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A Guide for Intelligence Analysts

LBJ School - The University of Texas at Austin

It’s three:30 pm in a dimly lit cubicle farm someplace in Northern Virginia. You’re a strategic, all-source intelligence analyst and have been sitting at your pc all day eagerly awaiting suggestions from U.S. policymakers on the analytic masterpiece you lastly revealed final night time. You spent weeks, if not months, perfecting the piece. Right now is the day to take in all of the kudos.

You crafted a transparent and compelling analytic framework and employed refined analytic methods to determine key drivers and future situations for the safety and political state of affairs in a crucial overseas nation. Your doc survived a number of assaults from the “good concept fairy” of remark and suggestion throughout coordination and assessment and circumnavigated the “happy-to-glad” editorial circuit a number of occasions over to emerge virtually solely intact out of your unique draft. It’s well-written, strongly argued, logically flawless, completely sourced, and has shiny graphics. And at this time it was prominently featured in policymakers’ morning readbook. From the White Home to the Pentagon and over to the State Division, your coverage shoppers are going to adore it. As your managers and cubicle mates start heading out the door (visitors is admittedly choosing up on the Beltway), you stay wedded to your achievement award– and problem coin-adorned desk, ready for that very important policymaker suggestions to return in. However it by no means does.

Your workplace briefer informs you that the majority of your clients have been in conferences all day and took solely a fast look on the ebook. A number of learn your piece “with curiosity,” i.e. scanned the subject sentences to get the gist. Others skipped the temporary altogether. And tomorrow’s e-book is already full with the subsequent spherical of merchandise. You gave weeks of time and thought to your piece, however coverage clients gave it solely a minute. Annoyed, demoralized, and dealing with a 10-mile, two-hour commute residence, you sign off for the night time (four:45 pm). As you start your 30-minute stroll to your automotive, your thoughts drifts to the existential: If intelligence evaluation is written however no one reads it, does it exist?

Sadly, this dramatic scene happens too regularly in cubicle farms and parking tons throughout the U.S. intelligence group, and it’s one I’ve reenacted many occasions in my profession. However I’ve additionally seen nice intelligence officers routinely ship well timed, related, and high-impact evaluation to policymakers. Based mostly on the insights of former intelligence and coverage officers and my very own expertise, I supply this “how-to” information for analysts to be extra related to U.S. nationwide safety coverage and higher serve policymakers. Like episode certainly one of this collection, I give attention to the working-level of the nationwide safety paperwork. Beginning with incessantly requested questions, I search to offer analysts a greater understanding of who these policymakers are, what they do, and what they want from intelligence. I then supply a easy eight-step program for analysts to undertake to do their half in bridging the intelligence-policy divide.

Incessantly Requested Questions

Query: What’s coverage?

Reply: Coverage is what your evaluation informs. For you, it’s each the place america adopts on a nationwide safety difficulty and the method that generated the choice.

Coverage is the U.S. goal, guideline, or plan of action the president and cabinet-level  officers of the Nationwide Safety Council choose towards a overseas nation or challenge; e.g. ought to the USA interact and encourage political opposition towards an authoritarian regime? What arms do we offer to a associate nation, and the way far are we prepared to go to help their army operations? It’s this senior-most degree of coverage deliberation that you’re accustomed to serving by way of the intelligence group’s flagship product, the “President’s Day by day Temporary.”

However a given coverage is simply the culminating tip of an iceberg of course of main as much as a senior-level choice: sure, the interagency course of, orchestrated by means of the Nationwide Safety Council system (in most administrations). On the coronary heart of the method is the interagency coverage committee, the place assistant and deputy assistant secretary-level officers (sometimes) debate, hone, and tee up coverage choices for the Deputies Committee, then the Principals Committee, after which the complete president-chaired Nationwide Safety Council assembly to think about for choice. However even earlier than the interagency coverage committee comes the sub-committee, the place the actual grunt work of policymaking is completed. Working-level coverage administrators analyze the state of play, generate potential coverage responses, assess their execs and cons, advocate for his or her division’s equities, and set the desk for senior officers to formalize choices and proposals.

It’s right here, on the interagency political committee degree and sub-level, the place analysts can have probably the most impression and inform coverage from the bottom up. If coverage impression is what ye search, let the interagency course of be your information. Know the method. Belief the method. Embrace the method. Dare I say, adore it.

