Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations

  • Published

Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations ed. Roger Z. George and James B. Bruce. Georgetown University Press, 2008, 352 pp.

Numerous books and articles have been written in recent years detailing America’s intelligence agency failures without adequately addressing the basics of the analytic process. This compilation of well-written essays focuses on providing the reader a broad foundation from which to understand the challenges and opportunities posed by intelligence and its analysis. The authors expertly crafted a collection of articles that take a comprehensive look at the art of intelligence analysis. This work includes the modern history of intelligence, the policy maker–analyst relationship, challenges, and what the future may hold for intelligence leaders, analysts, and their analytic tradecraft. The editors are each immensely qualified; Roger Z. George is currently a senior analyst at the CIA’s Global Futures Partnership, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and served at the Departments of State and Defense. James B. Bruce is a senior political analyst at RAND and adjunct professor at Georgetown as well as a retired career CIA intelligence analyst and has served with the National Intelligence Council. However, rather than rely solely upon their own vast knowledge and experience, they sought authoritative experts in the intelligence community to author articles pertaining to their specific skill sets, experience, and knowledge base.

The editors divide the 18 essays into six functional parts. The first focuses on intelligence analysis by describing its evolution and reliability. A particularly insightful essay, “Is Intelligence Analysis a Discipline” by Rebecca Fisher and Rob Johnston, examines the steps required to move intelligence analysis to a full-fledged discipline by comparing it to the disciplines of law, medicine, and library science. Part two addresses the complex dynamic between the national policy makers and the intelligence analysts. The article by John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA, stresses the need for better communication among all the key players in the intelligence cycle and the necessity for analysts to understand the perspective and needs of the policy makers who will use their products. Additionally, analysts must ensure that policy makers understand the strengths and weaknesses of the intelligence product they provide. For this to occur, both the policy maker and the analyst must establish a positive working relationship to better appreciate each other’s expectations and limitations.

Parts three and four provide an astute discussion on how analysts cope with the challenges of collection, denial and deception, and psychological obstacles to the analytic process as well as the inherent problems with predicting future events and trends. Of particular note is “Why Bad Things Happen to Good Analysts,” written by Jack Davis. This frank article explores the analytic mindset and problems associated with confirmation bias, estimative judgments, and the paradox of expertise. Davis’ insights serve to explain the most common errors in the analytic process and the intelligence culture. In “Making Analysis More Reliable,” possibly the best work in this collection, James Bruce shows how intelligence analysis can benefit from an understanding of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that deals with the theory, origins, and nature of knowledge. His article concisely explains the need for and benefits of applying scientific methodology to produce more reliable intelligence. Bruce claims the development of a science for intelligence analysis would serve to produce intelligence that is less error prone because it consciously seeks to identify and correct its errors.

The final two parts focus on future challenges and opportunities to intelligence analysis. The authors propose that desired improvements and intelligence reform must be brought about by forward-thinking managers and leaders “who can inculcate the analytic standards, values, and commitments that can strengthen the profession.” Carmen Medina, former CIA deputy director for intelligence and current director for the Center for the Study of Intelligence, asserts that intelligence analysis must undergo a dramatic change to remain relevant in the information revolution. She elaborates on the most significant driver of change, the revolutionary explosion in data. Medina states that the intelligence system must soon be able to accommodate the analysis of terabytes and petabytes of data. Faced with this pending information overload, the intelligence community must change now to synthesize this information through collaborative networks involving both analysts and collectors. Additionally, leaders must challenge the basic premises of how information is collected and intelligence analysis is conducted. The crux of her article is to compel the intelligence community “to lead change rather than be run over by it.”

As with any compilation, different articles will appeal to a varying degree to readers depending upon their individual interest and expertise. However, Analyzing Intelligence is a rare find where every article stands on its individual merits and contributes directly to the success of the entire volume. It is a must read for current and future national security policy makers and intelligence analysts, as well as professors, students, and anyone interested in the subject of intelligence. It is the best authored and most comprehensive survey of the intelligence business to date. This work provides a solid foundation for understanding the roles, challenges, and potential of strategic-level intelligence analysis for both the student and practitioner.

LTC Randy G. Masten, USA

US Army Command & General Staff College

"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."