Crime Analysts and Intelligence Analysts


This article will examine theoretical and the applied practitioner insights into similarities and differences between criminal intelligence analysis (intelligence-led policing) and intelligence analysis (national security). How intelligence theory applies to both crime and intelligence analysis. It will assist with understanding similarities and differences between these two domains of data information collection and analysis; whether the roles played by both are equal; whether they are different fields or whether they are interrelated trying to achieve the same goal.

Crime Analysts and Intelligence Analysts

Law enforcement intelligence, commonly referred to as criminal intelligence and national security intelligence have important similarities, but there are also very distinct differences (Carter, 2009; 2015). Law enforcement agencies and the US Intelligence Community (USIC) overseeing national security require a multitude of information matrices and employ a plethora of approaches to prevent, mitigate, and respond to potential threats and crimes. Over the past quarter-century, the technological advancements have increased the criminals’ capacity to carry out unlawful activities such as financial crimes and fraud, identity theft, threatening individuals, communities, and national security at large. Organized crime is no longer boxed into a city or region but is now transnational in nature and multifaceted, therefore a continuing threat for both law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (n.d.) Transnational Organized Crime or TOC “groups are self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate, wholly or in part, by illegal means and irrespective of geography” (para 1). These groups “encompass both the Eastern and Western hemispheres and include persons with ethnic or cultural ties to Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East” (FBI, n.d., para 3). Due to the wide range of threats from outside the United States and within its border, intelligence analysts of both the national security and policing disciplines must monitor such threats and provide intelligence to decision-makers. Intelligence collection and analysis warrants more holistic and integrated approaches, typically incorporating a trifecta of tactical, operational, and strategic analysis by law enforcement and national security entities to collate, synthesize, and analyze information about the wide variety of criminal elements and threats to public safety and security. Threat information could be gathered in various formats ranging from unstructured data, electronic wiretap recordings, confidential human sources, and public records such as past criminal history and anonymous tips, to name a few. Threat information is collected from a significant range of sources through various tools and techniques, often referred to as tradecraft. The rationale is to detect patterns, trends, and the probability of future criminal acts and the relationship between crime, individual offenders, and organized criminal groups. Generally, national security intelligence analysts and criminal analysts are tasked with analyzing and developing these critical and substantive pieces of information into intelligence in order to keep decision-makers informed of potential or ongoing threats.

Historically, intelligence analysts and crime analysts were considered two very distinct and independent fields, each performing different and defined tasks with varying missions. However, with the population growth of communities and the evolution of multifaceted threats such as financial fraud, identity threat, terrorism, and cybersecurity, each a threat to individuals safety and national security, today, they are viewed as much more interdependent domains which contribute to the abilities for detection and suppression of these types of criminal threats. This is evident by the establishing Department of Homeland Security centric fusion centers staffed by federal, state, and local analysts in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks upon the United States. Regardless of the type of intelligence (crime or national security), each perform under the same theory of intelligence, which will be explored to provide insights and understanding of the functional mechanism of intelligence analysis.

Intelligence Theory

Intelligence analysis is not purely for practitioners in national security, such as military intelligence or Homeland Security, but also in business and policing. Intelligence has been an academic discipline for more than 50 years, and throughout this time, there have been calls for a theory of intelligence. Why is this important during a discussion of crime analysts and USIC Intelligence analyst disciplines? Because a theory of intelligence “offers explanations or predictions that can be seen to be true or untrue” (Kahn, 2001, p. 1). Intelligence seeks to explain the past and present but lends itself to predicting the future by presenting patterns and trends by perpetrators of crime or nefarious activities (Marrin, 2007). According to Brody (1983), historically, Indications and Warnings (I&W) Analysis attempted to provide information with a degree of confidence and certainty to decision-makers, which in turn use it to make strategic or operational judgments, which has theoretically not changed over the decades. Both the criminal intelligence analyst and national security intelligence analyst use intelligence analysis theory and the principles of I&W in their daily work to bridge gaps in knowledge (Gill, 2009; Marrin, 2012). The theory of intelligence is more concerned with the study of intelligence than the practice (Gill, 2009; Marrin, 2012). However, within both disciplines, each cadre (a group of specially trained individuals of a profession) studies and applies intelligence as a process, function, and discipline (organization).

