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Intelligence analysis paralysis

Longtime CIA veteran Eugene Poteat, President of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and a 2004 IWP Master’s degree graduate, says that the bureaucratic reorganization underway won’t solve the problem of paralysis in intelligence analysis.

Writing in a double issue of AFIO’s Periscope publication, Poteat recounts the history of US intelligence analysis from the beginning after World War I, and the internal debates and battles that shaped how the American intelligence community came to over-rely on analysis, and how that over-reliance left the nation ill-served.

“America’s overdependence on [intelligence] analysis goes back to the beginning of the CIA in 1947,” Poteat writes, when one of the agency’s founders depicted strategic intelligence “as something produced independently by a permanent bureaucratic group of scholars and experts” who would “deliver volumes of encyclopedic expertise about the external world that could be drawn upon by the policy makers when needed.”

A minority view held that “an intelligence operation built upon a conception of the process in the social sciences that assignes due weight to ‘theory’ as it is understood in economic and sociology, and increasingly one hopes, in politics,” would provide more accurate and valuable intelligence products.  That view held to the ancient dictum of knowing one’s enemy.

With failure after intelligence failure over the years, Poteat recounts (Soviet bomber and missile gap, 1950s; Cuba, 1962; Soviet strategic missiles, 1975; fall of the Shah of Iran, 1979), it became clear that the reigning model for strategic intelligence “was not up to the job.”

The admonition of chief critic Willmoore Kendall of Yale “to get under the skin and into the mind of one’s adversaries” was not adopted at the CIA.

“Unfortunately, the analytical failures continue, the most recent and notorious of which are the failure to anticipate 9/11 and the assertion that the Iraqis had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction,” writes Poteat.

“What is not so well known, and does not get into the news, is that intelligence analysts have many successes to their credit. There is a clear correlation between good intelligence collection and good intelligence analysis.”

The Periscope article starts on page 3 of the pdf on the AFIO website.