Chapter 4: Intelligence Priorities


To foster development of coherent strategies to establish substantive priorities that meet the competing demands of policymakers, military planners, and law enforcement officials for current intelligence, long-term analysis, and strategic warning, and to provide collectors with more specific requirements guidance.


Desired Outcomes:

FY 2005
  • An improved priorities process to deal with potential crises.
  • Requirements guidance to collectors is specific enough to support collection tasking systems.
  • DCI launches fully resourced IC strategic assessments component.
  • The DCI priorities framework is hosted continuously on web-based software, with analysts, collectors, and consumers having access to the system.


FY 2010
  • Quarterly reviews of automated nationallevel priorities by the analytic community occur. 
  • Comprehensive processes are established to identify potential crises and conduct oversight to ensure appropriate analytic and collection responses. 
  • A National Strategic Estimates Center is established, with full policymaker participation and financial support. 
  • The IC can meet all demands for strategic analysis by policymakers, military planners, and law enforcement officials. 
  • IC strategic warning integrates policy and defense communities in an Intelligence Community program supported by full-time methodologists and gaming experts. 
  • Full electronic collaboration on prioritization of tasking, production, and dissemination exists.

[Top of page]


The analytic community has little difficulty in establishing strategic priorities.  However, it is much harder on a continuing basis to translate such priorities into practical production guidance for a dozen agencies with different missions and customers, who increasingly expect tailored support.   The post-Cold War emergence of a distributed threat environment, in which priorities often shift, has further complicated the effort.   The NIPB believes that closer collaboration among IC agencies is the key to improving strategic analysis and warning and developing a dynamic national prioritization process capable of confronting the new threat environment.

[Top of page]


The New Threat Environment 

Threats to the United States today are more diverse and dispersed than during the Cold War, and intelligence priorities shift frequently, complicating planning for both collection and analysis.   Consumer requirements will only expand in this environment, as will the demand of collectors for analytic guidance on priorities.  In addition to traditional military threats and long-standing concerns about proliferation,  narcotrafficking, and terrorism, the Intelligence Community must respond to policymaker demands for information on and analysis of various regional conflicts, refugee crises, peacekeeping, humanitarian emergencies,  environmental problems, global health issues, technological developments, key economic trends, and myriad other complex issues.  

The post-Cold War challenge has been further complicated by the revolution in information technology and telecommunications, which has fundamentally transformed the globe we cover, the service we provide consumers, and the work place in which we function.   We are flooded with information, only some of which is valid, relevant and useful.   Much open source material is relevant to our needs, but the Community is dealing with it inefficiently, via multiple, often unconnected initiatives.

Our adversaries, unable to challenge the United States militarily, will nevertheless increasingly have ready access to critical information, to enabling technology, and to sufficient finance to target US interests in new ways.   We call this the “asymmetric threat.”

These changes in the national security environment, the revolution in information technology, and a smaller analytic work force have intensified the competition for analytic resources to meet both long-term priorities and near-term requirements.   Responding to day-to-day intelligence requirements driven by crises and other topical national security issues often means that significant numbers of analysts are diverted from their primary duties and areas of expertise.   Thus, the analytic community must choose and limit which intelligence issues and targets receive priority coverage.   The Intelligence Community and its consumers have established a multi-layered priorities framework.   Because of their different masters, missions and customers, analytic organizations are unlikely to submit to centralized control of IC production priorities, but better coordination is both possible and desirable.

Mindful of the aforementioned difficulties and obstacles, during the next decade the NIPB seeks in particular to:

  •  Improve the national-level priorities process. 
  • Increase capabilities to perform strategic analysis. 
  • Develop better warning methods and procedures to avert surprises and prevent intelligence failures. 

[Top of page]


The NIPB Game Plan

The NIPB recognizes that establishing substantive priorities is a resource management issue of fundamental importance to the Intelligence Community.  The experience of the past decade demonstrates that the analytic and collection communities—with their limited resources—must revise the current framework so that it links the components charged with establishing priorities and providing guidance.   The framework also must be agile enough to allow for individual NIPB analytic organizations to respond to their customers’ highest priorities and tailor their work forces, products and services to meet consumer requirements  (See Box, Intelligence Consumers).

