Friday, June 10, 2011

Intelligence Analyst "Words To Live By" (

Last week, I asked for intelligence professionals from the business, law enforcement and national security intelligence communities to send me quotes, sayings and other "words of wisdom" that they have found useful over the years. My hope was to be able to put together a short list that would be helpful for intelligence analysts everywhere, students and professionals alike.

Over 100 emails and nearly 1000 responses later, I think I can legitimately say that my request has been answered. Many thanks to all who submitted something!

Now comes the genuinely hard part of figuring out which of these quotes ought to be at the top of the list. Rather than just pick the ones I liked, I thought I would ask the same people -- you -- who made the suggestions.

The short survey below is just one of 10 (each with 10 quotes, so 100 total) that I intend to publish over the next several weeks. I am not asking which quotes are best or worst (I know that this is next to impossible given the large number of very good quotes); I am only asking which ones should be moved closer to the top of the list and which ones should be moved closer to the bottom of the list. Assuming I get enough responses, the truly best quotes should rise to the top of the aggregated results.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

It is also legitimate to ask, of the nearly 1000 quotes I received, how did I downselect to the 100 I intend to survey? I looked for a couple of things. First, they needed to be general. The quote should arguably apply to intelligence professionals in any of the sub-disciplines of intelligence.

Second, the quote needed to be fairly short. There were several excellent lengthy entries that I hated to exclude but I felt that they fell more into the categories of "essay" or "story" than "saying".

Third, I focused primarily (but not exclusively) on intelligence analysis. I teach intelligence analysis and I want to create this list primarily to help my students and other students (young and old) of intelligence analysis.

My intent, once I have the results of the survey, is to take the top 52 quotes and have them printed on a deck of playing cards -- that's right, the "Intelligence Analyst's Deck of Cards".

We received a small unrestricted grant from a private donor a few months ago (yes, my academic friends, they do exist...) with the vague instructions to do something to improve analysis. This money should be enough to get a small print run completed through our Mercyhurst College Institute For Intelligence Studies Press.

Once they are printed, we will send out free copies to anyone who submitted an entry (whether it made it onto the cards or not). If there are any copies remaining after that, they will go on sale at our bookstore where whatever money we make will be donated to support the activities of our three student intelligence clubs here on campus.

Thanks again to all and please take a second to fill out the surveys as they get published!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Intel Studies Building Going Up At Mercyhurst! (Yeah!)

In case you missed it, Mercyhurst College broke ground last weekend on a new 9 million dollar building that will house the intel studies and the hotel and restaurant management studies programs.
There are lots of stories about it in the press and the whole event is linked to the alumni Facebook page and Mercyhurst's main site but I am aware that many of my readers and our friends and alumni may not be frequent visitors to those places (ahem...) which is why I decided to cover it here as well.
The bottomline is that the "new building" (that we have been talking about since almost the day I came to campus eight years ago) is a reality.  We should occupy the new premises in the fall of 2012.  

(For those of you who still don't believe it, see the picture at the left of Prof. Breckenridge personally engaged in the manual labor necessary to make this happen.  We would have put Bob Heibel to work as well, by the way, but he was in Madrid at a conference...)

If you look at the picture of the facility at the top of the page, intel will fully occupy the top two floors.  The hotel and restaurant management department will have its kitchens and classrooms in the ground floor (not visible in this picture).  The first floor will have a number of shared facilities and classrooms.

(By the way, the GREAT thing about having the hotel and restaurant management department in the building is that it should eliminate the need to live off of food from the vending machines.)

The skybridge in the picture connects the new building to the library.  Most of Center for Intelligence Research, Analysis and Training (CIRAT) will be in the fourth floor of the library.  In addition, the bridge is designed to be a bit of a destination location itself.  It will be extra wide and have chairs and other features that will make it appropriate for small receptions or as a place to study or eat lunch.

While the financing has been secured for the building, we wouldn't be a good college if we weren't looking for more donors and sponsors.  So, if you want to support the fine work we do here everyday or if you just want your name on the laser cannons we have planned for the roof (not visible in this picture...), get out your checkbooks and go here!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Part 11 -- The New Intelligence Process: The First Picture (Let's Kill The Intelligence Cycle)

Part 9 -- Departures From The Intelligence Cycle
Part 10 -- The New Intelligence Process

One of the most pervasive themes to emerge from this study of the intelligence cycle and, more importantly, its critiques, is that the intelligence process needs to be seen generally, as part of a larger decisionmaking process, and specifically, as something that has its own, unique, functions.  

Trying to merge these two aspects of the process, one macro and holistic and the other micro and specific, seemed to me to be too much to ask of one diagram so I have split my understanding of the intelligence process into two pictures.
It is worth asking at this point:  Why does the intelligence process need a picture at all?  Why not just use simple, straightforward words?  Beyond the demonstrated psychological value of images in helping people understand complex topics, whatever replaces the intelligence cycle will also have to replace the image of the intelligence cycle.  I see no realistic alternative to fighting fire with fire.
It might also be worth asking, if you are going to use two, why not more?  Why not a dozen?  Why not a hundred pictures?  I recognize the risk of proliferating images.  In the anti-PowerPoint sentiments prevalent among many of today's leaders, more pictures may well be viewed as more clutter.  In response, I can say that I have been using the two pictures I will propose over the next several posts in my classes, in my project work and in a number of meetings with senior decisionmakers for several years now.  The response has been very positive.
The first picture (See below) defines the general relationship between intelligence and operations and with the decisionmaker that they both support.  It is very clear (or should be, by now) that the intelligence process cannot be viewed in a vacuum.  If it is correct to talk about an “intelligence process” on one side of the coin, it is equally important for intelligence professionals to realize that there is an "operational/planning process", just as large if not larger and equally important if not more so, on the other side. 

