A conceptual approach to intelligence for the Conference of American Armies (CAA)A conceptual approach to intelligence for the Conference of American Armies (CAA)

Lt Col Nicolás Kaiser Onetto

Prior to the onset of the war in Ukraine, the intelligence world witnessed a paradigm shift regarding the openness of intelligence sharing as a way to anticipate or be prepared for the offensive that Russia would subsequently launch. The reason for declassification and intelligence sharing is undoubtedly multi-causal, reflecting a complex interdependence in the international arena.

One element to consider is the geopolitical situation in the region, since for both the United States and its allies and for Russia, Ukraine represents an area of interest on the world chessboard. In this sense, it can be considered that the dissemination of intelligence by the US operated under the paradigm of Buzan and Weaver’s Regional Security Complex (RSC) theory, since “the problem stems from the geographical proximity of countries, in which a complex is formed by countries that are unable to solve their own problems and need the cooperation of other states to solve them” (Gónzalez, 2013, p. 7).

Cooperation in the intelligence area is mainly the result of trust and agreements between the parties because there are common interests. From this perspective, the challenge for cycle XXXV of the Conference of American Armies (CAA) is to create an instance that allows intelligence sharing, and there are several reasons for not sharing information. Several publications have reported on the problems that exist in information sharing.

Part of the problem identified is related to the understanding of the concept of intelligence and its scope according to each country’s domestic legislation. One example is that there are countries whose legislation defines military intelligence limiting its meaning to knowledge of the capabilities and weaknesses of countries’ military potential that are of interest from the point of view of national defense. For this reason, the construction of a concept of intelligence that serves the purposes of the CAA and the objectives set for the present cycle is considered key, aiming at mutual trust among countries.

Intelligence has different meanings, levels, and definitions. And in order to build a consensual concept, its scope must be established. Thus, a conceptualization of the term as well as its scope will be proposed, given that the lack of a definition may disqualify a country from participating, considering the legislation on intelligence matters that defines military intelligence.

First of all, it is important to understand the epistemology of the concept of intelligence. In this regard, the origin of the word has been little explored or studied. Different authors, over time, have established different meanings of what can be understood by intelligence.

In this regard, Vrist and Hoffding establish the premise that the concept of intelligence should be considered epistemologically from the perspective of knowledge, since “despite the notoriously uncertain character of intelligence propositions, the crux of the matter lies in prescribing a process that guides to properly eliminate irrelevant error possibilities and to obtain robust and true knowledge.” (Vrist & Hoffding, 2013), that is, intelligence provides us with concrete information, and from this we can generate actions.

Because of the characteristics of the CAA, it is only feasible to consider intelligence a knowledge, since it is not an organization, but a discussion body that therefore cannot perform intelligence activities. The latter would contradict the purpose of the body which is integration and cooperation.

Once the meaning of intelligence as knowledge is understood, and to avoid problems of interpretation or relating it to secret and/or covert activities, it is considered relevant to establish the levels of application. In the military field, there is a consensus that the levels are classified as tactical, operational and strategic and that, for each one, there is intelligence, taking into account the following scopes (Abilova & Novosseloff, 2016):

  • Strategic intelligence: required for policy formulation, civil-military planning and indicators and warnings (I&W), nationally and internationally.
  • Operational intelligence: required at mission headquarters to plan the distribution of UN resources in different sectors and to be aware of the threat posed by the parties to the conflict.
  • Tactical Intelligence: required for planning and executing operations at the tactical level. Required for all components of the UN mission in the performance of their duties, and for unit commanders to be aware of local factional changes and to conduct military patrols effectively.

In this sense, taking the United Nations as a reference and in view of the characteristics of the CAA, the closest level in terms of information production is considered to be the strategic one. Although strategic intelligence is necessary for policy-making, generating indicators and warnings, and the CAA is not an operational structure, it would allow a situational understanding of the continent’s risks and threats¹.

This is due to the fact that, as has been discussed in other cycles, the nature of threats has no boundaries and there is often a direct relationship between some of them.

Complementing the above, since 2003, the continent has adopted the concept of Multidimensional Security², which considers a number of emerging, or new, threats that may affect security. In the last four CAA cycles, the challenges of defense in the face of emerging threats have been a recurrent theme in the specialized conferences, with the intention of generating exchanges of information and experiences in this area.

Moreover, the nature of security phenomena is related to acts of violence, catastrophic natural events, deficiencies in the structural balance of a country, and disruptive technologies (Peña, 2021). From this, states use the various instruments of national power³ and therefore require data, information, and knowledge for decision making, i.e. intelligence.

Having established that intelligence will be considered knowledge, as well as the strategic level, due to the scope and the need to have a situational understanding of the continent’s situation, it is pertinent to point out concepts associated with intelligence. As a first aspect, it is important to consider that intelligence considered as knowledge is the product of a process in which a series of data is transformed into information. After a process of analysis, relevant intelligence is produced for decision making. It is important to consider the key concepts related to intelligence:

  • Data: minimum unit for analysis. By themselves, they are not organized and do not provide any content.
  • Metadata: a structured or semi-structured set of attributes that describe the characteristics or adjectives of a piece of data.
  • Information: grouped, contextualized, labeled, and categorized data with the ability to provide knowledge on its own.
  • Analysis: methodical breaking down or decomposing of information into its component parts; examining each part to find interrelationships and applying reasoning to determine the meaning of the parts and the whole.
  • Situational understanding: knowledge and understanding of a situation, facilitated by information and analysis.

