Use Intelligent Agents to Improve Your Searches

Intelligent agents — scouts, really — are computer programs that search the web for you, looking for information based on the key words you provide. They are, in effect, a continuous search engine. Google Alerts ( has proven to be a useful service to many. To avoid being overwhelmed on common phrases and words, many people restrict the delivery of Google Alerts to once a day. However, if the material is needed immediately or if you want to ramp up the number of articles you are getting, ask that the information be sent “as it happens.” Experience shows that it is best to ask for a “comprehensive” search rather than limit the intelligent agent to single categories such as news, blogs, and web or news groups. Google Alerts allows the use of Boolean Operatives for searching, eliminating a good many of the “false positives” you will get with a straight word search. To learn more about the use of Boolean Operatives and how they work in Google and Google Alerts go to

Other sites besides Google have similar intelligent agents. Undoubtedly more good intelligent agents will become available in the future.

Intelligent agents, of course, cover only a small slice of the spectrum, but that portion is an important section of the web. Intelligent Agents are invaluable.

Hint: When using intelligent agents, or search engines, look carefully at any story that they send you which you find usable. See if there are words, combinations of words, or short phrases that you can plug into further searches—words, combinations of words, and phrases that would likely be found in any story about your subject. Create new intelligent agent searches for these terms. Also note any websites the search engines find repeatedly; you may want to add them to your URL list.


Overview – Where to Look and for What

Computers and the Internet are not common in all areas, nor are they used by all people. The Internet serves as one of several tools that information professionals and analysts use.

Information collectors must think in broad terms, not just the Internet.

Common non-Internet venues include:

  • Courseware, dissertations, lectures, presentations, research papers, and studies in both hardcopy and softcopy on economics geography (physical, cultural, and political-military), international relations, regional security, science, and technology.
  • Governmental, Intergovernmental, and NGOs. Databases, posted information, and printed reports on a wide variety of economic, environmental, geographic, humanitarian, security, science, and technology issues.
  • Commercial and Public Information Services. Broadcast, posted, and printed news on current international, regional, and local topics.
  • Individuals and Groups. Handwritten, painted, posted, printed, and broadcast information (for example, art, graffiti, leaflets, posters and websites).
  • Libraries and Research Centers. Printed documents and digital databases on a range of topics, as well as knowledge and skills in information retrieval.


Non-Internet venues generally deal in traditional media. Traditional media have long been the access points for publicly available information. Key traditional open sources include: Public Speaking, Public Documents, Public Broadcasts, and News Resources. The list is long:

  • Printed media
    • Books
    • Newspapers
    • Magazines and periodicals
    • Annuals
    • Leaflets
    • Pamphlets
    • Journals (specialized areas)
  • Gray literature and ephemera
  • Educational materials
  • Radio
    • Standard wave
    • Short wave
  • Television
  • Loudspeakers
  • Novelties
  • Phone Books
  • Property records
  • Posters
  • Clothing
  • Speeches
  • Talk shows
  • Non-governmental releases
  • Motion Pictures
  • “Dumpster Diving”
  • Graffiti
  • Tattoos
  • Public speakers and forums
  • Advertisements
  • Government releases and public documents
  • Other media
  • Jewelry
  • Internet
    • World Wide Web 1.0
    • World Wide Web 2.0


Planning for Research Success — Phase VII

This is generally the final step in an organized plan for the research process. Many of our previous steps are found in earlier postings. We will post fill-in missing steps in coming weeks.

The seventh step in the planning process is to draft and finalize the product. After you have vetted and validated your sources and created a draft product, it should be sent to someone knowledgeable for review.

For the review process you should also submit pertinent supplemental documents. The reviewer should re-check the draft product to ensure that it meets legal and OPSEC requirements and that the product fits the request. If the response is more tactical and timely in manner, such as a quick e-mail in response to a request for information involving force protection down range, it is still recommended to at least cc a person/people that theoretically may have inputs on the issue so they can comment, if needed. It is also ideal to provide a feedback mechanism to the requestor regarding the product.

Ensure the finished product includes a “Fair Use” statement and any additional specific legal guidance.

A production overview is needed since production is arguably the second most important part of the intelligence cycle after collection. Production is the point at which information is converted into an actionable format for delivery to a customer.  It completes the intelligence cycle in which we were tasked, refined the requirement, collected or acquired information, tracked it/analyzed it, and converted it into a product deliverable that will be acted upon.  Now, presumably, decisions will be made, actions will be taken, forces will be positioned, policy will be formulated, etc.  In effect, the pointy end of the spear now can go into action based on the information provided.

Always use the Colin Powell Criteria in the finished product. You may have seen these rules before, or heard them. They are well-known but often forgotten.  During the first Persian Gulf War, when General Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the early 1990s, he convened a meeting with all DIA and J2 substantive analysts. The decision makers at all levels rely upon intelligence analysts to perform the hard-core analysis, and want to trust that the intelligence information provided is solid.  He cautioned that analysts are doing a disservice to the decision maker if they bury their informed judgments or guesses within what is known to be factual, and stressed how important it is that we not try to hide what we think within what we know to be true.  He also reminded the assembled group that it is OK to say “I don’t know.”  In fact, clearly identifying the intelligence gap is just as valuable to a decision maker as outlining the known.  The point he stressed is that analysts should always clearly outline what is known and what is not known before imparting an informed judgment or assessment, and to clearly differentiate between the three.

  • Tell me what you know
    • Intelligence Fact
  • Tell me what you don’t know
    • Intelligence Gap
  • Tell me what you think
    • Analyst judgment or assessment