These two sides overlap in significant ways, particularly with respect to the purpose, goals and people of the organization.  The intelligence professional is, however, focused externally and attempts to answer questions such as “What is the enemy/criminal/competition up to?” and “What are the threats and opportunities in my environment?”  

The operational side of the coin is more focused on questions such as "Where will we place our police/military forces?", “How will we train our forces/employees?” or "What plans do we need to create to be prepared for likely contingencies?" In many ways, the difference between operations and intelligence is the difference between "we" and "they" and the fundamental intelligence question is “What are they likely to do?” while the fundamental operational question is “What are we going to do?”  Embedded in this distinction is also the difference between an estimate and a recommendation.

It is from this shared vision of the organization’s purpose and goals that intelligence requirements emerge.  With few exceptions, there does not seem to be much concern among the various authors who have written about the intelligence process about where, exactly, requirements come from.  While most acknowledge that they generally come from the decisionmakers who have questions or need estimates to help them make decisions, it also seems to be appropriate for intelligence professionals to raise issues or provide information that was not specifically requested when relevant to the goals and purpose of the organization.  In short, there seems to be room for both “I need this” coming from a decisionmaker and for “I thought you would want to know this” coming from the intelligence professional as long as it is relevant to the organization’s goals and purposes.

Theoretically, at least, the shared vision of the goals and purpose of the organization should drive decisionmaker feedback as well.  The theoretical possibility of feedback, however, is regularly compared with the common perception of reality, at least within the US national security community, that feedback is ad hoc at best.  

There, the intelligence professionals preparing the intelligence are oftentimes so distant from the decisionmakers they are supporting that feedback is a rare occurrence and, if it comes at all, is typically only when there has been a flaw in the analysis or products.  Some intelligence professionals have gone as far as to claim that “There are only intelligence failures and policy successes” suggesting that intelligence is often a convenient whipping boy for poor decisions while intelligence rarely gets credit for the eventual decisionmaker successes.

It is questionable whether this perception of reality applies throughout the intelligence discipline or even within the broader national security community.  Particularly on a tactical level, where the intelligence professional often shares the same foxhole, as it were, with the decisionmaker, it becomes obvious relatively quickly how accurate and how useful the intelligence provided actually is to the decisionmakers.   

While most intelligence professionals subscribe to the poor feedback theory, most intelligence professionals also have a story or two about how they were able to provide intelligence to decisionmakers and how that intelligence made a real difference, a difference willingly acknowledged by that decisionmaker.  The key to this kind of feedback seems less related to the issue or to intelligence writ large and more related to how closely tied are the intelligence and decisionmaking functions.  The more distance between the two, the less feedback, unsurprisingly, there is likely to be.


While this first picture might be a new way of representing the relationship between intelligence, operations and decisionmaking, the content of this image is unlikely to be surprising to most intelligence professionals.  Understanding the content of this image is truly basic stuff -- Intel 101.  

Which is precisely why it is so important to capture it in an image and to give it equal visual weight with the more specific image of intelligence I will discuss in the next post.  This first picture, in short, is not for the seasoned professional.  It is for the student and, more importantly, for the decisionmaker.  

Few decisionmakers, outside the military, have any formal experience integrating intelligence into their processes.  Elected officials, CEOs and chiefs of police typically have an image of intelligence informed mostly by Hollywood.  They may well see intelligence as connected to the rest of their organization by a dotted line (or, in extreme cases, by no line at all).  

This image, then, sends a powerful message to these decisionmakers.  It tells them that, whatever they may have thought about intelligence, it is really about understanding those things that are relevant to your success or failure but are outside of your control.  All decisionmakers, no matter how obstinate, will eventually agree that knowing the enemy is as important as knowing yourself, that intelligence and operations are really just different sides of the decisionmaking coin, and this picture helps get them to that point.  Once they have made this cognitive leap, it is much easier to convince them to integrate (and appreciate) the specific functions of intelligence.

Next:  The Second Picture

Monday, June 6, 2011

Part 10 -- The New Intelligence Process (Let's Kill The Intelligence Cycle)

All of the examples examined in the previous sections are really just hypotheses, or guesses, about how the intelligence process works (or should work).  All are based on anecdotal descriptions of the intelligence process as currently conducted solely within the US national security community.  

Few of the models attempted to broaden their applicability to either the business or law enforcement sectors.  Very few of these models are based on any sort of systematic, empirically based research so, even if they more or less accurately describe how intelligence is done today, it remains unclear if these models are the best that intelligence professionals can do. 

Other fields routinely modify and improve their processes in order to remain more competitive or productive.  The traditional model of the intelligence process, the intelligence cycle, has, however, largely remained the same since the 1940's despite the withering criticisms leveled against it and, in a few cases, attempts to completely overthrow it.  

While some might see the cycle's staying power as a sign of its strength, I prefer to see its lack of value to decisionmakers, its inability to shed little (if any) light on how intelligence is actually done and the various intelligence communities' failure to be able to even consistently define the cycle as hallmarks of what is little more than a very poor answer to the important -- and open -- theoretical question:  "What is the intelligence process?"

It is to resolving this question that I will devote the remaining posts in this series.

Next:  The First Picture