Part 1 -- Welcome To The Revolution
Part 2 -- Some History
Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins
Part 4 -- Page Five In Detail
Part 5 -- Enough Exposition, Let's Get Down To It...
Part 6 -- Digging Deeper
Part 7 -- Looking At The Fine Print
Part 8 -- Confidence Is Not the Only Issue
Part 9 -- Waffle Words And Intel-Speak
Part 10 -- The Problem With “If”
So, “could” doesn't work. Nor does “may”, “might” and “possible” (If I had a nickel for every time a decisionmaker has said to me, “Son, anything is possible”, I would be wealthy). Even the only occasionally used “we cannot dismiss” or “hard pressed” create such a strong sense of a lack of definition that analysts should restrict or eliminate them as well from their vocabulary. What’s more, they are all unnecessary if the guidelines laid down in the Explanation Of Estimative Language – the Page 5 of the title – are followed more closely. What, then, is the problem with “if” and the other words on the list? Consider this statement from the recent Iran National Intelligence Estimate (NIE):
- We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.
“Unless” and “Should” clauses used like “if” are equally worrisome. Consider these two sentences, the first from the Global Terror NIE and the second from the 2nd Iraq Stability NIE:
- Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.
- Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.
Despite this, there are clear intelligence questions here that have gone unanswered through the use of "should" and "unless". Is Zarqawi likely to scale back his attacks or not? Do the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments that are independent of US action likely favor the broadly accepted political compromises deemed necessary? It seems clear that, using the guidance from the EEL page, the IC could make these type estimates more useful to decisionmakers.
Not all “if” clauses are awful, though. There are some, like this one from the Iran NIE, “Barring such acquisitions, if Iran wants to have nuclear weapons it would need to produce sufficient amounts of fissile material indigenously—which we judge with high confidence it has not yet done” where the analysis actually answers the question implied by the “if” clause. Therefore, in computing the percentages in the table in Part 9, I only included “if” clauses that fit the “waffle-word” category.
Part 11 -- One More Thing