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Counter Islamic State Intelligence Campaign Essay


ISIL is currently posing the biggest threat to global security and stability. Various nations have tried using a variety of methods to try to contain the group’s reign of terror. This brief is addressed to the director of a Crisis Action Centre and it concerns budget priorities in the fight against ISIL. The report starts with an introduction to the ISIL threat and then proceeds to highlight the organization’s main strengths and weaknesses. The brief advises on, which intelligence collection strategies should be prioritized and the ones that can be relegated.


The unprecedented rise of the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) and its accompanying threat has become a pertinent issue in the security interests of Europe, the United States, and the world at large. Our country has been directing a significant amount of resources towards overpowering the advancements of the terrorist organization. In the fight against the ISIL, the central issue of increasing extremism and subsequent radicalization of citizens around the world. Furthermore, all players in the fight against ISIL have been trying to figure out the enemy’s vulnerabilities. Consequently, a successful intelligence campaign against ISIL requires the marshaling of all available resources (Lowenthal, 2014).

Previously, the intelligence incursion against ISIL was mostly haphazard because very little was known about the organization especially during its unprecedented and fast rise in the Middle East. Most intelligence outfits also made the mistake of assuming that the terror group was similar to pre-existing terrorist cells. The peripheral nature of the Western-styled intelligence outfits has also contributed to a significant wastage of resources in the fight against ISIL.

Recent developments in the economic front have led to significant budget cuts that have subsequently affected the operations of the Crisis Action Team (CAT). As a collection strategist, I must outline how the team can operate within the confines of the new budget requirements whilst maintaining a sustained offensive against the terrorist organization. My brief is centered on how non-literal intelligence can be utilized in the context of the new budget cuts to achieve maximum results in the war against ISIL. The brief will be addressed to the director and it will indicate which intelligence collection should be prioritized and which ones require reduced attention. The recommendations also take into consideration the current state of ISIL risk.

ISIL in its Current State

The complexity that comes with gathering intelligence against the ISIL has been replicated across the world. No major player has shown distinguished progress in the intelligence front when it comes to ISIL. At a certain point, the terror organization appears to be beating the collective global intelligence by continuing to hit even the most impregnable targets such as France and Brussels. Consequently, it would be futile to approach the problem of ISIL using the old intelligence rulebooks and tactics. ISIL has started a pattern of operation that has proved difficult to decipher. In this regard, ISIL has proved more efficient in discarding any ‘modus operandi’ that is susceptible to instruments of intelligence.

Other terrorist organizations such as the Al Qaeda have not fared well in this regard hence the need to re-evaluate the older counter-extremist strategies. It is also important to note that one of ISIL’s strengths is its ability to attract and radicalize elements from around the world (Dyer, McCoy, Rodriguez, & Van Duyn, 2007). The organization’s global stature has been a challenge when it comes to the scope of intelligence strategies that can be effective against the organization. Most extremist organizations rely on finances as a source of power. However, ISIL has found other means of harnessing power through acts of unimaginable terror, ruthlessness, and sustained campaigns. This aspect of ‘intangible’ power is a major determinant of the intelligence strategies that can be most effective against ISIL.

Collection Strategies

The use of measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) should be a key priority for the CAT. MASINT is the only method of intelligence collection that can counter ISIL’s ability to “control people and territory through a well organized and pragmatic leadership, intimidation tactics, well-developed narrative, and sustained media outreach that attracts and motivates fighters” (Childs, 2015, p. 20).

At this point in the campaign against ISIL, it is evident that the ruthlessness and moral decadence of the organization has no limits. The most logical thing would be to access how much capacity the organization has and its potential to increase this intelligence. Therefore, a sizeable budget allocation should address this aspect of the ISIL campaign. Nevertheless, MASINT is an expensive intelligence strategy because it utilizes data from other forms of collection including electronic, telemetry, and imagery-based intelligence among others. Currently, ISIL is an unmistakable threat to global security and its access to any form of weaponry and tactics should not be in doubt.

