Talking Points

Intelligence Analysis






Challenges  The new position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) faces a wide variety of challenges.  This memo lists six of the primary challenges, reviews possible courses of action, and notes the possible positive and negative consequences of those actions.

         1 – Interagency integration and intelligence sharing

         2 – Budgeting and resource allocation

         3 – International agency cooperation and intelligence sharing

         4 – Hiring, training, and retention

         5 – Providing leadership and setting precedence for new position

         6 – Addressing developing legal issues

Courses of Action / Consequences

1 – Greater integration may encourage information sharing, and provide more timely information for analysis.  Processing the overwhelming amount of information that is collected will always provide a challenge to analysis.  From Pearl Harbor through 9/11, lack of information exchange has been labeled as a key problem.  Providing common procedures for information sharing and shared databases may provide for a clearer and more timely picture.  

Bureaucratic inertia suggests a strong and rapid push for integration.  At the same time, pushing integration too fast may create greater resistance and lead to mistakes that endanger public support and funding for implementing reform. 

2 – Effective intelligence analysis requires significant resources.  The adage “doing more with less” is often untrue, with a more accurate description being “getting what you pay for.”  Being honest with the American people and Congress regarding the cost of managing an effective system encourages substantive debate regarding what sort of system the nation desires.  Politically, the true price may be troublesome.  Congress will require a range of budget options, and is unlikely to choose the ideal alternative. 

3 – Tapping into other sources of intelligence across the globe decreases costs born by America, and encourages utilizing local strengths in cultural knowledge, access, and capability.  Working with foreign countries also provides opportunities to strengthen existing relationships that may provide vital intelligence in the future.  Nevertheless, norms of conduct in other nations may not be compatible with US practices, and cooperation widens the possibility for breaches in security.  Additionally, verifying confidence in that information can be more difficult than verifying intelligence gathered from domestic sources.  During the crisis in Yugoslavia, and prior to the fall of the Shah in Iran, America relied on foreign sources of intelligence that proved to be inaccurate.  

4 – Intelligence analysis is only as good as the analysts themselves.  Hiring the best people, providing extensive training, and creating a structure in which they can do well are ideal goals.  Once again, resources may limit how many and how diverse the group hired may be.

Past intelligence failures have shown the importance of providing training, not simply in subject matter expertise, but also to counteract the mindsets which can derail analysis, such as the tendency of mirror-imaging what the analyst considers rational back to the subject of inquiry. 

Analysts prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis disregarded information concerning increased troop activity and shipments into Cuba because they did not believe placing missiles there would be a “rational” act.  One reason cited for failing to clearly see the fall of the Soviet Union was simple lack of imagination.  Analysts were not in the habit of underestimating their adversary.  And during the Yom Kippur War, Israel believed the Arabs would not attack because their military assessment showed the Arabs could not win, and therefore it would not be rational for them to pursue this course.

Subject matter expertise will benefit from greater cultural immersion.  Not only the “hard” subjects, such as the economics and language of a country, but also the “soft” subjects, such as poetry and music may provide the analyst a greater understanding of their region.

Unique professional opportunities ensure analysts are motivated to remain in the field.  However, unless the system is structured so that analysts are supported in unpopular opinions, the field runs the risk of losing people in which great investment has been made, or encouraging analysts to avoid making assessments for which they will be punished.

Each of these three personnel issues can be invested in to varying degrees, and the DNI can provide guidance on each of these.  For example, exploring the use of a reserve component to the intelligence community could provide a surge capability when needed.  This route is problematic from a security standpoint, but could help ease the burden on analysts already facing an overwhelming number of priorities.  Personnel challenges offer perhaps the greatest overall return on time and energy invested.

5 – Public confidence and Congressional support will be significantly influenced by the leadership role of the DNI.  The (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of the public must be balanced with the need to support the intelligence community and their decisions, as well as their resource needs.  What is said by this office will be closely scrutinized.

Additionally, the DNI sets the example for maintaining the proper relationship between analyst and policymaker.  During the Vietnam War, many analysts did not believe the war was going well.  While some did raise their concerns with the administration, most did not do so publicly, with the exception of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  They allowed themselves to be influenced by what they believed the policymakers wanted to hear.

On the one hand, working more closely with policymakers allows the analyst to provide a more tailored, and therefore hopefully more relevant, product.  On the other hand, the policymaker may not be aware of what they don’t know and need to know.  Additionally, working more closely runs the risk of encouraging the analyst to cross into policymaking, instead of maintaining the line between these two functions.

6 – Clarifying legal issues will provide greater certainty for integrating domestic and international agencies.  However, this will take a great deal of time.  The work of the intelligence community must continue while the issues are being debated.  Furthermore, some clarification may limit flexibility in collecting information.  On any particular legal issue, the DNI will need to make decisions regarding the best way to proceed.