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Declassified Documents

A Guide to Intelligence Documents

Browse Intelligence Collection

The Intelligence Process

The process of creating reliable, accurate foreign intelligence is dynamic and never ending The intelligence process or cycle begins with questions -- the answers to which inevitably lead to more questions. So, essentially, the end of the cycle is the beginning of the next cycle

Through planning and direction by both collection and production managers, the intelligence process converts acquired information into intelligence and makes it available to policymakers and other consumers. One depiction of the intelligence process is shown here:

Analysis & Production
Planning & Direction
Processing & Exploitation

The intelligence process starts when consumers -- generally, policymakers or military commanders -- express a need for intelligence information to help them accomplish their missions. These needs are expressed as requirements levied on the intelligence agencies serving particular customers, or on joint organizations established at various levels to serve the customers' needs.

The intelligence agencies use the customers' needs in giving planning and direction to guide collection strategies and the production of appropriate intelligence products.


There are five basic intelligence information sources, or collection disciplines.

  1. Signals intelligence (SlGINT) includes information derived from intercepted communications, radar, and telemetry.

  2. Imagery (IMINT) includes both overhead and ground imagery.

  3. Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) is technically derived intelligence data other than imagery and SIGINT. It employs a broad group of disciplines including nuclear, optical, radiofrequency, acoustics, seismic, and materials sciences. Examples of MASINT might he the distinctive radar signatures of specific types of aircraft or the composition of air and water samples.

  4. Human-source intelligence (HUMINT) involves clandestine and overt collection techniques to obtain information Some of the principal types of collection associated with HUMINT are:

    • Clandestine source acquisition of information (including photography, documents, and other material) of intelligence value.
    • Overt data collection by civilian and military personnel assigned to U.S. diplomatic and consular posts.
    • Debriefing of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who have traveled abroad or have access to foreign information. During military operations, this would also include the interrogation or debriefing of prisoners of war or detainees.
    • Official contacts with foreign governments, including liaison with their intelligence and security services.

  5. Open-source information is publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form. It may be transmitted by radio, television, and newspapers, or it may be distributed through commercial databases, graphics, drawings, magazines, or books.

It is important to understand that information from collection sources is information, not intelligence. Raw information is often incomplete or -- taken out of context or without understanding its origin and purpose -- possibly misleading. It can be subject to misinterpretation, or just plain wrong. Information becomes intelligence through processing, exploitation, and analysis.

Processing and Exploitation

A substantial portion of U.S. intelligence resources is devoted to processing and exploitation -- the synthesis of raw data into a form usable by the intelligence analyst -- and to the secure telecommunications networks to carry these data. Interpreting imagery; decoding messages; translating foreign-language broadcasts; reducing telemetry to meaningful measures; preparing information for computer processing, storage and retrieval; placing human-source reports in a form and context to make them more comprehensible -- these are all processing and exploitation.

Analysis and Production

Intelligence analysts are generally assigned to a particular geographic or functional specialty. Analysts obtain information from all sources pertinent to their area of responsibility through the collection, processing and forwarding systems. Analysts may tap into these systems to obtain answers to specific questions or generate information they need.

Analysts absorb incoming information, evaluate it, test it against other information and their knowledge and expertise, produce an assessment of the current state of affairs within an assigned field or substantive area, and then forecast future trends or outcomes. The analyst also develops requirements for collection of new information.

Analysts almost never work alone, but instead operate within a system of peer review and oversight by more senior analysts.

During periods of international crisis or on occasions when intelligence support is critical to high-level negotiations, an interagency task force is often created under the auspices of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) to address critical intelligence needs. The DCI will direct a particular agency to serve as executive agent for task force support and other agencies will contribute in line with their capabilities.

When an international crisis involves the US military, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) establishes an Intelligence Task Force (ITF) dedicated to round-the-clock intelligence support of the operational and combatant commands involved. The intelligence components of the military services and the other interested intelligence agencies will contribute analysts and other experts to the ITF.

The 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War Intelligence Documents

The intelligence documents provided here consist of both raw information reports and finished intelligence products. It is the nature of raw information that it is sometimes contradictory or proved incorrect by later information or events. The same may hold true of finished intelligence, although the all-source composition of finished intelligence and the analytical process it has undergone make this less likely.

Wartime intelligence collection occurs in an environment in which the target on the other side is just as intelligent as we are and is generally doing his best to conceal information, confuse us, divert our intelligence resources, and damage or destroy our collection assets. This all serves to increase the possibility that a particular unevaluated report may contain less that the whole truth.

Wartime intelligence production is directed at answering specific questions of the policymaker and combatant commander in a rapid and timely manner. This production may be only partly germane when applied to later questions or areas of inquiry.

The intelligence documents provided here were declassified to the extent possible in keeping with current national security considerations while providing the maximum possible health-related information. Classified information not related to health issues was generally not declassified in order to continue the protection of intelligence sources and methods, possible future U.S. military operations, intelligence-sharing agreements with allies, U.S. intelligence and technical advantages, and U.S. foreign relations. A significant percentage of such material is concerned with events outside the Persian Gulf region. As explained elsewhere, users may request further review and possible additional declassification of particular documents by submitting a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

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