Intelligence gathering

“I don’t watch the news; it’s too depressing…”

It always drives me nuts when I hear this. I get it, and I don’t. Granted, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but let’s be honest: when big stuff hits, you’re scouring for information. You want to know how this will affect your family, your commute to work, your children at school, or maybe the vacation you were planning. Perhaps it’s social media—you’re vigorously scrolling through your feed, and something pops up: “Active Killer in Texas,” or the most recent threat, the coronavirus.

News can be selective. We probably all know about Kobe and his daughter but can’t name the pilot or the other passengers who sadly also lost their lives that day. Or how about this one: did you know that the week before Kobe’s crash, we lost 30 marines in their own helicopter crash?

Granted, not everything you read is filtered, which can sometimes upset you and cause you to stop reading. Maybe it’s offensive or political. Understand that everything you read from the media is intelligence gathering. When I was in the military, CNN, FOX, CBS, and NBC were on every T.V. in every chow hall, and social media didn’t exist yet. As a lowly private just starting my adult life, I would watch intently on what was going on in the world because it was likely we would soon be sent there. When 9/11 happened, we all remember where we were and what we were doing. Our thoughts turned to our family, our friends, and the victims’ families, and we quickly pulled together to find out how we could help—even if it was to give blood.

Before every mission in the military, we would do a mission brief, which included where were going, what the job is, and what the priority targets and objectives were. If we had time, we would set up mock drills and train for the specifics of the mission; we would practice failures and how to recover. We would think hard about anything and everything that could potentially go wrong, and make sure there was a contingency plan for all of it before we ever went wheels-up. When I volunteered for law enforcement, we would typically do a briefing with our squad before we went out on patrol each day—we would talk about recent incidents, problem children, handout warrants that needed to be served, etc. We were well informed about our area before we set out that night.

As a civilian, we have tools that let us gather intelligence in our community as well. THE NEWS. Granted, their opinions can be skewed, but they are telling you where the hotspots are: the robbery in Phoenix, the break-ins in Mesa, the Circle K that was held up, the domestic violence in Chandler, the child predator that attempted to lure preschool children into his van. All of this is intelligence gathering. The detours planned for the freeways on the weekend, new shops or malls opening, the Phoenix open, Barret Jackson auto auction. All these things help us plan our week—where we should go and where we should avoid going. The weather report often helps us decide if we want to take a vacation that weekend or not. Trust but verify. Not everything I’ve heard on the news is credible. I will typically seek several other sources to verify what I am seeing, or reading is accurate.

Which brings me to social media. “Gasp.” Social media is the devil. I can’t tell you how many times someone will share something that is 1-2 years old and pass it off as yesterday. Typically, something we commented on or shared before will pop up, and we share it again. Then, someone else shares it, not realizing how old it is. Social media for news can be very complicated. Old news still holds educational value, especially if it was a story you hadn’t read before but read the dates carefully. Social media can easily have a skewed opinion. Verify, verify, verify. But it is an excellent way of getting in up-to-date information right in your hand, especially on significant events that are happening RIGHT NOW. Often a regular citizen is recording a live event and giving their take on what’s happening. These quite often are the worst: they don’t have all the information, they showed up late, started recording late, there is no follow-up, they are simply an idiot with a camera spewing their ideas through the clouded lens of hate and distrust. With events like these, it’s always better to search out additional information from reputable sources to form an informed opinion before racing to judgment.

Lastly—and this one cracks me up to this day—your friends and neighbors. You should have a good relationship with your neighbors. There is always one that has the skinny on everything going on in your immediate neighborhood: who lives alone, who has an alcohol problem, whose husband just passed and is now is living alone, who has medical issues, who has an estranged husband or psychotic boyfriend, and, of course, who is a registered sex offender. You still must take this information with a grain of salt. Again: trust but verify. It will influence your judgment about where your children play, whose house they go to, whether they can play further down the street etc.

As a civilian, intelligence gathering is still important. Through all these various mediums, you can create an informed opinion about where you will go, when, with whom, and so on. Which brings me to my initial quote “I can’t watch the news, it’s too depressing”. I have heard more than one person say this in my life and it always spurs me to ask more questions. Like, “where do you get your news?” How do you keep up on things?” Surprisingly, these people typically tell me they rely entirely on word of mouth. They don’t watch the news; they are not geared into social media, and they don’t read a newspaper. They walk through life blind, ignoring key information that may help them avoid trouble before it starts. In my humble opinion, this is probably the easiest thing we can all do as part of our CCW lives: to help be prepared for our families. I encourage everyone to think about how they gather intelligence information.

One of my good friends, John Correia with Active Self Protection, makes his living watching thousands of videos, helping people observe what’s taking place, and then formulating plans of how to be more successful if you encounter the same situation. Financial geniuses follow the news intently—they know that watching what happens over-seas will help them predict the value of products, or spot the CEO who may be under investigation for a crime, which may cause that company’s stock to fall soon. Weather helps farmers predict what they need to do to protect their crops. The police scour social media and discover criminal enterprises all the time—it’s one of the easiest ways to coerce a criminal to meet an imaginary child in person.

Don’t ignore the tools at your disposal to help you and your family stay safe and protected.

Dave Laird