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Issues with Intelligence Analysis

A recent RAND report formally documents a development that intelligence insiders have known about for several years:

The overarching generality about the U.S. intelligence analytic community today is that most of it is engaged in work that is tactical, operational, or current. By most accounts, the relative lack of longer-term analysis has long been bemoaned. In other words, most analytic resources and activities are dedicated to intelligence reporting instead of attempting to attain the “deep understanding” of our adversaries that constitutes analysis.

As noted previously, the delineation point when we stopped attempting to do analysis and started to repackage intelligence reporting was shortly after Saddam's regime fell to US and allied forces and it was noted that the road to Baghdad was not paved with artillery shells full of nerve agent. The fact that US intelligence analysts did their job – best conclusions drawn from incomplete, insufficient and occasionally inaccurate information – is lost in the midst of a grand blame-game. The response is typical bureaucratic short-sightedness mixed with a large dose of management philosophy of the moment: as long as we stick to re-packaging "facts" we can avoid being called "failures" in the future.

The fundamental problem of course is that you can train monkeys to sort documents and stack them into neat piles; humans have more highly developed gray cells and should be applying them accordingly. Analysts want to use their brains and perhaps the only thing more insulting to them than those who don't know how intelligence works calling them failures is their own management effectively turning them into apes performing rote tasks for treats.

In the long term, such thinking plays havoc with our ability to avoid honest failures in the future. By abandoning the whole concept of "lanes in the road" (Services and Commands should be supplying the bulk of current intelligence needs) and driving (intentionally or otherwise) national-level assets to become classified CNNs, the community is setting the nation up for more surprises. Fixing this doesn't require wide scale reform so much as it requires a more judicious deployment of existing resources.