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Marrin--Intelligence Analysis-Turning a Craft Into a Profession

Marrin--Intelligence Analysis-Turning a Craft Into a Profession

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Published by: Stephen Marrin on Oct 26, 2010
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Even though intelligence analysis—which possesses charac-teristics of both crafts and professions--is frequently referredto as a profession, in actuality it has been practiced morelike a craft. As a result, it lacks many of the benefits of for-mal professions, such as structured personnel practices, andpossesses no quality control mechanism to ensure the reli-ability of the individual analyst’s output. Turning intelli-gence analysis from a craft into a profession would providethe opportunity for evolutionary—and possibly even revolu-tionary—improvement in both individual and organizationalperformance due to the adoption of formal personnel prac-tices and standardization of best practices across all intelli-gence agencies.
1. Craft, Profession, or Both?
Intelligence analysts think of themselves as professionals,but it is not clear what makes intelligence analysis a profes-sion. Former Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dullescalled the intelligence occupation a “craft” in his 1963 book “The Craft of Intelligence,” but whether that holds true forintelligence analysis is debatable. According to the Mer-riam Webster dictionary, a craft is “an occupation or traderequiring manual dexterity or artistic skill” whereas a pro-fession is a field that requires “specialized knowledge andoften long and intensive academic preparation.” (Merriam-Webster)This definitional distinction between a craft and a profes-sion may present a false dichotomy, however. In the infor-mation age when knowledge rather than manual dexterity orartistic skill forms the basis of many occupations, some oc-cupations require both a practical skill set and academicpreparation. In other words, they may possess characteristicsof both crafts and professions.For example, medicine possesses aspects of both craftsand professions in that it requires a substantial amount of academic training yet relies on the dexterity and skill of itspractitioners in addition to their knowledge. According toDr. Jonathan Clemente--a practicing physician and expert inthe history of medical intelligence—“while much of clinicalmedicine is firmly grounded in basic science research, thereis a substantial practical component to medical practicewhich cannot be found written in any textbook, and is in-stead passed down from attending physicians to residentphysicians to medical students. ... As a result, young medi-cal students are often admonished that medicine is an ‘artand not science,’ and this is something that is ingrained inphysicians from the beginning of medical school educa-tion.” (Clemente, 2005)Intelligence analysis is similar to the medical professionin that it requires a combination of skills acquired throughpractical experiences and specialized knowledge acquiredthrough academic training. In fact, as Dr. Clemente and Ihave argued elsewhere, intelligence analysis is very similarto medical diagnosis. (Marrin and Clemente, 2005) Al-though each field has a different substantive focus--intelligence agencies produce analysis and estimates regard-ing events in foreign countries to protect and advance theinterests of the United States, while medicine produces di-agnoses and prognoses to protect and advance the health of individuals—the similarities in processes used to analyzeand interpret data are striking.Practitioners in both fields use approximations of the sci-entific method – observation, hypothesis, experimentation,and conclusion – as a means to organize and interpret theinformation they have collected. In his book on the “Psy-chology of Intelligence Analysis,” former CIA officer Rich-ards Heuer has observed that medical diagnosis can be usedas an effective analogy for understanding how intelligenceanalysis works. (Heuer, 1999) In addition, Heuer’s “conceptof the diagnosticity of evidence as presented in the discus-sion of (the application of an analytic method--Analysis of Competing Hypotheses--to intelligence analysis) …camefrom the medical literature.” (Heuer, 2005).Both intelligence analysts and physicians use technologi-cal tools to assist them in weeding through data and discov-
Intelligence Analysis: Turning a Craft Into a Profession
Stephen Marrin
University of Virginia304 S. Courthouse Rd.Arlington, VA 22204, USA
Keywords: Building Analysts; Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination; All Source Intelligence
ering patterns, but these tools are less able to assist them ininterpreting the information and deriving meaning and im-plications. In other words, both medical diagnosis and intel-ligence analysis require critical thinking and judgment tointerpret the evidence that goes above and beyond what canbe quantified or automated. Accordingly, the accuracy of intelligence analysis or medical diagnosis may
rest in parton the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the practitioners.(Marrin and Clemente, 2005)Yet despite the similarities between the two occupationsand their possession of craft-like characteristics, medicine isa fully acknowledged profession but intelligence analysis isnot. So what makes an occupation a profession rather than acraft?In an era when almost all occupations rely on some formof specialized knowledge and academic preparation, thedistinction between “craft” and “profession” now rests lesson the dictionary definition than whether or not the occupa-tion possesses formal practices. Some
