Intelligence Matters

In the age of big data, the growing field of intelligence analysis can help businesses discover trends to protect themselves and boost organizational efficiency (Story by Evan Duggan, originally published in the 2017 Right Course Magazine published by BIV Media Group)

When Jennifer Johnstone first started out in the 1990s as an intelligence analysis for the Canadian Border Services Agency, the biggest challenge of the job was gathering enough data to build a sound investigation. “That’s on the case anymore,” says Johnstone, principal of JJ Analytics and Consulting and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) intelligence analysis program.

“When I first started, the challenge was finding enough data,” says Johnstone. “You would have a task or a problem to solve, and the real challenge was collecting the information to solve that problem. Now we have so much data it’s overwhelming.”

An estimated 2.5 billion gigabytes of data is generated around the world each day by search engines, social media sites, e-commerce companies and a plethora of other generators. A lot of that data remains available online and could be very harmful if grasped by the wrong hands.

While harnessing and understanding data is an important part of solving crimes and busting fraud schemes that steal identities and drain bank accounts, it’s also useful for organizations proactively looking to gain insights to mitigate risks in their business.

To these ends, the JIBC provides two graduate certificate programs that teach analysts how to sift through billions of bytes of data and convert it into valuable reports that not only help crime busters, but also boost organizational efficiency.

The Institute’s graduate certificate in intelligence analysis focuses on competitive intelligence and financial crime analysis, while the graduate certificate in tactical criminal analysis focuses on law enforcement-related data analysis.

Both are 18-month courses offered online and were created in partnership with Mercyhurst University, which has had a strong history of intelligence programming, says Stuart Ruttan, chair of both programs at JIBC.

“We weren’t seeing much of anything like that in Canada,” he says. “We worked with them and agreed to bring their program into Canada out of JIBC. We Canadianized it.”

He says data, and the skills needed to analyze it, has migrated into many facets of society and commerce and security.

The courses answer a few major questions, he says: “How do you manage all this data? How do you read it? How do you communicate it in a competitive way?”

While many software programs have emerged to respond to the dizzying amount of data that exists, the JIBC program remains mostly fixed on critical thinking skills, he says.

Ruttan recalls an exercise suggested at an intelligence conference recently for students to figure out how many piano tuners there were in Chicago. “You couldn’t use Google,” Ruttan says. “You had to go through the process of critically analyzing the question and coming up with a reasoned decision.”

Ruttan says the program’s student body includes people from aboriginal services, armed forces, border security and the banking sector, among many other fields. He says about 20 per cent of the students are beginning their intelligence careers.

“No one else is really doing this focused programming in Canada,” he says. “It’s online. It’s graduate level; you have to have a degree to get in. It’s unique.”

The field is evolving,” says Ann Stevens, an instructor with the JIBC program and senior manager, fraud intelligence at Equifax Canada.

“Identity fraud is becoming more of a problem,” says Stevens, who has extensive global intelligence analysis experience in finance and law enforcement.

She says fraud often takes place on a large scale, victimizing large banks and credit firms, and much of the data needed to commit identity fraud is gathered online.

The concept of link analysis is central to her teaching. “Basically, you’re looking to find links between entities,” she says. “An entity can be anything from a name [to] a telephone number or an address.”

Link analysis allows analysts to build out from one piece of information to find if it’s part of a bigger problem and thereby suggest a pattern or trend, Steven says.

Looking at a fraudulent credit application in isolation may stop that crime, but if they applied link analysis to that one application, they might find it’s part of a much bigger problem, she says.

The course is about teaching students to assess the big picture and to anticipate fraud rather than simply react to instances of it, Steven says.

“It’s knowing what to look out for: the red flags, the priorities and how to manage the workload so you’re targeting the right areas.”


For information about JIBC’s Graduate Certificates in Intelligence Analysis or Tactical Criminal Analysis, visit the programs’ homepage. Deadline to apply for the September start to either program is June 30.

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