The “exploit” phase, as the main effort of F3EAD, is the most critical single step in the process as it leads to the finding, fixing, and finishing of the next target and the perpetuation of the cycle. Exploitation also best fulfills the main purpose of intelligence, which is to enable “decision advantage” for decision-makers at all levels. In the F3EAD model, exploitation is the process of examining, analyzing, interrogating, and processing captured enemy personnel, equipment, and materiel for intelligence purposes.
The overall aim of the exploitation effort is to produce enough actionable intelligence and/or prosecutorial evidence to perpetuate the F3EAD process as rapidly as possible. In support of this aim, exploitation has four broad goals: force protection, targeting, component and material sourcing, and prosecution. Exploiting captured enemy personnel and materiel for force protection purposes allows operations and intelligence to function together in order to prevent enemy attacks on friendly forces, installations, and capabilities.
Targeting allows friendly forces to engage enemy forces, installations, and capabilities in order to achieve lethal or non-lethal effects. Component and materiel sourcing allows intelligence personnel to backtrack sources of enemy personnel and materiel, thereby enabling friendly forces to engage the enemy across his network. Finally, exploitation enables prosecution of enemy forces after they and their materiel have been fully exploited for intelligence purposes. This represents another fundamental evolution in warfare, since prior to the current Overseas Contingency Operations, prosecution was most often associated with events that occurred after a conflict was resolved, not during hostilities.
By including prosecution as a part of the overall exploitation process, practitioners of the F3EAD process allow friendly forces to then turn intelligence into evidence, enabling successful legal prosecution of enemy forces, and ensuring that both the population and friendly forces are protected. This is particularly useful in the kind of “adaptive, security-conscious networks” frequently encountered in irregular warfare.
Figure 4: Purposes of Exploitation. Source: Authors.
Exploitation occurs at three levels. Level 1 exploitation is tactical exploitation at the point of capture, Level 2 is unit organic or theater-level exploitation, and Level 3 is national-level exploitation as part of the federated intelligence community effort. Exploitation can be accomplished by operations or intelligence personnel on the objective through a variety of means, such as battlefield interrogation or on-site document and media exploitation (DOMEX).
As personnel and materiel are moved up the exploitation chain, the process becomes more deliberate and detailed, culminating at a centralized in-theater facility staffed by military, civilian, and law enforcement professionals. When appropriate, SOF federates analysis of DOMEX and electronic media to outside agencies for faster exploitation and dissemination. This allows SOF to minimize their forward footprint and count on “reachback” to CONUS sanctuary locations.
Figure 5: Levels of Exploitation. Source: Authors.
The “analyze” phase is where the information gained in the find, fix, finish, and exploit phases turns into intelligence which can be used to drive operations. Analysis can be performed by SOF in theater, or information and materiel can be sent back to CONUS for further in-depth analysis. As in the fix phase of F3EAD, SOF lessons learned reinforce the value of a federated approach to intelligence support to intelligence analysis, since very rarely does SOF have the organic intelligence infrastructure necessary to maximize the value of F3EAD.
The last step in the F3EAD process is the “disseminate” phase. One of the keys to success of F3EAD is the creation of a wider dissemination network than what has traditionally been practiced inside the U.S. intelligence community. Dissemination is a key aspect of the SOF targeting process and warrants inclusion as an independent phase of the SOF targeting cycle.
Dissemination of intelligence information gleaned through the SOF targeting process helps to create “a network to defeat a network” throughout the intelligence enterprise and helps eliminate intelligence stovepipes. SOF experience shows that in the risk versus gain analysis more information sharing is better when it comes to defeating our nation’s enemies. Wider dissemination to conventional, Coalition, and even host-nation military forces, interagency partners, and civilian leadership contributes enormously to the success of F3EAD by expanding the intelligence and operations networks in support of SOF missions.
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