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Dedication of the Sherman Kent School

Remarks of the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
at the Dedication of the Sherman Kent School

May 4, 2000


Intelligence analysts are, by nature, extremely deliberative. So no one should be shocked to hear that the school we dedicate today was first proposed back in December—December of 1953.

It was worth the wait—for all of us.

And it was exactly two years ago tomorrow that CIA embarked on the ambitious initiative that we call Strategic Direction. It seeks to ensure that our Agency has the people and the technology it needs to succeed in a new century.

The project we launch today—a major investment in our people, and thus our future—is just the kind of thing that Strategic Direction was created to achieve.

I am delighted that CIA’s school for intelligence analysis will bear the name of Sherman Kent—the visionary who pictured it in December 1953, almost half a century ago. I want to thank the Kent children, Fina and Sherman, for letting us share—in this tangible way—the memory of their father and our collective mentor.

Someone once said that being an analyst means never having to say you’re certain. Sherman Kent, as usual, put it better: "Estimating," he remarked, "is what you do when you do not know." But when the time came to choose a name—an inspiration—for this institution, everyone knew what the right answer was. It had to be the Kent School.

This was one of the few times that our analysts did not prepare an alternative scenario. They did not need one. There was really only one way to go.

Sherman Kent was a gifted student of history, economics, and international politics. He was a brilliant teacher to generations of analysts. And he was, most of all, a keen observer of what made intelligence analysis useful to the government and to the country that he served so well.

Analysis has always been at the heart of modern American intelligence. The clear pictures of the present and the perceptive road maps to the future that good analysis provides have always been in demand at the highest levels of our government.

Before there was a CIA, even before there was an OSS, there was an Office of the Coordinator of Information. The first division of the COI to get up and running was Research and Analysis. And it was to R&A that Sherman Kent, a 37-year-old professor of history at Yale, was recruited in the summer of 1941.

After the war, as the United States worked to find its footing as a superpower, its intelligence effort was shuffled and reshuffled. Amid the organizational turmoil came a clear voice arguing the merits of national-level intelligence analysis. That voice belonged to Sherman Kent.

With the creation of the CIA in 1947, centralized, independent analysis had a place in government at last. Sherman Kent made that place strong and permanent.

Today, our analysts must make sense of a world that is more complicated and less predictable than it ever has been in our history. And to do it, they must master and exploit a raging flood of data from an ever-wider range of sources of information.

Part of the answer, to be sure, is technology. CIA is acquiring and developing powerful new tools to better sift and mine the enormous amount of material that comes into our Agency each day.

But the role of machines and their software is to assist analysis, not replace analysts. For all the changes in the world, that has not changed at all.

As Sherman Kent wrote decades ago: "There is no substitute for the intellectually competent human—the person who was born with the makings of critical sense and who has developed them…through firsthand experience and study."

Those looking for the principle on which our school and our Agency are founded need look no further. Ours is and always will be a business of people—talented, dedicated people.

The Kent School will prepare generations of men and women for the vital, demanding, and exciting profession of intelligence analysis in the 21st Century. Whether the students are new analysts, team leaders, or issue managers, they will see and learn for themselves the best of what we as an Agency have learned about the craft of analysis.

The standards that Sherman Kent set for intelligence analysis—that it must be relevant, rigorous, and insightful—are still fresh today. Our customers—starting with the President—expect and deserve nothing less.

Kent understood that intelligence analysis—even the most relevant and rigorous—could never be error-free. When taking risks in analysis, and using imperfect information to peer into the unknown, some forecasts inevitably will be wrong. But he never ran away from his mistakes. He learned from them. So must we.

If we are wrong, we have an obligation to go back and find out why. That means taking apart the evidence or the assumptions that got us off track. It can be painful, but it makes us better analysts. And it makes our Agency better.

In our Directorate of Intelligence, it is not enough just to make the right call. That takes luck. You have to make the right call for the right reasons. That takes expertise.

It is expertise—built up through study and experience—that combines with relevance and rigor to produce something that is very important: insight. In mazes of cubicles, behind humming terminals and mountains of papers, our analysts blend a scholar’s mastery of detail with a reporter’s sense of urgency and clarity. At its best, the result is insight.

And it is insight that wins the confidence of our customers and makes them want to read our publications and listen to our briefings.

Intelligence analysis at CIA is hard work. Hal Ford—who is with us today—taught the Senior Seminar when I was at Georgetown in the 1970s. He said of the profession: "Our calling needs character. It also needs characters." Sherman Kent was one—right down to his chewing tobacco and irreverent wit. Thankfully, our Directorate of Intelligence has never had a shortage of character or characters. I can attest to that.

Our analysts bring extraordinary passion to their specialties—whether it is a foreign economy or the mechanics of international money-laundering. They think nothing of racing in early in the morning or in the dead of night to cover a breaking story or to fill in that last elusive piece of an analytic puzzle.

They are born skeptics, to be sure. They doubt sources, methods—even each other, but never the importance of what they do. They weigh and test every piece of raw information—classified or not—that passes through our doors and appears on our screens.

Their reward is, I think, very real. Each day, our analysts open windows onto the world and its future for the President and his closest advisers.

Making that critical difference is what our Agency, DI, and Kent School are all about. This institution will arm with new analytic skills some of the brightest people on earth—people who come to us with vast knowledge of languages, cultures, science, and technology.

John and I are pleased that Frans Bax will lead the Kent School. Like the institution itself, Frans combines excellence in the science of education with excellence in every facet of intelligence analysis. Frans, I want to thank you for taking up this important challenge. John and I have every confidence in you.

Sherman Kent used to talk about the three wishes of intelligence officers: To know everything. To be believed. And to exercise a positive influence on policy.

I would like to add a fourth: That this school, named for Sherman Kent, always produce analysts of whom he would be proud.

I think that is a very likely scenario.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:58 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:19 AM