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Sad State of Affairs

Jeff Stein drives home the point that this is what you get when:

  • You don't have the stones to do analysis
  • You don't have the brains to do analysis
  • You treat analysts like LEGO blocks

Contrary to the common expectation - for those that actually bother to read declassified NIEs and the like - intelligence analysis isn't telling people what they already know. 'Climate change can lead to instability...' No kidding? As a matter of fact, analysis in popular culture is more representative of what it should be behind closed doors because, once you suspend disbelief on how they get the information, it inevitably turns out to be exactly the right piece of information a decision-maker needs exactly when he needs it. Unfortunately in real life good information is rare and usually late, so decisions are made with what is lying around and delivered by people who communicate in such a way so as to never be wrong.

And I'm not saying that analysts on the job today are not smart, they are, but odds are their first serious exposure to critical thinking and analytic techniques was in the introductory training class they took when they joined (if they even got a slot in a class yet). The bulk of the workforce has been on the job for what, five years tops? Forget target knowledge, forget institutional knowledge, forget knowing anything but how to flail around the latest fire and lightly repackage the news, which leads me to . . .

There is "current intelligence" and then there is nothing else. It's a chronic condition across the dysfunctional community. Everything needs a task force or working group where they have to collaborate and work jointly; no one can just research and think about problems. We're developing a cadre or gray beards but not because they're wise old (wo)men, but because they're aging prematurely.

The Fix?

Do it right and forget what the commentariat and pure-play politicians think. People who know intelligence know the difference between bad analysis and bad information. Lay blame where it belongs, not on the easy target. Most "intelligence" problems are information problems, or more precisely the lack thereof. Politicians: Don't hold a witch-hunt for collectors who do their jobs. Analysts: fill out your reporting eval forms; meet your collection manager and craft good requirements.

There is no fixing the newbies save for time on task. You could jump start things by making it attractive to mid-careerists to return to the fold. Read any book on why employees leave (hint: it's not about the money) and it applies to the IC. Fix those things and watch the Lorax come back.

There are slow, heavy thinkers and there are fast, quick thinkers and neither thrive in the environments of the other. Stop mining the former to back-fill the latter; stop expecting the latter to provide the depth of insight only the former are likely to have developed. Kill the generalist mindset (the formula for how the community drives people away) and build up true expertise. The old timers had it, but then in their day information was slow, rare and expensive.

1 Comment

Bingo. Well said.

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