What is ‘Private Intelligence’?

Private intelligence is the collection, analysis and exploitation of information, by a non-governmental organization.

Governments use intelligence agencies to determine where the world is going – for example, what is happening in the next 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc. Think Jack Ryan, trying to learn which step the bad guy is going to take next, by looking at his past actions.

The difference between private intelligence and private investigation is in the questions they each ask.

People often confuse “private intelligence” with “private investigations” because both are looking for information. Even though they search for the same information, the difference is the intention behind its collection.

While a private investigator will ask who, what, where, when and why, a private intelligence consultant has one more and very powerful question: “so what?

This tiny question shifts the focus from past events to future events – from how we got here, to how we can get to there.

A private investigator (like Sherlock Holmes) will look for clues about what a person has done.

A private intelligence professional will create a pattern of life to determine what that person will do next.

Where a company would hire an investigator to find out why a building blew up, they would hire an intelligence firm to find out which one would be most likely to get blown up next. More importantly, the intelligence firm could determine the building least likely to be targeted based on current and historical data.

Private intel firms take that “so what”, and use it to make informed assessments about the future.

A special tool called the intelligence cycle is used for this process. You can read more about it in my related post.

If you belong to an NGO, Church Missions Group or similar organization that sends people abroad into unfamiliar or uncertain areas, consider a Travel Briefing customized to your needs.

The Intelligence Cycle

Information is all around us, constantly bombarding us in every direction.

News media, social media, friends and family – each one competing for your time, energy and attention.

Intelligence professionals know that without verification, information is useless.

Think about the last time a parent or trusted friend sent you an article, or a headline even, then followed with comments because they made a decision based solely on a headline.

Agencies and private firms around the globe use this process to get the answers their clients needs.

The process can be broken up into four steps.

Collection – gathering information from appropriate sources and methods.

Processing – sorting, reviewing and analyzing all collected information.

Exploitation – using the analyzed information to inform your next move.

Feedback – take what was helpful, throw out what was not; repeat.

In short, intelligence is about action.

The intelligence cycle is a closed loop that has you collecting information, synthesizing that information into intelligence, acting on that intelligence, then observing the results and finally adjusting as necessary; wash – rinse – observe – repeat.

Click here to learn more about what a private intelligence firm does.

Geolocating A Car Crash

from everydayspy.com

I first saw this photo in a blog post from EverydaySpy, saying he had been in a hit-and-run accident.

The post mentioned that he was in Abu Dhabi and was merging when this happened. I was intrigued and immediately decided to locate the photo.

I want to walk you through the process I used to locate the spot this photo was taken.

Step 1: Observe the focal point

The focal point of a photo is what the photographer was focused on. This is the subject or event of interest to the person taking the image.

In this photo, we can see the car. It has been damaged and it is parked on sand.

It is also important to note what we do not see. There are no visible emergency services. There are no other vehicles. No people. No sidewalk. No shrubs or trees.

Step 2: Observe the foreground

Behind the vehicle, we can see that the sandy space extends a good distance to a fence with barbed wire on top. In front of the fence line are tire tracks in the sand.

Again, no people or other vehicles are visible.

Step 3: Observe the background

Looking at the background of a photo can tell you a lot about a place.

Beyond the fence, to the left, there are some tall thin blue storage tanks. To the right, there is a dark gray building. In the very center, there is a hazy curved building that looks rather far away, standing by itself.

This curved building is the control tower for the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

© Lester Ali

The curve is only in one direction and can tell you which way the photographer was facing when they took the picture.

Step 4: Narrow down the position of the camera

Moving to one of the most robust free tools on the market, GoogleEarth is fantastic. I use it way more than I care to admit – even more so now using the built-in flight simulator to teach my kids about geography.

To recap, there is a fence, a series of blue storage tanks, a control tower, and a gray building. First, we locate the position of the control tower, and match up the curve with the photo. This tells us that the photo was taken to the North of the tower.

Looking northwards, we see a highway named E-12. There is also a ramp leading onto that highway from E-10.

Step 5: Find elements that match those found in the foreground

Zooming into the map, along the ramp area of E12, we see an oil facility.

GoogleEarth lets you see historical photos as well. Moving back in time, we get different views, at different times of day and different seasons of an area. Below you can see that the facility clearly has several tall blue containers and a gray building near an onramp for the E-12.

