Friday, June 25, 2010

Part 3 -- What Is Intelligence And What Is The Role Of Intelligence In The Formulation Of Strategy? (Teaching Strategic Intel Through Games)

Rudyard Kipling from John PalmerImage via Wikipedia

"Well is the Game called great! I was four days a scullion at Quetta, waiting on the wife of the man whose book I stole. And that was part of the Great Game! From the South—God knows how far—came up the Mahratta, playing the Great Game in fear of his life. Now I shall go far and far into the North playing the Great Game. Truly, it runs like a shuttle throughout all Hind. -- Rudyard Kipling, Kim, Chapter 12

For many people, “intelligence” is an even more misunderstood word than “strategy”.  Conjuring up images of James Bond or, at least, George Smiley, intelligence, for many, is exclusively about secrets and spying.  

This has been patently untrue for some time, however.  As early as 1949, Sherman Kent, one of the earliest and most influential thinkers about  intelligence analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency, claimed that as much as 80% of information needed in intelligence work came from open, non-secret, sources.[1]  In a world that moves 21 exabytes of information via the internet each month, the role of both secrets and spying in intelligence, while still important, is clearly further diminished.

In recent years, in fact, intelligence has moved from a narrow government function to a broad reaching discipline.  Intelligence-led policing is a highly regarded public safety strategy while competitive intelligence has, for many years, been a driver for some successful businesses.  Likewise, commercial intelligence agencies, such as IJet and Stratfor, provide intelligence analysis services to private clients.  Even non-governmental organizations, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, have established intelligence organizations to cover issues of interest to them.  In addition, intelligence studies programs, like the one at Mercyhurst have sprung up all over the US and abroad.  The International Association For Intelligence Education now boasts some 20 colleges and universities among it members.

There are several common themes running through these activities that help define intelligence[2]:  First, intelligence is about the things that are outside your control but are relevant to your entity's success or failure.  In short, intelligence is externally focused.  Ever since Moses sent scouts "through the Negev and on into the hill country" of Canaan to see "what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many” intelligence has been about "the other guy"; the enemy, the criminal or the competitor.

Second, intelligence uses information from all sources and, more than that, most of this information is unstructured.  Very few disciplines truly deal with information from all sources.  Intelligence analysts, however, routinely have to integrate economic, political, military, cultural and other types of data into a forecast for decisionmakers within an organization.

In addition, much of the information used by intelligence analysts is incomplete or unverified and may even be the result of a deliberate attempt to deceive.  This messy, dirty, unstructured data requires a unique set of analytic methodologies.  Traditional statistical methods often don't work, for example, with the kinds of anecdotal data normal in intelligence work.

Third, intelligence is designed to reduce the level of uncertainty for a decisionmaker.  It is part of the decisionmaking process.  If intelligence is about the question, "What is going on out there and how is it likely to change?" then the other half of the decisionmaking question (the so-called operational half) is "What can we/should we/will we do about it?"

Finally, intelligence is a process.  It is something that happens, that is both iterative and reflexive; not something that just is.  While emphasis is typically placed on the output of this process, the intelligence product, the quality and utility of this product (as with any product) is a direct function of the process used to create it.  More importantly, since intelligence is a process, it can be improved upon through careful and intelligent change, improving, in turn, the quality and utility of the final intelligence product.

Intelligence products come in many flavors but one of the most useful distinctions is between descriptive and estimative products.  Descriptive products outline the relevant facts, figure, personalities and issues surrounding a topic of interest.  Estimative products, on the other hand, attempt to forecast what will likely happen because of the intersection of those facts, figures, personalities, etc.

Of the two, decisionmakers typically value quality estimative intelligence over even the very best descriptive products.  In a world dominated by a 24/7 news cycle and supported by the vast resources available on the internet, providing mere facts and figures is rarely enough to justify the expense of a dedicated intelligence unit.

In short, strategic intelligence should be the foundation for all strategic planning.  Without some sense of how the external world will likely change to support or hinder attempts to achieve a person’s or organization’s strategic goals, any allocation of resources in support of those goals will likely be sub-optimal.

Why Games?

[1] Kent, Sherman, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949.

[2] For a more exhaustive discussion of these themes and how they lead to this definition of intelligence, see Wheaton and Beerbower, Towards A New Definition Of Intelligence, Stanford Law and Policy Review, Vol. 17, Issue 2 (2006),  p. 319-330.

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