Analyzing Intelligence
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Analyzing Intelligence

National Security Practitioners' Perspectives, Second Edition

Roger Z. George, James B. Bruce, Roger Z. George, James B. Bruce

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eBook - ePub

Analyzing Intelligence

National Security Practitioners' Perspectives, Second Edition

Roger Z. George, James B. Bruce, Roger Z. George, James B. Bruce

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About This Book

Analyzing Intelligence, now in a revised and extensively updated second edition, assesses the state of the profession of intelligence analysis from the practitioner's point of view. The contributors—most of whom have held senior positions in the US intelligence community—review the evolution of the field, the rise of new challenges, pitfalls in analysis, and the lessons from new training and techniques designed to deal with 21st century national security problems. This second edition updates this indispensable book with new chapters that highlight advances in applying more analytic rigor to analysis, along with expertise-building, training, and professional development. New chapters by practitioners broaden the original volume's discussion of the analyst-policymaker relationship by addressing analytic support to the military customer as well as by demonstrating how structured analysis can benefit military commanders on the battlefield.

Analyzing Intelligence is written for national security practitioners such as producers and users of intelligence, as well as for scholars and students seeking to understand the nature and role of intelligence analysis, its strengths and weaknesses, and steps that can improve it and lead it to a more recognizable profession.

The most comprehensive and up-to-date volume on professional intelligence analysis as practiced in the US Government, Analyzing Intelligence is essential reading for practitioners and users of intelligence analysis, as well as for students and scholars in security studies and related fields.

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Intelligence Analysis

What Is It—and What Does It Take?
[The takedown of Osama bin Laden was] a perfect fusion of intelligence collection, intelligence analysis, and military operations.
—Robert M. Gates, Sixty Minutes, May 15, 2011
In that often hidden nexus between collecting intelligence and conducting operations, analysis, as former analyst, CIA director, and defense secretary Gates reminds us, plays a vital role. When analysis is good, it improves the chances that operations or policy will succeed. When analysis is not good, it degrades the chances of successful operational or policy outcomes. If your job is to produce intelligence analysis, you have powerful incentives to get it right. This book is about getting it right.
Producing good analysis is hard. There are plenty of obstacles in its path. Good analysts often overcome them. Empowered by solid training, education, and experience, and perhaps seasoned with previous analytic failures and other “teaching moments” on their path to professionalization, they understand how to improve the odds favoring good analysis. The contributors to this book have all trod that path.

What Is Analysis?

Analysis, good or bad, is about producing judgments, forecasts, and insights. A word about each:
Judgment. Analysis, as explained in a recent authoritative study, is “an exercise in judgment under conditions of uncertainty.”1 A judgment is a conclusion or inference based on analysis of incomplete and uncertain information, with some generally bounded probability (never really known and not always stated) of being correct, but also with some chance of being wrong. Analytic judgments can be expressed with some degree of probability (“there is a 70 percent chance that . . .”) or a statement of confidence (“we have moderate confidence that X is . . . ”). Analytic judgments are typically expressed without accompanying statements of probability or confidence.
Intelligence analysts who concluded that the obscure compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, housed Osama bin Laden, and who also forecast that he would be there during the time of the planned takedown, were exercising judgment under uncertainty. No one had conclusive proof or “smoking gun evidence” that the compound was his or that he would actually be there when the raid was conducted. These were judgments. The process that produced them was analysis. This analysis was based in part on good intelligence collection, the reliability of which was also critical to the successful takedown operation. In examples discussed later in this chapter, we examine two specific judgments under uncertainty: the state of the Soviet nuclear missile launch readiness during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and whether weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) were present in Iraq in 2002.2 In the first instance, analysis was good; in the second, it was poor. Throughout this book, the authors seek to explain how to achieve the good and avert the poor.
Forecast. A forecast is a judgment about the future. Warning intelligence is composed principally of forecasts, which are not “predictions.” Customers of intelligence—policymakers and military leaders—care especially about what will happen and less about what has happened already, which is too late to influence. Through their policy initiatives and military operations, they are trying to accomplish something that will reduce threats or otherwise enhance US national security. Thus they need better understanding about what is coming, rather than about what has happened. Intelligence analysis that produces good forecasts helps them achieve that. Good forecasting is hard and the record is mixed. For example, if policymakers do not know that a staunch ally in the Middle East is about to be overthrown by virulent anti-American forces, then they cannot take actions to prevent it or even mitigate its effects, as happened in Iran in 1979. Some aspects of the Arab Spring of 2011 were reliably forecast, and some were not. Still, policymakers are often successfully warned in advance, such as in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, outbreaks of military tensions between India and Pakistan, and the breakup of Yugoslavia—all cases where analysts provided sound forecasts that were helpful to policymakers. Analysts are often more successful when forecasting multiple scenarios, with indicators expected to accompany each. These also help policymakers anticipate alternative outcomes and hypothesize how different policy options might influence different outcomes.
Insight. When customers of intelligence receive analysis that offers a fresh, new perspective, or when it causes them to think about a hard problem in a new way—even if it does not present any new information—they appreciate the insight that analysis has brought them. Analytic insights are less about facts than they are about contextualizing them. For example, it is insightful for policymakers and military commanders to learn when a conventional war is metamorphosing into a counterinsurgency war, as happened in Iraq in 2003. The earlier they can get this kind of insight, the better they can adjust to a changing situation. This particular insight about counterinsurgency in Iraq came late in the game for policymakers and military planners. That it was provided much sooner than it was acted upon illustrates a separate problem for analysis: Policymakers do not haveto use intelligence. They make their decisions for lots of reasons, and sometimes intelligence—even when at its best—makes no difference at all. Subsequently, we explain this complex intelligence–policy relationship in greater depth.3 It affects the use that intelligence customers make—or don’t make—of the judgments, forecasts, and insights that analysts provide them.

