Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What's The Relationship Of An Organization's Goals And Resources To The Type Of Intelligence It Needs?

"Don't blame me, blame this!"
I was trying to find some space on the whiteboard in my office and it occurred to me that I really needed to do something with some of these thoughts.

One of the most interesting (to me, at least) had to do with the relationship between an organization's goals and its resources coupled with the notion of tactical, operational and strategic intelligence.

There is probably not an entry level course in intelligence anywhere in the world that does not cover the idea of tactical, operational and strategic intelligence.  Diane Chido and I have argued elsewhere that these three categories should be defined by the resources that an organization risks when making a decision associated with the intel.  In other words, decisions that risk few of an organization's resources are tactical while those that risk many of the organizations's resources are strategic.  Thus, within this context, the nature of the intelligence support should reflect the nature of the decision and the defining characteristic of the decision is the amount of the organization's resources potentially at risk.   

That all seemed well and good, but it seemed to me to be missing something.  Finally (Diane and I wrote our article in 2007, so you can draw your own conclusions...), it hit me!  The model needed to also take into consideration the potential impact on the goals and purposes of the organization.

Here's the handy chart that (hopefully) explains what I mean:

What I realized is that the model that Diane and I had proposed had an assumption embedded in it.  In short, we were assuming that the decisionmaker would understand the relationship between their eventual decision, the resources of the organization, and the impact the decision would have on the organization's goals.  

While there are good reasons to make this assumption (decisionmakers are supposed to make these kinds of calculations, not intel), it is clearly not always the case.  Furthermore, adding this extra bit of nuance to the model makes it more complete.

Let's take a look at some examples.  If the impact on resources of deciding to pursue a particular course of action is low but the pay-off is high, that's a no-brainer (Example:  You don't need the DIRNSA to tell you to have a hard-to-crack password).  Of course you are going to try it!  Even if you fail, it will have cost you little.  Likewise, if the impact on resources is high and the impact on goals is low, then doing whatever it is you are about to do is likely stupid (Example:  Pretty much the whole damn Franklin-Nashville Campaign).

While many of these elements may only be obvious after the fact, to the extent that these kinds of things are observable before the decision is made, reflecting on them may well help both intelligence professionals and decisionmakers understand what is needed of them when confronted by a particular problem.