As Stan Goff wrote in his 1 February 2007 essay on strategy, tactics and intelligence,
Intelligence is information analyzed for its value to develop plans for action. Most of it, even in the world of government intelligence, doesn’t come from breaking codes or running agents — contrary to the media myths — but from information that is readily available to everyone.
“Basically,” he says, “that means if we do intelligence gathering and analysis right, then ours is going to be as good as theirs… maybe better, since we don’t have bureaucratic ambitions and political agendas distorting ours as much.”
Goff goes on to say that,
Information has to be gathered, which means there has to be some criteria for what information to seek. The base criterion is always the goal of planned actions. Then the information has to be subjected to some kind of analytical process; and that requires a method. Operational goals direct the intelligence effort; and intelligence (analyzed information) provides the basis for plans.
As he observes, intelligence begins by using the desired end-state goal as the lodestar, then doing an assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, and dispositions of “friendly forces” and “enemy forces,” and relating them to their surrounding conditions.
As Goff summarizes,
Strategy refers to the overall goal, the “desired end state” after all is said and done. The best that can be hoped for in a constantly changing reality, he notes, is a strategic direction. A strategy is a compass, not a route.
Midway between strategy and tactics, he observes, is “the operational dimension,” i.e., campaigns.
A campaign is a series of actions designed to achieve some intermediate objective that is required to get to the final goal. This is not linear. A + B + C does not equal D. Campaigns are not routes, but things between us and our strategic goal.
Tactics are the techniques we use to win individual battles. They must be highly contingent, that is suited to a particular place and time and situation. Tactics are the legs of the routes we select to get from here to there.
Intelligence is the map. It is not the real ground we have to go over, but as close as possible to a conceptual representation of the ground so that we can check ourselves along the way. Intelligence looks at the relative strengths and weaknesses of the friendly and enemy forces; and good operations design actions that match our strengths to their weaknesses.
Concluding, Goff notes that, “there is a dimension of intelligence that corresponds to every level of conflict: strategic, operational, and tactical. Tactics are techniques designed to win battles. Tactical agility is the ability to see changes in the situation, understand the implications of those changes, then adjust and exploit those changes with decisive action more quickly than their opponents.”
Clarifying ideas to inform leadership in social and political conflict — indigenous or otherwise — entails working with words. The four modes of social organization — tribes, institutions, markets, and networks — all intentionally utilize words to communicate their unique perspectives and preferences. Words are chosen for their effect in creation stories, in mythologies, in advertising, and in propaganda.
Words themselves are invented for a purpose. They serve as tools of social organization, as weapons of war, as means of manipulation, and as medicine for the maligned. Depending on how they are used, words can cause horrendous harm or great good. Meanings can be distorted or clarified.
Working with words can gain one respect, renown, and reward, but it can also generate resentment. Not all messages are appreciated.
Learning to use words effectively requires an understanding of the principles of communication, especially in what is termed netwar, which assumes that all communication in all its dimensions is contested, no matter the stated intent of the participants. Words are meant to achieve, and as propositions in the arena of human consciousness, they will be confronted; as such, working with words is serious business.
As an editor, blogger and correspondent, I frequently come across brilliant scholars and committed activists struggling to communicate vital stories to institutional leaders, philanthropic donors, and media gatekeepers. As a communications advisor, I am amazed at how little attention is paid by these devoted humanitarians to the principles of this science.
As it is, many writers in academia – while often informative – are sometimes difficult to follow, as they offer bits of topics here and there. If they are to be of strategic value, their story has to make sense.
Part of effective storytelling is to be interesting, which few writers accomplish, but to arrive at academic or operational stature, that story needs to be sufficiently coherent. With essays by emerging authors, it is best for them to learn to think about structure and narrative coherence by doing that work themselves, but for those lacking a background in journalism or literature, manuals on such topics as briefings are worth looking at. Some pertinent articles on communication in conflict are listed below.