National Security Intelligence Cycle

The following overview is typical of a government intelligence information gathering process:

Planning and Direction

When we are tasked with a specific job, we begin planning what we’ll do and how. We move in a specific direction to get the job done, listing what we know about the issue and what we need to find out. We discuss ways to gather the necessary intelligence.


We collect information overtly (openly) and covertly (secretly). Reading foreign newspapers and magazine articles, listening to foreign radio, and watching overseas television broadcasts are examples of “overt” (or open) sources for us. Other information sources can be “covert” (or secret), such as information collected with listening devices and hidden cameras. We can even use space-age technology like satellite photography. For instance, some analysts could actually view how many airplanes are present at a foreign military base by looking at a picture taken from a satellite in space.


We take all the information that we have collected and put it into an intelligence report. This information could be anything from a translated document to a description of a satellite photo.

Analysis and Production

During this step, we take a closer look at all the information and determine how it fits together, while concentrating on answering the original tasking. We assess what is happening, why it is happening, what might occur next, and how it affects US interests.


In this final step, we give our final written analysis to a policymaker, the same policymaker who started the cycle. After reading the final analysis and learning the answer to the original question, the policymaker may come back with more questions. Then the whole process starts over again.

One might readily see how such a cycle can be simply adapted for many different types of situations. For example, someone living in a region that is vulnerable to external disruption, such as those living in what some consider to be disputed territory, might use the intelligence cycle to their advantage. Too often, a highly emotional response to what one might consider being an injustice, could just lead to further deterioration. Inflaming a situation might suit those benefiting from instigating an arson attack, but not for one seeking a serious improvement in their aspirations.

An experienced intelligence officer might well count on an enemy reacting with an expected inflammatory response. Why would that be the case? Plotting the likely course of an enemy’s route of invasion can better help the defender to prepare the coming battleground. What could be sweeter than leading an enemy into a trap sprung by their own shortcomings? In other words, if the enemy is liable to throw a tantrum in reaction to a carefully designed plot, then one can anticipate their likely moves and adequately block them. Sadly, all too often, we can become victims ourselves of fake news, or possible threats against our interest, without carefully analysing its content. Keeping a cool head in the heat of a confrontation is an essential part of any military officers’ personal tool kit.

Getting a clear picture

Trail of the Ark is tackling a search that for sure could upset many people’s political or religious agenda. While that is far from the trails objective, it is better to look ahead and be prepared for an eventuality where serious objections creep in to the equation. Accordingly, one could act with self-righteous indignation, which might appeal to a moral sense of injustice, but is such a passionate reaction likely to work? Just focusing on one’s own winning moves, without giving adequate consideration of our opponents own counter moves, can lose even the simplest games. I know that from my own shortcomings, although it’s good to have a family member or good friend bask in their own victory!


Credits: United States Central Intelligence Agency.