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Intelligence (abbreviated int. or intel.) refers to discrete information with currency and relevance, and the abstraction, evaluation, and understanding of such information for its accuracy and value. Sometimes called "active data" or "active intelligence", intelligence typically regards the current plans, decisions, and actions of people, as these may have urgency or may otherwise be considered "valuable" from the point of view of the intelligence-gathering entity. Active intelligence is treated as a constantly mutable component, or variable, within a larger equation of understanding the secret, covert, or otherwise private "intelligence" of an opponent, or competitor, to answer questions or obtain advance warning of events and movements deemed to be important or otherwise relevant.

"Intel" is in contrast with "data", which typically refers to precise or particular information, and "fact", which typically refers to verified information. As used by intelligence agencies and related services, "intelligence" refers integrally to both active data as well as the process and the result of gathering and analyzing such information, as these together form a cohesive network (cf. "hive mind"). In a sense, this usage of "intelligence" at the national level may be somewhat associated with the concept of social intelligence —albeit one which is tied to localized or nationalist tradition, politics, law, and the enforcement thereof.

This article deals with the general role and history of intelligence. For a more detailed look at the process, there is a hierarchy of articles, partially posted, beginning with intelligence cycle management.


Information collected can be difficult to obtain or altogether secret material gained through ("closed sources") See list of intelligence gathering disciplines, or it can be widely available but systematically researched through Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). Traditionally, intelligence involves all-source collection, storage and indexing of data, usually in multiple languages, in the expectation that some small portion will later prove important. Intelligence gathering disciplines, or, more narrowly, and the sources and methods used to obtain them are often highly classified and sometimes compartmentalized, and intelligence officers need top level security clearance.

Depending on the national policy, some intelligence agencies engage in clandestine and covert activities beyond espionage such as political subversion, sabotage and assassination. Other agencies strictly limit themselves to analysis, or collection and analysis; some governments have other organizations for covert action.

  • Military intelligence is an element of warfare which covers all aspects of gathering, analyzing, and making use of information, including information about the natural environment (Shulsky and Schmitt, 2002), over enemy forces and the ground. It involves spying, look-outs, high-tech surveillance equipment, and also secret agents.

Intelligence as used here, when done properly, serves a function for organizations similar to that which intelligence serves for individual humans and animals. Intelligence collection is often controversial and seen as a threat to privacy. Intelligence is essential for government policy formation and operations; it is a policy matter for individual governments whether While usually associated with warfare, intelligence can also be used to preserve peace.

The process of taking known information about situations and entities of strategic, operational, or tactical importance, characterizing the known, and, with appropriate statements of probability, the future actions in those situations and by those entities is called intelligence analysis. The descriptions are drawn from what may only be available in the form of deliberately deceptive information; the analyst must correlate the similarities among deceptions and extract a common truth. Although its practice is found in its purest form inside intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States or the Secret Intelligence Servicemarker (SIS, MI6) in the UK, its methods are also applicable in fields such as business intelligence or competitive intelligence.

Intelligence analysis is a way of reducing the ambiguity of highly ambiguous situations, with the ambiguity often very deliberately created by highly intelligent people with mindsets very different from the analyst's. Many analysts prefer the middle-of-the-road explanation, rejecting high or low probability explanations. Analysts may use their own standard of proportionality as to the risk acceptance of the opponent, rejecting that the opponent may take an extreme risk to achieve what the analyst regards as a minor gain. Above all, the analyst must avoid the special cognitive traps for intelligence analysis projecting what she or he wants the opponent to think, and using available information to justify that conclusion.

Well-known national intelligence organizations















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South Africa



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Major publicly accessible intelligence sources

See also



  • Andrew, Christopher. For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (1996)
  • Black, Ian and Morris, Benny Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services (1991)
  • Bungert, Heike et al. eds. Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (2003) essays by scholars
  • Kahn, David The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (1996), 1200 pages
  • Lerner, K. Lee and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, eds. Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security (2003), 1100 pages. 850 articles, strongest on technology
  • O'Toole, George. Honorable Treachery: A History of U.S. Intelligence, Espionage, Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA (1991)
  • Owen, David. Hidden Secrets: A Complete History of Espionage and the Technology Used to Support It (2002), popular
  • Richelson, Jeffery T. A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (1997)
  • Richelson, Jeffery T. The U.S. Intelligence Community (4th ed. 1999)
  • Shulsky, Abram N. and Schmitt, Gary J. "Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence" (3rd ed. 2002), 285 pages
  • West, Nigel. MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service Operations 1909–1945 (1983)
  • West, Nigel. Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organization (1992)
  • Wohlstetter, Roberta. Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962)

World War I

  • Beesly, Patrick. Room 40. (1982). Covers the breaking of German codes by RN intelligence, including the Turkish bribe, Zimmermann telegram, and failure at Jutland.
  • May, Ernest (ed.) Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment before the Two World Wars (1984)
  • Tuchman, Barbara W. The Zimmermann Telegram (1966)

World War II: 1931–1945

  • Babington Smith, Constance. Air Spy: the Story of Photo Intelligence in World War II (1957)
  • Beesly, Patrick. Very Special Intelligence: the Story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939–1945 (1977)
  • Hinsley, F. H. British Intelligence in the Second World War (1996) (abridged version of multivolume official history)
  • Jones, R. V. The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939–1945 (1978)
  • Kahn, David. Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II (1978)
  • Kahn, David. Seizing the Enigma: the Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939–1943 (1991)
  • Kitson, Simon. The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (2008). ISBN 978-0-226-43893-1
  • Lewin, Ronald. The American Magic: Codes, Ciphers and the Defeat of Japan (1982)
  • May, Ernest (ed.) Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment before the Two World Wars (1984)
  • Smith, Richard Harris. OSS: the Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency (2005)
  • Stanley, Roy M. World War II Photo Intelligence (1981)
  • Wark, Wesley K. The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany, 1933–1939 (1985)
  • Wark, Wesley K. "Cryptographic Innocence: the Origins of Signals Intelligence in Canada in the Second World War", in: Journal of Contemporary History 22 (1987)

Cold War Era: 1945–1991

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