Sourcing Statements in Intelligence Products

Sourcing Statements
July 1, 2023


Sourcing statements enhance the credibility and transparency of your products and assists readers in making informed decisions regarding the quality and scope of the sources underlying your analysis. By including sourcing links and descriptions, you enable your readers to discover and retrieve sources, and understand the basis of your analysis and key judgments.  

In U.S. government intelligence reports it is important to be as specific as you can with sourcing statements because in many cases you cannot explicitly reveal sources and methods. By including these sourcing statements where appropriate in your own products, it allows you to cover the strengths and weaknesses of your source base, which sources are most important to key judgments, and the sources that are corroborative or conflicting. 

Here are a few things you can keep in mind:

Some source descriptors can be specific, derived from the sourced documents themselves.

“Based on the principal’s interview in The Washington Post” or “according to a source claiming firsthand access to the principal.”

  • We often will not need to use descriptions such as “firsthand access” or “secondhand access” in private intelligence because it is not typically necessary for us to conceal our sources. However, this might be required for more sensitive projects where you need to protect your information, for example in a Person of Interest (POI) report, an investigations document such as a due diligence report, a lawsuit with client names concealed, etc. 
    • Also, by stating the level of access of your sourcing, it helps your reader understand how valuable that information might be. If your source has firsthand access, that means more than a source with secondhand access…or if you are writing about a protest outside of a U.S. Embassy, stating your source is a U.S. Embassy official probably carries more weight than an interview with a bystander on the street. 

Analysts can also devise their own source descriptions.

You can come up with your own sourcing statements for documents that you utilize in your reports, particularly if you want to describe multiple sources in one sentence. By describing several sources at once, it also helps you save real estate/writing space in your document. For example, “Social media accounts link the principal to the defunct company” or “U.S. government agencies, Western press reports, and social media accounts reported the attack on Thursday.”

If you have conflicting sources, it is always best to include each one (or a small sample–pick two or three) so your reader can get a picture of the types of information circulating on the topic.

This also shows that you are not cherry-picking information to fit into your own analytic judgments. For example, “According to an interview in The New Yorker, the Principal noted he does not like peanut butter and jelly. However, the Principal’s daughter posted a picture of him last year holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” 

Providing source descriptions allows you to describe which sources are crucial to your key analytic statements.

For example, “Based on our review of U.S. government and Western press reports, we assess Mexico is a high crime area and the Principal should avoid travel.”

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