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(2007) 821-846. (827-829)
A GENERAL THEORY OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS Intelligence analysis exists in a variety of domains such as national security, law enforcement, and business, as well as in non-state actors such as multinational corporations and terrorist groups, but a single general theory of intelligence analysis can be used to explain why they exist and what they do in each of the domains. The core concepts of this theory are contained in a general theory of intelligence analysis that is based on the premise that information or intelligence can enable the application of power with greater efficiency or effectiveness. Properly understood, the role of intelligence is to collect information and analyze it as a way to produce knowledge about a competitor or adversary. The primary benefit of intelligence is that it enables power to be applied with greater precision and with less collateral damage. Or, put another way, according to David Kahn ± an intelligence historian ± µthe function of intelligence is to optimize resources¶.21 Despite its simplicity, this explanation provides the rationale for the creation of every intelligence organization and collection operation. Contrary to Francis Bacon¶s oft-quoted maxim, knowledge ± or intelligence ± is not power. Knowledge alone is powerless.22 Instead, to paraphrase sociologist Robert Dahl, power entails the ability to change another¶s behavior to do something they otherwise would not have done.23 This kind of power can be applied through threat or use of force, through promises of wealth or threats to bankrupt, or through social or political pressure. Power ± any kind of power ± can be applied in two ways; offensive and defensive.24 The defensive applications involve attempts to prevent the competitor ± or other factors ± from harming its interests or impeding its ability to reach its positive goals. The offensive applications, on the other hand, involve attempts to shape its environment towards the actor¶s advantage. Knowledge derived partly from intelligence on the competitor¶s capabilities and intentions ± usually something kept secret ± and the context in which the competitor operates can make the application of power more accurate and efficient. There needs to be only two factors for an intelligence function to exist; power and competition. Intelligence capabilities serve the same function regardless of whether they are applied in the context of football games,25 national security, foreign policy, law enforcement, or business. For example, satellite imagery provides military planners with precise information regarding the location of enemy military installations and terrorist training camps, and military force can be applied more precisely once this information is provided to bomber pilots or programmed into cruise missiles. The failure of intelligence to provide correct information also illustrates its importance in applying power with precision and preventing collateral damage, such as the May 1999 inadvertent bombing of China¶s Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, due to faulty intelligence. This same dynamic regarding the importance of using accurate information in the application of power and the consequences arising from acting on inaccurate information exist in every other area where power co-exists with competition. Advances in technology can affect this dynamic between power and intelligence in at least four different ways; by making the power applied greater; by making the speed of power application faster; by enabling the collection and analysis of greater volumes of information; and by enabling the information or knowledge to be provided to decision-makers faster.26 Growth in the destructive capabilities of technology will make the importance of intelligence 1
Stephen Marrin. Intelligence Analysis Theory: Explaining and Predicting Analytic Responsibilities. Intelligence and National Security. 22:6. (2007) 821-846. (827-829) that much greater, and growth in the information transmission capabilities of technology will require tighter and tighter linkages between it and the decision-making function. As just indicated, intelligence is a part of a larger decision-making process. In the 1960s, Sir Geoffrey Vickers ± a well-respected systems analyst and conceptualizer ± articulated a framework for understanding the steps in the decision-making process.27 Vickers lays out a vision of the world in which each individual or organization is tied to many others through many different kinds of relationships. In this world, the process of decision-making entails monitoring both internal and external relations and comparing the current status with the norms and standards set for the relations. If the monitoring uncovers a disparity between the two, then actions are considered to resolve the difference. In this complex vision, any description of a set of relationships is only a snapshot of a dynamically shifting reality that constantly changes due to both internal and external forces. Intelligence provides an actor with the knowledge necessary to understand and subsequently manipulate these relationships using whatever power is available, regardless of whether the change is internal or external, or whether the goal is offensive or defensive. However, while this general theory of intelligence analysis may apply in each of the intelligence domains cited above, it must be adapted to the particularities of foreign intelligence analysis. 21 David Kahn, µAn Historical Theory of Intelligence¶, Intelligence and National Security 16 (Autumn 2001) pp.79±92. This is a slightly updated version of his 1995 article µToward a Theory of Intelligence¶, Military History Quarterly 7/2, pp.92±7. 22 This is best illustrated with reference to the institutions that possess more knowledge than most others: institutions of higher learning. While these institutions may have some ability to influence, very few of them possess any real power. 23 Robert Dahl, µThe Concept of Power¶, Behavioral Science 2 (1957) pp.201±15. 24 In 1949, Sherman Kent addressed this offensive/defensive distinction in a foreign intelligence context when he observed that µstrategic intelligence . . . serves two uses: it serves a protective or defensive use in that it forewarns us of the designs which other powers may be hatching to the damage of our national interests; and it serves a positive or outgoing use in that it prepares the way for our own active foreign policy or grand strategy¶. Kent, Strategic Intelligence, p.151. 25 For a short overview of the role of deception in football, and how µsome of the tactics used in American professional football . . . appear to be drawn from the precepts of intelligence¶, see Alan Furst, µAutumn Deceptions¶, Intelligence Quarterly 2/3 (1986) pp.4±5. 26 For background on the role of technology in intelligence, see Kevin M. O¶Connell, µThe Role of Science and Technology in Transforming American Intelligence¶ in Peter Berkowitz (ed.) The Future of American Intelligence (Hoover Institution Press 2005) pp.139±75. In addition, according to Michael Handel, the growth in technology was a key factor in the development of military intelligence. See Michael I. Handel, µIntelligence and the Problem of Strategic Surprise¶, The Journal of Strategic Studies 7/3 (1984) p.233. 27 Geoffrey Vickers, The Art of Judgment: A Study of Policy Making (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications 1995) pp.50±51, 54.