Analysis: The Cognitive Part of Intelligence

Slightly more than half a century ago, the American scholar and pioneering intelligence analyst Sherman Kent lamented that the US intelligence community (IC) lacked a professional literature.4 Serving as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) Office of National Estimates, Kent hoped to define and develop a professional intelligence analysis discipline, noting that academic professions could not operate without an understanding of the field or a comparable body of knowledge. Today, though there is a large body of writing on intelligence generally, critiques to advance analysis still seem in short supply. To be sure, many critical writers have concentrated on the past and current failings of intelligence or seek to expose sensational operations to excite or infuriate the public, while former intelligence officers and policy officials are often tempted to put the record “straight” as they see it. However, both approaches have typically neglected assessing the discipline of “intelligence analysis” or adding to the collective knowledge of what constitutes sound analytic principles and practices.
Is there even a professional discipline known as “intelligence analysis?” Considerable effort has been devoted to defining what is meant by the general term “intelligence,” which surely encompasses analysis as one part of a multifaceted process of gaining specific, often secret information for government use.5 Analysis is the thinking part of the intelligence process, or as the former career analyst and senior official Douglas MacEachin has phrased it, “intelligence is a profession of cognition.”6 It is all about monitoring important countries, trends, people, events, and other phenomena, and identifying patterns or anomalies in behavior and cause–effect relationships among key factors that explain past outcomes and might point to future developments with policy implications for the United States. Another key founder of CIA analytic practices and principles has phrased it succinctly: “The mission of intelligence analysts is to apply in-depth substantive expertise, all-source information, and tough-minded tradecraft to produce assessments that provide distinctive value-added to policy clients’ efforts to protect and advance U.S. security interests.”7
Analysis is just one part but, ultimately in our view, the decisive part of the intelligence process that produces “decision advantage” for policymakers.8 The typical diagram of the intelligence cycle found in figure 1.1 exemplifies how many see the intelligence process. It starts with identifying what the customer needs (requirements) and ends with delivering the intelligence (dissemination) to satisfy those needs.9 Despite its simplification of what is a very complex process, this conceptualization does underline the analyst’s pivotal role in transforming information provided by various collection systems intojudgments, forecasts, and insights for the policy customer. Whether that information is good, bad, or somewhere in between, the analyst must transform it into value-added information that is relevant and useful for the policymaker in a way that provides him or her with decision-making advantages not otherwise available.
Figure 1.1 Intelligence Cycle
Source: Adapted from a briefing. The Intelligence Community, available at the director of national intelligence website (
This analysis comes in a variety of forms. Traditionally one thinks of products—“finished intelligence” analyses—that are printed and distributed to select government users. This definition of analysis conveys, however, a mechanistic and also somewhat linear process, which figure 1.1 represents. The “production line” metaphor conjures up an image of analysts writing, reviewing, editing, and publishing an assessment, and then moving onto the next question or task. While this is true at a basic level, the process is vastly more complex. In reality, the cognitive part of analysis is more akin to a computer model that has been collecting and interpreting incoming data and constantly reassessing how new data might change not only the findings but also the computer model being used to organize and interpret the data. The forms that analysis can take, then, are not limited to the printed or electronic word or graphic. As often, “analysis” occurs when analysts interact with policymakers over the telephone, through e-mail, during a videoconference, or at a meeting. This form of intelligence support has been referred to as “analytic transactions.” Though impossible to quantify, perhaps tens of thousands of such transactions occur yearly.10 Moreover, the sharing of data, hypotheses, interpretations, and questions among analysts and other nongovernment experts is possibly where the most insightful cognition is occurring, rather than on the page of a finished assessment or a PowerPoint slide.

The Professional Analyst—What It Takes

The analytic process, then, must be understood as demanding more than just a well-educated individual who can write concisely. The complete intelligence analyst must combine the skills of historian, journalist, research methodologist, collection manager, and skeptic. He or she must synthesize the skills of a subject-matter expert (SME) with those of an expert in intelligence itself. At a minimum, the fully qualified analyst must demonstrate a very unique skill set combined from the two groups below:
Skills of a university-trained SME:
• Substantive mastery of specific subject-matter content and good understanding of its relevance and implications for US national security policies.
• Skills in the use of social science research methods to organize and evaluate open-source data and information, including open-source intelligence (OSINT) research skills.
• Research imagination and scientific rigor to generate and test hypotheses, most often with qualitative data.
Skills of an expert in the conduct of intelligence:
• Collection. An understanding of three of the four clandestine collection disciplines most important to one’s analytic portfolio: human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), and measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT).
• Cognition and tradecraft. An understanding of the cognitive processes inherent in conducting analysis, how the cognitive function may affect the analytic process itself, and how structured analytic tradecraft can mitigate cognitive error, including why openness to contrary opinion and “alternative” analysis also improve analytic outcomes.
• Foreign denial and deception (D&D). An understanding of how US adversaries and “intelligence targets” develop countermeasures to collection efforts in order to deny the information sought or to manipulate that information for deception purposes, and the analytic implications of successful D&D countermeasures.
• Learning from practice. The capacity to admit error and especially to learn from it, including “best practices” that will give valid and reliable results over the long haul.
• Collaboration. The ability to work successfully in collaborative environments, both virtually and directly, with intelligence professionals from diverse agencies and with customers of analysis.
Thus what distinguishes an intelligence analyst from a subject-matter expert outside the intelligence community are not the first three characteristics, which are shared with many international affairs specialists, although these attributes are required in intelligence. Indeed, the IC needs to further develop these important skills in its analysts. SMEs are expected to be well versed in the history, politics, culture, and ...

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