Collaboration among NIPB organizations will ensure that certain standing priorities will have enough overlapping coverage to permit necessary competitive analysis and to ensure that these places and problems receive in-depth and multi-dimensional coverage as needed to really understand them and to maximize the likelihood of effective US policies to deal with  them.   Community collaboration will also encourage development of new strategies to deal with global coverage and crisis support requirements.  Collaboration will foster the development of rational and coherent analytic production strategies across the NIPB that are complementary, as well as effective in supporting resource management.  Finally, collaboration on establishing substantive priorities to drive collection will foster development of an integrated collection requirements process for collection management across all of the collection disciplines. 

To prioritize the demands of its wide range of consumers, the analytic community needs to do more than revise the national-level priorities framework—essentially a hierarchy of targets and issues.   It also needs to develop a new matrix of priorities and requirements that assigns specific production responsibilities to NIPB organizations, and takes full advantage of complementary capabilities and opportunities for synergy.  The need for such a matrix results from the obvious hazards of attempting to rank order or impose arbitrary priorities on the equally-important but very different analytic requirements of such national-level consumers as the President, the National Security Advisor, members of the Cabinet, and the Joint Chiefs.  A matrix approach to aligning priorities and analytical resources could ensure that the unique––and critical––intelligence and analytical requirements of commanders, diplomats, and weapons designers are not degraded in the search for common requirements and  all-encompassing priorities. 

The first step in constructing a matrix to ensure that the priority analytic needs of the different types of intelligence consumers can be met with optimal efficiency is to establish a rough typology of consumers, issues, and analytical organizations.   Using the matrix to fine-tune analytical production would be an iterative process sensitive to changing customer requirements, advances in technology, lessons learned, and rigorous evaluation of results.  

[Top of page]


Reinvesting in a Strategic Analysis Capability

To some extent we have become the victims of our own successes.   As world events have become more dynamic and the issues have become more complex, the demand for tailored intelligence analysis has increased.   However, by focusing on the immediate at a time when the overall number of analysts was being reduced, we have allowed strategic, long-term analysis to languish.   While we will still have to provide intelligence “on demand,” we need to invigorate that part of the analytic community devoted to more long-term, structured analysis—the building blocks for national estimates and strategic warning.   This will require expanding analytic depth and expertise, enhancing training, and promoting collaboration with collectors and external experts.   We also will explore developing analysis and support processes that are less time and labor intensive. 

[Top of page]


The Warning Conundrum

Today’s dispersed, fast-changing threat environment, in which the capabilities of US adversaries are increasingly enhanced by technological advances, challenges our warning officers as never before.   Warning is designed not only to avert intelligence failures; it also strives to prepare consumers to respond to unanticipated developments—indeed, to expect such developments in the years ahead.   Incorporating  strategic warning in the process to establish and define substantive priorities will assist the IC in effectively managing resources to cover crises and standing requirements.

[Top of page]


Investment Strategy

The Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production (ADCI/AP) sponsored a review of the national priorities framework in which members of the National Intelligence Production Board, the National Intelligence Collection Board, and outside experts participated.   The review concluded that a number of changes were needed to produce a more efficient and effective national-level framework to meet the rising expectations of consumers for high-quality analysis and collection guidance.   In response to the panel’s recommendations, the ADCI/AP has identified several requirements that are needed to improve strategic analysis and warning and has incorporated them into a new priorities strategy for the analytic community.  They are: 

1.  An agile, accessible, and automated framework.  

Although all members agree that the Community needs some type of prioritization scheme, they stress that it must not only be customer-derived, but also dynamic, accessible, and appropriate for the current digital collection, production, and resource management environment.

2.  A rational, coherent structure to support analysis, collection, and systems acquisition.  Recognizing that the national-level priorities framework must support the current and future needs of the analytic and collection communities, the guidance must be both broad and  specific—ensuring the necessary granularity to drive the development of collection requirements management systems, as well as future systems acquisition.

