The Intelligence Community is Broken
Senator Angus King (I-Maine) calls out the leaders of the Intelligence Community
If you missed it Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, last week vigorously questioned the representatives from the Intelligence Community (IC) about their assessment that the Russians would take Kiev in three days and that the people of Ukraine would not put up much of a fight. His questions were spot on, and he had every right to be concerned about the quality of the current intelligence he and other members of Congress are receiving. CIA and DIA got it completely wrong. Only INR at the Department of State, the smallest all source intelligence agency, raised a note of caution citing recent polling data that indicated that the people of Ukraine were prepared to put up stiff resistance to a Russian invasion.
May I suggest he or a member of is staff follow up with a request for the IC to share with him the latest “research” study on the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian Military. My guess is there is not one. We stopped doing detailed studies years ago. It was a principal reason that CIA and DIA were so wrong on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002, and their more recent embarrassing assessments on Russia and the Ukraine.
Until people recognize that the quality of current reporting must be based on a solid body of detailed research studies, what I call micro-studies, we will continue to make critical misjudgments when it counts the most. Thank goodness for INR that continues to champion expertise among its analysts or even more of our current intelligence products would suffer. As good as INR is at current reporting, however, it cannot substitute for the complete lack of a healthy vibrant strategic research effort at CIA and DIA.
Years ago, CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence contained five major offices: The Office of Political Research (OPR); The Office of Economic Research (OER); The Office of Strategic Research (OSR, where I served as a China military analyst); The Office of Missiles and Space Research (OMS); and the Office of Current Intelligence (OCI). Beginning with cutbacks in the IC budget during the Clinton Administration virtually all the research staff were let go or moved to an expanded Office of Current Intelligence organized by geographic regions.
Since that time the IC only produces current reporting based solely on the best guesses made by the many smart people at CIA, DIA, and INR fighting over the few new scraps coming from the world’s finest team of collectors daily. Unfortunately, you cannot produce high quality reports for senior officials like Senator King or the President without a solid research effort to back them up.
Right now, every analyst in the IC is seeking to see their views appear in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). If they don’t succeed, they are hoping to have better luck tomorrow. Obviously, the PDB and the assessments shared with the Congress should receive a high priority, but I would hope they want the best quality reports. That is not possible today. Indeed, I often say that you could send half of the current intelligence analysts to the dark side of the moon, and nobody would even know they were missing. The PDB would get published and briefings made to the Congress without any loss of quality. In short, we have too many writing current reports and no one doing research.
If you want to judge the quality of intelligence look to the ratio of analysts creating current reports with those who are writing micro-studies mostly for other analysts. My best guess is that you should have four researchers to support one current reporter. Admittedly, few senior officials will get much value from micro-studies. They are too narrowly focused and written exclusively for other researchers. Just the point: These studies create the new knowledge necessary for producing quality assessments for current reports to Senator King and other senior officials. Without them the next big intelligence failure is just around the corner.