On the other hand, ISIL is under siege from a bombardment of various military units. This scenario makes the terrorist organization both a wounded and desperate unit. Therefore, the group can easily be used as a proxy by any other unit around the world that might have access to modern and sophisticated weaponry.

There have been rumblings that ISIL cells in Libya might have access to nuclear weapons that previously belonged to the Muamar Gadaffi Regime. This claim is yet to be verified until now hence the urgency to deploy resources towards MASINT. If this claim is true, ISIL could end up being a bigger global security threat than the world has anticipated. On the other hand, having credible intelligence to refute this claim can add precision to the war against ISIL. Through the use of MASINT, CAT can be able to gauge which types of weapons are in ISIL’s control and their subsequent capabilities. This method can also be used to find out the reasons and the resources behind the terror organization’s massively successful recruitment campaign around the world.

The use of imagery intelligence (IMNT) can be effective in undermining ISIL’s major weakness. Over the past few years, it has become clear that ISIL is an opportunistic organization that can only thrive in places where there is sectarian violence. The group’s claim to prominence can be traced to the Taliban war in Iraq and the subsequent effects of Arab Springs in Libya and Syria (Tinnes, 2015). Unlike the Al Qaeda, the ISIL also thrives in areas where there is no surveillance by enemy forces. The group has made sure of this free reign by “alienating local populations through over-the-top violence and harsh implementation of Sharia” (Tomes, 2015, p. 61).

Furthermore, the group has been unable to thrive in regions that have functioning governments. All these shortcomings can be exploited through the use of imagery intelligence to chart the movement of the organization and the structures of its leadership. On the other hand, the group has made sure that its territory is too risky for many potential surveillance spies (Richelson, 2015). Nevertheless, the terrorist group is aware of the risk of potential surveillance. The benefits and potential of IMNT are well documented throughout the history of intelligence collection. Data from IMNT can also be used to build on other intelligence collection strategies. CAT cannot afford to cut back on this form of surveillance because it is also one of the cheapest modes of intelligence collection.

The use of Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and Foreign Instruments Signals Intelligence (FISINT) are both low priority strategies when it comes to collecting data against the ISIL. The ISIL exists in a flaccid condition and the organization has only managed to progress quickly by chance and not by design. Nevertheless, ELINT would be more effective than FISINT because the organization has indicated a reliance on the internet when communicating.

Also, the group has been relying heavily on the internet to recruit new members. One reason why ELINT might not be successful as an intelligence strategy is because its ability to achieve results is unlikely. The internet is a universe in its own right and this gives potential terrorists endless methods of communication. FISINT should be the least prioritized mode of intelligence collection because ISIL mostly operates in stateless areas.


CAT needs to access the ISIL threat in a unique but open-minded manner. The group’s realm of terror has mostly been incidental and this has caught most intelligence outfits unawares. Furthermore, the most important aspect of the war against ISIL is the need to gauge the threat that the group poses. MASINT is an all-round collection strategy that is very pertinent to the current threat against ISIL. The current budget cannot afford to overlook the basic necessity of imagery intelligence in ISIL’s main areas of operation. However, ELINT and FISINT remain low priority intelligence-collection strategies when it comes to the current ISIL threat.


Childs, S. (2015). Pure manipulation: ISIL and the exploitation of social media. Australian Army Journal, 12(1), 20-21. Web.

Dyer, C., McCoy, R. E., Rodriguez, J., & Van Duyn, D. N. (2007). Countering violent Islamic extremism: A Community responsibility. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 76(12), 3-8. Web.

Lowenthal, M. M. (2014). Intelligence: From secrets to policy. Washington: CQ Press. Web.

Richelson, J. T. (2015). The US intelligence community. New York: Westview Press. Web.

Tinnes, J. (2015). Bibliography: The Islamic State (ISIS). Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(4). 1-42. Web.

Tomes, R. R. (2015). Socio-cultural intelligence and national security. Parameters, 45(2), 61-62. Web.

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