Rethinking Intelligence Analysis

05.08.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A paper by Jeffrey R. Cooper on “Curing Analytical Pathologies” (pdf) that was withheld from the CIA web site but posted on the Federation of American Scientists web site last week has now been downloaded tens of thousands of times, suggesting that there is widespread interest in a critical assessment of intelligence analysis.

One of the analytical techniques cited favorably by Cooper (at pp. 48-49) is called “Analysis of Competing Hypotheses” (ACH).

More information about this structured, methodologically rigorous approach to intelligence analysis was presented in a January 2000 paper (pdf) by Air Force MSgt Robert D. Folker, Jr. that was published by the Joint Military Intelligence College. The author compared it with less formal approaches and found that it offered significant advantages.

“At the heart of this controversy is the question of whether intelligence analysis should be accepted as an art (depending largely on subjective, intuitive judgment) or a science (depending largely on structured, systematic analytic methods).”

“Resolving this question is necessary to provide direction and determine an efficient and effective approach to improve analysis,” wrote MSgt. Folker.

“If qualitative intelligence analysis is an art, then efforts to improve it should focus on measuring the accuracy of one’s intuition, selecting those analysts with the best track record, and educating them to become experts in a given field.”

“If, on the other hand, qualitative intelligence analysis is a science, then analysts should be trained to select the appropriate method for a given problem from a variety of scientific methodologies and exploit it to guide them through the analytical process,” he wrote.

Based on empirical tests, the author found reasons to conclude that there is indeed a “scientific” dimension to intelligence analysis that has been neglected, and that intelligence analysis would benefit from more structured approaches.

See “Intelligence Analysis in Theater Joint Intelligence Centers: An Experiment in Applying Structured Methods” by MSgt Robert D. Folker, Jr. (USAF), Joint Military Intelligence College, January 2000.