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Interview with Leon Fuerth – Agents, Evolution and International Relations

This submit continues the collection of interviews I carried out throughout my dissertation research on Agent-Based mostly Modeling, intelligence evaluation and policy-making.  My interview with Leon Fuerth was the primary within the collection, and offered me a number of insights that formed my research and subsequent interviews (most of which have since been posted already).  Importantly, that is certainly one of three ultimate interviews the place the topic was not capable of evaluate the transcript and provide any clarifying remarks.  While I do consider that my write up precisely captured his feedback, it is potential that interpretive errors do exist that have not been corrected.


On September 21, 2011 I used to be fortunate sufficient to speak to Leon Fuerth (LF) about his time within the White Home, the position of models in coverage, and intelligence analysis from a shopper’s perspective.  LF served because the national safety adviser to Vice President Al Gore, and served on the Principals’ Committee of the Nationwide Safety Council, alongside the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the President’s own nationwide security adviser whereas in that place.  Previous to that, he worked for Gore within the Congress, spent eleven years within the State Department’s Overseas Service, and served in other positions inside the authorities over his more than thirty years in public service.  He’s the founder and the director of the Challenge on Ahead Engagement, which seeks to deal with long-term, complicated national security issues by means of the event of adaptive and anticipatory governance.  As well as, LF is a Analysis Professor of International Affairs on the George Washington University’s Institute for International and International Studies, and a Distinguished Analysis Fellow at the National Protection College’s Middle for Know-how and National Safety Coverage.


LF’s insights have been fairly refreshing for causes that shall be noted under.  Importantly, a unifying theme bridged all of his responses to my questions, which largely weaved collectively a sense that the world is, and will all the time be, an uncertain place the place free-will exists and frustrates policy-makers’ plans.  What follows is a synopsis of our conversation, the place solutions have been combined and reordered for narrative readability, fairly than a transcript of our dialogue.

The Roles of Models in Policymaking:

LF’s view of fashions and modeling was usually supportive, but totally different from many government sponsors or users that see models as alternatives to foretell future outcomes.  He was cautious of the concept human affairs might be predicted with excessive levels of accuracy, and thought that efforts have been higher spent employing fashions to illuminate the kinds of unintended penalties or adaptive modifications which may happen in a posh system given a specific policy selection.  Moreover, he identified the worth of working from fashions to find notably essential levers or opportunities for influencing others.

Three challenges to the use and roles fashions have been identified.  The primary challenge was sensible—coverage and modeling typically transfer at totally different paces, and the time required creating and understanding a sufficiently wealthy and complicated mannequin that is credible with decision-makers is probably not suitable with the velocity of government decision-making time-horizons.  Likewise, more and more refined purposes and explorations of models might generate extra info than policy makers can digest, putting a heavy burden on new strategies for distilling complicated fashions and their behaviors into extra acquainted codecs or new, highly environment friendly packages.

A second problem philosophical—modelers and coverage makers might turn out to be overly invested particularly models or worldviews that hinder their capacity to develop durable or strong policies.  This over vesting happens when fashions and their outcomes are confused with real-world findings.  This typically occurs on the intersection between summary theories or ideas, supported by logical fashions or deductive proofs, which are then seen as sources of coverage options to complicated problems.  LF immediately noted that many economic fashions that have pushed coverage, such as the Laffer Curve or the J-Curve.  Indeed, any model that produces a permanently valid forecast has possible been misunderstood by these advocating its software.  This definition of a model overlapped with that of a concept or abstraction, which might shortly transition from a useful cognitive assist to a deceptive and harmful supply of policy options if interpreted literally and applied uncritically.

A 3rd and related problem follows from the second—if there’s not a permanently valid and predictive mannequin of the world, then policy makers and modelers must both proceed with caution.  The notion that fashions will constantly improve and predict with higher accuracy, quite than plateau or even decline in predictive energy as conditions and behaviors change, leads to an uncomfortable argument towards free will.  Individuals are free to adapt, change their minds, behave unexpectedly, and so on.  No mannequin can capture all attainable actions and options that the actors might think about.  Furthermore, the implications that a mannequin has identified the drivers of future events implies that policy makers are powerless to alter the course of events—by which case, their actions haven’t any penalties.

