Bill Freear is the MD for Pilgrims Group Ltd has agreed to write a regular column for Infologue.com. The first column asks “What’s Intelligence for?”
Pilgrims’ Intelligence Division supports its operations team on a global basis, allowing rapid assessment and response to crisis situations such as those seen recently in Egypt, Libya and the Middle East. The company has produced a number of ‘ground truth’ reports which allow its teams and clients to make timely and informed decisions.
The scene: a wet January night, very late. Mike is standing at Clapham Junction waiting or hoping for the last train home to Woking. Mobile rings. It’s an intelligence provider that Mike’s bank subscribes to.
“Hi, Mike, it’s Chris.”
“Hi, Chris, what’s up?”
“There’s something important you need to know. Sometime over the next few days Al Qaeda might be launching a Mumbai style attack on New York City. Looks like the banking sector is the target.”
“My God! How do you know that?”
“As you know, we have good sources in this arena, particularly closed websites. It’s very sensitive.”
“Do you mean Government websites?”
“No, you know, ones ‘the other side’ use. And we have some reliable corroboration.”
“Aah; who knows about this?”
“We’re just telling our preferred clients. This is hot information.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“That’s your shout, of course. But this is reliable stuff.”
“No, really; what should I do? Evacuate?”
“As I say; I can’t really advise you on that.”
The cold rain down the back of Mike’s neck starts to wake up his brain
“Do the Americans know about this?”
“What Americans do you mean?”
“I mean the Police and such like.”
“I don’t know. I’m sure they’ll have their sources, same as us.”
“Erm, let me get this straight ……………..”
Corporate Security sometimes finds it hard to articulate what they want from their intelligence provider. The illustration above is not that far from the truth. I call it the hand-grenade approach, and it’s not uncommon among Intel vendors. The method is to throw something horrible into the room and run off, leaving the recipient to sort out what to do about it. The grenade might be accompanied by a cheery reassurance that the grenade is exclusive: the vendor has had unique access to it and now wants you to have it, minus the pin. At the other end of the spectrum are the ones who rule nothing in and nothing out. I don’t want to point at anyone in particular here, but we’ve all read the reports that say that nothing bad is expected to happen but that something might, so please take all necessary precautions.
So, what criteria are to be applied to determining requirements and thus selecting an appropriate vendor?
Does the company want comparative reporting on countries or regions, most likely of value to those with high volumes of global travel? The downside can be a commensurate high volume of information to process and, except for the largest and most globally resourced providers, a tendency to superficiality and non specific advice. If the requirement is for travel reports, then the product should ideally include such information such as security assessments of specific hotels, airports and roads.
Does it want single-issue reporting, relevant inter alia for those in controversial markets and confronted by pressure groups? Pharmaceuticals are a case in point, facing animal rights extremists. For these the reporting should aim to include threats against peer groups, prison releases, rallies, and sightings of known extremists near the client’s premises.
Some companies need a detailed assessment of particular countries, places or demographics. For example the energy industry might be looking to open up a new field somewhere, and require a detailed analysis on the security of the local infrastructure and the labour force, as well as the various threats impacting on their sector specific operations. NGOs and media often follow hard on the heels of world events, and require a similar analysis.
The more constructive relationships between a client and its intelligence provider are based on clear guidelines and caveats about product delivery. There is nothing wrong in a vendor advising a client to do this or that, providing it is caveated and backed by specific analysis that has been commissioned by the client. That analysis may have been obtained on the ground or remotely, or from any number and type of sources, but the important thing is to agree the collection methodology in the contract.
Good intelligence is neither a hand-grenade nor a shield to hide behind. Intelligence informs decision making, of course, but good intelligence always provides analysis that is highly relevant to specific requirements.
William Freear is the MD for Pilgrims Group Ltd.