Few things I Learned About Intelligence Analysis While in Undergrad

As an undergrad who majored in Criminology, I had the opportunity to take two courses on Intelligence Analysis, that together served as a solid introduction to Intelligence Analysis (IA) and the Intelligence Community (IC).

The first day of class my professor said: If you like to spend your Friday nights reading and drinking port, then you may enjoy this line of work. So, right off the bat I learned that being an IA required a lot of reading. This is a good sign. I have the lifestyle to be a voracious reader. My disability leaves me wheelchair bound. I don’t play sports or go on lavish excursions. I am often sitting at my desk (“wheelchair athletes” exist, but I am not one of them).

I learned that IAs provide intelligence assessments to policy makers so these individuals can make informed decisions and respond appropriately to threats. I learned it is important to approach a problem objectively, not to be beholden to a policy maker’s agenda, or your own. There are several techniques that facilitate the objective evaluation of evidence. Practitioners and scholars argue whether IA is a science or an art, or both a science and an art (Is Intelligence Analysis an Art or a Science?). Stay tuned to this blog in the next few weeks because I will take an analytical method, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) and will attempt to use it to address an everyday, yet complex scenario you may encounter in daily life. The purpose is to see if and how ACH can help us with non-security related dilemmas we face.

The classes I took stressed the importance of agencies in the IC sharing information with each other. Information Sharing was addressed as we read the 9/11 Commission Report. One of the results of the 9/11 Commission Report was the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).  To learn more about how the NCTC facilitates information  sharing in the IC, visit the link above.

The courses also provided an overview of the intelligence cycle: How intelligence is collected, analyzed, and provided to policy makers and the IC. The books I recommend for more learning are the following:

Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis

Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis



Countering Violent Extremism

One of the most important domains from which Countering violent Extremism (CVE) can be accomplished is community. Government practitioners, academics, and faith-based leaders have recently  started CVE programs globally. This NPR story tells us of efforts to CVE in Minnesota, and other communities . Minnesota has a sizeable number of Somali immigrants. The Justice Department has given grant money to various cities across the country (including Boston, MA)  to run these CVE  programs. These programs aim to provide a strong counter to the radicalization efforts of terrorist organizations. The basic premise being that if you provide economic and social opportunity, disaffected youth will begin to prosper, and no longer be disaffected. Terrorist recruitment strategy relies heavily on disaffected individuals. Strong communities take care of their members, and so, become less at risk of being susceptible to recruitment.

Countering Violent Extremism is a goal that all communities should actively participate in, because it is evident that extremism affects more than Muslim and Middle Eastern populations. We have seen extremism take hold in various other communities. Faith-based, civic, and social groups can build communities that are open, and inclusive. Interfaith groups across the country are doing this work, and it must continue to grow. Building thriving and inclusive communities creates a citizenry who feel that they belong in their communities, and are welcomed by their respective members. This sense of belonging makes them far less open to the idea of traveling abroad to join terror organizations or joining terrorist cells at home.

National Security is Complex

National security, and foreign policy are complex. This short and sweet sentence will be evident to many, especially those who study this topic. I am in no way an expert on this, but throughout my studies, I have come to realize that the word quite precisely describes the topic. Many times the concept of complexity is ignored in the public discourse about our national security, and foreign policy (and even other issues). This leads to an ill-informed population. This also leads to bogus conspiracy theories.

Complex can be defined as: an intricate or complicated association or assemblage ofrelated things, parts, units, etc.  [source: “complex”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 7 Nov. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/complex>.]

Relating this definition to the subject of national security is easy. The hard part is examining the complexity of a national security issue, and reducing that complexity enough so that useful information can be gleaned, and acted upon (by policy makers). Intelligence scholars and practitioners use the term: Reduction of uncertainty. While this post isn’t quite about intelligence theory, the uncertainty reduction concept fits in well here when trying to make the point that complexity should be noted the next time you find yourself in a heated debate about Syria at the Thanksgiving table. To further illustrate complexity, take a look at this list of those involved in the Syrian Civil War: From Wikipeda. Even if this list is the only information you know about the Syrian Civil War, you see a problem that is an intricate or complicated association or assemblage of related things… [see source above].  With this many actors having something or many things at risk in this war, the situation is much more complex than a one size fits all answer. The questions too, are copious. No longer is it sufficient to only ask: How do we defeat ISIL? An additional question could be: And how do we end the sectarian divisions that threaten a democratic Syria? The follow up question could be: Is a Syrian democracy tenable, and how will it serve U.S., and allied interests, or can security interests and peace be maintained through a different form of government? Many more questions can be asked on this topic. The aforementioned were merely a small handful of questions to illustrate the importance of recognizing complexity. 

This was  one example of a national security topic. The realization that complexity plays a large role in these matters leads to more informed public discourse, and less scapegoating and finger pointing at a perceived root cause of an issue.