“While intelligence was traditionally focused on serving the national interest and operating against a clearly defined adversary, it has broadened, and actors such as private security companies, terrorist organizations, and commercial enterprises now also refer to intelligence. In the UN context, intelligence is best understood as a “multidimensional situation analysis” that is shared on a need-to-know basis. It is distinguished from the development of knowledge and situational awareness by its analytical quality, its unique nature, and the need for a certain degree of knowledge. and the need for a certain degree of confidentiality. However, this does not imply the need to engage in clandestine or covert operations, which a multilateral organization such as the UN cannot undertake.” (Abilova & Novosseloff, 2016, p. 1)

The authors make it clear that the concept of intelligence in the United Nations is to achieve a situational understanding of a mission, ruling out any covert action related to intelligence activity. While this approach may generate consensus among member states, one key aspect is identified: the production is for the purposes of the peace operations being executed, and, as mentioned, the CAA does not have a multinational force to require information to support decision-making.

It is therefore legitimate to ask: why share information? However, taking into account the UN approach, information sharing would allow a situational understanding of the continent’s risks and threats, which are increasingly interdependent.

Based on this approach, and considering the defined meaning and level, it is proposed to consider intelligence all information that can be shared according to each country’s legal framework and that provides knowledge to achieve a situational understanding of the risks and threats affecting the American continent.

This conceptualization limits the scope in the sense that: 1) respects the sovereignty of each country; 2) seeks to provide information related to specific aspects already agreed upon; and 3) allows for a regional understanding of risks and threats.

To be sure, the definition may not cover all aspects related to the confidentiality necessary to work with intelligence, but the spirit is to be able to build a concept that allows consensus and thus improve cooperation and integration among member armies to achieve the objectives of this CAA Cycle.


¹The conceptualization and definition of risks and hazards were approved at the XXXIII cycle of the CAA in the Dominican Republic.

²Definition agreed upon at the Special Conference on Security held in Mexico City on October 27-28, 2003.

³The instruments of national power are Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic (DIME). It has also been extended to the financial, intelligence, legal and development fields (US Armed Forces, 2018).


Abilova, O., & Novosseloff, A. (25 de Julio de 2016). Demystifying Intelligence in UN Peace Operations: Toward an Organizational Doctrine. Obtido em 11 de Mayo de 2022, de International Peace Institute: https://www.ipinst.org/2016/07/demystifying-intelligence-in-un-peace-ops

Ballast, J. (12 de Septiembre de 2017). Trust (in) NATO. The future of intelligence sharing within the Alliacne. Research Paper, 140. Obtido em 10 de Febrero de 2022, de https://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=1085

Cordner, G., & Scarborough, K. (Enero de 2010). Information Sharing: Exploring the Intersection of Policing with National and Military Intelligence. Homeland Securtity Affairs, 6(1). Obtido em 10 de Febrero de 2022, de https://www.hsaj.org/articles/92

Gónzalez, M. (2013). Traslado de Cultivos en la Frontera Colombo – Peruana. Universidad Militar Nueva Granada, Facultad de Relaciones Internacionales. Obtido em 11 de Mayo de 2022, de https://repository.unimilitar.edu.co/bitstream/handle/10654/11673/GonzalezTabordaMariaAngelica2014.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Hanna, M., Granzow, D., Bolte, B., & Alvarado, A. (2017). NATO Intelligence and Information Sharing: Improving NATO Strategy for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations. Connections: The Quarterly Journal, 16(4), pp. 5-33. Obtido em 09 de Febrero de 2022, de https://connections-qj.org/article/nato-intelligence-and-information-sharing-improving-nato-strategy-stabilization-and

Lefebvre, S. (02 de Febrero de 2011). The Difficulties and Dilemmas of International Intelligence Cooperation. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 16(4), pp. 527-542. doi:10.1080/716100467

Peña, J. (09 de Septiembre de 2021). Introducción a los Estudios de Seguridad. Diplomado de Análisis. Santiaggo, RM, Chile.

US Armed Forces. (25 de Abril de 2018). Joint Doctrine Note 1-18 Strategy. Obtido em 13 de Mayo de 2022, de https://irp.fas.org/doddir/dod/jdn1_18.pdf

Vrist, K., & Hoffding, S. (Octubre de 2013). The Espistemic Status of Intelligence: An Epistemologic Understanding of Intelligence. Intelligence & National Security, 28(5), pp. 694-716. doi:10.1080/02684527.2012.701438

About the author:

Lt Col Nicolás Kaiser Onetto Chilean Army Officer. He currently works at the Permanent Executive Secretariat of the CAA (SEPCEA) as an expert advisor to the Intelligence Specialized Study Committee. He is Staff Officer of the Chilean Army War College. He holds a Master’s degree in Cybersecurity and is a specialist in Military Intelligence.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***

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