Crime Analysis

Crime analysis refers to the systematic and methodical study of crime patterns, crime trends, and their correlation, in addition to other police-related issues, to help operational and administrative personnel plan the real-time strategies to mitigate and prevent the recurring crime (Boba, 2001; Carter, 2015; Ratcliffe, 2007). According to the International Association of Crime Analysts, crime intelligence analysis is defined as a set of techniques and supports police operations. This type of analysis used both quantitative and qualitative designs to solve and prevent criminal activities (Jensen, McElreath, & Graves, 2017). Crime analysis involves a methodical study of various variables related to the occurrence of crime, such as spatial, temporal, and socio-demographic factors, to evaluate and analyze offenders’ criminal tendencies and ultimately put operational strategies in place to prevent them. Crime analysis is more of a reactive approach, meaning that analysts are concerned with reacting to past crimes to reduce or mitigate future criminal activity (Carter, 2015).

Intelligence Analysis

Intelligence analysis refers to a strategic and tactical assessment of crime and security threats (Jensen et al., 2017). From the aspects of both law enforcement and national security intelligence, each have purview over organized criminal activity that includes complex financial crimes, identity theft, mortgage fraud, health care fraud, human trafficking, terrorism, and cybersecurity threats, to name a few. The intelligence analysts within the USIC work with local, state, tribal, and federal partners, but they also work internationally. This is accomplished through interagency working groups and programs such as Joint Terrorism Task Force, High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, the Regional Information Sharing System, state and major urban area fusion centers, and international organizations such as Interpol. According to the (2020) website, “The Intelligence Community’s mission is to collect, analyze, and deliver foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to America’s leaders to make sound decisions to protect our country. Our customers include the president, policy-makers, law enforcement, and the military (para 1).” The USIC has analysts working with the various entities of the Department of Homeland Security, such as within DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis, US Customs and Border Protection, US Secret Service, and other federal agencies. Based on the volumes of information collected, intelligence analysts develop critical, actionable, and integrated strategies to deter, prevent, or mitigate potential threats. In order words, intelligence analyst’s rationale is to perform a more proactive role of I&W analysis, predictive analysis, or forecasting; however, they may sometimes respond to specific activities to include criminal, in a reactive role (Carter, 2015). According to the Jack Davis (2003):

Warning analysis seeks to prevent or limit damage to US national security interests via communication of timely, convincing, and decision-enhancing assessments that assist policy officials to effect defensive and preemptive measures against future threats and to take action to defend against imminent threats” (p. 6). Predictive analysis is the anticipation of threats by “identifying suspicious actors and then effectively allocating resources. (para. 7)

It is argued by Greg Treverton (Jensen et al., 2017) that law enforcement and intelligence functions are very different. He stated that the law enforcement functions are to make the case; by gathering evidence to prove guilt in court and is reactive in collecting information at the crime scene or after a crime has been committed. Pointing out that the collection standards and ultimate goals are different as well. For law enforcement, the standard is based on evidence rules, whereas for intelligence, it is based on the credibility or good enough. Whereby collection of all information is accomplished, and the credibility of that information is enough. Each function’s goals are different in that under law enforcement’s basis of evidence introduced to the court to establish a defendant’s guilt, the intelligence goal is to protect its sources and methods of collection.

Based on the above functions, an individual can surmise that both analysts provide practical and vital information. However, different types of information help the respective law enforcement and intelligence agencies better plan and execute operational activities. These activities involve suppressing and deterring crime or mitigation of criminal elements and threats. Having insights into the roles of each domain will further clear up the above notion.

Understanding Roles of Crime Analysts

Criminal intelligence analysis centers may focus on examining the crimes that have already happened, and analysts seek to understand various criminal trends and patterns to provide the I&W amd best locations for patrol or enforcement mitigation and suppression of crime. This allows decision-makers to formulate mitigation strategies. They analyze a wide array of data on socio-demographic information of criminals like age, sex, medical history, arrest, and conviction data, employment, and also of time and location of criminal activities. Both crime analysts and national security intelligence analysts may collect such information from multiple sources, including but not limited to local, state, tribal, federal, and international organizations (i.e. Interpol), through academia and research institutions such as the Rand Corporation, which is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, information sharing initiatives with allied countries such as United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France to name just a few, and individual agency monitoring of criminal-related activities. In most cases, the center of attention of crime analysis examines crimes such as homicides, robbery, drug trafficking, kidnapping, burglary, theft, and physical assaults, which have already occurred. The rationale is to apprehend offenders, eliminate or, at least, mitigate, as much as possible, repeat crimes, and develop a better understanding of attributes and certain variables that encourage delinquent behavior in individuals. Crime analysts use ever-increasing information about criminals, compile intelligence reports for leadership, and decision-makers in order to inform (Ratcliffe, 2007). Additionally, intelligence reporting can be disseminated electronically through law enforcement channels to other intelligence, investigative, or patrol units to inform them about trends and threats used by criminals and for officer safety and protection (duty to warn).

