Where is Standing Rock? It seems like a simple question, right? To answer, you’ll go to Google Maps and type it in. Yet this is an extremely critical kind of intelligence routinely taken for granted, even occasionally by the professional intelligence agencies of nation-states: Open source intelligence (AKA OSINT, since the defense apparatus so loves alphabet soup.) A map, Wikipedia pages, the CIA World Fact Book, and even fliers on a bulletin board are sources of non-secret information. In the context of activism and politics, it is the most common kind of intelligence utilized, though it is very rarely called “intelligence.” Yet information collection, dissemination, and intelligence operations are rarely formalized among activists. There isn’t a wholesale denial of the utility of information, but it isn’t always felt that intelligence is as vital as it is.
Take for instance the police practice of “kettling.” Kettling is a form of encirclement, where picketers and protesters are isolated and contained within a narrow zone by a cordon of police, sometimes with a small controlled outlet. The idea is that protesters isolated for hours will “tire themselves out.” This encirclement is initiated with coordinated police movements and various established crowd-control techniques like baton charges. By understand the goals, techniques, and principles surrounding kettling, it should in principal be possible to create stratagems and tactics that can counteract this. One idea has involved technology that allows protesters to communicate rapidly to counteract and escape police maneuvers. This technology is entirely a function of the utilization of reconnaissance and intelligence. Incidentally, kettling follows and obeys many of the dynamics of battlefields before the invention of mechanized warfare, and studying formations and maneuvers of non-mechanized armies may prove instructive in countering kettling, baton charges, and other techniques simply by the judicious coordination of non-violent movement.
Or, in the case of NoDAPL, we can ask the question, what banks are supporting the DAPL? This is again, open information. Suddenly, you don’t have to physically occupy space at Standing Rock to have an impact. You can use this information to impose costs on the project nationally. Understanding the business side of the operation is critical, and knowing where the debts lie, what is leveraged, and whose money is involved is not only possible, but essential. Leftists who refuse to learn about and understand modern finance, and dismiss it as “abstraction” are relinquishing a valuable weapon. Understand that civil resistance is rarely about physical stoppage. It is about utilizing the coercive effects of imposed costs on those who have the power to stop an action unilaterally. This is the shortest path to success.
What about infiltration, asset-development, and covert operations? These are much more difficult for non-violent resisters to pull off, but should not be precluded from all consideration. Often, the use by the authorities of agent-provocateurs can have devastating impacts on peaceful actions. Knowing and identifying agent-provocateurs does not necessarily require covert intelligence, but counter-intelligence methods can and should be employed to identify and neutralize them. Neutralization is often a euphemism for killing, but in non-violent resistance, neutralization of an agent-provocateur merely requires identification of the agent and the dissemination of that information. The possibility of infiltration should also be publicly left open, even if it is not a real possibility or desire. The reason is that it forces authorities and the powerful to expend effort to detect such infiltration. Paranoia and uncertainty in the adversary is something that should be actively cultivated to the extent that it does not jeopardize other goals.
Intelligence isn’t everything. In war, intelligence is considered vital, but not decisive. In other words, intelligence alone does not win wars. It is possible to overstate importance of intelligence in achieving an objective. However it may gradually become an accepted and effective practice for non-violent organizers to give intelligence-related tasks to specific dedicated team who are qualified and capable of understanding the many complex factors often involved in achieving a specific goal. This is especially critical when waging boycotts or other forms of economic warfare which may benefit from a deep understanding of financial systems. Most movements make intelligence everyone’s responsibility, which is not an altogether bad idea. However by making it no-one’s specific responsibility, there is a level of neglect that can easily be rectified.
In general, the lessons of this post are that intelligence management and assessment should be given attention, and that open-source intelligence is the most important form of intelligence. Intelligence can be used to maximize the effectiveness of specific tactics. The threat of intelligence can also be used to divide an adversary and impose internal costs to the adversary. Intelligence collection and use is also perfectly compatible with non-violent resistance. Even if you shouldn’t overestimate the importance of intelligence gathering activities, under no circumstances should they be neglected.