The Future of Intelligence

  • Published

The Future of Intelligence by Mark M. Lowenthal. Polity, 2018, 130 pp.

If the US intelligence community (IC) has a mentor, Mark Lowenthal is a leading candidate for the title. His government career included positions as the staff director for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, deputy assistant secretary of state within the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and assistant director of national intelligence for analysis and production within the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was awarded the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal. He is currently president and CEO of the Intelligence & Security Academy, LLC, and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Lowenthal has published or edited four other books and over 90 articles on intelligence, national security, and the IC. Two of these, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy and The Five Disciplines of Intelligence Collection (co-edited with Robert Clark), are standard collegiate textbooks on the subject.

The Future of Intelligence is Lowenthal’s distilled assessment of challenges facing the IC in the immediate future. The slim volume is divided into chapters on changes in technology, the evolving role of analysis, and issues of governance and oversight.

The discussion of technology, unsurprisingly, revolves around the increasing flood of open source data inundating the IC: increasing collection of social media and other Internet-derived data, increasing commercial development of once government-exclusive collection capabilities such as satellite imagery, and the resulting cultural challenges presented to an IC bred on control and protection of classified data by an oncoming reality in which nearly everything is interconnected, and a large portion of the data are both unclassified and uncontrolled.

The analysis discussion extends the “big data” dialogue by looking at the changes to analytical technique driven by working within an overabundance—rather than an absence of—data. Lowenthal sees increased automation and development of specialized data analysts as an opportunity to go beyond analyzing just data content to deriving patterns from the characteristics of the data itself. He also discusses the evolving relationship between analysts and policy makers in an environment where intelligence analysts must prove themselves as value added to successfully compete for leaders’ and policy makers’ attention in an increasingly information-rich, time-limited environment.

The last section discusses governance and oversight of intelligence policies, programs, and activities. Lowenthal examines this issue from several different points of view—those of Congress, the American public, industry, and insiders within the IC itself. He concludes that convincing all involved that the IC represents a worthy investment of trust and resources requires continually reexamining the balance between transparency and security.

In the end, Lowenthal’s latest work doesn’t provide answers or a roadmap to the future of intelligence so much as it starts a discussion about key issues affecting that future. This book should be read and reread, and the margins filled with notes by those developing and consuming intelligence—that is, nearly everyone with a connection to national security.

Col Jamie Sculerati, USAF, Retired


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."