Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 6, Issue 1  /  

Intelligence and Strategy: Relationship in Transformation

Intelligence and Strategy: Relationship in Transformation Intelligence and Strategy: Relationship in Transformation
To cite this article: Shabtai, Shay, “Intelligence and Strategy: Relationship in Transformation,” Infinity Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, winter 2018, pages 8-11.


Since the end of World War II there has been an acceleration of the criticality of intelligence to strategic decision-making due to three transformations: the systemization of the methodology of intelligence work in the 1940s and 1950s; the microchip revolution in the 1970s and 1980s; and the information revolution in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead of being just a Means it has become one of the Ways: an integral part of strategy itself. To realize its updated function, intelligence must know, understand and then imbue that understanding, influence decision making and transform itself at a higher rate and precision than in the past. However, even now the improvement of intelligence capabilities does not negate uncertainty, only changes its character from lack of information to an information overload, that must be sifted to glean those that are pertinent, an acceleration of the rate and speed of the uncertainty and the rapid changes of the human environment it must digest. So, despite improved Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, there will continue to be uncertainty in decision-making.

A Tale of Two Quotations

Carl von Clausewitz refers to intelligence in a brief two pages of his book On War. The message is sharp: "In short, most is false, and the effect of fear is to multiply lies and inaccuracies. As a rule, most men would rather believe bad news than good, and rather tend to exaggerate the bad news. The dangers that are reported may soon, like waves, subside; but like waves they keep recurring without apparent reason. The commander must trust his judgment and stand like a rock on which the waves break in vain"[i].

Two centuries later, the US Army's manual on Counter-Insurgency Operations declares that: "Intelligence and operations have a dynamic relationship. Even in permissive environments where a great deal is known about the enemy, there is an intelligence aspect to all operations. Intelligence drives operations and successful operations generate additional intelligence"[ii].

These two quotations show a distinct change in the place of intelligence in operational decisions since World War II.

The Three Transformations

The systemization of intelligence methodology occurred during World War II. Intelligence efforts have existed for millennia, intelligence organizations have existed for centuries, but World War II precipitated a fundamental transformation in the working methods of intelligence, including:

  1. The systemization of methods and organizations for collecting intelligence pertinent to political and military decision-making and for covert operations. The creation of the modern CIA and SIS (MI6) are prominent examples of this development.
  2. The evolution of the intelligence cycle with a clear distinction between the processes of the collection disciplines (HUMINT, SIGINT, VISINT, etc.), the analysis of the information collected, creating an intelligence picture and assessment, dissemination of the intelligence in reports and the defining of intelligence requirements to guide future collection and analysis.
  3. Technological collection – the collection and analysis of electronic signals and photography began receiving priority in quality and quantity over the collection of information from human sources.

The Cold War accelerated the transformation. The conflict was conducted on two extremes – the upper extreme, conducted primarily by the two super-powers, focused on the build-up of their respective nuclear arsenals, the aim of which was to maintain deterrence, and enable a technological advantage with the ability to achieve an operational advantage if nuclear war began. This was based on the intelligence ability to understand the intentions and the capabilities of the rival and provide sufficient warning of an impending attack. On the lower extreme, the rival blocs struggled to add and maintain allies and create hegemony in the Third World – conducting extensive covert operations to influence local regimes or change them and in overt interventions, sometimes large-scale (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan), in local wars. Intelligence was a key player that level too, providing information to the involved military forces and in leading the covert actions.

The concepts expressing the place of intelligence in policy and strategy in this period were 'early-warning' and 'covert operations'. Early warning was born as part of the development of nuclear doctrines, but Israel was the first to adopt it as a central theme to its conventional warfare doctrine. Israel's security doctrine, designed by its first Prime-Minister, David Ben-Gurion, had to confront an inherent dilemma. On the one hand a coalition of Arab state armies threatening its existence and on the other a demographic and economic inability to maintain a large standing army. The solution, a large reserve army, was only possible if Israel could maintain deterrence to make its mobilization rare; the failing of deterrence had to be detected in advance by a large intelligence organization built specifically to provide an early warning in order to create sufficient time for the reserve army to mobilize and join the standing army at the borders; and after this, a decisive offensive designed to rapidly defeat the threat and recreate deterrence to enable the quick demobilization of the reserve army back to its civilian economic pursuits for as long as possible before the next mobilization.