Query: The place are the important thing policymakers on this magical interagency course of?

Reply: The Nationwide Safety Council, the State Division, and the Protection Division. Nevertheless it goes a lot deeper than that.

Whereas many departments and businesses play key roles for particular points, such because the Division of Power for nuclear proliferation and the Treasury Division for counter-terrorism, three coverage entities type the core of the interagency coverage course of: the Nationwide Safety Council, the State Division, and the Protection Division. However inside these broad coverage kingdoms are a myriad of coverage fiefdoms, and the difficulty you analyze is probably going unfold amongst them.

The Nationwide Safety Council is split into senior directorates by area (e.g. Center East or East Asia) and performance (e.g. counter-proliferation or humanitarian help). Senior administrators function particular assistants to the president, orchestrate the interagency course of, and oversee a employees of administrators specializing in particular nations or points. Senior administrators might play the position of coverage arbiter, in search of interagency consensus or taking impartial positions on numerous choices to serve as much as deputies, or coverage advocate, selling a specific plan of action, with many shades in between.

The State Division is organized into assistant secretary-led “bureaus” reporting to an undersecretary, with Political Affairs on the coronary heart of day-to-day overseas coverage. Regional bureaus sometimes lead the State Division’s interagency group and supply the diplomatic perspective on how numerous insurance policies would influence bilateral relations and the spectrum of U.S. pursuits. However for any given coverage, the State Division’s useful bureaus may even have a voice, comparable to for humanitarian assist or weapons gross sales. As will the bevy of particular envoys for cross-cutting points. And the secretary’s employees.

The Protection Division is (at the very least) two entities: the civilians of the Workplace of the Secretary of Protection and the uniformed army of the Joint Employees. Assistant and deputy assistant secretaries present the interagency the safety perspective on coverage choices, assessing the influence on protection relationships and regional technique for his or her swath of the globe. The Joint Employees supplies policymakers army recommendation, on the providers’ capability to operationalize and execute the army points of coverage. Removed from a “Protection” monolith, the Workplace of the Secretary of Protection and Joint Employees differ not solely in what they put on but in addition, not so occasionally, in what they consider a given coverage.

Sure, with broad competing alliances and a kaleidoscope of shifting factions amongst them, the coverage combatants within the State of affairs Room can typically resemble the conflicts they cowl. However for intelligence analysts, understanding who the important thing gamers and sub-players are for his or her problem throughout the interagency is essential in figuring out potential coverage clients and producing analytic impression.

Query: However who’re the individuals doing this policymaking?

Reply: They’re identical to you! However with far more to cowl.

Nicely, senior administrators and assistant and deputy assistant secretaries usually are not actually such as you. They’re (sometimes) extremely certified political appointees and profession civil servants of ambassador, senior government service, and common officer rank. Additionally they have nice parking areas. However they’re such as you in that they’re (sometimes) specialists of their area, with deep experience from academia, assume tanks, or earlier authorities service. The breadth of their portfolios and countless calls for from the interagency and their very own principals, nevertheless, leaves little bandwidth for anybody difficulty.

However the sub-interagency coverage committee degree? They’re identical to you — in rank, expertise, educational coaching, and space information. On the State Division, desk officers in D.C. are a mixture of civil and overseas service officers that assist craft overseas coverage, whereas embassy-based overseas service officers implement it within the subject. Coverage administrators within the Workplace of the Secretary of Protection are primarily civil servants, joined by political appointees and interagency detailees to fill in gaps. Joint Employees J5 are field-grade officers, serving a hardship Pentagon employees tour earlier than heading again to the sector or to command. Nationwide Safety Council administrators are principally the identical people as above as detailees comprise a lot of the employees. The working-level wonks are additionally such as you in that the essence of the job is identical: to learn, write, and temporary on their matter.

The place they differ is the quantity they should cowl and the velocity at which they need to do it. When you cowl the army of 1 nation, your coverage peer could also be liable for all army, political, and financial coverage for that and perhaps a number of different nations. When you spend two to 3 weeks crafting a bit of “present” completed intelligence on that military’s battlefield efficiency, your coverage director might have two to 3 days, and even hours, to draft coverage choices on all U.S. army and financial help to the nation after which drive it by way of the interagency course of for choice and motion.

