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It would be nice to think so

The CIA DI leads a cheer that should be read in full:

Nearly one year ago, President Bush’s commission on weapons of mass destruction released its report identifying shortcomings in the intelligence community. Many of the commission’s judgments dealt with analysis, the discipline I lead at the CIA. The primary criticism was that our analysts were “too wedded to their assumptions” and that our tradecraft — the way we analyze a subject and communicate our findings — needed strengthening. […]

Wait for it . . .

The DI is building bench strength with highly qualified recruits to meet the demands of strategic global coverage. We brought in more new analysts in fiscal 2005 than in any year in our history, breaking our previous record by more than 50 percent. More important than the numbers, however, are the education and life experiences our employees bring to the job. Half of our applicants in process claim fluent-to-native capacity in a foreign language, and many have spent significant time in their region of specialty.

There is no more sure-fire way to “show progress” than to point to all the new asses in seats. Want some really interesting numbers? What’s the attrition rate of all these nugs? When the luster wears off, how fast do they change stripes to afford to pay for that Reston condo, stylish outfits and new Scion?

Above all, we seek to foster in each analyst a sense of individual initiative, responsibility and ownership, as well as the recognition that providing analysis vital to our national security requires challenging orthodoxy and constantly testing our assumptions. Mastering the fundamentals of tradecraft and building expertise are critical, but we also must aspire to a level of creativity and insight that allows us to look beyond the obvious and flag the unexpected. Only then can we truly fulfill our obligation to help protect the American people.

I’ve heard this speech many times in the past at several agencies and as much as I would like to believe it (God how I wish I could believe it) I still find myself shaking my head ruefully. Outsiders that find out what I used to do for a living often comment on how bad/wrong IC products tend to be and I am in the uncomfortable position of having to explain: there is a difference between what you want to write, and what you can get published. It isn’t the smart fresh young faces you have to worry about – they can be trained – it is the wizened old geezers who can’t wrap their minds around the problems of today (or tomorrow). Write a sufficiently advanced, thought-provoking, or controversial piece of work and (in a nod to Clarke) it is viewed as magic (the Voldemort-kind not the Potter-kind).

Not to beat a dead horse, but better move would be to unlock the golden handcuffs of the older generation (establish the IC Reserve and keep a few on retainer for institutional memory) and bring on more guys like Eliot, who’ve actually made the new and original work (nothing more satisfying than work that pays the mortgage despite all the experts who say its crap).

I’ll poll the old colleagues for some ground truth just to double check but off hand I can’t see how this feel-good mantra will actually bring about enlightenment.

Update: CT Blog points out another important issue.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.