Given these challenges, models can present a more supportive position by serving to illuminate various perspectives and trajectories of the international system, and focus more on understanding the sources of their dynamics than predicting outcomes.  Uncertainty and danger can’t be eliminated, however policy makers might be made increasingly conscious of their sources.  From this perspective, models might produce extra fruitful and helpful results by specializing in the exploration and illumination of potential sudden consequences, and the countermoves of others within the system that restrict policymaker’s influence or energy.

Being a Shopper of Intelligence Evaluation:

LF’s perspective on intelligence help to coverage offered a crucial counterpoint to the standard discussions of intelligence analysis that are likely to mirror a producers viewpoint.  An fascinating and problematic reality of intelligence studies and efforts to reform the group particularly, has been the concentrate on producer’s aspect of the producer/shopper relationship.  While reforms have launched new applied sciences, organizations, tips for personnel issues, and so forth., there has been little examination of how coverage makers truly use and work together with intelligence analysts.  There was a one-sided focus that shifts blame and duty onto collectors and analysts, whereas shielding policy makers from not appearing every time intelligence is just not deemed actionable.  LF’s perspective on intelligence from a shopper’s perspective offered an alternate revealed how intelligence can higher serve the wants of their clients.

To start out with, LF noted that his profession in worldwide politics preceded his time in the White House, and included time spent within the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Analysis.  He believed that this background gave him a considerable understanding how the intelligence group operated and allowed him to have a greater working relationship with the intelligence group than other policy makers who’ve spent their youth in different professions and have never dealt with the intelligence group before serving within the White Home or different senior policy-making organizations.

What largely separated LF from other policy makers was his placement of the burden on coverage makers for the success or failure of intelligence analysis.  He emphasized that the quality and utility of study he acquired was instantly correlated with the quality of the questions he asked.  Moreover, he felt that when policy makers turned indignant upon the supply of dangerous news or analysis that disagreed with their beliefs the connection could possibly be irreparably harmed.  As an alternative, continued dialogs and subsequent questions have been vital to offer analysts with a context for understanding policy-makers’ interests, and revising collection and analysis in a method that would improve its timeliness and relevance.

This view was largely distinctive from different policy makers in that LF seen interacting with the intelligence group as a chance, somewhat than a price, and he noted that analysts are likely to define their id across the potential to offer coverage makers with helpful, relevant assessments on troublesome, complicated problems.  Making analysts aware of the key challenges dealing with coverage makers, allowed them to tailor their responses to his wants.

Another distinctive function of his response related to the modeling questions as properly, and that was the assumption that intelligence serves to scale back uncertainty.  This argument is usually superior in the intelligence research literature, however might the truth is be deceptive.  Certainly, LF expressed doubts as to extent the world might be rendered knowable or predictable, so there would all the time remain a cloud of danger and uncertainty.  The existence of such epistemological limits meant that intelligence shouldn’t essentially present merchandise targeted on prediction, but relatively be able to remaining constantly engaged in the policy-making course of, tracking modifications in the worldwide system and helping coverage makers regulate their views in fluid, dynamic conditions.  In a fashion consistent with his views on asking questions, the character of producer/shopper relations is outlined by continual interplay and private relationships, not the delivery of merchandise.

A ultimate point that he made was on the velocity of coverage making and the power of the intelligence group to keep pace with the needs of decision-makers.  Once more, reiterating the significance of private and continued relations, LF famous that the a number of layers of administration in the intelligence group might typically work towards the interests of shoppers by slowing analytic production right down to the purpose that ceased to be timely.  For example, an official response to a query might take a number of days to get by way of all the paperwork, while an unofficial response could also be returned in hours.  Understandably, these layers be sure that the group speaks with one voice, and that analytic products convey the widest potential set of data and experience to bear on a problem, but LF advised that skilled analysts that have been absolutely engaged on a problem have been persistently conscious of what their friends knew and thought, and appropriately and duty caveated their unofficial assessments.  In such instances, the layers of paperwork slowed down the delivery of study to shoppers and largely served the pursuits of the producing organization, making a monitor document and assessment that protected senior managers from criticism at the expense of timeliness.  Other discussions with retired intelligence professionals point out the direct relationship between analysts and policy makers is likely one of the most troublesome and complicated relationships to handle.

Importantly, his characterization of the buyer’s perspective, nevertheless unconventional, reflected the conclusion generally reached by many intelligence students—that the relationships between producers and shoppers would be the single most essential think about determining the quality and utility of intelligence evaluation and that efforts to improve tradecraft, know-how, organizational construction, and so forth. ought to be seen via the lens of this relationship.