The microchip revolution in the 1970s and 1980s resulted from miniaturization of microchips while simultaneously multiplying their computing ability according to Moore's Law. Computerization supported the breakthroughs in electro-optics and exploitation of satellites for precise navigation (pioneered by the American GPS). These created a revolution in precise long-range munitions, enabling, for the first time ever, the ability to precisely strike targets with indirect fire. This capability created a new task for intelligence – finding the exact location of each of a multitude targets beyond the horizon. Intelligence became a critical and integral prerequisite for effective and efficient use of the fire capabilities, and thus became a major force in many armies. The ability of intelligence to meet the new demands was itself a result of the new computer-based technologies of space, long-range sensing and accurate location-finding.

New American and Soviet doctrinal concepts, such as the 'fire-strike', the 'intelligence-strike (or fire) complex' and 'deep battle' or its NATO equivalent – the 'follow on forces attack' – were predicated on the intelligence effort providing the information to conduct them. The concepts that express the place of intelligence in the military operations of the time are 'precise intelligence' or 'target intelligence'. 'Precise intelligence' replaced 'early warning' and 'covert operations' as the dominant task of intelligence organizations, though it did not completely eradicate them on the policy and strategic levels.

The information revolution from the 1990s on provided the general public access to the computer capabilities of creating, analyzing, collecting and dissemination of information. The prominent expression of this revolution was the World Wide Web, the internet, which revolutionized access to information. Until the internet people were dependent on information channels controlled by governments or large wealthy firms such as publishing houses and news organizations. The internet enabled people across the entire world to independently create and transfer information.

In the first era of the internet age, nicknamed Internet 1.0, most of the material was still supplied by companies or organizations specifically established or transformed to do so (eBay and Amazon for commerce in 1995, Wikipedia as the first open-source encyclopedia in 2001). However, in the first decade of the 2000s 'social media' (Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006) signaled the transfer of dominance in information dissemination from the organizations to individuals. Thus began a new era, nicknamed Internet 2.0, in which individuals have become the dominant creators of information in the global network.

Researchers are already pointing at the evolution of Internet era 3.0, in which analytical applications based on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, will process the individual's information creation activities or consumption, and direct them automatically to information of interest. The new era expresses a rapid catch-up effort by the larger firms and organizations using the information they have collected on countless individuals in order to reassert control, or at least influence, over their information consumption.

The information revolution has occurred not only in the open internet. Intelligence and military sensors belonging to states are acquiring access to rapidly growing amounts of information on the behavior of their rivals, whether organizations or individuals. This enables a deeper analysis of rival's actions and in some cases to point out anomalies that suggest preparations for aggressive actions such as terror attacks.

The information age poses four challenges to the intelligence organization:

  1. Weakening of the organization's superiority in intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination – this was based on an ability to acquire information before the rivals and to hide information from them, a situation called 'intelligence dominance' or 'information dominance'. This was especially important in non-democratic states where knowledge provided political power. The loss of control over the information flow was the basis for the global wide-spread popular unrest that began in 2011 with the toppling of Arab regimes, then flowed through democracies such as Israel, Greece and Spain, and reached the gates of Wall Street. However, the same weakness also allows organizations such as ISIS to easily foment so-called 'Lone Wolf' terrorist attacks across Europe, making their prevention by the security organizations more difficult.
  2. Information Analysis – Before the information revolution intelligence depended on focused targeting when collecting and analyzing information. Intelligence organizations focused on the intentions of the rival's leadership, and on the rival's capabilities. Today, intelligence collection is inundated with petabytes[iii] of information, nicknamed Big Data, and must sift the portions relevant to its needs (Data Mining) with computer programs and operate programs to analyze that data (Data Analysis).
  3. Intelligence Methodology – the methodical procedures developed during World War II built an intelligence operation model similar to an industrial production line: first, publish an information requirement; second, collect information to match the request; third, analyze and study the information; fourth, conduct a situational assessment; fifth, disseminate to the decision-makers; sixth, adjust the information requirements to suit their decisions and the actual evolution of the situation, and repeat again and again. This production line method is no longer relevant in the information age. A new method has evolved, nicknamed 'Intelligence 2.0', meshing intelligence consumers, collectors and analysts into a network:[iv]
  4. Focusing Intelligence Work – Intelligence continues to focus on the same topics that have always interested it – opponent's intentions and capabilities. However, the information revolution's influence on human behavior compels it to analyze general human phenomena that have increasing influence on strategic decision-making. Clausewitz explained the place of the 'people' in the triad of People-Army-Government, as expressing "primordial violence, hatred and enmity which are to be regarded as a blind natural force".[v] The information age has greatly strengthened the people in the triad, making their intentions and capabilities more important. This requires the intelligence to delve deeper into the Human Factor of the general populace – to understand it better. 'Understanding' in this context requires "the perception and interpretation of a particular situation in order to provide the context, insight and foresight required for effective decision-making".[vi] Despite not all military commanders and analysts agreeing with this new concept of intelligence, its prominence is growing in intelligence collection, political, strategic and even tactical analysis.

