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Information Is Not Intelligence: A U.S. Military View

In joint and service doctrine, the U.S. military considers intelligence to be something

much more than just information. Information is raw, uninterpreted data, whereas intelligence

is information that has been refined into meaningful knowledge about an area or an

adversary. The distinction may not always be clear in practice, but the theoretical separation

of intelligence from information is significant because of the value added by analysis.

For example, a story in Pravda may contain information of interest to the military. In

order for it to become intelligence, however, an analyst must evaluate the story considering

a variety of factors, including:

■ the paper’s editorial bias;

■ the motivations and reputation of the author;

■ the accuracy of previous stories;

■ the possibility of deception (that the author has been duped or deliberately intends

to deceive); and

■ whether or not the information in the story is consistent with other information

available to the analyst.

Based upon this evaluation, the analyst then fuses the information from the story with

other available information to form a “product” that meets his consumer’s needs.

In comparing these organizations, it is useful to think of intelligence products as the

outcome of a process which converts information into intelligence. U.S. military doctrine

calls this process the “intelligence cycle,” and its most basic functions include collection,

analysis, and dissemination. As the next section demonstrates, the UN follows a similar

process in its “information” activities.


According to an authoritative peacekeeper handbook (International Peace Academy

a: paragraph 140), in UN operations “the use of the word `intelligence’ is avoided and

‘information’ used instead.” The reason for this semantic distinction is that the UN’s

fundamental principles clash with the popular notion of what constitutes intelligence.

To most people, intelligence is not just the conversion of “information” into a useful

product; rather, intelligence implies clandestine collection techniques, covert operations,

and spying on an “enemy” (Hugh Smith: 174). All of these activities are anathema

to the UN because it has no enemies and its Charter requires it to respect the

sovereignty of member states.

Despite the stigma attached to intelligence, UN leaders have recognized a need for

intelligence for decades. Their repeated efforts to create early warning systems to support

preventive diplomacy demonstrate this desire. The argument is basically that the UN cannot

be effective in maintaining international peace and security — its purpose as stated in

the UN Charter — if it does not know when a conflict, famine, or massive refugee flow is


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