professions such aslaw and medicine possess structured practices that the othersdo not, including minimal graduate educational require-ments, a selection process consisting of a formal testingprogram, a formal training program, and continuing profes-sional development programs. In addition, these formal pro-fessions also possess mechanisms such as specialized jour-nals for acquiring knowledge about best and worst practices,enabling cumulative learning and improvement over time.Formal professions also rely on the autonomy and judg-ment of its certified practitioners, subject to standards toensure performance competency and a code of ethics thatare enforced by members of the occupation. Finally, formalprofessions have associations that define and certify therequirements necessary for entry into the profession and thestandards of professional practice. (Bates, 1994) By way of contrast, occupations without such formal practices may becalled professions but lack the formalized practices that le-gitimize the use of the term.At first glance, the discussion of craft versus professionmay appear to be academic, but there are a number of sig-nificant implications for personnel management and theaccumulation of occupational knowledge stemming fromthis categorization. Each path—craft or profession--can leadto differing personnel practices. For example, traditionalcrafts emphasize skill development through training andexperience while professions rely on a structured academiccurriculum supplemented by an apprenticeship program oron-the-job training. The distinction between craft and pro-fession can also lead to different methods for determiningquality; crafts tend to rely on word of mouth based on profi-ciency, while professions rely on externally applied certifi-cation standards that individual practitioners must meet.There are even implications regarding the ability of the oc-cupation to aggregate knowledge and learn over time. Craftsrely primarily on the skill of the individual practitioner andthis does not change from generation to generation, whileprofessions aggregate the knowledge of past practitionersand relay it to prospective entrants via their pre-professionaleducational requirements.Is intelligence analysis—which like medicine requiresboth a practical skill set and academic preparation—a craft,profession, or both?
2. Historic Craft-Based Practices
Intelligence analysis possesses some characteristics similarto those possessed by formal professions such as specializedknowledge and academic preparation, but for most of thiscentury national security intelligence analysis has been prac-ticed as a craft rather than a profession. As Jeffrey Coopernotes: “Intelligence remains a “craft culture” operatingwithin a guild and apprenticeship system—in fact, self-consciously referring to “tradecraft” for example. Such aculture builds pragmatically on accreted practices that weresuccessful in the past, lacks the strong formal epistemologyof a true discipline, and is reliant on implicit transmission of often tacit expertise and domain knowledge to novices.”(Cooper, 2004)When national security intelligence agencies were institu-tionalized after World War II, relatively few individualspracticed intelligence analysis compared to today, personnelpractices were based on an apprentice model, and individualdevelopment was more ad hoc than structured. As ProfessorWilhelm Agrell observes, the early period of intelligenceduring World War II “was followed by the "guilds," thetime of the skilled craftsmen in well-fenced, closed organi-zations.” (Agrell, 2002) Even today, intelligence analystsrefer to “tradecraft,” or the doctrine and practices used toproduce intelligence analysis. (MacEachin, 1994)During the Cold War some aspects of professionalismcrept into the intelligence analysis occupation. According tolongtime CIA officer Jack Davis this was primarily due tothe efforts of Sherman Kent whose legacy included an ana-lytic code, the beginnings of an intelligence literature withthe establishment of CIA’s intelligence journal “Studies inIntelligence,” and the creation of CIA’s Center for the Studyof Intelligence. (Davis, 2002) In 1955, Kent also argued forthe creation of a systematic intelligence literature that wouldaddress first principles and a definition of terms in order tofoster the elevated debate that is necessary to advanceknowledge in any field. (Kent, 1955) In addition, other ef-forts to advance knowledge of the intelligence analysis oc-cupation were established such as the creation of the De-fense Intelligence College, since renamed the Joint MilitaryIntelligence College, and the formation of the Associationof Former Intelligence Officers.Yet despite these improvements in professional practices,intelligence analysis did not become a formal profession. AsWilhelm Agrell notes, in the 1970s intelligence analysis was“a kind of semi-profession, resembling an early form of organized skills like a medieval guild. Here the secrets of the craft were transferred from master to apprentice througha process of initiation and sharing of silent knowledge. The
craft was not developed but reproduced; its knowledge wasstatic and the process cyclic.” (Agrell, 2002)In contrast to the legal and medical professions, even to-day intelligence analysis does not have well-defined sys-temic formal knowledge such as a coherent doctrine or the-ory, does not involve high levels of individual autonomydue to involvement of management in approving the dis-semination of most finished intelligence analysis, and doesnot have standards that are formulated or enforced by othermembers of the occupation. The various efforts to improveorganizational performance and advance knowledge such asthose advocated by Kent remained isolated from other ef-forts and the knowledge gained in one area has not beenapplied elsewhere.Essentially, intelligence analysis as an occupation is onlymarginally more professional today than it was in 1955when Sherman Kent first articulated the need for an intelli-gence literature as a foundation for an intelligence profes-sion.
