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Difference Between Intelligence and Investigation

Intelligence and investigation are key components of criminology. Although they look deceptively similar, Difference Between Intelligence And Investigationfundamental differences exist in various areas of their components such as:  purpose of final product, time orientation, data gathering and analytical techniques, skill set requirements, nature of conclusion and dissemination of information.

Intelligence is a product created through the process of collecting, collating, and analyzing data, for dissemination as usable information to inform future interventions. Intelligence typically assesses events, locations or adversaries. [Metscher & Gilbride, 2005]

Investigation-this encompasses “the collection of information and evidence for identifying, apprehending and convicting suspected offenders” (Osteoburg & Ward, 2013).

Differences in Intelligence and Investigation.

Purpose of the final product.

Investigation reports are often presented to legal processes for fact finding. Hence investigators have a direct link to prosecutors. Investigations bring sharp focus to facts which they provide to the justice system. While intelligence reports are provided to decision makers to help guide future activity, they lack a direct link to prosecution powers. Intelligence reports are often very blurred and are just probabilities that lack sharp focus.

 1] Time Orientation.

A major difference between an investigation and intelligence is the aspect of time orientation. Investigations tend to focus on determining causative factors that explaining past events. Emphasis is usually on an analysis of history, looking for a single right answer. While intelligence, on the other hand, focuses on the extrapolation of current events to provide plausible representations of the future. While history and past events are often considered in intelligence exercises, they are often just used to support projections of what may come. Since intelligence deals with the future it often yields multiple acceptable answers.

Hence an investigation focuses on past events while intelligence focuses on future events. They all so differ in that investigations yield only one answer while intelligence produces multiple results.

2] Data Gathering and Analytical Techniques

Investigations and intelligence use very similar data gathering techniques such as interviews of knowledgeable individuals, physical observations of sites, and reviews of documentation. Despite this there are certain data gathering activities that are more associated with one activity than the other. Investigations, with its strong law enforcement roots, will sometimes rely on securing trash as abandoned property, commonly referred to as “dumpster diving.” Intelligence, on the other hand, may focus on detailed reviews of patents as a way of discerning how key

Manufacturing processes operate. Regardless of the sources of data a key differentiating factor between investigations and strategic intelligence is how data is analyzed.

Analytical techniques in investigations focus on getting the right answer. They are normally deductive, employing a high level of directed thinking. The elimination process is usually used to identify answers that do not fit in the investigation. This process then leads to identification of the right answer. Data gathered is arrayed as evidence in support of the chosen answer.

Analytical techniques in intelligence focus on determining appropriate courses of action based on anticipated future events. They are virtually all derived from traditional general management consulting and include such things as scenario analysis, SWOT analysis, competitive positioning assessment, and various microeconomic evaluation methods. Since such approaches generally produce an array of answers, there is heavy dependence on lateral thinking by those conducting the analysis. The ideal outcome is a series of actionable initiatives supporting a robust strategy to achieve long term objectives in the face of an uncertain future.

 3]    Skill Set Requirements

Not surprisingly, intelligence and investigations utilize many of the same skills but the people who do the best investigations tend to have experience and backgrounds in law enforcement and related fields. Over time, they internalize the type of deductive, directed thinking that leads them to identify causative factors for past events. Practitioners of strategic intelligence, on the other hand, should have a strong grounding in the different types of analysis techniques. Most gain this through experience either in management consulting or as part of a corporate strategic planning function. Investigators therefore require good deductive and direct thinking while intelligence officers require very good analytic techniques.

4] Nature of Conclusions

Investigations must present facts as they are received and discovered while avoiding making final assumptions. The conclusion will majorly be based on evidence acquired and is thus majorly based by an investigators work. Intelligence on the other hand will provide their final information based on their conclusions. This is due to the fact that future projections may lack evidence directly linked to them.

5]  Dissemination

Investigation yields information that is open for public scrutiny and is often tested to ensure there is credibility. Intelligence on the other hand often yields confidential information that is provided to specific people. There is privacy in sharing of the information and it’s often not available for public scrutiny.


So although investigations and intelligence are closely linked and investigation can be a component of intelligence there are fundamental difference among them that differentiate them as discussed above.

  • M.G Robert Brion , (2005). Intelligence as an investigative factor.
  • Osterburg, J. W., & Ward, R. H. (2010). Criminal investigation: A method for reconstructing the past. Routledge.

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