Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins (The Revolution Begins On Page Five: The Changing Nature Of The NIE And Its Implications For Intelligence)

Part 1 -- Welcome To The Revolution
Part 2 -- Some History
Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins

The three pages and a paragraph that constitute the sanitized key judgments of the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Trends in Global Terrorism was the first of the recent NIEs that the Director Of National Intelligence (DNI) released at about the same time it was produced. While the reasons for its release are tied to Congressional action, it also likely has to do with a desire to show greater transparency in the face of the withering criticism of the intelligence community over the previous several years and to show that the relatively new DNI position was not just conducting business as usual. That said, the document itself provides no context in which to place either the estimative judgments or the intelligence requirement the NIE addresses.

This was quickly rectified in the next NIE, released in January 2007 and dealing with the issue of prospects for Iraq's stability. Complete with a professionally produced cover sheet, the January 2007 NIE sought to not only explain the roles and functions of the DNI and the NIC but also provide background on the NIE process generally and on the process for preparing this NIE specifically.

The really interesting stuff begins on page five, though. Here is where the authors, and by extension, the intelligence community, explained the terms of art traditionally used in an estimate. In order to do this, the authors had to come to grips with these definitional and theoretical issues themselves. In other professions, such as law or accounting, any discussion of definitions or theory would inevitably tap into the experience of its professionals but also take advantage of a large body of work done by a variety of experts over the years that would have been well documented in judicial opinions, peer-reviewed research papers or approved by standards setting committees.

Such is not the case in intelligence. Most intelligence professionals are practitioners (of one kind or another) and are so busy doing that they have little time (and sometimes little interest) for reflection or codification or other theoretical work. The intelligence studies discipline is relatively new and has had little to work with (notwithstanding the best efforts of the Federation Of American Scientists and the National Security Archive at GW) until very recently. The intelligence community itself has done some work in this area but it has come in fits and starts and to this date there is not even a generally agreed upon definition of intelligence (certainly not one broad enough to cover business and law enforcement intelligence activities as well as national security interests).

Thus, while the explanation of estimative language that accompanies each of the last four publicly available NIEs could be seen as adminis-trivia or, even worse, a sort of CYA, the process of having to explain itself to others actually forced the intelligence community to come to grips with the nature of its profession more quickly than anything in the past 60 years. In a little over a year, likely driven by a genuine desire to do a better job coupled with an intense desire to avoid any more public thrashings at the hands of the legislative branch (or its executive branch masters, for that matter), the intelligence community, with its best analysts on its most important products, has dramatically changed the way it communicates its results to national security policymakers.

By publicly explaining itself, the intelligence community has set precedents – precedents it can repudiate only at the risk of its credibility. Whether the community intended it or not, whether it likes it or not, these public explanations of estimative language begin to define an emerging (and, as I will outline later on, still unfinished) theory of intelligence.

Monday: Part 4 -- Page Five In Detail

1 comment:

Mike said...

A cliff hanger! Can't wait to hear the theory ... and hopefully this will start an interesting dialogue or at least a call for comments!

Well done,