Friday, June 26, 2009

U.S. Intelligence: From the Outside

Josh Kerbel writes on the Foreign Policy "The Argument" Blog:

In the last decade, globalization and interconnectivity have turned the world of information on its head. Every industry -- from journalism to telecommunications -- is hurrying to adapt, hoping to outpace the creep of irrelevance. Every industry, that is, except mine: the intelligence business. Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, we seem happy believing that our prevailing business model is not defunct -- not a relic of another time. Unless we make fundamental changes in the way we conduct our business, the relevance of intelligence can only decline.

The U.S. intelligence community still largely operates as it did during the Cold War. In general terms, it is a secret collection-centric model. Analysts prize classified information over open-source material, which inevitably leads to compartmentalization. Data availability, rather than analytical requirements, drives their analysis. Because there are no collectable facts about the future, analysts tend to focus on the present (though there is a heavy emphasis on preventing surprises, like the next September 11-style attack). And finally, the intelligence community measures success mostly by the quantity of products it produces, not by the policy outcomes those products help achieve.
This reactive model was built for yesteryear -- a more static world in which it was possible to know exactly where to look (at the Soviet Union) and why (the Cold War), access was severely restricted (secret collection was vital), and warning (especially of military action) was of the upmost importance.

Today's more complex strategic environment offers few, if any, of those characteristics.

More here.


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