An Application of the Lowenthal’s Intelligence Cycle - Orlando Shootings

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Any security agency's evaluation of intelligence information plays an important role in the processes of demystifying criminal occurrences and preventing such dangers. The Department of Homeland Security has recently been under fire for the innumerable terror acts that have claimed the lives of scores of Americans on their turf. The National Security Strategy is based on the premise that "we must reform our intelligence capabilities and establish new ones to stay up with terrorist and other threats" (Wilson, 2014). Since the occurrence of 9/11, the Orlando attack goes to record as one of the bloodiest internal terror attack putting into consideration the fact that it claimed 49 lives and left 53 Americans injured. The Lowenthal’s intelligence cycle plays a significant role in unraveling intelligence and security issues before, during and after their occurrence. According to Lowenthal (2013), there are four major reasons for existence of intelligence agencies in any country. He identifies these reasons as; avoidance of security issues which may be considered as strategic surprises, provision of long-term security expertise, anchoring various policy processes and maintaining the desired levels of secrecy of security information, requirements and procedures. The current study seeks to undertake a critical analysis of the Orlando attack with the application of the Lowenthal’s intelligence cycle.

The Orlando Nightclub Shootings: A Description

The wake of 12th June 2016 saw a gunman who claimed his engagements with the Islamic State; one of the world’s most dangerous terror groups kill 49 people leaving 53 wounded. These occurrences took place after Omar Mateen (the suspect) attacked a crowded gay nightclub located in Orlando Fla. According to (Ali and ShamimahBintiHajaMohideen, 2016), the incidence was one of the worst mass shooting in America. According to Webb et al. (2014), Omar Mateen was an American citizen of Afghani origin and resided in Fort Pierce, Fla. Intelligence reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suspected Noor Zahi Salman; the killer’s second wife of having prior information. Ms. Salman confessed of having dropped the gunman at the scene of attack after purchasing ammunitions in the neighborhood.

According to public records, Mateen was born in Queens, New York and according to his ex-wife, he was totally against homosexuals. His levels of intolerance to homosexuals and Islamic radicalization could have been the major causes for his engagement in such a bloody activity. There was enough evidence that Mr. Marteen was a former employee of the Department of Homeland Security as a security officer at the St. Lucie County Courthouse located in Fort Pierce. However, he left employment upon being ordered by the officials of the county sheriff’s department based on his demeanor and inflammatory sentiments. According to intelligence reports from FBI, the killer was put on a terrorism watch list between 2013 and 2014. However, investigations into his alleged radicalized sentiments, travels and motives did not yield proper evidence to have him charged (Corvaja, Jeraj and Borghoff, 2016).

According to Ramirez, Gonzalez and Galupo (2017), the incident took place in the Pulse Nightclub, one of Orlando’s popular gay clubs at around 2 a.m. Intelligence reports indicate that Mr. Mateen was armed with a hand gun and a weapon resembling the AR-15. About a third of the people in the joint were shot by the attacker. However, other hundreds of people present in the club panicked and escaped through windows and fled into the streets nearby. As the number of police officers reaching the crime scene increased, the attacker retreated into one of the bathrooms and held about five hostages. According to John Mina, the police chief, Mr. Mateen threatened the police negotiators in the scene that he would detonate an explosive to kill more people. However, he was killed at around 5 a.m. by a team of SWAT police officers who invaded the building with an armored vehicle and a number of hand grenades. In the event, a police officer was wounded with about thirty people being rescued (Lawrence, 2016).

An Examination of Orlando Shootings Using Lowenthal’s Seven-Step Approach to the Intelligence Cycle

Lowenthal’s Intelligence Cycle gives a clear framework of how community policing officers and policy makers should adopt in securing their homelands. As practiced in the U.S., intelligence is made up of seven distinct phases according to Lowenthal (2013). The seven phases are; “identifying the requirements, collection, processing and exploitation, analysis and production, dissemination, consumption and feedback” (Lowenthal, 2013).

