Protective Intelligence 201: Mind the Gap Between Strategic and Tactical Intelligence


The whole world is the arena of our conflict.” – Allen Dulles, The Craft of Intelligence  

In my experience in both the government and private sector, I’ve found that disaster looms in the gaps between strategic and tactical intelligence, but bridges can be built.  

Let me explain. The benefit of age is remembering strategic world events unfolding in real-time, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the “Days of Rage” in the 1960s and 1970s, the political assassination of Israeli Colonel Joe Alon in 1973 in my neighborhood, chronicled in my book Chasing Shadows, the first Cold War, our endless wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These events shifted the strategic plans and perspective of nation-states and changed the way people viewed the world.   

Remembering, Understanding and Anticipating Tactical Incidents

Many tactical incidents may not be as memorable as the strategic events, but for a defender, they are just as important to remember, understand and anticipate. As a State Department special agent in the 1980s and 1990s, I had a front-row seat to the tactical surprises and disasters that seemed to be the norm. Our agents were like global smokejumpers, racing to counter tactical threats like hijackings, assassinations, and embassy attacks, most sponsored by nation-states like the U.S.S.R., Libya, and Iran who were pulling the strings to push their strategic agendas. I worked on the cases of the hostages kidnapped and held captive by Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the 1988 plane crash which killed President Zia of Pakistan and U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphael. 

While these incidents might not have shifted the global strategic calculus, they showed how tactical threats and threat actors can be used as tools of foreign policy. The key challenge is identifying where the tactical threats intersect with the strategic analysis, closing the gaps to help make sense of the bigger picture and how events are likely to unfold. 

When I transitioned into the private sector in 1999 to take the concept of protective intelligence to the corporate sector and other organizations, I knew that by examining the geopolitics of the world and incorporating those lessons into threat assessments, could help keep people and operations safe. In essence, bridging tactical and strategic threats across the gaps; or at least trying to.   

Expanding the Global Threat Landscape

In a perfect world, the chief legal counsel, the chief security officer, the chief risk officer and the C-Suite, would have a live window into the organization’s global threat landscape, incorporating the strategic and tactical threats facing a company. For the bulk of multinational corporations, the most significant strategic threats are fairly consistent – major supply-chain disruptions, regulatory changes, war and regional conflicts, extreme weather or natural disasters, and significant criminal activity.   

On the tactical front, identifying and tracking threats can be more actionable from a security perspective.  For example, direct threats against the brand or executives, like strikes and demonstrations, are easier to identify and monitor. But without an effective program in place to capture the incident in a workflow, these problems can be easily missed until the problem strikes.

After more than twenty years in the private sector global security space, even as C-Suites have increased their focus on strategic concerns, the gaps between strategic and tactical intelligence remain.  I’ve seen three key problems in many companies that are struggling with the gap:

  • Internal Stovepipes
  • Lack of Clarity about Strategic Priorities
  • Siloed Threat Data

Taking Steps to Bridge the Intelligence Gaps

So, what should be done? First, identify your strategic intelligence priorities. Make sure the appropriate stakeholders are at the table and can share their views of the most critical strategic-level problems the organization faces. Whittle the list down to the primary strategic threats that have the potential to topple the business. 

This process should not be as complex as it might seem – most companies should only have 6-8 priorities (or intelligence requirements) to collect against. The biggest challenge is deciding what data inputs can be captured to match those strategic intelligence requirements and the most likely corresponding tactical problems. Once you understand the correct data inputs, your team can find ways to collect and monitor those data streams, then find ways to monitor and collect the right data. Matching the tactical threats with each strategic priority will also provide a clearer picture of how and why each threat is likely to change as the strategic situation evolves. 

Fortunately, monitoring strategic and tactical threats is easier today than it was when I was a protection agent. The scattered nature of intelligence collection inside companies can lead to missed signals as various offices run their own shows and keep their information siloed. Technology solutions can help your team make sense of the threat landscape, adding pieces to the puzzle and closing the gaps that can leave your people and operations vulnerable.