Thursday, June 2, 2011

Part 9 -- Departures From The Intelligence Cycle (Let's Kill The Intelligence Cycle)

Other authors have proposed, however, radically different versions of the intelligence process, overthrowing old notions in an attempt to more accurately describe how intelligence is done in the real world.  

The first of these attempts, by longtime academic and former CIA officer, Arthur Hulnick, was the Intelligence Matrix.  Hulnick believed that intelligence was better described in terms of a matrix (see image below).  For Hulnick there were three main activities, parts of which, in many cases, occurred at the same time.  These three “pillars” were collection, production, and support and services.  Hulnick's model, while capturing more of the functions of intelligence, does not seem to provide much guidance on how to actually do intelligence.

Peter Pirolli and Stuart Card of the Palo Alto Research Center also attempted to re-define the intelligence process (see image below).  This re-definition has gained some traction outside of the intelligence community.  While much more complex than the cycle and typically perceived as a departure from it, Pirolli and Card's sensemaking loop is still both very sequential and very circular -- with all the limits that implies.
Probably the most recent and most successful move away from the intelligence cycle, however, has been Robert Clark’s target-centric approach to intelligence analysis (see image below).  What makes Clark unique in many respects is that he is not merely attempting to describe the current intelligence process; he is attempting to examine how intelligence should be done.

Clark expressly rejects the intelligence cycle and advocates a more inclusive approach, one that includes all of the “stakeholders”, i.e. the individuals and organizations potentially affected by the intelligence produced.  Clark claims that, to include these stakeholders, “the cycle must be redefined, not for the convenience of implementation in a traditional hierarchy but so that the process can take full advantage of evolving information technology and handle complex problems.”

Clark calls this a “target-centric approach” because “the goal is to construct a shared picture of the target, from which all participants can extract the elements they need to do their jobs and to which all can contribute from their resources or knowledge.”  This approach does a very good job of describing a healthy relationship between the intelligence professional and the decisionmaker he or she supports.

This description of the way intelligence should work seems to fit well with at least some of the initiatives pursued by the US national security intelligence community.  The example of Intellipedia, discussed in a earlier post, seems particularly close to Clark’s vision of the way intelligence should work.  

What remains less clear is which came first.  Is Intellipedia a natural extension of Clark’s thinking or has Clark merely identified the value of a more inclusive, interactive, Intellipedia-like world?  Furthermore, beyond describing an ideal relationship between intelligence and decisionmakers, how does the intelligence product actually come about?  On this point, as with Hulnick, the model provides little guidance.

Next:  The New Intelligence Process

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Part 8 -- Tweaking The Intelligence Cycle (Let's Kill The Intelligence Cycle)

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
Krizan, in her 1999 monograph, Intelligence Essentials For Everyone provides a slightly restructured view of the Intelligence Cycle (see image to the right) and, while quoting Douglas Dearth, states “These labels, and the illustration ..., should not be interpreted to mean that intelligence is a uni-dimensional and unidirectional process. ‘In fact, the [process] is a multidimensional, multi-directional, and - most importantly - interactive and iteractive.’”

From:  Reshaping National Intelligence 
Treverton, in Reshaping National Intelligence In An Age Of Information, outlines a slightly more ambitious version of the cycle.  In this adaptation, Treverton seeks to more completely include the decisionmaker in the process.  You can see a version of Treverton's cycle to the right.

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
While each of these models recognizes and attempts to rectify one or more of the flaws inherent in the traditional intelligence cycle and each of the modified versions is a decided improvement on the original cycle, none of these models seeks to discard the fundamental vision of the intelligence process described by the cycle.  

Next:   Departures From The Intelligence Cycle

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Part 7 -- Critiques Of The Cycle: Cycles, Cycles And More Damn Cycles (Let's Kill The Intelligence Cycle)

While intelligence professionals often tout the intelligence cycle as something unique, to experienced business, law enforcement and national security decisionmakers, the intelligence cycle looks like many other linear decisionmaking processes with which decisionmakers are already familiar.  

Moreover, this familiarity has bred a certain amount of contempt as all of these disciplines are wrestling with re-defining their own processes in light of 21st century technology and systems thinking.  In short, the intelligence cycle not only fails in its attempt to explain the intelligence process but also comes across as an archaic sales pitch to a decisionmaker who is typically all too familiar with the flaws of linear process models.

Every military officer, policeman or business student who has attended even relatively low level training in their profession is familiar with a model of decisionmaking that typically includes defining the question, collecting information relevant to the question, analyzing alternatives or courses of action, making a recommendation and then communicating or executing the recommendation (see image to the right).  

This model, of course, bears a striking resemblance to the “intelligence cycle”; a resemblance that may fool the uninformed but is unlikely to pass unnoticed by the decisionmakers that intelligence supports.  These decisionmakers, who are never blank slates and rarely outright fools, are also unlikely to accept such a simplistic explanation of the process unless accepting such an explanation serves their own purposes or they simply don't care.

This, in turn, results in two negative consequences for intelligence.  First, decisionmakers will, at best, see intelligence as “nothing special”.  The process used appears, from their perspective, to be just a glorified decisionmaking process.  

At worst, however, decisionmakers will see the “intelligence cycle” as mere advertising puffery, a fancy way of talking about something which could, in their eyes, be defined much more simply using a linear process model (albeit an out-of-date one) with which they are already familiar.  Many private sector intelligence organizations have problems convincing the decisionmakers they support of the importance of intelligence.  Over emphasis on the value of the intelligence cycle, particularly when faced by an educated decisionmaker, might well be part of the problem.

More insidiously, however, such a perception clouds the true role of intelligence in the decisionmaking process.  Decisionmakers, trained in and used to working with the decisionmaking process, will look for intelligence professionals to provide the same kinds of outputs – recommendations – as their process does.  

Intelligence, however, is focused externally, on issues relevant to the success or failure of the organization but fundamentally outside that organization's control.  Intelligence does best when it focuses on estimating the capabilities and limitations of those external forces and poorly when it attempts to make recommendations to operators as the intelligence professional is generally less well informed than others in the organization about the capabilities and limitations of the parent entity. 

In short, because the intelligence cycle creates the impression in the minds of many decisionmakers (particularly those unfamiliar with intelligence but well -educated in their own operational arts), that intelligence is “just like what I do”, only with a different name, the value of intelligence is more difficult to explain to decisionmakers than it needs to be.

Furthermore, once the decisionmakers think they understand the nature of intelligence, the way that nature has been communicated to them predisposes them to ask questions of intelligence that the intelligence professional is poorly positioned to answer.

Next:  Tweaking The Intelligence Cycle