Cover: Intelligence Support for Operations in the Information Environment

Intelligence Support for Operations in the Information Environment

Dividing Roles and Responsibilities Between Intelligence and Information Professionals

Published Dec 9, 2020

by Michael Schwille, Anthony Atler, Jonathan Welch, Christopher Paul, Richard C. Baffa


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Research Questions

  1. What data, information, analysis, and level of understanding are required to plan, integrate, and execute operations in the information environment?
  2. Who could collect the needed information and conduct the required analyses, and through what processes? What are the barriers or challenges to doing so?
  3. What terms are appropriate to describe what is collected and what is produced? Where is the boundary between routine information gathering and formal intelligence? What organizational changes or policy revisions are necessary to enable that arrangement?

Both information operations (IO) and intelligence have long been core components of U.S. military operations, and information is the essence of both communities. What distinguishes them is how each community compiles, sorts, analyzes, and uses information. Gaps in understanding of each community's roles, responsibilities, and processes have important implications for operations in the information environment (OIE), which require a significant degree of coordination between the personnel who provide intelligence support to these operations and the personnel who are responsible for planning and conducting them. To support information operations practitioners, intelligence personnel must be familiar with the types of information that are relevant to OIE. Conversely, information operations practitioners must be familiar with intelligence products and processes for how that information is collected, analyzed, and disseminated.

Despite the recent surge in interest in OIE, there is still not sufficient appreciation across the joint force for what these operations can contribute. As a result, intelligence organizations do not understand intelligence needs for OIE or routinely provide OIE-specific intelligence products, and related requests for intelligence support are not prioritized. This situation is compounded by a lack of awareness of intelligence organizations' processes and requirements among information operations staffs.

A review of guidance, doctrine, and documentation on the information requirements for OIE, along with interviews with subject-matter experts, highlighted 40 challenges to effective intelligence support to OIE, along with 67 potential solutions to address them.

Key Findings

There is growing awareness of OIE but insufficient appreciation for what these operations contribute

  • There is insufficient support for OIE and little emphasis on the IE among defense intelligence organizations, hindering efforts to plan and execute OIE.
  • Gaps in understanding, including the lack of a shared lexicon, impede close coordination between the intelligence and IO communities, risking missed opportunities and reduced effectiveness.
  • Even when there is an understanding and awareness of these communities' respective roles and responsibilities, commanders and staffs often do not fully consider and integrate information activities, capabilities, and operations as components of all military activities and operations.

Intelligence and IO professionals need to work together to address integration challenges

  • Potential solutions require improving processes, prioritizing OIE, expanding training and education opportunities, and allocating personnel to optimize support for OIE.
  • The intelligence and IO communities lack shared processes and an understanding of one another's requirements, impeding coordination and collaboration.
  • Support for OIE is often sidelined by other intelligence priorities, partly as a result of shortfalls in how IO staffs request intelligence support and partly due to the relatively low priority of IE- and OIE-related support within intelligence organizations.
  • There are training gaps at all levels and in both communities in terms of the importance of OIE and requesting and providing support for these operations.
  • There is a need for intelligence personnel who are responsible for specific IE- and OIE-related tasks, as well as ensuring effective coordination between the intelligence and IO communities.


  • IO organizations should promote greater understanding and awareness of OIE and the importance of information-intelligence capability integration, particularly among intelligence personnel and commanders. One approach is to assign IO liaison officers to intelligence organizations.
  • IO personnel should work with intelligence personnel to improve coordination and routinize processes.
  • IO personnel should receive instruction in targeting processes, which should extend to nonlethal effects. Intelligence personnel should receive formal training in supporting IO organizations.
  • Intelligence leadership should assign primary responsibility for analysis of the IE to a single organization, which would establish a foundation for institutionalizing capability integration and raise awareness of the associated challenges.
  • Intelligence organizations should create cross-functional teams to better integrate intelligence functions and direct greater attention to the IE.

This research was sponsored by U.S. European Command and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD), which operates the National Defense Research Institute (NDRI).

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