Friday, June 12, 2009

Teaching High School Students To Be Intel Analysts (

The Erie City Schools, in cooperation with the Institute Of Intelligence Studies here at Mercyhurst, recently announced that they would begin to offer an intelligence analyst track in one of their high school career academies.

The full news article is here but there is more to this story. This is another one of Bob Heibel's visionary initiatives and it appears to me to be a natural extension of the increasing number of colleges and universities that are offering intelligence courses or even full programs.

While this may sound a bit too visionary for some, let me put it into perspective. We are in the middle of a study that is trying to get at the size, in dollars and people, of the "real" intelligence community. This real community includes all the law enforcement analysts and intelligence professionals in business as well as those in the national security community.

Our initial estimates indicate that there are as many analysts in the US national security community alone as there are petroleum engineers in the entire US (17,000). Our rough estimate suggests that, when you add in all of the law enforcement, competitive intel and other analysts in the business community, the total number of intel analysts in the US doubles. This exceeds the number of chemical engineers (30,000) in the country.

According to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the chemical engineering profession, however, has nearly 150 colleges and universities feeding it qualified graduates and STEM programs have become a staple offering in virtually every high school in the country. In contrast, there are only a handful (a growing handful but still a handful...) of colleges and universities offering even introductory intel courses, much less a full four year program.

Nearly 20 years ago, Bob started the Mercyhurt program based on a single insight: If the government can depend on academia to educate its entry level doctors and lawyers, engineers and architects, computer specialists and military officers, why can't it depend on academia to provide entry level education to its intelligence analysts? In this light, extending this vision to the high school level makes it seem less radical -- in fact, it looks downright logical.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Attention!! (

Made you look, eh?

Attention and the way we focus it are incredibly important aspects of intelligence analysis.

In the first place, there is some pretty good research to suggest that we learn what we attend to. Understanding where certain analytic methods focus our attention, then, allows us to determine what we might (or might not) learn from them. This, in turn, allows us to decide more rationally which method to choose for which situation.

Psyblog (via Elearnspace) has an interesting series of short articles that discuss these effects in much more detail. Specifically, these authors delve into seven additional aspects of attention:

  • The Cocktail Party Effect
  • The Attentional Spotlight
  • Learning To Multitask
  • Can Visual Attention Be Truly Divided?
  • 18 Ways Attention Goes Wrong
  • Attentional Blink And The Stream Of Consciousness
  • How Meditation Improves Attention
I am currently working on a research project designed to develop the hardware and software for a human-computer interface that allows analysts to "optimize" their attention while doing their job on the move. The centrality of attention emerged early in this project and I suspect that the more I look at it, the more important it is going to become in a wide variety of analytic tasks. This short series of posts is a very good introduction to the topic.