, and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. All-source analysts are responsible for performing a more thorough evaluation and assessment of the collected information by integrating the data obtained from a variety of collection agencies and sources—both classified and unclassified. This assessment leads to a finished intelligence report being disseminated to the consumer. The "feedback" part of the cycle assesses the degree to which the finished intelligence addresses the needs of the intelligence consumer and will determine if further collection and analysis is required. The cycle, as depicted in the figure below, is thus repeated until the intelligence requirements have been satisfied.
Figure 2: The Intelligence Cycle
The United States has procedures called TPED (pronounced tee-ped) to internally share intelligence information to all potential users. TPED refers to tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination. We will talk more about TPED later.
The term "intelligence process" refers to the steps or stages in intelligence, from policy makers perceiving a need for information, to the community's delivery of an analytical intelligence product to them. Intelligence, as practiced in the United States, is commonly thought of as having five steps. Mark Lowenthal (2006) added two phases for seven phases of the intelligence process as (1) requirements, (2) collection, (3) processing and exploitation, (4) analysis and production, (5) dissemination, (6) consumption, and (7) feedback.
Identifying requirements means defining those policy issues or areas to which intelligence is expected to make a contribution, as well as decisions as to which of these issues has priority over the others. It may also mean specifying the collection of certain types of intelligence. The impulse is to say that all policy areas have intelligence requirements, which they do. However, intelligence capabilities are always limited, so priorities must be set, with some requirements getting more attention, some getting less, and some perhaps getting little or none at all. The key questions are: Who sets these requirements and priorities and then conveys them to the intelligence community? What happens, or should happen, if policy makers fail to set these requirements on their own?
Once requirements and priorities have been established, the necessary intelligence must be collected. Some requirements will be better met by specific types of collection; some may require the use of several types of collection. Making these decisions among always-constrained collection capabilities is a key issue, as is the question of how much can or should be collected to meet each requirement.
- Processing and Exploitation.
Collection produces information, not intelligence. That information must undergo processing and exploitation before it can be regarded as intelligence and given to analysts. Conversion of large amounts of data to a form suitable for the production of finished intelligence includes translations, decryption, and interpretation of information stored on film and magnetic media through the use of highly refined photographic and electronic processes.
- Analysis and Production.
Identifying requirements, conducting collection, and processing and exploitation are meaningless unless the intelligence is given to analysts who are experts in their respective fields and can turn the intelligence into reports that respond to the needs of the policy makers. The types of products chosen, the quality of the analysis and production, and the continuous tension between current intelligence products and longer-range products are major issues. Analysis and production includes the integration, evaluation, and analysis of all available data, and the preparation of a variety of intelligence products, including timely, single-source, event-oriented reports and longer term, all-source, finished intelligence studies.
Significantly most discussions of the intelligence process end here with dissemination, and the intelligence having reached the policy makers whose requirements first set everything in motion. However, Lowenthal bundles dissemination with consumption and adds feedback:
- Dissemination and Consumption.
These two steps (5 and 6) are taken together by Lowenthal for seemingly good reasons. The process of dissemination, or the process of moving intelligence from producers to consumers, is largely standardized, with consumption being assumed in the 5-step process. However, Lowenthal points out that policy makers are not pressed into action by the receipt of intelligence, and if and how they consume intelligence is key (Lowenthal, 2006, p. 62).
A dialogue between intelligence consumers and producers should take place after the intelligence has been received. Policy makers should give the intelligence community some sense of how well their intelligence requirements are being met, and discuss any adjustments that need to be made to any parts of the process. Ideally, this should happen while the issue or topic is still relevant, so that improvements and adjustments can be made.
Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TPED)
“TPED" is an acronym that stands for "tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination." There is an emerging belief that the community would be better served with a TPPU cycle that is Task, Post, Process, and Use. Some have suggested that TPED is the supply-chain management for the GEOINT Community. Alternatively, you can think of TPED as shorthand for the ensemble of people, systems, and processes that add value to a geospatial intelligence collection system. TPED is a cycle, developing raw data into finished information for policymakers to use in decision making and action. The below diagram illustrates the cyclic nature of the process:
Figure 3: The TPED Process.
TPED is usually juxtaposed to a specific intelligence collection discipline—e.g. imagery, SIGINT, etc.—or to a specific intelligence collection asset. Thus, we speak of "tasking" an imagery reconnaissance satellite, "processing" its raw collection, "exploiting" its processed collection take, and "disseminating" the resultant information products. This may lead one to conclude that TPED is a neat, serial process.
In the United States, collection outruns processing and exploitation. More is collected than can ever be processed and exploited. Furthermore, technical collection systems have found greater favor in the executive branch and Congress than processing and exploitation. One reason for this is that collection is akin to procurement and is much more appealing than processing and exploitation. Also, collection advocates argue successfully that collection is the bedrock of intelligence. Collection also has support from the companies who build the technical collection systems and lobby for follow-on systems. Processing and exploitation are largely in-house intelligence community activities.
The current TPED problem in the United States derives largely from a domestic infatuation with Cold War high-technology intelligence. The technology is very expensive, and although intelligence spending is officially classified, many press reports quote a figure of between $28-30 billion per year prior to September 11. Regardless of the actual amounts involved, according to an unclassified breakdown of the current budget, almost two-thirds of the U.S. spending focuses on the technical collection agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Security Agency (NSA). During the Cold War, money was spent on collection technology and not the supporting TPED architecture. The United States could rely on extended periods for strategic warning using the existing intelligence structure and its bureaucratic inertia, with its inherent “stove pipe” TPED. These systemic shortfalls with TPED were overcome by the IC because the enemy and our allies were clearly defined, and the links tying our intelligence architecture in place were well understood.
TPED is critical for sustaining the drive for information dominance in the United States, but the current architecture is not adequately designed to support the global war on terror. National security decision making in the United States has relied on past assessments of security versus risk when sharing intelligence with its alliance partners. This paradigm, while appropriate for the Cold War, may not work in today’s coalition-centric global war on terror, and modern information age warfare has turned the Cold War TPED model on its head. During the Cold War, intelligence reports written by tactical units were sifted and analyzed by national agencies and centralized for the benefit of national decision makers. Currently TPED is more distributed, as the national intelligence collection systems and subject-matter expertise once dedicated to supporting a select group of national decision makers now support a vastly expanded base of coalition, theater, and tactical users as well. In the United States, the interoperability of intelligence systems supporting efforts in the global war on terror is essential for intelligence producers and consumers in a distributed worldwide network.