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.

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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!


Anonymous said...

Verify and analyze

Kerry said...

Fabulous idea! Something a bit different which these days is to be commended.

Anonymous said...

Great topic; second to 'follow the money', my favorite was always 'everybody's got an angle'

Tom said...

I know you're not looking for new quotes, but I'll share the one thing I've learned over ten years in the intelligence biz:

"Everything is more complicated than you think it is."

I advise everyone to keep that in mind when conducting analysis.

Anonymous said...

If we do things right, people won't know we've done anything at all.