Identifying the requirements

Wilson (2014) looks at identification of requirements in Lowenthal’s intelligence cycle as the process of identifying the need for intelligence services in a security issue. It involves the recognition of the areas requiring intelligence contributions and decision of the aspects based on their priorities. On the other hand, Kalish (2016) analyses this phase of the intelligence cycle as a specification of the procedures to be embraced in collecting the desired information. While all policy aspects have their own intelligence needs, there are limitations to the rightful methods of collecting and analyzing information. In this case, Lawrence (2016) explains that there is need for proper setting of priorities with some needs getting more attention than others. According to Ali and ShamimahBintiHajaMohideen (2016), the critical aspects that establish the priorities set include the agencies that come up with the requirements for consumption among the intelligence community and the aftermath in instances where policy makers fail to fix the requirements arrived at by the intelligence organs on their own. There is need for collection of the required intelligence after setting the requirements and priorities. The stakeholders then decide on the nature of information to be gathered based on their volumes, procedures and capabilities.

Putting the Orlando shooting into perspective, the requirements were based on the national security interests of the United States of America. It is in the public domain that terror groups and other religiously radicalized sects are enemies of the U.S. In this case, there was enough proof that the attacker was directly linked to ISIS (Ramirez, Gonzalez and Galuppo, 2017). Therefore, he was a threat to both national and international security. Given the short timeframe of the Orlando bar attacks, the security intelligence forces involved had to overstep policy issues as a way of saving the endangered lives in the crime scene.


Collection is considered by Lewanthal (2013) as the most important phase of the intelligence cycle as it defines the logistical issues in precise terms. It is the role of intelligence forces to determine the nature of information to be collected based on issues like amount and location. On the other hand, it is important to put into consideration the fact that not all information collected has value to security processes. Therefore, collection analysts must be involved in separating vital pieces of information from the unnecessary. The U.S. portrays an interesting landscape in its processes of intelligence scrutiny since different intelligence groups opt for different kinds of intelligence. For instance, the CIA makes use of espionage.

In the Orlando bar attack, there is evidence that the collection phase was effectively put into consideration despite depicting a number of flaws. Thorough investigations were carried out and involved Mateen’s family member, work mates and foreign entities. For instance, the interrogation between Mateen’s second wife Noor Zahi Salman played a role in indicating the point where the riffles used in the attack were purchased. Further, the wife acknowledged of having driven the attacker to the Pulse nightclub sometime before the incident occurred. On the other hand, proper scrutiny of public records played a role in availing some information about Mateen. It is through scrutiny of these records that it was revealed that the attacker was a former employee of the Department of Homeland Security as a security officer at the St. Lucie County Courthouse and was later transferred to a local golfing community in the same capacity. Such information was important in assessing the threat posed by the attacker. Investigations on G4S indicated that Mateen had used sexual racial and ethnic slurs and was sentimental about killing people (Carvaja, Jeraj and Borghoff, 2016).

Processing and exploitation

There are many ways of collecting intelligence data. Some of the data collected could be technical in nature and calls for security agencies to involve experts in processing and conversion into a form that is readily usable. Lowenthal (2013) explains that in most cases, processing and exploitation are in-house processes of the intelligence community and depend on technology. In the Orlando attack, processing and exploitation was done, though on a small scale based on the nature of the criminal activity. According to the FBI director, there were efforts to process all pieces of information directly linking Mateen to outside terror sects. However, it was realized that he was self-radicalized (Ali and ShamimahBintiHajaMohideen, 2016 ).

Analysis and production

Current intelligence systems put a lot of emphasis on issues considered to be of higher priority on the agenda of policy makers (Lowenthal, 2013). On the other hand, long term intelligence looks into issues which may not raise immediate concerns. The United States makes use of competitive analysis in its intelligence community. In this case, a number of analytical groups are called to address a similar issue (Kim, Trimi and Chung, 2014). In this stage, contradictory issues are analyzed with consideration of the stands of policy makers on the issue of intelligence. Mateen’s case involved a lot of long term analysis. Intelligence leads greatly relied on FBI reports which had initially classified the attacker in its terrorism watch list between 2013 and 2014 (Kalish, 2016).

Dissemination and consumption

According to Lowenthal (2013), there are high levels of standardization in the process of dissemination based on the fact that it is aimed at moving intelligence information from its producers to the desired consumers. Wilson (2014) explains that sieved information is delivered to consumers in the form of reports which range from fast breaking events, bulletins and research studies on periodical basis. There is no doubt that the Orlando incident was well disseminated. For instance, there was a detailed report availed by Senator Ron Johnson who was the chairman of the Home Security and governmental Affairs Committee revealing Mr. Mateen’s information, his warnings of their Islamic attacks and his condemnation of American’s ways of life. On the other hand, there is evidence that he president of the United States was briefed on this occurrence through the President’s Daily Brief, newsletter availed to the president and other senior government officials by the DNI every morning. This could be attributed to the fact that the president, Barrack Obama was well versed with the occurrence. In his press briefing, President Obama indicated that the attacker was influenced by homegrown extremism as there was no distinct evidence to link him to a terror movement.

