Monday, July 7, 2008

Part 5 -- Previous Attempts To Define Intelligence/Legislative Attempts (What Is Intelligence?)

Part 1 -- The Problem Of "Intelligence"
Part 2 -- The Importance Of A Clear Definition Of Intelligence
Part 3 -- The Reasons For A Lack Of A Definition
Part 4 -- What Would A Good Definition Look Like?

  • "Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not?”-- Numbers, 13:17

Most modern intelligence professionals would interpret Moses’ commands to his Israelite scouts as intelligence requirements. The process of doing intelligence is something that virtually every leader and every country has done since the earliest times. References abound in ancient manuscripts to intelligence-like activities. In addition to the Bible, Sun Tzu writes extensively about the use of spies in The Art Of War and even Beowulf gets what we would today refer to as an intelligence briefing from Hrothgar before going off to fight Grendel’s mother:

  • “Untrod is their home; by wolf-cliffs haunt they and windy headlands, fenways fearful, where flows the stream from mountains gliding to gloom of the rocks, underground flood. Not far is it hence in measure of miles that the mere expands, and o'er it the frost-bound forest hanging, sturdily rooted, shadows the wave. By night is a wonder weird to see, fire on the waters. So wise lived none of the sons of men, to search those depths! Nay, though the heath-rover, harried by dogs, the horn-proud hart, this holt should seek, long distance driven, his dear life first on the brink he yields ere he brave the plunge to hide his head: 'tis no happy place! Thence the welter of waters washes up wan to welkin when winds bestir evil storms, and air grows dusk, and the heavens weep. Now is help once more with thee alone! The land thou knowst not…”
Despite this, most serious efforts to define intelligence have happened only relatively recently. In fact, while Jim will discuss the history of intelligence in much greater detail in his posts, developing the modern definition of intelligence in the US begins, from a statutory standpoint, at least, in 1947.

Legislative Attempts To Define Intelligence

As with the many other things it changed, World War II radically altered the paradigm in which intelligence operatives functioned. The scale of the conflict, combined with extremely rapid methods of overseas communication, resulted in an explosion of information from the war zones. The influx of reporting required whole teams of people to sift and analyze information to produce finished intelligence. Absent from this technologically driven explosion of information was a correspondingly well-developed theory of intelligence. Sun Tzu and George Washington were both experienced and accomplished spymasters, but neither had much useful advice for intelligence professionals with the technological capabilities to produce reams of new and relevant information on a daily, almost hourly, basis. What was the purpose of having all this information? How did each piece fit with the other pieces? Which pieces were important and which pieces were not? Most importantly, what should be given to decisionmakers?

As a result, the U .S. government decided that intelligence services created out of wartime necessity should not be disbanded but should, instead, shift their footing to a peacetime role as guarantors of national security. The National Security Act of 1947 transformed the Office of Strategic Services into the CIA and codified the organization and function of the intelligence community. The 1947 Act served as the foundation of the United States' intelligence activities (until the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004), yet nowhere did the Act say exactly what intelligence was. Congress attempted to rectify this oversight in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1993, which amended the 1947 Act with the following definitions:

(1) The term "intelligence" includes foreign intelligence and counterintelligence.

(2) The term "foreign intelligence" means information relating to the capabilities, intentions, or activities of foreign governments or elements thereof, foreign organizations, or foreign persons.

(3) The term "counterintelligence" means information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, or assassinations conducted by o r on behalf of foreign governments or elements thereof, foreign organizations, or foreign persons

Essentially, the amended Act says that "intelligence is information," a definition that is both misleading and demonstrably untrue. Information is the raw material of intelligence, not the finished product. Modern intelligence professionals know that they have to provide more than mere information to the decisionmakers for which they work. In the first place, mere "information" on virtually any topic has become trivially easy to get through the internet, traditional media outlets or by simply calling or emailing someone using the wide variety of communication devices and systems available in even the most remote parts of the globe today. In the second place, information, in order to be truly useful, needs to be analyzed from the perspective of a particular decisionmaker. The same piece of information, for example, on the prospect for typhoons along the coast of China will mean something very different to rice farmers in China and rice farmers in the US. In short, all intelligence concerns information, but information alone does not constitute intelligence.

President Harry Truman began to recognize (p. 56), as early as 1956, the change in the nature of intelligence: "[World War II] taught us this lesson – that we had to collect intelligence in a manner that would make the information available where it was needed and when it was wanted, in an intelligent and understandable form. If it is not intelligent and understandable, it is useless."

Information was no longer enough and the decisionmakers knew it. It had to be intelligent and understandable — analyzed -- as well. Information-centric definitions of intelligence were clearly flawed, but, as previously mentioned, there was no academic community of intelligence professionals to resolve these types of questions. Intelligence, still a secret art at this point, had no lively, open, academic debates, no peer-reviewed journals or competing schools of thought. Even as intelligence capabilities grew and matured, intelligence theory remained locked in its infancy. Thus, the 1993 amendment to the National Security Act of 1947 relied on a definition of intelligence that was already outdated. The only other significant amendment to the definition in the fifty - seven years between the 1947 Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 occurred in 2001 when Congress added the clause, "or international terrorist activities" to the definitions of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 represents the most significant intelligence-related legislation since the original National Security Act. The 2004 Act further amends the definition of "national intelligence" laid down in the 1993 amendment of the 1947 act:

The terms "national intelligence" and "intelligence related to national security" refer to all intelligence, regardless of the source from which derived and including information gathered within or outside the United States, that

(A) pertains, as determined consistent with any guidance issued by the President, to more than one United States Government agency; and

(B) that involves

(i) threats to the United States, its people, property, o r interests ;

(ii) the development, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction; or

(iii) any other matter bearing on United States national or homeland security.

The amendments are again purely administrative, detailing changes in how government agencies collect and use intelligence. The 2004 Act makes no effort to examine the validity of the assumptions that underpin the legislature's current understanding of what intelligence is. This amendment to the 1993 definition does not describe the purpose of intelligence, nor does it define whom intelligence is designed to serve. Instead, it makes a circular journey through a forest of legislative language to arrive, in the end, precisely where it began: "intelligence is information."

Tomorrow -- Agency Attempts To Define Intelligence

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