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What is Intelligence?

Quite simply, intelligence is the information our nation’s leaders need to keep our country safe. The employees of the CIA provide intelligence to the President, the National Security Council, and all other government officials who make and carry out US national security policy.

Our leaders make policy decisions based on this intelligence. Since they don’t have time to read other countries’ newspapers or watch foreign TV newscasts, we do that for them – collecting current intelligence. We also gather information other countries may not wish to share openly. We collect this intelligence secretly through other means.

Our policymakers need as much information as we can provide so they can make important, informed decisions. That’s why the President or members of the National Security Council or the President’s Cabinet members come to us with questions they need answered.

We provide various types of intelligence:

  • Current – looking at day-to-day events.  

  • Estimative – looking at what might be or what might happen.

  • Warning – giving notice to our policymakers of urgent matters that may require immediate attention.

  • Research – providing an in-depth study of an issue.

  • Scientific and Technical – providing information on foreign technologies.

So how do our employees complete specific tasks? They use the Intelligence Cycle.

The Intelligence Cycle

When we’re tasked with a specific project, we follow a five-step process called the Intelligence Cycle. This process ensures we do our job correctly as we work through a system of checks and balances.

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.


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.


Historical Document
Posted: Sep 07, 2007 03:36 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:59 AM