The Work of a Nation

The Work of the CIA

The Intelligence Cycle

The intelligence cycle is the process of developing raw information into finished intelligence for policymakers to use in decision-making and action. There are five steps which constitute the intelligence cycle.

Planning and direction is management of the entire effort, from identifying the need for data to delivering an intelligence product to a consumer. It is the beginning and the end of the cycle. The beginning because it involves drawing up specific collection requirements and the end because finished intelligence, which supports policy decisions, generates new requirements.


Collection is the gathering of raw information needed to produce finished intelligence. There are six basic intelligence sources or collection disciplines:

  • Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is derived from signals intercepts comprising, however transmitted—either individually or in combination, all communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), or foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT).
  • Imagery intelligence (IMINT) includes representations of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices, or other media. Imagery can be derived from visual photography, radar sensors, infrared sensors, lasers, and electro-optics.
  • Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) is technically derived intelligence data other than imagery and SIGINT. The data results in intelligence that locates, identifies, or describes distinctive characteristics of targets. It employs a broad group of disciplines including nuclear, optical, radio frequency, acoustics, seismic, and materials sciences.
  • Human intelligence (HUMINT) is derived from human sources. Collection includes clandestine acquisition of photography, documents, and other material; overt collection by personnel in diplomatic and consular posts; debriefing of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who travel abroad; and official contacts with foreign governments.
  • Open-Source intelligence (OSINT) is publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the Internet, commercial databases, and videos, graphics, and drawings.
  • Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) is the analysis and visual representation of security related activities on the earth. It is produced through and integration of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information.


Processing involves converting the vast amount of information collected to a form usable by analysts. This is done through a variety of methods including decryption, language translations, and data reduction.


Analysis and production is the conversion of basic information into finished intelligence. It includes integrating, evaluating, and analyzing all available data—which is often fragmented and even contradictory—and preparing intelligence products to provide to U.S. policy makers.


Dissemination is the distribution of the finished intelligence to the consumers, the same policymakers whose needs initiated the intelligence requirements. The policymakers then make decisions based on the information, and these decisions may lead to the levying of more requirements, thus triggering the intelligence cycle.


Intelligence Cycle


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Historical Document
Posted: Sep 10, 2009 10:25 AM
Last Updated: Jun 18, 2013 01:08 PM