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TUCoPS :: Spies! :: axioms.txt

15 Axioms for Intelligence Analysts

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      How To Succeed in the DI

  Fifteen Axioms for Intelligence Analysts

        Frank Watanabe <frank.html>


Recently, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) has seen a spate of "new
thinking" on its mission and on how it conducts that mission. Notable
examples are the mandatory Tradecraft 2000 course and the publication of
a paper entitled "Intelligence Changes in Analytic Tradecraft in CIA's
Directorate of Intelligence." (1) <#rft1> As well-meaning and insightful
as all this new thinking is, however, most is coming from senior DI
managers, not from the analysts and other junior and midlevel officers
who carry out the DI's mission on a daily basis. In addition, some
frontline DI officers--myself included--would take exception to the idea
that the concepts put forth in Tradecraft 2000 truly represent new
thinking. Much of it is merely a return to the basics of DI tradecraft
that many of us in the Directorate seem to have forgotten.

Before leaving the DI on a rotational assignment, I endeavored to set
down some of the axioms by which I have tried to live in my career.
Initially, this exercise was begun to provide some practical advice to a
new analyst joining my branch, but I eventually decided that these
axioms might be of interest to officers throughout the DI. Although I
have not rigidly adhered to them, they have served me well as general
guides to professional conduct as a DI analyst. To experienced analysts,
many of the principles will sound like truisms and, if that is the case,
all the better. I just tried to codify general rules that guide what we
in the DI do on a daily basis, and I would not presume to invent new
tradecraft. But the new DI analyst, and more than a few old hands, would
be well served by remembering these 15 principles in their everyday
conduct, as I suspect that many will never be adopted officially.

Believe in your own professional judgments. Always be willing to listen
to alternative conclusions or other points of view, but stand your
ground if you really believe the intelligence supports a certain
conclusion. Just because someone is your boss, is a higher grade, or has
been around longer than you does not mean he or she knows more about
your account than you do. You are the one who reads the traffic every
day and who studies the issue.

Be aggressive, and do not fear being wrong. Anyone can restate what a
raw intelligence report said, but in the DI we are supposed to be in the
analysis business. As a DI officer, it is your job to go beyond the
facts--in a rigorous, logical way--to understand what they mean. Do not
be afraid to predict the future, or of being wrong. If you are right
most of the time, you are doing pretty well. But if you are always
right, then you are not doing your job.

It is better to be mistaken than to be wrong. One of the hardest things
to do is to admit that your original assessment was mistaken. Too many
people in the DI refuse to admit a mistake or an incorrect assessment
and to change their assessments in light of new facts. But it is always
better to admit you were wrong and to change a position when the facts
warrant it than to stand by an incorrect assessment in the face of new
facts. For example, earlier in my career, I was responsible for
evaluating foreign export control systems to determine if they could
protect sensitive Western technology. I was convinced that one of the
countries I was studying was not able to protect sensitive technologies
because of weaknesses in its control system, and I had written my
intelligence assessments accordingly. Later, I had the opportunity to go
to the country and see firsthand the system in operation. I was
surprised to find that it was far more secure than I had believed, and I
reversed my earlier assessments of its unreliability. Had I stuck to my
original analysis, I would have been wrong.

Avoid mirror imaging at all costs. Mirror imaging--projecting your
thought process or value system onto someone else--is one of the
greatest threats to objective intelligence analysis. Not everyone is
alike, and cultural, ethnic, religious, and political differences do
matter. Just because something seems like the logical conclusion or
course of action to you does not mean that the person or group you are
analyzing will see it that way, particularly when differences in values
and thought processes come into play. For instance, in the days before
Iraq invaded Kuwait, the conventional wisdom was that Iraq would not
invade, and that its hostile military actions were intended to
intimidate Kuwait and Saudi Arabia into abiding by OPEC production
quotas, thereby driving up the price of oil. The argument made perfectly
good sense to Westerners, while invasion seemed illogical. But Saddam
Hussein did not view the situation precisely as many analysts did.

Intelligence is of no value if it is not disseminated. It does not
matter how much you know about a subject unless you clearly and
effectively communicate the intelligence and your assessment to the
consumer in a timely manner. We cannot support policymakers if we do not
provide them with the intelligence. The US Navy had SIGINT providing
advance warning of Japanese plans to bomb Pearl Harbor, but it did not
analyze the information and disseminate it to the proper officials in
time to prevent the attack.