Consequences for the Relationship between Intelligence and Strategy

The three transformations described above have shifted the place of intelligence in strategic planning from the sidelines to the center. This development requires us to scrutinize the fundamental concepts of intelligence work. I will focus on three of them.

The first topic for scrutiny is "Ways is strategy, ends is policy and the means is combat".[vii] The natural and traditional tendency has been to refer to intelligence as a Means, a tool that assists the maneuver and fire elements to exploit their capabilities optimally. The three transformations raise the question of whether intelligence has not become also one of the Ways. The transforming of information, and by extension – intelligence, to a central tool in political decision-making and a critical element in the implementation of those decisions, makes intelligence an essential consideration in any strategy. Thus, for example, states will not convert confrontational policies into confrontational strategies if they are not sure they have optimal intelligence on their foes.

The second topic, stemming from the first, questions the accepted requirements from intelligence for strategic decision-making. Intelligence today can provide much more to the decision-maker than in the past, however, this requires it to sharpen five characteristics in its work:

  1. Know – it must be quicker and more focused in converting huge amounts of information into relevant intelligence.
  2. Understand – it must understand more and better and use tools that do not exist in the veteran arsenal of intelligence analysis, such as culture research and direct dialogue with rivals in order to bring decision-makers the most relevant intelligence.
  3. Imbue – It must cease the attention of the decision makers, distracted by piles of information and analysis in multiple channels, and imbue their professional nonbiased situational assessment and understandings.
  4. Influence – in a complex and multi-faceted reality, intelligence can no longer make do with providing the intelligence and then trusting the decision makers to use it optimally. It must create tools that assist the decision maker in exploiting that intelligence to influence the situation.
  5. Transform – it must do all the above while understanding that situation is still full of uncertainties and changes rapidly, and if it does not adapt as rapidly as those changes occur, it will lose relevance.

The third topic for scrutiny is whether war is still the domain of uncertainty. Some argue that the three transformations annul uncertainty in war. The ability of intelligence to know everything on the opponent enables it to provide certainty to the decision-makers. This is a problematic concept. War is a human activity, and human behavior is inherently difficult to predict. Therefore, uncertainty remains even if reduced in some aspects.

This uncertainty will manifest in ways different from the past.

It will stem from the over-abundance of information and the need to rapidly sift through it to provide the required pieces in time. Uncertainty will result not, as in Clausewitz's statement above, from a dearth of information and the unreliability of what there is, but from a surplus that overwhelms the analyst.

Uncertainty will arise from the rapidity of events. Information control, sensor technologies and strike technologies accelerate considerably the pace of battlefield actions. This creates the impression that the side that dominates information and fire capabilities will gain a higher level of certainty, but the inferior side is already finding ways and means to degrade this dominance. He focuses his actions to areas where the information and strike technologies are less capable, such as within population centers. When both sides have similar capabilities the acceleration of actions is mutual, and requires rapid decision-making (minutes or even seconds) to beat the opponent 'to the punch'. Decision-makers again cannot wait for the intelligence to complete its process – thus returning the uncertainty factor.

Uncertainty will also result from changes in human behavior. The assumption that artificial intelligence will complete analysis of the opponent's behavior better and faster than humans does not take into account that human behavior changes, humans can adapt to situations, creating new responses that the artificial intelligence will not be able to predict in time.


[i] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Howard, M. & Paret, P, (ed. and trans.), Princeton University Press, 1976, pp 136 - 137.
[ii] The US Army and Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 117 - 135.
[iii] Petabytes - quadrillion (1015) bytes.
[iv] Dudi Simantov and Ofer G., "Intelligence 2.0 – a new approach to intelligence activities", INSS: Army and Strategy, Volume 5, Issue 3, December 2014 (Hebrew).
[v] Ibid., On War, p. 101.
[vi] The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre Ministry of Defence, Joint Doctrine Publication 04(JDP 04): Understanding and Decision-making, 2nd Edition, December 2016, p. 3.
[vii] William F. Owen, A Rebuttal to Jeffrey W. Meiser, “Are Our Strategic Models Flawed? Ends + Ways + Means = (Bad) Strategy”, Parameters 47(1) Spring 2017, page 127.