Setting Up an Intelligence Hub
Intelligence in some form is in use today across a broad spectrum. No longer just the purview of Government entities, business intelligence is a common term and practice among corporations. Today, in the internet age, there is an abundance of readily accessible information about any given topic, organization or person. The immense growth of social networking in recent years has added to a rich information bank that is readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The challenge today is to sift through vast quantities of information to uncover and piece together the information you require into an intelligence picture that supports your operations. The value of your own information can increase exponentially when combined with open source research and information from other entities with whom you are willing to share.
Why Have an Intelligence Hub?
An intelligence hub is a central repository for information and intelligence gleaned from different entities. These entities can be different departments within one institution or they can be a co-operative venture among different organizations. Before setting up an intelligence hub, it is essential to clearly defined its purpose, otherwise your operation will generate lots of activity and few results.
An intelligence hub can be created to fill a singular need, such as sharing information about a single cross-jurisdictional investigation or to address a multitude of related issues such as sharing threat information and lessons learned where entities are co-operating. Once you have determined the need and purpose, it is important to follow a structured process to ensure it meets the objectives for which it was created.
Setting up an Intelligence Hub
Identify the Participants
Who are the participants that should be included? As an example, the borderless nature of crime and terrorism has seen many intelligence hubs or fusion centres created to allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information in support of a common goal. There must be trust and common ground among the participants. Ideally, each participant will have information to contribute and something to gain through active participation.
Agree on Governance
A board of directors or steering committee from each participating organization should be formed to agree on how the hub will be governed and to strategically direct the activities of the intelligence hub. Crucial to success is determining what information will and will not be shared. Corporations in particular have valid concerns about proprietary information that must be protected. Determining up front what information will go into the hub and how it will be shared will make sure that expectations are clear from the start. Once the information is in the hub, how will it be protected? What level of security do you need to meet all participants’ risk tolerance levels? Once the hub is up and running, how will decisions on priorities and activities be made, and by whom? Ideally, directors should be committed enough to participate in steering meetings and senior enough that they can make decisions on behalf of their organization.
Set primary intelligence requirements
Once the participants are chosen and the governance has been set, it is time to set the primary intelligence requirements. These are the main topics that the participants agree should be the focus of the intelligence hub’s efforts.
Primary intelligence requirements should be reviewed continually and updated regularly to ensure they are still meeting the needs of the participants.
Normally these topics will be areas where a gap exists in information required by the participants to enable their operations.
Create A collection plan
Once the requirements are defined, a formal collection plan should be developed to determine sources of information available to meet the requirements and to plan the best way to obtain information from these sources.
There are many legitimate sources of information that, combined with information the participants already have, can provide valuable intelligence that can mitigate threats, improve operations and keep employees safe.
Potential sources include government agencies, open source searches, and interviews of knowledgeable persons or partner companies. A formal collection plan will keep activity focused toward results that flow from the primary intelligence requirements. It will also ensure that time is not wasted on broad and general fishing expeditions and is instead focused on what is vital to the participating organizations.
Create and maintain an analysis capability
It is crucial that the intelligence hub obtain the tools and training required to analyze collected intelligence. Depending on the volume and complexity of the intelligence needs, this may range from rudimentary training and systems to complex training and technical tools.
There are excellent tools to assist in analyzing vast quantities of information in order to produce focused intelligence. A common mistake, however, is to purchase tools such as intelligence software without establishing the framework for your intelligence hub. Properly used tools are powerful enablers, but without strategy they have nothing to enable. Your intelligence framework and products required will dictate the extent and complexity of the tools and training you will need.
Intelligence that is not distributed to the people who will use it is of no value. Therefore it is essential to determine what products are expected to meet the needs of the participating organizations. Products can range from simple briefings and written updates to complex reports with link analysis diagrams that show the reader important links among vast quantities of information. How often will they be distributed and who specifically will get them? Briefings on time-sensitive information may be required immediately, whereas monthly reports may be sufficient for longer term issues.
Continued success of an intelligence hub requires a feedback system to make sure that the intelligence program is continually focused on the needs of participating organizations. Are the primary intelligence requirements up to date? Are the products useful and timely? Are changes required? In addition to these questions, communicating success stories resulting from the intelligence hub’s efforts reinforces the value of the hub and the efforts of those doing the analyses.
Intelligence, like any other activity, provides best value within a strategically planned framework linked to the needs of the organizations it supports.
The quantity of information available through open sources today requires a formal approach to sift through and identify what is important. Linkages between pieces of information held by different entities can increase the value of one’s own information immensely.
An intelligence hub concept offers immense value to partners who are willing to share with each other and take the time to build an agreement and intelligence strategy that will meet their needs.
Stephen Moore is President of Presidia Security Consulting. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-883-7805.
© FrontLine Security 2011