Coordination is necessary, but do not settle for the least common
denominator. We coordinate to ensure a corporate product and to bring
the substantive expertise of others to bear. But, as one commentator
once said, "Consensus is valuable, indeed essential, for moving the ship
of state in a reasonable, orderly way. But widespread agreement and
shared assumptions do not mean the agreements and assumptions are
correct." True analytic differences of opinion do occur. If you think
you are right, and the coordinator disagrees, let the assessment reflect
that difference of opinion and use a footnote if necessary. But never
water down your assessment to a lowest common denominator just to obtain

When everyone agrees on an issue, something probably is wrong. It is
rare when everyone in the Intelligence Community agrees on an analytic
judgment. When these instances do occur, it is time to worry. Maybe it
is because all of you are all right. But it may also be because you have
fallen into a group-think mentality that does not allow you to see the
other side. As an example, following the collapse of the Soviet Union,
there was an almost unanimous belief that large numbers of Russian
ballistic missile specialists would flood into the Third World and aid
missile programs in other states (the so-called brain drain). The
unanimity on this issue obstructed a thoughtful debate on the
probability of such an exodus occurring and of alternative scenarios. As
it turned out, there was no mass departure of Russian missile
specialists, but Russian expertise was supplied to other states in ways
that had been ignored due to the overemphasis on the brain drain.
Differences of opinion are healthy because they force both sides to make
their case on the field of intellectual battle.

The consumer does not care how much you know, just tell him what is
important. Too many analysts strive to demonstrate their depth of
knowledge and sophistication in their products by loading them with
facts and details. But the consumer of intelligence does not care how
much you know. He wants you to tell him only those things that are
really important for him to know and what they mean. Superfluous details
merely serve to obscure the important facts.

Form is never more important than substance. In the DI, we spend a lot
of time worrying about the form in which our analysis is disseminated.
But the consumer wants to know what the intelligence says, and he wants
to know it when he needs to know it. Most consumers do not care how
attractive a report looks or whether the format is ?correct. I have lost
count of the number of times consumers have told me they do not care if
an assessment has a CIA seal on it, if it is in the proper format, or
even if it has draft stamped all over it; they just want the assessment
in their hands as soon as possible, at least in time to help make a
decision. This is not an excuse for sloppy or shoddy work, or for
bypassing the review process, but do not let concerns over the form of
your product get in the way of the substance of what you are trying to
communicate and its timeliness.

Aggressively pursue collection of information you need. In the
Intelligence Community, we have the unique ability to bring substantial
collection resources to bear in order to collect information on
important issues. But too many analysts in the DI sit in front of their
screens and passively wait for the information they need for their jobs
to come to them. If you are examining a problem and there is no
intelligence available, or the available intelligence is insufficient,
be aggressive in pursuing collection and in energizing collectors.
During my career, I played a central role in reorienting collection
toward new, rest-of-world targets to meet new consumer requirements
following the collapse of the Soviet Union. My investment in time and
energy did not expand my production file, but it did result in valuable
new intelligence that allowed me and others in the Community to answer
the customers' questions. As an analyst, you have the advantage of
knowing both what the consumer needs to know (sometimes better than the
consumer knows himself) and which collectors can obtain the needed
intelligence. If you are not frequently tasking collectors and giving
them feedback on their reporting, you are failing to do an important
part of your job.

Do not take the editing process too seriously. If editorial changes do
not alter the meaning of what you are trying to say, accept them
graciously. When the changes do alter the meaning, however, do not be
afraid to speak up and contest the changes.

Know your Community counterparts and talk to them frequently. The CIA
does not have a monopoly on either the truth or on all information. So
get to know your counterparts in the various Intelligence Community
agencies-both analysts and collectors-and talk to them frequently,
finding out what they are doing and informing them of what you are
doing. "Frequently" means several times a month, not just when you need
something. If you cannot recognize their voices over the phone, then you
probably are not talking to them often enough. My close ties to
counterparts at NSA and DIA-and the resulting collaboration-have
repeatedly resulted in better collection, better products, less
duplication, and less conflict over coordination.

Never let your career take precedence over your job. As a professional
intelligence officer, your responsibility is to present the best
intelligence analysis possible, given the available information.
Sometimes this requires taking positions or doing things that may make
you unpopular with colleagues or supervisors. But never let your
legitimate concerns for your career take precedence over your obligation
to do your job.

Being an intelligence analyst is not a popularity contest. Some of your
assessments may be unpopular or unwanted, particularly by policymakers
who do not want to see intelligence that undercuts their objectives. You
also may not make many friends in the coordination process. But your job
is to pursue the truth. I recall a colleague who forwarded an analysis
that called into question the wisdom behind several new US weapon
systems. This analysis caused criticism of the CIA, of his office, and
of himself. He stood his ground, however; the Agency supported him, and
eventually he was proved right. He did not make a lot of friends, but he
did his job.

Do not take your job-or yourself-too seriously. The fate of the world
does not rest on your shoulders. Also, there will always be more work
than there is time to do it. You have to keep things in perspective. Do
not become a workaholic; remember to take care of yourself and your
family. You are doing a job, not conducting a crusade.



(1) <#ft1>Jack Davis, "Intelligence Changes in Analytic Tradecraft in
CIA's Directorate of Intelligence" (CIAPES ICATCIADI-9504), April 1995


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