The mid-level policymaker wants your information and perspective to assist them steer by means of the fast-moving coverage churn and put pressing coverage decisions into the larger strategic image. However they want your evaluation to be related to the coverage state of play, they usually want it early and sometimes all through the method. They want you and your experience within the room. Don’t let it arrive too late.

Query: Why don’t they learn my stuff?

Reply: As a result of they’ve numerous stuff.

Your coverage peer’s day is a whirling dervish of staffing, representing, writing, and briefing throughout a number of challenge areas and typically worldwide codes. They attend or “+1” their boss at interagency conferences, combine key takeaways right into a “readahead” paper earlier than a deputies or principals committee, craft their very own place or analytic “white” paper, and temporary all of it to their principals, who typically make the director’s evaluation their primary argument within the State of affairs Room. They employees stated principals for his or her ceaseless engagements outdoors the interagency — writing speaking factors for conferences with overseas leaders, setting agendas for bilateral negotiations and multilateral boards, and travelling with their boss to offer real-time experience. Additionally they coordinate with workplaces throughout their group, from public affairs to congressional outreach, authorized counsel, and finances. They usually write all of it up.

Their inbox is bursting from not solely the countless paper path accompanying the above conferences, but in addition a firehouse of informational and intelligence “visitors.” Policymakers obtain diplomatic cables and army stories from the sector, related journalist and think-tank items, completed intelligence from the alphabet of intelligence businesses, and sometimes the identical uncooked intelligence that feeds into your evaluation. They obtain all of this day by day and throughout a number of classification ranges and techniques.

You, the analyst, are thus competing for the policymaker’s time and bandwidth and have to clarify your analytic worth added. Is it a strategic lens to see by way of a disaster? Essential perception on a overseas chief? Whereas some policymakers will learn your evaluation regardless, others might begin to tune you out after one redundant piece, anodyne backside line, and lackluster briefing too many or in case you present evaluation that’s routinely overcome by occasions, irrelevant to present coverage deliberations, or simply as simply present in a newspaper.

Eight Steps to Coverage Relevance

So how can intelligence analysts be extra related to the U.S. nationwide safety coverage course of? Contemplate adopting the next eight-step program for analytic influence. Drawn from the insights of former senior intelligence group, White Home, State Division, and Protection Division officers, these steps may help you identify what to write down, who to put in writing for, how one can write it, tips on how to ship it, and the way to forge a fruitful, lasting partnership with policymakers.