Crime analysts use several tools and techniques to determine who is more likely to commit a crime and the time and location of where crimes occur. According to Boba (2001), crime analysis identifies four functions; 1) to apprehend criminals, 2) to prevent crime, 3) to reduce disorder, and 4) to evaluate organizational procedures. The types of crime analysis conducted include Crime Mapping, which examines trends concerning demographic and economic distribution. A tool used in crime mapping is computerized statistics or COMPSTAT, which combines geospatial information system (GIS) maps and additional analytical programs. Another type of analysis is geographic profiling, which uses GIS systems and additional analytical programs to provide predictive criminal behavior patterns.

In contrast to intelligence analysis, crime analysts are congruent with the framework of Problem-Oriented Policing, which concentrates on the detection of crimes and their remedies and provides a blueprint for improving and updating the mechanism of police response to all types of crimes (Carter, 2009; 2015; Jensen et al., 2017). The research reports compiled by the analyst provides the decision-makers with valuable information about the occurrence of crime throughout a jurisdiction. Having identified the types of crimes committed, and the probability of repeat offenders that are involved in illicit activities, the decision-makers are better poised to allocate distribution of resources, deployment of security personnel, and introducing tactical police initiatives such as Community Led-Policing and Problem-Oriented Policing commensurate with potential security challenges, thereby improving the administrative and operational capacity of police priorities. Moreover, it helps them deal more adeptly and proficiently in combating evolving additional security challenges, improving the policing environment, minimizing uncertainties in the investigation processes, and articulate more pragmatic and result-oriented policies (Interpol, 2015).

Understanding Roles of Intelligence Analysts

On the other hand, national security intelligence analysis (US Intelligence Community) pertains to assessing multiple and diverse types of information that suggests a potential threat or, at times, criminal acts in the not-too-distant future. The sources of intelligence information encompass tips and leads, identification of suspicious activities, monitoring of transnational criminal organizations using modern technology devices, etc. This information is collected using complex collection disciplines. According to the Director of National Intelligence (n.d.), there are six primary intelligence sources or collection disciplines:

SIGINT—Signals intelligence is derived from signal intercepts comprising — however transmitted — either individually or in combination: all communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and foreign instrumentation signal intelligence (FISINT). The National Security Agency is responsible for collecting, processing, and reporting SIGINT. The National SIGINT Committee within NSA advises the Director, NSA, and the DNI on SIGINT policy issues and manages the SIGINT requirements system.

IMINT—Imagery Intelligence includes representations of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices, or other media. Imagery can be derived from visual photography, radar sensors, and electro-optics. NGA is the manager for all imagery intelligence activities, both classified and unclassified, within the government, including requirements, collection, processing, exploitation, dissemination, archiving, and retrieval.

MASINT—Measurement and Signature Intelligence is technically derived intelligence data other than imagery and SIGINT. The data results in intelligence that locates, identifies or describes distinctive characteristics of targets. It employs a broad group of disciplines including nuclear, optical, radio frequency, acoustics, seismic, and materials sciences. Examples of this might be the distinctive radar signatures of specific aircraft systems or the chemical composition of air and water samples. The Directorate for MASINT and Technical Collection (DT), a component of the Defense Intelligence Agency, focuses on all national and Department of Defense MASINT matters.

HUMINT—Human intelligence is derived from human sources. To the public, HUMINT remains synonymous with espionage and clandestine activities; however, most of HUMINT collection is performed by overt collectors such as strategic debriefers and military attaches. It is the oldest method for collecting information, and until the technical revolution of the mid- to late 20th century, it was the primary source of intelligence.

OSINT—Open-Source Intelligence is publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form, including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the Internet, commercial databases, videos, graphics, and drawings. While open-source collection responsibilities are broadly distributed through the IC, the major collectors are the DNI’s Open Source Center (OSC) and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).

