As a result of a number of analytic projects for different intelligence agencies, a major focus of my work during the past several years has involved examining the practice of analysis within the US Intelligence Community.[1] This study was prompted by a growing conviction—shared by others, to be sure—that improving the analytic products delivered by Intelligence Community components had to begin with a critical and thorough appraisal of the way those products are created. A conversation with a physicist friend in 2002 had triggered thoughts on several basic differences between the practice of science and intelligence analysis. Shortly thereafter, an invitation to give a seminar on intelligence analysis at Stanford University led me to prepare a briefing entitled “Intelligence and Warning: Analytic Pathologies,” which focused on a diagnosis of the problems highlighted by recent intelligence failures.[2] As Donald Stokes noted in his seminal book on science and technological innovation, Pasteur’s Quadrant, “Pathologies have proved to be both a continuing source of insight into the system’s normal functioning and a motive for extending basic knowledge.”[3]

The Analytic Pathologies framework yields four insights that are crucial both to accurate diagnosis and to developing effective remedies. First, the framework enables analysts to identify individual analytic impediments and determine their sources. Second, it prompts analysts to detect the systemic pathologies that result from closely-coupled networks and to find the linkages among the individual impediments. Third, it demonstrates that each of these networks, and thus each systemic pathology, usually spans multiple levels within the hierarchy of the Intelligence Community. Fourth, the framework highlights the need to treat both the systemic pathologies and the individual impediments by focusing effective remedial measures on the right target and at the appropriate level.

In response to presentations to community audiences, a number of senior intelligence officials subsequently recommended that I use the diagnostic framework of the briefing to develop corrective measures for the dysfunctional analysis practices identified there. I circulated the resulting draft for comment and was delighted to receive many useful suggestions, most of which have been incorporated in this version.

Several knowledgeable readers of the draft also raised the issue of the intended audience, strongly suggesting that this should be the senior decisionmakers, in both the Executive Branch and Congress, who could take action to implement the ideas it presented. They also pointedly recommended that the study be substantially condensed, as it was too long and “too rich” for that readership. That audience is, after all, composed of very busy people.

From the beginning, however, I have intended this study to serve as a vehicle for an in-depth discussion of what I believe to be the real sources of the analytic pathologies identified in the briefing—the ingrained habits and practices of the Intelligence Community’s analytic corps—and not the organizational structures and directive authorities that are the focus of most legislative and executive branch reformers. Thus, my intended audience has been the cadre of professional intelligence officers who are the makers and keepers of the analytic culture. Without their agreement on causes and corrective measures, I believe real transformation of intelligence analysis will not occur.

Moreover, during the writing of this study, I was fortunate enough to serve on the selection panel for the inaugural Galileo Awards.[4] One of the winning papers focused on a similar issue—the appropriate audience for intelligence—and this reinforced my original inclination.[5] I have decided, therefore, not to condense this study in an effort to fit the time constraints of very high-level readers. I hope, instead, that the summary that follows this introduction proves sufficiently interesting to tempt them to tackle the remainder of the study, where the logic chains that I believe are necessary to convince intelligence professionals of the correctness of the diagnosis and the appropriateness of the suggested remedies are laid out in detail.


[1]Although this paper will use the common terminology of “Intelligence Community” (IC), it is worth noting that the agencies of which it is composed seldom exhibit the social cohesion or sense of purpose that a real community should. A more appropriate term might be “intelligence enterprise,” which is defined in Webster’s Third International edition as “a unit of economic or business organization or activity.”

[2]The briefing was first presented in early November 2003 to a seminar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and was revised for a Potomac Institute seminar on the “Revolution in Intelligence Affairs” on 17 May 2004. It will be cited hereafter as “Analytic Pathologies Briefing.”

[3]Donald E. Stokes, Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation.

[4]The Galileo Awards were an initiative of DCI George Tenet, who, in June 2004, invited members of the Intelligence Community to submit unclassified papers dealing with all aspects of the future of US intelligence. DCI Porter Goss presented the first awards in February 2005.

[5]David Rozak, et al., “Redefining the First Customer: Transforming Intelligence Through Peer-Reviewed Publications.”

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