|James Bond doing mundane things.|
In the spy world, the NSA monitors signals intelligence while the CIA collects human intelligence.
In the movies, spies are people performing clandestine cloak and dagger operations.
In reality, gathering intelligence is very mundane.
In the Marines, part of our mission planning included a briefing from the S-2 (intelligence officer). For training missions, this briefing was usually just a real world weather report along with notional info about the simulated enemy.
Overseas, where real world intel is collected, this process can be very basic. It starts with documenting weather, roads, and attitudes regarding the climate (political, economic, social, military, etc). From there, it extends to monitoring places where attacks against the U.S. or our interests can be launched.
Monitoring North Korea's military forces may seem obvious given our heightened state of alert, lately. But, most of the time, intelligence gathering can be routine and almost passively collected. Trust me, it's not a James Bond mission to document cyber cafes where international phishing attacks are launched from in developing countries.
Of course, collecting the data is easy, it's processing it, to figure out what it means, takes time.
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