Stephen Marrin. Intelligence Analysis Theory: Explaining and Predicting Analytic Responsibilities. Intelligence and National Security. 22:6. (2007) 821-846. (827-829) A THEORY OF FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS Developing a theory of intelligence that explains and predicts foreign intelligence analysis responsibilities entails using foreign policies as the driver of intelligence requirements. But first it is important to frame the issue at the appropriate level of analysis, which is organizational within a governmental context. Locating Intelligence within the Governmental Decision-making Process In applying Vickers¶ framework to the role of intelligence in the foreign policymaking process, institutionalized intelligence monitors the external system for foreign policymakers, and alerts them to changes in the dynamic balance of relationships. Vickers described this kind of monitor as µa watchdog on a chain; he can bark and alert the householder, but he cannot bite¶.28 In other words, while intelligence analysts can provide decisionmakers with warning about the threats that might affect US interests ± and opportunities to advance those interests ± only decision-makers can decide what to do about the situation at hand. In addition, for decision-making to be effective, there must be close coordination between the intelligence analysts ± who interpret the meaning of the facts ± and decision-makers ± who decide their importance. As Vickers observes, µfacts are relevant only in relation to some judgment of value, and judgments of value are operative only in relation to some configuration of fact¶.29 Harvard University historian Ernest May has adapted Vickers¶ decisionmaking framework into a simple process that all decision-makers ± regardless of portfolio or discipline ± go through in which they ask three specific questions: µWhat is going on?¶, µSo what?¶ (or µWhat difference does it make?¶); and µWhat is to be done?¶ The better the process of executive judgment, the more it involves asking the questions again and again, not in set order, and testing the results until one finds a satisfactory answer to the third question ± µwhat to do¶.30 National security policymakers generally follow the decision-making process laid out by Ernest May, but information does not flow directly into a policymaker¶s head from firstperson experience. Rather, information is collected, filtered, analyzed and disseminated in an organizational context, and any assessment of the role that intelligence plays in national security decision-making must also address the role that those organizations play. Specifically, using concepts derived from organizational theorist Anthony Downs regarding the separation of search, analysis, and evaluation in organizations, it is possible to place the role of intelligence organizations within a broader decision-making environment.31 Organizations exist because no national security policymaker can handle all the decisionmaking functions unaided, and as a result delegation and aggregation are necessary. In terms of national security decision-making, information acquisition, assessment, and implementation tasks have been carved off from the primary decision-making functions, leading to functional differentiation between policymaking departments and ministries and intelligence organizations that capitalize on efficiencies arising from organizational economies of scale and scope. In May¶s three-step adaptation of Vickers¶ framework, intelligence organizations perform a delegated function, by either finding out what is going on (collection), or determining what it means (analysis), or both. Decision-makers, on the other hand, engage in all three steps, focusing their attention on what to do about the situation at hand.32 3
Stephen Marrin. Intelligence Analysis Theory: Explaining and Predicting Analytic Responsibilities. Intelligence and National Security. 22:6. (2007) 821-846. (827-829) The most powerful governmental decision-makers and their staffs stand in the middle of a large organizational system geared to provide them with information, analysis, and policy options.33 In order to understand what is going on in the world around them, these top decision-makers have two parallel organizational systems set up to provide them with national security and foreign policy information. The first system consists of policy departments or ministries structured around certain functions such as military defense or diplomacy. These organizations engage in all three of the decisionmaking steps described above by acquiring information overtly, integrating it with information collected covertly, assessing its meaning, and creating policy options. These policy organizations also make operational and tactical decisions to implement various aspects of policy. The other information system consists of intelligence agencies that provide decision-makers with specialized information collected covertly and sometimes ± depending on the specific organizational arrangement ± analysis regarding the meaning and implications of that information in terms of national interests. 28 Vickers, 225±6. 29 Vickers, 54. 30 Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler¶s Conquest of France (New York: Hill and Wang 2000) pp.458±9. 31 For Anthony Downs¶ description of the µbasic processes of decision¶ in an organization, see Anthony Downs, Inside Bureaucracy (Boston: Little, Brown and Company 1967) 175±6. 32 Because of this overlap in function, Roger Hilsman pointed out that both intelligence and decision-making do the same kind of work, and need the same information, knowledge, method, and skills. Hilsman, µIntelligence and Policy-Making in Foreign Affairs¶, p.33.
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