Open Source Intelligence Lifecycle: Planning and Guidance

For novice or intelligence analysts looking to improve their open source intelligence skills, there is a need to focus on the theoretical foundations, particularly the intelligence lifecycle.

The planning and guidance phase of the open source intelligence (OSINT) intelligence lifecycle is the phase where the analyst identifies intelligence needs, outlines intelligence issues, and sorts out any special circumstances that may arise about the target, the environment.

If this phase is not set, then the more optimistic scenario results in a long investigation time for the intelligence analyst. The worse case scenario is that it is discovered by the target.

At this stage, the following steps are recommended:

1. Define intelligence needs:

Clarify the need for intelligence and objectives, sort out the logical relationship between the core issues and sub-issues, and as the investigation proceeds, add, delete or modify these issues.

For example, the core question is "Who is behind this account?" and the sub-questions are: "What is his name?" , "What country is he in?" , "How old is he?" and "Is he active on any other platform?"

This step is to determine what intelligence the team or department needs to obtain, including the type of intelligence, sources, quality requirements, etc. This step is critical because it directly affects the value and usefulness of the intelligence.

2. Identify key sources of information:

Before starting an investigation, identify key sources of information that can provide the required intelligence, while ensuring that the necessary identity (not necessarily authentic), software and hardware environment is set up.

When first starting an investigation, the intelligence analyst may not know all the platforms the target regularly uses. However, based on what is currently known about the target, try to identify potential platforms and and prepare the conditions for accessing them.

With most social media, a fake account is usually required, as well as an email or phone number for verification.

However, if the platform being investigated is a smaller, more cohesive group that may seem suspicious to outsiders, they may have higher requirements for new members. Some groups may require new users to be vetted and invited by other members before they can join, which requires additional upfront preparation.

This step is necessary in order to determine which sources can provide the team or department with the intelligence it needs, including relevant vendors, other companies in the industry, the Internet, databases, etc. Depending on the needs, it may be necessary to use multiple sources to cover different aspects of intelligence.

3. Collect and analyze intelligence tasks:

Develop relevant intelligence tasks and assess the relevance and priority of these tasks, and assess the technical capabilities of the target.

Intelligence tasks should be listed in some order of priority so that when intelligence collection and analysis is conducted, the most valuable intelligence data can be obtained in the shortest time possible. If the target has a high level of technical capability and protection, the chances of the intelligence analyst being detected by the target during the course of the investigation are increased.

It should be clear: not every intelligence analyst can take national-level precautions for the target's investigation.

In principle, ensure that the value generated by intelligence is higher than the cost of collecting and processing intelligence.

This step in order to define the tasks of intelligence collection and analysis to ensure that the output of intelligence will meet the needs of the team or department. Tasks should be assessed for their relevance and priority so that more important tasks are performed first.

4. Identify information users:

Identify the organizations or individuals who need to use the intelligence.

This ensures that intelligence data is delivered to the people who need to use it to make strategies and decisions. Since different personnel have different needs and uses for intelligence, intelligence tasks and collection plans need to be developed accordingly in order to provide appropriate intelligence support to different users.

This step is necessary to identify the people who need to use intelligence, including their roles and responsibilities. This step helps the team or department develop more specific intelligence needs, tasks, and plans, and facilitates the logical sharing and use of information.

5. Develop an intelligence collection plan:

Based on a list of tasks and key information sources, develop a specific collection plan that includes collection methods, timing of collection, and prioritization of collection tasks, among others.

The intelligence collection plan is developed to ensure that the required intelligence data is collected and processed according to the plan and to prioritize and schedule the collection tasks based on the intelligence task list and key information sources. The acquisition plan should be viewed as a practical operational guide that includes the acquisition tools, the timing of the acquisition, and the actual operational steps required, etc.

This step is necessary to clarify how, when, and what the intelligence will be collected and prioritized. The acquisition plan should be based on a task list and corresponding key sources of information to ensure that the required intelligence is obtained on time and with high quality. It should be a hands-on guide to ensure efficiency and accuracy in collecting and processing intelligence data.


The planning and guidance phase of an open source intelligence investigation helps intelligence analysts to properly conduct the investigation process.

This phase can directly reduce the time spent on extraneous issues or time spent setting up accounts during the investigation process.

When the intelligence analyst has completed the planning and guidance phase, he or she can move on to the next phase of the intelligence lifecycle: collection.