Intelligence Needs to be in the Room

By Ellen E. McCarthy

The role of intelligence analysis is to provide information in a timely manner to help policymakers from the President, to the Department and Agency heads and their senior leadership teams. These intelligence insights must be pertinent to what the policymakers need to know, but should not be politicized to support a particular policy outcome.  


Intelligence is not as integrated with policy as it was in the past. Today the policymaker is provided constant information updates, good and bad, from many different data sources and the demands on intelligence are far too dynamic, fast-paced and interconnected. 


The problem really lies in the current intelligence content delivery model. Dating back to the days of Sherman Kent, former OSS Research and Analysis Branch staffer, intelligence and policy were developed separately in order to maintain the objectivity of the intelligence. Even today, intelligence for the most part is shared with the policymaker during the morning stand ups/briefings where the analysts deliver their insights and then return to their offices to go about their day. This model worked well when intelligence was the only game in town and the world was much simpler, but it doesn’t work as well today. Now intelligence is much more vulnerable to politicization not because of the analyst, but because the policymaker can pick and choose parts of the information that support their viewpoint. 


The intelligence community needs to change its delivery model. The intelligence officer needs to be in the room as the policy is being developed. Also, regular feed-back mechanisms need to be created from the policy maker to the analyst to help the IC better understand the look-ahead intelligence requirements of policy makers and to garner critical feedback on the intelligence to ensure that it is pertinent to the policymakers needs. Finally, analysts need to be trained to ensure that intelligence remains unbiased and to prepare the analyst to understand the power dynamic between intelligence and policy and to make sure the intelligence is not being recrafted to support a policy outcome. 


Ellen E. McCarthy formerly served as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  

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