  1. Take the initiative: Policymakers, as you realize, might lack intelligence on intelligence. They could not know who within the intelligence group does what, who does what greatest, and tips on how to attain people who do. Inform them. Clarify who you’re, what you cowl, what you produce, why it’s distinctive and related, and tips on how to keep related. Even higher, supply up tailor-made analytic merchandise and deep-dive briefs, notably for policymakers new to the gig. Sure, you’re an analyst, however you’re an intelligence officer first. Recruit them.
  2. Know the coverage, know the method: Now that policymakers know who you’re, get and keep contained in the coverage loop. Get on policymakers’ e mail chains and dissemination listervs. Know when a coverage is being reviewed, what choices are being thought-about, and when and the place the interagency shall be assembly to debate them. Know which workplaces inside the Nationwide Safety Council, State Division, Workplace of the Secretary of Protection, Joint Employees, and different departments are the important thing gamers, what are their equities, and what sort of intelligence and evaluation they’ll discover most related and useful.
  3. Be strategic, be prepared for the tactical: The policymaker lives in a day-to-day, typically hour-by-hour world. Assist them zoom out from the near-term disaster, put fast-moving occasions into context, and minimize via the tactical fog to the strategic horizon. On the similar, whereas policymakers say they don’t need their intelligence to be a “categorised CNN,” they inevitably ask for simply that in a disaster. Be on prime of the army and diplomatic state of play and have probably the most up-to-date info to subject short-fuse taskings for pressing coverage selections.
  4. Present alternatives, pull no punches: Your over-worked, myopia-riddled coverage peer is dying for artistic concepts on find out how to make a coverage efficient. Don’t be afraid to offer them. You’re well-equipped to evaluate companions’ amenability and adversaries’ vulnerability to programs of motion with out slipping into coverage prescription. But proximity can breed familiarity and even sycophancy, with coverage entry inviting coverage affect and goal evaluation sliding into coverage validation. Resist in any respect prices the urge to melt a backside line as a result of it’s inconvenient for policymakers. The very last thing they should succeed is for the intelligence group to be a bunch of yes-men.
  5. Market your materials: Don’t simply wait and hope that your evaluation makes it to the coverage buyer. Attain out to them or their senior employees instantly and inform them when a very necessary piece of study is coming. “Tee up” the piece, explaining what it’s and why it’s well timed and related. To maximise your viewers, contemplate creating a number of variations of your product at totally different classification ranges. Policymakers typically complain about intelligence being overclassified, however you realize greatest what is assessed and at what degree.
  6. Hit the street, maintain your floor: Studying and writing is ok and good, however for actual impression, take your evaluation proper to the policymaker and temporary it. Clients respect you making the arduous cross-town journey and should get extra out of a one-hour deep dive than from weeks of readbooks. In the event that they disagree together with your evaluation, lean in and embrace the talk. They could have a unique perspective or various evaluation that’s compelling and helpful. Alas, some policymakers will dispute your evaluation it doesn’t matter what you say, viewing it as a critique of their coverage. Be skilled however stand your analytic floor. Whereas they could be an envoy, assistant secretary, or common officer, you’re the professional and know the fabric higher than they do. Apart from, the State of affairs Room can deal with a bit of bureaucratic infighting.
  7. Get on the bottom: Get outdoors of Washington and spend a while within the overseas area. Being on the bottom will provide you with a firsthand perspective on how coverage is carried out and operations are carried out — and the way intelligence evaluation is used to assist execute them. Subject expertise provides you with credibility again house with policymakers inclined to dismiss your evaluation because the work of simply one other Beltway analyst. It’ll additionally allow you to construct connections throughout the interagency, creating future clients if you end up again in Washington.
  8. Get within the saddle: Probably extra hazardous than the struggle zone, think about a coverage tour. Serving as a briefer offers you firsthand perception into how clients use (or don’t use) evaluation. Even higher, a coverage rotation as a rustic or situation director supplies a full-on coverage and interagency immersion whereas increasing your breadth of experience. Additionally, you will function a essential bridge between coverage and the intelligence group and unlock new clients in your teammates again house. Sure, there might be occasions when the coverage churn is disorienting and their ad-hoc-at-best inner processes bewildering. However the coverage expertise may also be exhilarating and supply essential classes and very important connections to final a whole profession.


Now that you recognize who policymakers are and the way greatest to serve them, you, the analyst, merely shouldn’t have the time to ponder the existential — and positively not whereas crying in a parking zone at 5 pm. You’re placing the ultimate touches on a paper that gives reasonable situations for the nation you cowl, clear-eyed implications of attainable programs of motion, and actionable alternatives for policymakers. You generated this tailor-made however goal evaluation based mostly on the collection of interagency you briefed. You have been invited to those conferences as a result of when disaster hit, you reached out, stayed late to stroll your coverage peer by way of the intel image, and wrote a next-day analytic product that was crucial in informing the White Home’s response. As you head out the door, you seize your passport since you take off the subsequent day to go temporary senior U.S. diplomats and army commanders within the nation you cowl, and who’re grateful for the customized intelligence help you routinely present.

You might have mastered the artwork of being within the room however not of the room, gaining entry and viewers to the inner-most sanctums of U.S. overseas coverage whereas sustaining the strictest of analytic integrity and independence. You’re not simply one other anonymous intelligence monkey churning out generic product. Since you, my analyst good friend, are related to coverage.


Brian Katz is a Visiting Fellow on the Middle for Strategic and Worldwide Research and a Council on Overseas Relations Worldwide Affairs Fellow. He’s a profession civil servant within the nationwide safety subject, serving in quite a lot of positions throughout the coverage and intelligence communities over the previous decade.

Disclaimer: The writer is an worker of the USA authorities, presently on depart from his employment. This doesn’t represent an official launch of U.S. Authorities info. All statements of reality, opinion, or evaluation expressed are these of the writer and don’t mirror the official positions or views of the U.S. Authorities. Nothing within the contents must be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Authorities authentication of data or endorsement of the writer’s views. This materials has been reviewed solely for classification.

Picture: Central Intelligence Company

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