[Top of page]


Intelligence Consumers

Intelligence consumers demand more than “just the facts”—they also want to know why reported events have occurred, how they differ from previous developments, and what they portend.  Decision-makers responsible for the overall management of international affairs and US national security policy want answers to broad questions about global trends, but they also want detailed analysis of developments in specific regions, countries, and subnational units.  Military commanders want fine-grained assessments of troop strength, armament, and tactics, but they also need detailed information on water supplies, electric power, societal dynamics, and political dynamics in specific places.  Weapons designers and those who devise tactics need to know what equipment manufactured by other nations—friends and potential foes—can do, along with very precise technical information and intelligence on how different systems interact. 

Each of these consumers—and multiple subsets of each—has different intelligence requirements and priorities.  For example, the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Treasury have partially overlapping but largely distinct policy responsibilities and consequent intelligence requirements.  Subjects that are high priorities for one typically rank much lower for the others.  The same is true of the military commanders, on the one hand, and the civilian policymakers on the other hand.  Their analytic needs are different, but they cannot easily be prioritized one against the other.

Some policymakers say they want “big picture” assessments that provide context and checkpoints for the formulation and evaluation of broad policies and specific undertakings.  Others say they want intelligence and analytical support keyed to their immediate agendas.  Experience has shown, however, that even the best-informed and most thoughtful customers sometimes have only a vague idea of what they will actually require and frequently change their requests and priorities in response to external developments.   Moreover, all intelligence consumers want premonitory analysis that will enable them to avoid surprises and take full advantage of early warning of problems and opportunities.   In other words, intelligence analysts must provide information that consumers did not realize that they needed, in addition to responding to their explicit and implicit requests.

3.  Balancing resources to deal with priority targets and global coverage requirements.  The national-level priorities framework and the NIPB production matrix will have to address the issue of competing requirements to ensure sustained intelligence focus on the high priority targets, as well as appropriate emphasis on strategic analysis and global coverage.   The latter is important so that the Community retains the capabilities to surge for crises that may develop anywhere, on any substantive issue. 

4.  Integrating national priorities documents and strategic analysis.  To prepare for future intelligence challenges, the national-level priorities framework should integrate strategic estimates and analytic products into its calculations.   Combined with adding accountability to the “warning” and “risk management” procedures, these changes will minimize the chances of strategic surprise and intelligence failure.

5.   Improving IC capability to perform strategic analysis.  We must improve the capability of the analytic community to perform in-depth research and build substantive expertise across the NIPB.

6.  Improving strategic warning.  Among other advances, we should apply greater analytic rigor and methodologically grounded approaches to our assessments. 

7.  Streamlining processes to ensure accountability.  Processes associated with setting national-level priorities and developing a NIPB production priorities matrix must be uncomplicated, manageable, and ensure accountability. 

Implementing Actions:

  • The ADCI/AP will inaugurate an NIPB working group to develop guiding principles and a concept of operations for a new DCI-managed national-level priorities framework with a dynamic and continuous process to circulate and update DCI  priorities.   
  • NIPB agencies and the NIC will increase investment in strategic analysis over the next ten years to boost the quality and quantity of their output and to respond to the growing demand from policymakers, Commanders-in-Chief (CINCs), and resource planners.  
  • The Chairman of the NIC will strengthen the role of the DCI production committees in the strategic analysis process.   This will involve policy changes that broaden the responsibilities of the committees in supporting a broader range of IC missions and consumers and, beginning in 2002, it will include modest increases in funds for technical analysis. 
  • By 2002, the Community’s warning staff will expand to include professional methodologists who will routinely structure IC games, as well as competitive and alternative analysis, on long-term and short-term issues of high stakes to the United States.  The IC recognizes the growing need for this capability to test analytic assumptions and judgments for both current and estimative production, especially when collection shortfalls engender significant debate among analysts.

[Top of page]


Posted: Apr 24, 2007 10:36 AM
Last Updated: Jan 03, 2012 12:44 PM