So, if intelligence is the product that results from processing raw information, just what does it mean to speak of an intelligence cycle?
Simply put, the “intelligence cycle” is the process used to make intelligence as focused, accurate and effective as possible.
Direction begins the process. Intelligence personnel are told what the leadership wants to know. The first step is then to think hard about what must be found out to tell them that. As the old saying goes, if you really want to know something important, you have to ask the right questions.
Collection comes next. This is the part that most people immediately imagine when they think of intelligence. The raw information needed to figure things out must be collected from all of the various sources.
Processing can be the hard part. All of the raw data (which can be a lot) has to be analysed, and the right conclusions figured out. This is the stage that tends to absorb most of the people working behind closed doors in intelligence agencies.
Dissemination is the final stage. This is the process of getting the final product from the intelligence staff that produced it in the previous stage, out to all the people who actually need it.
The final point — an important one — is that as shown in the diagram here, the cycle feeds back on itself. Why? To ensure that assessments continue to be refined, the intelligence stays up to date, and that it generally responds to what the leadership really needs.
Different intelligence agencies around the world have slightly different versions of this cycle, but they all say pretty much the same thing.
Below is another example which I use – slightly different but pretty much the same thing.