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RE: Sad State of Affairs

Continuing the discussion on intelligence from Jeff Stein and Michael Tanji, I've carried it to The Tank on National Review Online with Panetta, Preservationists and Problems with U.S. Intelligence. My observations are from a somewhat unique perspective as an outside analyst, whereas Michael has inside experience and Jeff has been a DC-based intelligence journalist for years.

I've studied conflicts, regions and groups and written a fair amount of analysis over the years. Some of it has been well received, some of it not. Some of it proved on the mark, and again, some of it not so much. But that's OK -- that's analysis. For me, one thing has always been constant; I have simply never been afraid to be wrong. I have, however, been very afraid of being still and unimaginative in my general analytical approach. What relatively little I have been able to produce -- with limited resources in comparison to the professional intelligence community -- I have always been open to being wrong and being criticized (with the latter being quite instructive). If I knew all the facts with unlimited data, I'd be performing the job of either a historian or Nostradamus.

But what good are all the resources in the world if the approach is dictated, consciously or unconsciously, by an instilled and institutionalized abject fear of being wrong? Intelligence analysis is about determining and communicating what we think we know about what we think we know. If it were dealing with known facts, it would be the New York Times (OK, very poor example) and not a National Intelligence Estimate.

Those who consume intelligence products -- from the President's Daily Briefing, to National Intelligence Estimates, to on-demand regional/conflict/groups reports and analyses and (closed-door) congressional reports and testimonies -- must acknowledge the inexact nature of intelligence and stop demanding perfection. They must understand -- and acknowledge to the writers and presenters -- that they are dealing with intelligence analysis and not historical record. This will go a long way toward improving the product put before them, which is used to make critical national security decisions.

My perspective and experiences and vantage point may be somewhat (or quite a bit) different from either of them, but my observations and resultant conclusions are not. And when the same problem is seen from different angles and the same conclusions are reached, it is a good indicator that the problem(s) is real and readily apparent. The willingness to confront them and correct them, well that's a different story.

UPDATE: You never say never, but I suspect a mortal fear of envisioned run-ins like this with bureaucratic supervisors will ensure I am probably never going to work on the "inside."

That fear and the oft-required relocation from NYC to DC have stopped the outbound resume flow several times. I'd probably blow a gasket and get bad marks under "Works and Plays Well With Others". Or worse.

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