Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It is prudent to question the analysis of the intelligence community.

In fact, a large amount of the work done by the intelligence community revolves around questioning our own analysis. Intelligence products are rarely to be considered as hard fact, and this is due to the inherent nature of intelligence operations waged against a thinking opponent.

In the world of intelligence, we collect information against what we refer to as "intel gaps". Funny though, no matter how much intelligence we collect, these gaps do not and will not close. Why? Because ONLY when an operation is launched and completed based on collected intelligence do we really discover how right or wrong we were. Even then, we can't always be sure of what changed, if anything, in the weeks, days or hours prior to an operation or a decision being made.

When the raid against Osama Bin Laden was launched, some of the analysts may have given a "100%" estimate of he liklihood that he was actually inside his Abbottabad, Pakistan compound. This was portrayed in the movie "Zero Dark Thirty", but it's unlikely that anyone truly made that estimate. More likely, the best estimate anyone could make was probably about 80%. In the world of tactical intelligence, 80% is really high for an estimate of the location (disposition, in "spy" terminology) of a high value target (HVT). You're not going to get many chances to move against a HVT with an 80% estimate of disposition.

When you have an intelligent opponent who is conducting competent counter-intelligence activities against your intelligence collection activities, you HAVE NO CHOICE but to question the accuracy of the intelligence. Aside from adversarial intelligence (ADVINT) activities, the US intelligence community itself has some biases that negatively affect it's own ability to provide accurate intelligence information to policy makers. For one example, intelligence communities the world over have a tendency to overestimate threats in order to justify their claims that more resources need to be allocated to them in order to carry out their duties effectively. We see these exact same biases in the American law enforcement community. When was the last time you heard any law enforcement official say "We have just the right number of officers in our department to serve our area, we don't need any more right now."? The intelligence community sometimes carries these biases over into the final intelligence product, even if the collectors on the ground are not including them in their raw intelligence information reports (IIR).

It also needs to be said that the very top positions in the intelligence community are Presidential appointees. Have you ever considered that a President's appointees might be inclined to tell him things that he is more inclined to believe? Quite so. This is why I would hope that in addition to questioning intelligence reports and encouraging the intel community to question it's own reports (like it already should be), that a President would be willing to appoint cabinet members and agency leaders who think differently than he does. I would not go so far as to ask a President to seek out advisors who inherently disagree with him (for example, Harry Reid does not belong on Trump's cabinet, but perhaps Rand Paul does), but rather simply think and approach problems in a different manner.

Seems we are on that track so far.

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