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What Is Military Intelligence?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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Military intelligence, abbreviated as “intel” or MI, refers to the collection, analysis, and distribution of information relevant to military operations. Every nation on Earth utilizes military intelligence to make itself more secure and prepared for battle. Like other types of intelligence, military intelligence is gathered by skilled professionals who work in the field and in offices to gather cohesive, useful information which will support the armed forces. Most intelligence officers are recruited directly from the armed services, and each service has its own intelligence branch, although intelligence officers from other branches may cooperate.

There are three essential divisions of intelligence. The first is strategic intelligence, general information about the enemy and the world in general. Strategic intelligence is gathered from a variety of sources, and includes information like the size of a standing army, available weaponry, and foreign policy standards. Within a nation, several agencies will often share strategic intelligence with each other.

Operational intelligence focuses on a specific operation. Data about the area in which operations may be carried out is collected, along with specific information about troop strength and movements, local sentiments, and other relevant material. Gathering accurate operational intelligence is a crucial duty of military intelligence, and will make the difference between a success and a failure. Tactical intelligence is an extension of operational intelligence, focusing specifically on factors which may influence tactics on the battlefield. Tactical intelligence is typically gathered by commanders in the field while operations are carried out, as opposed to operational intelligence, which is collected before the action begins.

In both peacetime and wartime, military intelligence is an important part of the security system for a nation. Intelligence officers receive special training to make them more effective, and can choose to work in the field collecting raw data, or in centralized offices interpreting and packaging the data. Office workers are an important part of intelligence, because they filter through communications from other nations and analyze foreign newspapers, radio, television, and other material in order to gather clues. Other officers collate the large amounts of data collected and turn it into a briefing which can be read and understood.

Typically, intelligence officers have varying levels of clearance. Top clearance, allowing access to all available information, is very rare. Most officers work on a small level, focusing on a specific topic. If they are captured or they turn into double agents, they can only provide information about a small part of the whole, rather than the entire system. This type of isolation is typical in intelligence agencies and is especially important in military intelligence, which deals with sensitive information about troop movements and plans.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Logicfest — On Feb 23, 2014

Want to have some fun? Talk to one of these guys after he has retired from the military and the work he or she did is no longer deemed classified. If they will talk about some of the things they did while working in intelligence and some of the things they found out, you will be amazed.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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