Why an analyst is needed to mitigate the issues that arise from information abundance, and how they can curb potential intelligence failures related to information abundance

Written by Amneet Dhillon

The role that abundance of information plays in intelligence failure is that it leads to consumers of intelligence to disregard the expertise of analyst, thus relying on their own practices.

This essay will discuss the reasons why an analyst is needed to mitigate the issues that arise from information abundance, and how they can curb potential intelligence failures related to information abundance. In this time of digitalization and advanced technology, there are great amounts of information being processed by intelligence agencies across the world regarding individuals, sub-stateactors, and governments on a daily basis. Long gone are the times of insufficient data, the goal of intelligence is no longer to acquire vast amounts of information so that a more comprehensive representation of the world can be formulated as previously assumed by intelligence experts and military leaders. Aggressive intelligence acquisition does not result in better-informed government agencies or superior quality security policy. Instead, exorbitant information acquisition leads to an overload of information on both the individual and institutional levels, which in turn results in the impairment of an intelligence community to successfully do its job. This inefficiency in the gathering of intelligence eventually causes instability in the international system as a whole as it can expand the likelihood of conflict between states. Therefore, information abundance is a very real and critical intelligence problem.

Amneet Dhillon is a Political Science major and Publications minor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. Her research interest is the role and effectiveness of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.

Smith discusses the attributes of a good intelligence analyst, acknowledging the need for the analyst to understand the importance of information abundance and how “in the past, analysts often concentrated on clandestinely acquired (i.e., secret) information. Such information is important and often constitutes the IC’s ‘‘value-added’’ to policy discussion. But, in many cases, open source information is crucial to analytic judgments” (Smith 184). An abundance of this open source information can lead to an intelligence failure because, in order for the intelligence community to be of use to policymakers, they need to supply exclusive expertise that the policy community does not have or lacks, Medina explains the need for analysts in a time of information abundance, “analysts today have to add value in an era of information abundance” (George 418).

It is difficult for both producers and consumers of intelligence to sift through the information at the rapid speed and sheer volume of sources reporting. This abundance of information can be due to modern technology, and also because information comes in from so many different channels and in such high volume, one can see “data multiply with dizzying speed” (Johnson 215), how can the eyes of fallible humans keep up with this information overload? Analysts must use specialized techniques for assessing information as they have specifically developed the ability to detect unacknowledged biases in the handling of information. Mistakes and errors that untrained professionals are not even aware of in strategic culture can be avoided by analyst, moreover, consumers of intelligence are often not aware of their own cognitive biases, or common errors (objectivity, single desk officers, tunnel vision, confirmation bias, mirror images, etc.).

Due to this, information abundance creates a domino effect which makes the jobs of both policymakers and analysts more difficult. Policymakers are their own analysts (according to deputy director of intelligence analysis at CIA, Carmen Medina) and “read raw intelligence on a regular basis” (Johnson 215) “policymakers are at a higher level awareness now and “more sophisticated subscribers to intelligence products” (Johnson 215) however, they are still not as sophisticated or trained like analysts, the need for an analyst is still present even though policy makers already have information, analyst need to sift through this vast amount of information and give  “unique insights into relatively well-understood problems” (Johnson 215) “in effect, the bar is set higher for the analysts” (Johnson 215) as “they must provide an added value to policymakers who probably already have both a good sense of what is going on in their area of concern and a good feel for the significance and consequences of events that take place” (Johnson 215). Being aware of one’s cognitive predispositions is a skill that analyst have mastered and can successfully execute. There is also a difficulty for policy makers to remain politically neutral through all of this, however, analysts must also get “the straight scoop, unvarnished and politically neutral” and as a result cannot have any biases or attach their political views to their reporting. There cannot be any “partisan advocacy or opposition when providing actionable intelligence and identifying options” (Johnson 216). The politicization of intelligence can directly result in intelligence failure as “intelligence informs policy” (Jervis) as intelligence is supposed to inform policymakers so that they can construct suitable decisions on policies as “indeed, intelligence needs data, but good analysis is something more” (Lowenthal 34).

Evidence

Jervis has mentioned one possible case of politicization in Iraq, in which the intelligence community was “illegitimately influenced” (Jerivs) by the desired outcomes of policy makers- this means that there was a failure for analyst to remain politically neutral and put aside any cognitive bias, Jervis concludes that “the comparative method was not utilized, confirmation bias was rampant, alternative hypotheses were not tested, and negative evidence was ignored” (Jerivs). This means that the absence of analysts utilizing special techniques for assessing information as they have specifically developed the ability to detect unacknowledged biases in the handling of information there can be a potential intelligence failure as seen in the case of Iraq. Policymakers themselves cannot analyze intelligence just because there is an abundance of information available, there is a need for analyst to provide unique insights.

How analyst cope with the noise is an important question. It is important to understand and identify the types, strengths, and weakness of collection methods as analysts must pick what works best to overcome information abundance as selecting and validating which information is needed and which is just noise is a key function in an analyst’s job. The  differentiation between data, information and intelligence is also extremely important. To a untrained consumer they may seem the same- this would result in an abundance of information- not all of it relevant, however, an analyst can differentiate between the noise and will do so without politicizing the intelligence, or adding their own bias. Due to all this, the practice of disregarding the expertise of analysis due to the availability of an abundance of information potentially leads to an intelligence failure.

Featured image: https://thenextweb.com/contributors/2017/08/21/bring-artificial-intelligence-cloud-edge/


Bibliography

George, R., & Kline, R. (2006). Intelligence and the national security strategist : Enduring issues and challenges / edited by Roger Z. George and Robert D. Kline.

Jervis, R. (2006). Reports, politics, and intelligence failures: The case of Iraq. Journal of Strategic Studies, 29(1), 3-52.

Johnson, Loche K. (2007). Handbook of Intelligence Studies. Routledge.

Lowenthal, M. (2013). A Disputation on Intelligence Reform and Analysis: My 18 Theses. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 26(1), 31-37.

Smith, M. (2017). A Good Intelligence Analyst. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 30(1), 181-185.

Striegher, J. (2013). Early detection of the lone wolf: Advancement of counter-terrorism investigations with an absence or abundance of information and intelligence. Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, 8(1), 35-53.


Amneet Dhillon is a Political Science major and Publications minor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. Her research interest is the role and effectiveness of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.

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