Challenges faced in the Orlando Bar Attack

While the Orlando attack could have been prevented, the circles of difficulties which surrounded it made the intelligence department confused. For instance, there were issues of counterintelligence on the side of ISIS. According to Ramirez, Gonzalezand Galupo (2017), ISIS claimed responsibility of the massacre. This greatly contradicts with the intelligence report availed to the public by President Barrack Obama who was clear of the fact that the attacker was self-radicalized and lacked direct links to any known external terror groups. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the attack caught the intelligence unit unaware. This would be attributed to the fact that Mateen was tactical in his activities. For instance, he did not engage in any suspicious travel or terror activity in the period between 2013 and 2014. This could be linked to F.B.I’s report which put him on its terrorism watch list. However, he only chose to engage in the terror attack after he was cleared by the FBI.

There was no reason for intelligence agencies in the United States to suspect that Mateen would engage in such a bloody attack. Such a position acted as a challenge both on the intelligence unit and the security department. For instance, the Bureau of alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in its report indicated that the attacker’s weapons were acquired through legal means. In such a scenario, there was no reason to suspect that Mateen would engage in criminal activities after such a high ranking organ had cleared him.

There are questions on whether the attack was as a result of covert action. According to postmortem analyses on the victims of the Orlando attack, a greater percentage consisted on people of foreign origins. For instance, Lawrence (2016) reported that more than 45 victims were Hispanics or of Hispanic origin. As a matter of fact, 23 of those who lost their lives were Puerto Ricans. Such intelligence analyses could raise questions on the link between the killer and the countries of origin of those who lost their lives. Further, there are challenging questions on the international relations between the U.S. and the countries of origin of the victims.

Challenges if the Case occurred 50 Years to Come

Moving forward, it is expected that technologies will grow towards complexity. Intelligence systems will not be left behind either. Putting the Orlando case into perspective, there were flaws in the extents to which technical intelligence information about the attacker was collected. Intelligence bodies like FBI and Homeland Security lacked proper links between the attacker’s mobile phone conversations and social media blogs which were significant in the way the attack was planned and instituted. It is expected that in the next fifty years, technological advancements will simplify the rates at which intelligence information will be acquired and processed.


The Orlando attack goes to record as one of the bloodiest in this decade. On the other hand, the Lowenthal seven-step approach to the intelligence cycle has proven to be effective in the analysis of terror attacks. Despite the intelligence success in rescuing hundreds of people in the Orlando attack, there is no doubt that the intelligence system employed was faced with a lot of challenges. However, it is expected that in the next fifty years, technological advancements will aid in curbing such challenges.


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Corvaja, A. S., Jeraj, B., & Borghoff, U. M. (2016). The Rise of Intelligence Studies: A Model for Germany?. Connections: The Quarterly Journal, 15(1), 79.

Kalish Blair, Z. S. (2016). The Pulse Nightclub Shooting: Connecting Militarism, Neoliberalism, and Multiculturalism to Understand Violence. North American Dialogue, 19(2), 102-116.

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Lawrence, T. (2016). Life and Death on the Pulse Dance Floor: Transglocal Politics and the Erasure of the Latinx in the History of Queer Dance Culture. Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 8(1), 1-25.

Lowenthal, M. M. (2013). A disputation on intelligence reform and analysis: my 18 theses. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 26(1), 31-37.

Ramirez, J. L., Gonzalez, K. A., & Galupo, M. P. (2017). “Invisible during My Own Crisis”: Responses of LGBT People of Color to the Orlando Shooting. Journal of homosexuality, (just-accepted).

Webb, J., Ahmad, A., Maynard, S. B., & Shanks, G. (2014). A situation awareness model for information security risk management. Computers & security, 44, 1-15.

Wilson, W. (2014). Intelligence Models in Practice: The Case of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Canadian Military Journal, 15(1), 44-52.

May 02, 2023

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