Step 6: Verify

Intelligence analysis is not complete unless you verify your findings.

To do this, using GoogleEarth, put yourself in the position you think the photographer took the image and see if your other data points line up.

We see that our blue containers match. The gray building to the right matches. And between the two, we have a clear line of sight (marked in red) of the control tower in the distance.

Assessment: The photo was taken at approximately 24°28’38.16″N, 54°39’49.98″E

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like my post on being a targeting analyst.

If you want to test your skills, check out @quiztime on Twitter. Quiztime offers new IMINT/GEOINT challenges every week.

Being A Targeting Analyst

What is a targeting analyst?

A targeting analyst or “targeter” for short, is someone who finds out every little detail there is to know about a person, place or thing.

Imagine having the knowledge that your parents, your best friend, and your significant other have about you all rolled into one person.

They know your spouse’s name, your place of work, and that you take lots of pictures of your dog and post them on instagram around 10 am most weekdays. They also know how you like to spend your time and energy. This last part is the true value of a targeter.

A targeter knows their target’s past and present, and uses that data to predict future behavior.

Say you like ice cream and whenever you get ice cream, you get vanilla. You have been ordering vanilla ice cream since you were a kid and it is familiar to you. Now, every time you go out on a date, you end the night with ice cream at your favorite ice cream shop. The data shows a high likelihood that you are getting vanilla.

This is how targeting analysts around the world guess a bad guy’s next move.

First, they learn all there is to know about the target. What they do for

You can benefit from the power of prediction too!

This skill of prediction and pattern recognition is useful in many areas. Taking notes about your own tendencies can help you make changes to better your own life. If your boss has a big deadline coming up, you can make sure your team is working smoothly. If your spouse has a rough day, you can anticipate what would help them rebound.

What are some patterns in your daily life? How can you use them to predict what might happen next?

Pandas, Puppies and Burnout

It has been a heck of a time in our house for these last two weeks with everything seemingly in a perfect storm of flux.

As the saying goes, life isn’t about learning to wait til the storm passed but rather how to dance in the rain. These past two weeks have been full of new dance steps, learning hard and fast about what works and what doesn’t during this time of intense change.

All within a two week span, we came back from a month of travel, welcomed an au-pair into our home, had the kids start at a new school with a new routine and new traditions, and then took on three 6-week-old foster puppies.

With all the changes in our house, and us still trying to figure out what the new baseline will be, there came a point where I hit the wall.

Everyday felt chaotic and full of surprises. There was a mad rush one morning to find our daughter’s her new panda hair-clips she got as a gift from our au pair. The puppies were constantly growing, changing, and learning new skills… like how to climb stairs. The kids wanted to switch transportation modes to school daily. Not to mention the slow trod uphill through emails about work and kids activities we needed to sign up for.

In the craziness of trying to be superdad, I stopped paying attention to my own needs and being realistic with my own time.

Knowing your limits and articulating your needs can be difficult.

I fell back on my old daily journaling habits to help me through what I was experiencing. My method is not unique, but it is simple and I want to share it with you because it works.

Here are the three things I do to help me, and now you can do them too:

1. Prioritize your objectives

When you wake up, take a look through your calendar. Pick your top 3 most important goals for that day. These goals are things that will leave you feeling fulfilled and energized by day’s end.

Determine the most efficient order to get your tasks done in. Work smarter, not harder by arranging your day to work for you.

Be realistic with your time, and how long each item will take. Build in time buffers for bio breaks, rest, and unforeseen circumstances.

2. Observe your use of energy and time

During the day, keep notes about what took more or less time or energy than expected. Did you leave the house at a good time or did you hit traffic? Did the boss drop some last-minute project on your desk? Did the meeting with your client leave you feeling drained or ready to bounce back?

3. Reflect on what you saw

At the end of the day, look back and see what part of your plan worked, what didn’t, and how it could be adjusted to better set yourself up for the next day.

With lots of moving parts, it can be easy to get swept up in the mix.
By sticking to these steps, you can handle whatever life throws you with ease.


Take the first step in setting yourself up for success.

This method works so well, we made a downloadable PDF called Plan – Execute – Reflect.

Use it everyday to give yourself more time, more energy and less hassle.

