The five basic elements of the Intelligence Cycle are as follows:
--Planning and Direction: This refers to the requirements as set forth by the government official requesting or requiring an intelligence estimate or analytical study, usually the President of the United States. The senior officials within the various intelligence agencies, usually represented by National Intelligence Officers, conceptualize the product and establish the requirements for its completion;
--Collection: Once the requirements have been established, the relevant offices or departments are tasked with collecting the information needed to develop the intelligence analysis or estimate. This involves a large number and variety of means, beginning with human beings collecting information using any number of methods (HUMINT), to telecommunication intercepts (SIGINT), and so on;
--Processing: The information collected by human spies, satellites, sensors, and so on is then put before experts in processing those documents, data, images, etc., into a useable form, from where it is sent to:
--Analysis and Production: These are the individuals, thousands of them, who read the documents, analyze the images, and arrive at conclusions as to what it all means and what could happen next. They produce the intelligence estimates and analytical reports that are then:
--Dissemination: The finished reports are distributed to the policymakers, starting with the President and his or her National Security Council staff, as well as to other officials and agencies within the government that have a legitimate requirement to view such information.
These are the basic steps involved in the intelligence process. In practice, it can be considerably more convoluted, and a final step of the process can be badly mishandled: the decision that resultes from the intelligence report. That report may or not be acted upon by the President and his or her staff.