Dear reader, my task in this forward is to shackle your attention to the challenge of getting through Jeffrey Cooper’s monograph that follows.

Your attention is deserved because the subject—what we label with deceptive simplicity “intelligence analysis”—is so important and so interesting. The scope of this monograph, like that of the analytic profession, is broad and deep, from support to military operations to divining the inherently unknowable future of mysterious phenomena, like the political prospects of important countries. Jeff Cooper's study, as befits the work of one who has long been an acute observer of the Intelligence Community and its work, is packed with critiques, observations, and judgments. It would be even more satisfying if the study could be further illuminated by clinical case studies of failures and successes. In principle, this lack could be remedied if the hurdle of classification could be cleared. In practice, it cannot currently be fixed because an adequate body of clinical, diagnostic case studies of both successes and failures and lessons learned, particularly from the most relevant, post-Cold War intelligence experience, simply does not now exist. Not surprisingly, Mr. Cooper, along with many other critics and reformers, such as the Silberman-Robb Commission (of which he was a staff member), recommends the institutionalization of a lessons-learned process in our national intelligence establishment. This is but one of a rich menu of admonitions to be found in this study.

Mr. Cooper has provided a good, thematic summary of the main points of his monograph. I shall not attempt to summarize them further in this forward. But some overview comments are in order.

This study is fundamentally about what I would call the intellectual professionalization of intelligence analysis. It is about standards and practices and habits of mind. It is about inductive (evidence-based) analytical reasoning balanced against deductive (hypothesis-based and evidence tested) reasoning. It extols the value of truly scientific modes of thinking, including respect for the role of imagination and intuition, while warning against the pitfalls of “scientism,” a false pretense to scientific standards or a scientific pose without a scientific performance. It talks about peer review and challenging assumptions and the need to build these therapeutic virtues into the analytical process.

Mr. Cooper makes reference to the standards and practices of other professions with a high order of cerebral content, such as law and medicine. Other recognized authors, such as Stephen Marrin and Rob Johnston, have written persuasively on this theme. I am struck by how frequently Mr. Cooper—and others—refers to the example of medicine, especially internal medicine, which has much to offer our discipline. But I am not surprised. When I was very young in this business, I was fretting about its difficulties in the company of my uncle, an old and seasoned physician. He walked to his vast library and pulled out for me a volume, Clinical Judgment, by Alvan Feinstein, a work now often cited by intelligence reformers. I later asked my mother, my uncle's younger sister, what made Uncle Walt such a great doctor. Her answer: He always asks his patients at the beginning, “how do you feel?” and he never makes it home for dinner on time. The model of internal medicine is a great one for critical emulation by intelligence analysis: science, training, internship, expertise, experience, and then seasoned judgment, intuition, unstinting diligence, and valued second opinions.

Most of what Mr. Cooper writes about concerns the intellectual internals of good intelligence analysis, i.e., standards, methods, the tool box of techniques, and the vital element of attitude toward understanding and knowledge building. With somewhat less emphasis but to good effect, he also addresses what might be called the environmental internals of the same: training, mentoring, incentives, management, and leadership. It is in this dimension that we must overcome the plague recognized by all informed critics, the tyranny of current intelligence, and restore the value of and resources for deep analysis.

This leads to a consideration of the “externals” of good intelligence analysis. To wit:

The full scope of analysis: This has to be appreciated for things to come out right. Analysis is not just what a hard-pressed analyst does at his desk. It is the whole process of cerebration about the mission and its product. This applies to not only the best answer to a current intelligence question on the table, but to establishing priorities, guiding collection, and, especially, to judging whether the best effort on the question of the day is good enough to support the weight of the situation and the policy decisions that have to be made.

Money and people: There is no gainsaying that a lot of our failings after the Cold War are the fault of resource and personnel cuts while old and new and more equally competing priorities were proliferating. We've got to fortify the bench strength of intelligence analysis. The president has called for that. Without improved practices, however, new resources will be wasted. We press for improved practices; but they need more resources to be implemented effectively.

External knowledge environments: Half a century ago, when the United States came to appreciate that it faced an enigmatic and dangerous challenge from the Soviet Union, it invested seriously in the building of knowledge environments on that subject, in the government, in think tanks, in academia, and in other venues. These external sources of expertise, corrective judgment, and early warning proved vital in keeping us on track with respect to the Soviet problem. We have yet to get serious about building such knowledge environments for the challenges of proliferation and, especially, concerning the great struggle within the world of Islam, from which the main threat of terrorism emerges. Related to this, Mr. Cooper's study properly places great importance on our improving exploitation of open sources.

Information security regimes: We are talking here about a complicated domain from classification to recruitment and clearance systems. What we have is hostile to the task of developing a comprehensive, communitywide knowledge base and operational efficacy in the age of information and globalization. We need to be more open on a lot of things, especially where the original reason for secrecy perishes quickly and the value of openness is great (as during the Cold War in regard to Soviet strategic forces), and to tighten up on secrecy where it is vital, for example, in protecting true and valuable cover.

One final—and perhaps most important—point: Mr. Cooper's study of intelligence analysis is shot through with a judgment that is shared by almost every serious professional I've heard from in recent years. And it applies to collection and other aspects of national intelligence as well. We cannot just rely on the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) superstructure to put things right with our national intelligence effort. The problems and pathologies that inhibit our performance and the opportunities for radically improving that performance are to be found down in the bowels and plumbing of this largely dutiful ship we call the Intelligence Community, and that is where we must studiously, and with determination, concentrate our efforts and our money.

—Fritz Ermarth[1]


[1]Fritz Ermarth is a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council; he is now a security policy consultant.

Historical Document
Posted: Mar 15, 2007 04:11 PM
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2008 09:57 AM