The IR$ (Part One)

“Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents will be coming for you —

Emotionally triggering headlines are standard in modern news media.

Headlines like this are designed to make you feel the way you do, right now.

The media companies know that emotionally-triggered people are far more likely to take the click-bait and spread it, making them more money in the process.

But you don’t have to be a pawn in their game.

You know what’s worse than someone taking your hard-earned money? It’s the feeling you get when you realize you’ve been duped. By giving yourself time and space to let your brain process information, you will be able to make better decisions and react more appropriately.

Our brains think in one of two ways – one logical, one emotional.

The emotional path is through the amygdala and it is built for speed. It is the part that reacts when a snake surprises you and you need to move quickly.

The logical side runs through the prefrontal cortex and it is built for processing power, but it takes a few seconds longer to comprehend a given situation.

They are both equally useful, however they are useful in different circumstances.

This means that when your brain responds to a stimulus – whether it be a tiger jumping at you or a disturbing news headline – your emotional side fires off first. These leaves your logical side trying to play catch-up.

The simple answer to not being duped is to take a breath.

Before coming to a conclusion or making a decision about what a headline may mean, give your brain the time and space to comprehend the information in a logical way.

The brain chemicals produced by your amygdala from any given stress response take approximately 6 seconds to dissipate. SIX SECONDS. That means that if you take that deep breath, then think through what you read again, you may find yourself coming to a different conclusion.

Let’s try taking that breath now, and unpack this headline to give our logical brains a chance to understand what is being said.

The first part we see is the word ‘Democrats’ . This communicates a clear divide between Democrats and the reader.

Next, we read ‘army of 87,000 IRS agents‘ which is a vague reference to a large, force of people. The word “army” can imply that the force is armed and potentially hostile to the reader.

Finally, we focus on ‘coming for you‘. This phrase uses highly directed and threatening language to further hijack your emotional brain. When reading this part, you can almost feel the author point a finger and saying “you”.

Just 6 seconds and you’ve taken power back from the alarmist headline.

Now that we have effectively dissected this headline, we are in a better position to ask follow-up questions.

Questions are so important, that I’ll be making a second post in this series about them. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you want to learn how to unpack the news in your inbox everyday, check out EverydaySpy’s Special Report.

I won an Espresso Machine! ☕️

A week ago, a friend tagged me in a giveaway post of a local coffee shop.

Anyone who knows me will know that as far as hobbies go, I’m just as crazy about espresso as I am about intelligence.

This morning, I got a message that I had WON, and almost believed it too.

Naturally, I clicked the message in my instagram inbox. I quickly verified the sender by looking at the icon. They matched up, and at a glance, the usernames were the same so I read the message.

Red flags began popping up the more I read.

The message started off by telling me how lucky I was to have won. “Wow”, I thought, “I am lucky. I hardly ever win these things!”

Then it gave me instructions about how to sign up for some required service. It also provided a link. The link went to a page that asked for a credit card. (NOT a page for the coffee shop – even though the link appeared to be related to the legitimate business.

Lastly, the message ended by mentioning a 60 minute window to claim my prize, a few typos, and final reminder for how lucky I was.

I immediately take a step back, and reassess whenever a message includes:
1. time-sensitivities,
2. typographical errors, or phrasing that seems off, or
3. links (even more-so if the page asks me for a credit card!)

As we say at the Patent Office, this required further search and consideration.

Where better place to start than the source. So I went back to the bio of the account that sent the message.

Spoofing is very common in email and social media based attacks.

Lo and behold, the account names did not match. But they were close… so close that I missed it the first time. This is a common technique by cyber criminals called “spoofing”. By changing just one character toward the end of an account name, email, domain name, etc, a bad actor can make you think they are legit.

In 2021, over 95,000 people reported being scammed through social media.

It typically starts with a message, a post or an ad. One click leads to another and you’re entering credit card or account information, thinking you will win big.

They tell you that you’re lucky and you want to believe that, so you go along with it. It’s not just you though. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimated that in 2021, total losses were close to $770 million.

Think before you click!

Whenever you get an email, DM or other personal message that has any of these red flags:

🚩 Stressed time sensitivities

🚩 Typographical or grammatical errors

🚩 Links to other pages (especially ones asking YOU to pay for winning)

… take the time to carefully consider the source, even if they are promising a free espresso machine! ☕️

Importing Culture

Being exposed to multiple cultures can greatly alter ones perspectives.

