The voices of intelligence

… di Ronald A. Marks.
Un editoriale di qualche giorno fa.

As Director of National Intelligence-designate John Negroponte approaches his Senate confirmation hearings, he is faced with a crisis that stabs at the very heart of American intelligence — its broken analysis. The "voice" of intelligence is clearly no longer trusted. Of all the problems Mr. Negroponte will face in intelligence, it is the one he needs to tackle first. America’s intelligence credibility is on the line worldwide in its foreign policy and at home with its policy-makers.
    The challenge Mr. Negroponte faces is deeply ingrained in the intelligence system and among its players. The Robb-Silberman intelligence report hits hard on one of the fundamental ugly truths of intelligence: Culturally, the people who use intelligence and those who produce intelligence occupy different worlds.
The policy-maker is in many ways a "gunslinger" — acting on instinct, forced to "shoot fast," making quick decisions based on not-always-crystal-clear facts. The analyst is more akin to a "ballistics expert" — inclined to talk about the size and shape of the bullet with little understanding of what happens if the "gunslinger" gets it wrong. Yet, the policy-maker needs a clear understanding of what the analyst knows and does not know. And the analyst must see beyond "the facts" into the foggy, imprecise world of decision-making.
    So, what can Mr. Negroponte do to fix this "loss of voice?" There are three immediate actions that begin to ameliorate the trouble. First, Mr. Negroponte must remove the daily intelligence briefings from the day-to-day duties of the intelligence analyst and place it in a separate group serving the president directly. Among analysts, currently too much time is placed on chasing newspaper articles and breaking events. This forces the average analyst to choose between research and understanding voice news reporting on the fly — something culturally they are ill-equipped to do. It also provides quick and often inaccurate information to always eager policy-makers, leading them to too quickly buy into information they should not. The president’s daily brief needs to be understood to be Headline News; not PBS’s "Frontline."
    Second, Mr. Negroponte needs to appoint a true analytical leader for the intelligence community. This person should not only oversee the analysis provided to policy-makers, but should review the training regimen of all intelligence analysts. A new deputy director of national intelligence would also be able to act as the final referee over disputes among intelligence-community analysts, making sure viewpoints are shared in the community, and, most importantly, are accurately provided to policy-makers. Iraq is a tribute to sloppy analysis and narrowed and excluded views. It is a sure sign that too many analysts never understood the maxims of the best original American analyst, Sherman Kent — tell them what you know, tell them what you do not know and tell them how sure you are about it.
    And, finally, the third action Mr. Negroponte needs to take is one often overlooked. Analysts must better understand their policy-making customers’ needs. To do this, a designated customer ombudsman must be established in the office of the director of national intelligence. There are no two ways around it — policy-makers and analysts are of different worlds. But, the analyst is the "service provider" in this interaction and must come to understand more fully his customer’s world.
    Contrary to most public perception and analysts’ views, policy-makers in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill are a pretty honest, overworked and tired group. They view the handling of classified information with great seriousness and respect. In many ways, policy-makers give it too much respect and are way too serious in accepting analytical statements.
    Analysts must be made to understand that the mystique of intelligence often blinds policy-makers as much as their exhaustion. And thus the problem is that policy-makers do not ask the basic kind of questions they would if buying a used car or settling on a new house — where did you get this stuff? How good is the source? What are other analysts/sources saying about this information?
    None of these needed changes will be easy for Mr. Negroponte to institute. The current system will buck him every step of the way. Security concerns will be raised and grumbles about the danger of "politicizing" analysts will be expressed. But, the "voice" of American intelligence must be restored. Until it is, all the proposed U.S. intelligence improvements in numbers of collectors — and the multi-billions spent to do this — will simply be wasted.
    Ronald A.Marks is a 16-year veteran of the CIA and former intelligence counsel to Senate leaders Robert Dole and Trent Lott.