3. Negative Consequences
While there may be good historical reasons for explainingwhy intelligence analysis has not developed into a formalprofession, such as its relatively small personnel base andlack of external scrutiny, the failure to professionalize hasled to great variation in the competence and skill of individ-ual analysts, uncertainty regarding the very duties of intelli-gence analysts, and an overall diminution in the role thatintelligence analysis could play in decisionmaking.The failure of intelligence analysis to become a formalprofession has led to negative consequences for nationalsecurity decisionmaking because consumers of intelligencecannot trust the reliability of the intelligence productionprocesses. A key factor in the quality of the finished intelli-gence produced is the skill and ability of the intelligenceanalyst, yet no official standards exist to ensure the compe-tency of individual analysts. Unlike the legal and medicalprofessions, intelligence analysis as practiced is unregu-lated, unstandardized, and lacking in all but the most rudi-mentary aspects of a profession.Some intelligence producers have established more rigor-ous standards and development programs than others, but inthe end each agency creates its own standards for hiring anddeveloping intelligence analysts. This inconsistency leads towidely varying analytic duties and quality of performanceboth within and between each intelligence-producing com-ponent. On one end of the scale, some analysts perform therole of information processor by sifting raw intelligencedata for possible patterns and correlations, while on theother end of the scale senior analysts engage with nationalsecurity decisionmakers to discuss on a high concept levelthe implications of various international events on US for-eign policy. The lack of a single definition for intelligenceanalysis or a defined set of practices and procedures meansthat intelligence analysts do whatever it is that they are as-signed to do, regardless of whether that entails lower-endtasks such as data processing or data correlation, or higher-end tasks such as expert evaluation and assessment.In addition, with no check on analyst competence or ana-lytic quality, intelligence consumers have no assurance thatintelligence analysis is consistently reliable. They also haveno assurance that the informal code of intelligence ethics--consisting, in essence, of both independence and objectiv-ity--has been complied with. The end result is misunder-standing and mistrust by decisionmakers of the intelligencethat is provided to them. Intelligence analysts have much tooffer decisionmakers, but the failure to hold them account-able to formal professional standards prevents their servicesfrom being fully utilized.Perhaps most importantly, however, the lack of a singleprofessional focal point for the intelligence analysis occupa-tion has led to a failure to gain cumulative knowledge andstandardized application in the discipline. As a result, bestpractices have hit or miss application across intelligenceproducing agencies, and improvements in intelligenceanalysis process are implemented in scattershot fashion.Historically, efforts to improve the practices and manage-ment of intelligence analysis have been scattershot becausethey have been administered by each individual agency ordepartment that practices intelligence analysis, and the les-sons from their implementation have been largely lost bothwithin the implementing institution and others who mightlearn from its experiences.For example, CIA's organizational reforms and improve-ments frequently result from task force recommendations orconsultations with outside experts. However, each time achange is made in structure or process, the wheel--consisting of tying existing practices to theoretical con-structs of function and purpose--is re-created. Once the rec-ommendations are made and the task force or consultancydisbanded, the lessons learned regarding the conversion of theory to practice dissipate. As a result, the field of intelli-gence management has been for the most part ahistoricalwith limited and non-cumulative knowledge of how its the-ory should be put into practice. (Marrin, 2000) As PaulJohnson—the director of CIA’s Center for the Study of In-telligence--observed in early 2005, the intelligence commu-nity does not do an adequate job recording, documenting,analyzing, or distilling lessons from its own past experi-ences. (Johnson, 2005)In essence, intelligence analysis and its management hasbeen practiced more as a craft dependent on the skill of itsindividual practitioners than a profession that aggregatesknowledge and is able to improve over time by teachingaccumulated best practices to incoming entrants. If theseproblems resulting from lack of formal practices and stan-dardization are to be overcome, greater efforts towards for-mal professionalization may be necessary.

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