Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
IR Volume 2 Hero image ;

Recognition for Intelligence Assessment - And Strategic Command

This essay was first published in October 2021, in the second volume of the Centre for Defence Studies series on The Integrated Review in Context: Defence and Security in Focus.

Who Writes Intelligence Assessments?

It can often be a frustrating experience, working in intelligence assessment, to see your work go unacknowledged – although that tends to go with the line of work – or worse, attributed to the (ironically) more well-known Agencies of the UK intelligence world, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It is therefore refreshing, and long overdue, to see the UK’s key intelligence assessment organisations, the Joint Intelligence Committee and Defence Intelligence, getting some public acknowledgement in both the Integrated Review and ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’ documents. Of course, the work of those assessment bodies is reflected in the ‘threat’ sections of each paper (as in preceding reviews), albeit not directly attributed to them. The casual reader may not actually understand who wrote those sections, or perhaps – with only a hazy understanding of the UK intelligence community – assume that they were written by MI6 or policy-focused Civil Servants in the FCDO or MOD. Indeed, even within government, intelligence assessment can tend to seem like a game in which anyone can feel free to take part, and in which anyone’s ‘view’ carries equal weight. In fact, those sections of the respective papers represent carefully thought through ‘all-source’ assessments, rather than the views of a particular Agency or policy team, with Defence Intelligence taking the lead in the case of the MOD paper.

That is all fine, and it is important that strategy papers such as these are put together on the basis of a clear understanding of the threat environment. But beyond the provision of such essential context,

the papers cover new ground in ensuring that the importance of intelligence assessment as a discipline gets explicit recognition. – Paul Rimmer

The Integrated Review carries a box titled ‘World-class security and intelligence agencies’. Predictably, it focuses on MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, but tellingly it adds: “Our approach to intelligence is predicated on rigorous, independent assessment for effective national security policy-making, with the intelligence analysis profession overseen across government by the Joint Intelligence Committee.” Whilst the 2004 Butler Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction highlighted the business of (and need for) effective intelligence assessment, this is, I think, the first time that the intelligence analysis profession has been mentioned in a strategic review as such. Importantly, it emphasises the importance of ensuring that evidence-based policy-making is supported by robust analysis – i.e. all-source assessment, not just single-source material gleaned by one of the Agencies. It also underlines the point that this

analysis is done by professionals who have received training and development in their field, not by gifted amateurs who can do a bit of research and happen to write well.– Paul Rimmer

This is reiterated in the Defence paper, where Defence Intelligence has its own paragraph in a chapter titled ‘Transforming our ways of working’. The importance of developing ‘understanding’ and the passage of information quickly and securely across all domains (land, sea, air, space and cyber), in what MOD calls ‘multi-domain integration’, is a key theme of the Defence proposal, and it is clear that Defence Intelligence is regarded as playing a critical part. But the paper also recognises that to succeed in the modern environment, it needs to develop: “Open source intelligence, automation and AI provide potentially game-changing ways to understand and counter these new challenges.” It goes on to say that this is essential to understand threats, protect our own vulnerabilities and to exploit the vulnerabilities of adversaries. Critically, this is essential if Defence Intelligence is to “become more agile in exploiting its knowledge for impact and effect.” This plays to the technology theme present in both the Integrated Review and Defence paper – that the UK (and its allies) needs to invest in technology to regain the lead over adversaries that it had at the end of the Cold War, but which has been eroded as Russia and China have forged ahead in some areas while the West has been engaged in conflicts with relatively low-tech adversaries.

The Arrival of Strategic Command

The attention given to Defence Intelligence is also against the context of its being a part of Strategic Command, which itself is given prominence in the review papers. Formerly part of MOD’s Head Office, Defence Intelligence became a part of the newly created Joint Forces Command (JFC – renamed Strategic Command in December 2019) in December 2011. This was created following a recommendation of the 2011 Levene Review into the structure and management of Defence. JFC/Strategic Command was established to “provide the foundation and supporting framework for successful operations by ensuring joint capabilities like medical services, training, intelligence, information systems and cyber operations, are developed and managed...[and] also provide the command and control for overseas defence operations.”

For Defence Intelligence, this move to JFC/Strategic Command was a significant step forward. As part of MOD’s Head Office, it comprised a disproportionate chunk of that area’s budget compared with the other finance and policy staff principally located in MOD’s Main Building in Whitehall. It had therefore been easy prey whenever the Head Office budget had to find savings.

In Strategic Command, Defence Intelligence is recognised as an essential ‘enabler’ alongside other strategic assets, such as medical services and Special Forces, rather than as an over-large part of the Defence Head Office bureaucracy.– Paul Rimmer

The Defence paper can also be seen as marking the ‘coming of age’ of Strategic Command, often regarded since its creation as something of an interloper by the single Services – the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force – and a drain on ‘their’ staff and resources. In the Defence paper in particular, Strategic Command is notable by its prominence. Not only is its role in the cyber and technology fields given top billing, it even precedes the single Services in the chapter order. That may seem a small point, but against the history and clout of the single Services it is no mean feat! It also underlines the broader focus of both papers on integration, data sharing and technology and places Strategic Command at the centre of the impetus to develop both. Success will be measured by the delivery of some challenging and high-tech projects, including the ‘secure Digital Backbone’ linking different, secure, networks, the development and successful working of the combined MOD/intelligence Agency National Cyber Force and the delivery of a satellite programme. There may also be competition for resources and ownership of elements of these programmes with the single Services, keen to assert their own roles in what will be seen as the leading technological edge in Defence. A lot of key work strands therefore fall to Strategic Command and all eyes will be on its capacity to deliver.


Paul Rimmer CBE is a Visiting Professor in the Department of War Studies of King’s College London. He was Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence in MOD (2014-2020) and had a long career at the heart of national security in Defence, and elsewhere in Government. He is a Senior Adviser at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and is Director of his own company, Excellence in Analysis, aiming to help organisations deliver understanding to underpin decision-making.


Read the full collection here.

In this story

Paul Rimmer

Paul Rimmer

Visiting Professor

Latest news