A number of scholars and practitioners have attempted, over the years, to rectify the problems with the intelligence cycle. While, from a theoretical standpoint, virtually all of these attempts have resulted in a more nuanced understanding of the intelligence process, none has caught on among intelligence professionals and none has been able to de-throne the intelligence cycle as the dominant image of how intelligence works.
These new schools of thought fall into two general patterns: Those that are tweaking the intelligence cycle in order to bring it closer to reality and those that seek to overhaul the entire image of how intelligence works (which I will discuss tomorrow).
Several authors have sought to modify the intelligence cycle in order to create a more realistic image of how intelligence “really” works. While some restructuring of the intelligence cycle is done within virtually every intelligence schoolhouse, the four authors most commonly discussed include Lisa Krizan, Gregory Treverton, Mark Lowenthal and Rob Johnston. These authors seek to build upon the existing model in order to make it more realistic.
|From: Intelligence Essentials For Everyone|
|From: Reshaping National Intelligence|
Lowenthal in his classic, Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy, acknowledges the flaws of the traditional intelligence cycle which he calls “overly simple”. His version, reproduced below, demonstrates “that at any stage in the process it is possible – and sometimes necessary – to go back to an earlier step. Initial collection may prove unsatisfactory and may lead policymakers to change the requirements; processing and exploitation or analysis may reveal gaps, resulting in new collection requirements; consumers may change their needs and ask for more intelligence. And, on occasion, intelligence officers may receive feedback.” Lowenthal's revised model, more than any other, seems to me to capture that the intelligence process takes place in a time constrained environment.
|From Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy|
Perhaps the most dramatic re-visioning of the intelligence cycle, however, comes from anthropologist Rob Johnston in his book, Analytic Culture In The US Intelligence Community. Johnston spent a year studying the analytic culture of the CIA in the time frame immediately following the events of September 11, 2001.
His unique viewpoint resulted in an equally unique rendition of the traditional intelligence cycle, this time from a systems perspective. This complicated vision (reproduced below) includes “stocks” or accumulations of information; “flows” or certain types of activity; “converters” that change inputs to outputs and “connectors”, which tie all of the other parts together.
While, according to Johnston, “the premise that underlies systems analysis as a basis for understanding phenomena is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, the subsequent model does not seek to replace the intelligence cycle but only to describe it more accurately: “The elements of the Intelligence Cycle are identified in terms of their relationship with each other, the flow of the process and the phenomena that influence the elements and the flow.”
|From: Analytic Culture In The US Intelligence Community|
Next: Departures From The Intelligence Cycle