GEOINT—Geospatial-Intelligence is the analysis and visual representation of security-related activities on the earth. It is produced through an integration of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information.

Information from these collection platforms and disciplines are then analyzed to develop effective and proactive policies to intervene, reduce, or eliminate the probability of a threat by an organization, group, or individual. Given the sensitivity of such information, it is generally kept confidential and shared with only relevant intelligence and law enforcement agencies in contrast to crime analysis reports, which are perceived as less sensitive and are often made public in some cases (public safety) and shared throughout agencies to include state fusion centers.

Also, intelligence analysis primarily focuses on the threat environment rather than identifying crimes and collecting evidence for prosecution. Illicit activities of organized crime groups and gangs, terrorist and extremist organizations having capabilities of transnational criminal acts, characteristics of trans-jurisdictional criminality, threats to the community, and operational and administrative networks of nefarious organizations are monitored, understood, and countered through intelligence analysis. Intelligence analysis utilizes both macro and microanalysis to compile tactical and strategic strategies. Tactical analysis focuses on criminal organizations’ behavior and operational capacity, while the latter relates to policy, plans, and operations.

It helps national law enforcement agencies such as the US Marshals Service, Secret Service, the FBI, and others to intervene and mitigate potential threats and protect the community through the formulation of policies and plans that can be shared with state and local agencies. The information is then communicated through state fusion centers and liaison officials from each of the federal, state, and local agencies. Furthermore, intelligence analysts are tasked with identifying, extracting, and synthesizing useful information gathered from intelligence units to discern intricate criminal behavior patterns. Applying reasoning and inductive skills help understand the present and future criminal threats and recommend a proactive approach to counter these threats. These collated reports are also shared with other intelligence agencies (FBI, 2011).

All Analysts are the Same

Having expounded on both criminal and national intelligence analysts’ definitions, concepts, theory, and roles, it is relatively easy to compare the roles played by each of them and see each employ the same analytical theories and principles in their work regardless of the entity they support. Historically, there has been little overlap between the two having distinct organizational domains and visions, but with time, both types of analysis evolved and became more integrated with each other. Speaking of contemporary times, both analytic cadres are tasked to minimize the occurrence of crime in society; however, the working mechanism and organizational domains of crime analysts and intelligence analysts are still differentiated through their missions, goals, and ultimately their monitoring of threats. The former plays a predominant role in combating crime within the premises of a state or local location, while the latter primarily focuses on analyzing threats to national security. That is why most criminologists posit that intelligence analysts and crime analysts belong to two different fields of crime mitigation (Piza, Szkola, & Blount-Hill, 2020). The sensitivity of intelligence analysts’ reports and the global outreach of their operational strategies make them considerably distinct from crime analysts. The tragic events of the attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001, provided an unprecedented stimulus to intelligence analysis to maximize its outreach and enhance institutional capacity. Still, the collaboration between both types of approaches and integration of crime and intelligence analysis is increasing. To successfully execute planned strategies and achieve the desired results, it is indispensable to increase further the collaboration and integration between crime analysis and intelligence analysis agencies.


To encapsulate it, federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies rely on a range of information that both national security intelligence analysts and crime analysts provide to improve their decision-making processes of deployment strategies, crime prevention, and suppression. Both perform distinct jobs involving different analytic techniques, organizational domains and strategies, and operational mechanism as they have different goals. It is not wrong to argue that they are better suited for different jobs as their work scope is different; however, integration between the two domains is becoming more prevalent and is central to increasing the efficiency of both types of intelligence analysts.


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Dr. Charles M. Russo is a current Full-Time Instructor with the College of Safety and Emergency Services at Columbia Southern University (CSU). Dr. Russo has over three decades of national security and criminal justice experience as an Intelligence Analyst with the U.S. Intelligence Community. Previous employments with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Navy. Dr. Russo's teaching background includes over eight years of higher academic teaching in the disciplines of Intelligence, Homeland Security, Counterterrorism, Strategic Security, and Criminal Justice. Among his subject matter areas of expertise are Intelligence Analysis, Theory of Intelligence, Ethics in Intelligence and Criminal Justice, and Counterterrorism. Dr. Russo received his B.A. in Intelligence Studies with a concentration in Analysis from American Military University and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies with a concentration in Collections. Dr. Russo also holds a Ph.D. in Public Safety with a specialization in Criminal Justice from Capella University.

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