Assessing the Tradecraft of Intelligence Analysis by Gregory F. Treverton, C. Bryan Gabbard

RAND Corporation Technical Report

Most public discussions of intelligence address operations—the work of spymasters and covert operators. Current times, in the wake of September 11th and the intelligence failure in the runup to the war in Iraq, are different.1 Intelligence analysis has become the subject. The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission was direct, and damning, about intelligence analysis before the Iraq war: “This failure was in large part the result of analytical shortcomings; intelligence analysts were too wedded to their assumptions about Saddam’s intentions.” To be sure, in the Iraq case, what the United States did or did not collect, and how reliable its sources were, were also at issue. And the focus of post mortems on pre-September 11th was, properly, mainly on relations between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and on the way the FBI did its work. But in both cases, analysis was also central. How do the various agencies perform the tradecraft of intelligence analysis, not just of spying or operations? How is that task different now, in the world of terrorism, especially Islamic Jihadist terrorism, than in the older world of the Cold War and the Soviet Union?

The difference is dramatic and that difference is the theme of this report. The United States Government asked RAND to interview analysts at the agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community and ask about the current state of analysis. How do those analytic agencies think of their task? In particular, what initiatives are they taking to build capacity, and what are the implicit challenges on which those initiatives are based? Our charter was broad enough to allow us to include speculations about the future of analysis, and this report includes those speculations. This report is a work in progress because many issues—the state of tradecraft and of training and the use of technology and formal methods—cry out for further study. This report was long delayed in the clearance process. It has been updated and remains a useful baseline in assessing progress as the Intelligence Community confronts the enormous challenges
it faces.