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talking about something which could, in their eyes, be defined much more simply using a linear process model (albeit an out-of-date one) with which they are already familiar.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

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