When people hear the word intelligence, one of the first two things that comes to mind is the intellectual capability of a person. The next thing is military intelligence. This is quite understandable since the intelligence community has been the subject of much controversy over the last few years. Add to that the fact that a lot of movies and television programs shown in the past years have focused on the lives of intelligence agents and officers.
In order to define or explain intelligence report writing, we need to describe intelligence reports. According to a military dictionary, an intelligence report is a specific report of information, usually on a single item, made at the request of a commanding officer in tactical operations. Information contained in an intelligence report is usually time sensitive, so it is disseminated as rapidly as possible to the commanding officer who requested it and other pertinent authorities, which may include the director of intelligence or intelligence committee. This time sensitive report, also called INTREP in the U.S. military and intelligence community, is then analyzed and used to make strategic, operational, and tactical decisions.
Here are some of the other features of an intelligence report:
- Timeliness. Intelligence reports should contain the latest information gathered, otherwise they would be of no use to the decision maker. Those who belong to the intelligence community know how intelligence information can change in a matter of minutes, so it is important that intelligence reported should be as fresh as possible. For this reason, some intelligence reports may be shorter than others.
- Accurate. Because intelligence reports are used in decision making, it is important that the information it contains is as accurate as possible. There is no room for gossip or hearsay in writing intelligence reports.
- Verified. In order for information to be accurate, it should be verified by different sources. Intelligence officers and agents can use first and second hand resources to verify information that they write in intelligence reports. But just like in investigative journalism, it is better to get intelligence from first hand sources. This is why every intelligence agent has his own network of contacts which he can consult in order to confirm the accuracy of the information he gathered from other sources. Of course, sources or contacts are hidden in a thick veil of secrecy.
Because of the time sensitivity of information contained in intelligence reports, intelligence officers and agents do not only receive training in intelligence gathering, they also receive training in intelligence report writing. As anyone can deduce, intelligence report writing is a lot different from writing in magazines, newspapers, books, or other published materials. Although there isn't much literature on military intelligence report writing available, there is probably a standard format or template that intelligence officers and agents follow when writing intelligence reports. They also probably get trained on what language to use.
There are many magazines today that satisfy the public's need for intelligence. Their writers are also well versed in intelligence report writing. Stratfor is a good example of a magazine that caters to the intelligence community.