This is even more true for children who are not sheltered in years of geographically specific thought patterns. When our kids were born, my wife and I decided that it was one of our core family values to introduce them to as much alternative culture as we could. So we found a local Montessori school that specialized in Mandarin immersion.

At Tong Le Montessori School in Baltimore, MD, our children found a small but extremely diverse student population.

From Mongolian to Ethiopian, Israeli to Dutch, Spanish to Hindi, our children were exposed to far more than just Mandarin. The children learned Mandarin in the classroom, spoke English on the playground, and when the families got together after school, it was a hodgepodge of all the languages, and it was beautiful.

As time went on, our children grew and through COVID, we found ourselves moving closer to family.

We spent the first year in our new location acclimating to “Island Time”, and learning this new culture of South East Georgia. It is one of sand, sun, and learning to listen to the wind. It is a markedly different pace from everything I knew – coming from the North East where if you stand still, you just might die.

To stay true to our family value, we are importing culture into our home.

After exploring our options here and in nearby Jacksonville and Savannah, we’ve decided to bring some of that foreign culture into our home with an Au Pair.

Giving our children an immersive experience in their own space will help them learn about the world outside, and continue to give them broader perspectives.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

St. Augustine

One Playground At A Time

“Can we go there again please?!”

This is an often-asked question in our car, especially when traveling. And it is usually in reference to a playground.

Our kids love to explore and compare whats different at each playground we pass.

Some have slides, some have swings. Spinning chairs and seesaws. Some are made of wood, some are made of metal or hard plastic. Some are old, some are new. Some are clearly well loved, and others loved by graffiti artists.

No matter what material or condition, my kids approach each playground with excitement and curiosity.

And that is a lesson we can all learn from them. Being curious and always keeping an open mind as we explore often leads to amazing experiences. This does not mean that you say yes to everything that comes your way, and do things you know are risky or overly dangerous. But stepping out of your comfort zone is where growth happens – and curiosity is a great way to unlock that door.

Find your path from comfort to adventure. Let curiosity be your guide, and never stop growing. Last one down the slide is a rotten egg!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play freeze tag with my kids.

Corporate Espionage

It starts with a LinkedIn message.

You are a mid-career professional who is hungry and looking to grow your business. Maybe you’re a recent grad looking to expand your network. Bottom line is you’re actively searching for ways to get ahead. Then, out of thin air – a message pops up. This drive can become a vulnerability.

“Alan” says you can help him and make money.

He tells you that you are the perfect candidate for his consulting offer. You’ve got the right subject matter expertise and he is willing to pay you for it. The best part is, he says that YOU can name your price.

Then comes the pitch.

He just needs to ask a few questions first about a program for his client. You ask who the client is. “An investor” he says. “They just want to understand the product better”. Then he redirects the conversation back to the money.

If it sounds too good to be true…

This LinkedIn experience happened to me and I couldn’t wait to share it.
Background: my subject matter expertise is “finding things”. I find people, places, documents, you name it. I’ve been finding needles in stacks of needles for over a decade and I am really good at it.

After a little digging, and some pointed questions, I learned that my alarm bells were justified.

Alan was trying to give me money in exchange for information. His pitch was an attempt to leverage the human need for money to gain restricted information about a competitor’s product.

The company was performing corporate espionage, leveraging human needs.

You might be wondering what tipped me off about the message in the first place. To understand that, you need to understand the basics of how leverage works.

Leverage is like MICE. They are everywhere.

Back in the days of the OSS and then the Cold War, a mnemonic device was used to help intel officers remember the different “levers” to gain information from a target. M: money / reward; I: ideology; C: coercion; E: ego. Three of these are elements of any good sales pitch, which is why they are also used by covert operators the world over to get intelligence.

Now, back to the message.

1. Alan was offering to pay me, without knowing me or my specific knowledge.

2. Alan was willing to be flexible with my schedule.

3. Alan told me I could name my hourly rate.

These three alarms told me that whatever information his client was after was worth a lot and they were willing to bend over backwards to get it.

Remember your ABC’s.

A. Assuming nothing.

B. Believe no one.

C. Challenge everything.

When you work in intelligence, you rely on these rules every day to insure the integrity of your deliverables.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

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