Dr. Stephen Marrin is a Lecturer in the Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University in London. He previously served as an analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency and US Government Accountability Office. Dr. Marrin has written about many different aspects of intelligence analysis, including new analyst training at CIA‘s Sherman Kent School, the similarities and differences between intelligence analysis and medical diagnosis, and the professionalization of intelligence analysis. In 2004 the National Journal profiled him as one of the ten leading US experts on intelligence reform.
Abstract: Each of the criteria most frequently used to evaluate the quality of intelligence analysis has limitations and problems. When accuracy and surprise are employed as absolute standards, their use reflects unrealistic expectations of perfection and omniscience. Scholars have adjusted by exploring the use of a relative standard consisting of the ratio of success to failure, most frequently illustrated using the batting average analogy from baseball.Unfortunately even this relative standard is flawed in that there is no way to determine either what the batting average is or should be. Finally, a standard based on the decision makers’ perspective is sometimes used to evaluate the analytic product’s relevance and utility. But this metric, too, has significant limitations. In the end, there is no consensus as to which is the best criteria to use in evaluating analytic quality, reflecting the lack of consensus as to what the actual purpose of intelligence analysis is or should be.
Evaluating the quality of intelligence analysis is not a simple matter. Frequently quality is defined not by its presence but rather by its absence. When what are popularly known as intelligence failures occur, sometimes attention focuses on flaws in intelligence analysis as a contributing factor to that failure.
On the afternoon of 9 April 1948, angry mobs suddenly and swiftly reduced the main streets of Bogotá to a smoking ruin. Radio broadcasts, at times with unmistakable Communist content, called for the overthrow of the Colombian government and of “Yankee Imperialism.” Many rioters wore red arm bands; some waved banners emblazoned with the hammer-and-sickle. A mob gutted the main floor of the Capitola Nacional, disrupting the deliberations of the Ninth International Conference of American States and forcing Secretary of State Marshall and the other delegates to take cover. The army regained control of the city over the next day or two. But not before several thousand Colombians had been killed. It was the bogotazo.
Others, notably Dr. Loch Johnson, de facto dean of the intelligence scholars in the English language, have explored both definitions and concepts for a theory of intelligence. Others, such as Jack Davis, have done much in the area of analytic tradecraft or the “art” of intelligence analysis (to match the “art” in clandestine operations and covert action).
Now the time has come to develop a science of intelligence. The first casualty must of necessity be the obsession with secret sources and methods, secret agencies, and secret clients. Intelligence is about decision-support, plain and simple, and the new science of intelligence will be developed along the lines of the services science developed by Dr. Jim Spohrer of IBM, and others. Dr. Spohrer provided the below in an email exchange today:
(1) “you can have a science of anything, if a community agrees it is important”
(2) “innovations that are based on sciences, not just management and engineering practice, can be advanced more systematically”
(3) “industry cares about innovation acceleration, can academia deliver a science? does the engineering and management exist in practice”
(4) “academia said we can establish a research area to help build the science under the engineering and management practice.”
A round-table is being formed and a new article will result.