What Do We Analyze?

Although, there is a function in analysis for projecting uncertain futures, our general role is to analyze concrete, historical data. The data may be obtained internally in the course of an agency’s mission, or they may be obtained externally from data sets compiled by government and private entities.

Internally-obtained data

Internally-obtained data are likely part of a current operation, for example, a case or intelligence-gathering campaign on a specific subject or region. The strength of internal information is its relevance to our agency’s mission, the possibility of tasking collectors, and the multiplier effect of reaching out to partner agencies. At the same time, a weakness is its inherent incompleteness because collection is ongoing.

Externally-obtained data

Externally-obtained data come primarily from statistics compiled by government and private entities. On the plus side, data compilation can be an arduous task, so to have a ready data set is a timesaver. You may have to add information, depending on which attributes you choose to analyze, but the framework is there. Despite its convenience, there are a few points to consider.

  • Your credibility and the strength of your analysis are more at stake due to the potential for bias. Be prepared to defend the data you included/excluded in terms of completeness, consistency, and objectivity.    
  • The attributes the collectors used in their compilation may not match the ones you choose to analyze. For example, if you’re examining terrorist acts in the United States, do you want to combine domestic and international terrorism incidents/actors? Do you want to distinguish between self-motivated and internationally-directed crimes? Is it important to separate plots from completed acts? Does it matter if a subject was motivated to act on his own or if he was caught in a government “sting”? Are you going to include subjects involved in financing and material support, or only action-oriented individuals? It is more likely than not you’ll need to create a customized data set compiled from numerous sources. 
  • Some data sets are more current than others. This is especially true of agencies that publish annual statistics. If you’re using data from two or more sources, be sure they cover the same months/years. If they don’t match and you can’t cover the missing data, notate the gap in your scope note and account for it in your analysis. 
  • Consider the size of your data set. If you have a small amount of data, you may need to adjust your words of estimative probability, use a quantitative methodology applicable to small data sets, widen your parameters, or look at a longer timeframe. Longer timeframes have the advantage of better defining trends. 
  • Data obtained from .gov, .org, and .edu sites tend to be more defensible for intelligence analysis than media sources. 

Scope note

Use the scope note (or preface, appendix, or section your agency prefers) to explain what attributes you used to compile your data set. Delineate your sources, their validity, credibility, and bias; note data that may be missing and how you accounted for gaps; include your date range; and add links (and possible, full URLs for those reading a non-Web version of your report), so your readers can access your data.

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