Analysis blog Intelligence Intelligence Analysis National Security Paul Pillar Policy Producer/Consumer Relations

Interview with Paul Pillar from Georgetown University – Agents, Evolution and International Relations


I met with Professor Paul Pillar (PP) of Georgetown University on February 1, 2012 to debate intelligence evaluation, analytic methodology, and producer/shopper relations as part of my ongoing dissertation analysis.  The conversation was illuminating in several ways, notably with respect to relations between analysts and policymakers.  PP joined Georgetown University after a 28-year career in the US intelligence group, and additionally maintains a superb blog on current overseas coverage and nationwide security issues.

Dialog Summary and Thoughts:

I started out our dialog with a number of basic questions relating to the connection between analysts and policymakers, additionally known as producer/shopper relations within the intelligence literature.  I used to be notably in the ways relations between the two affect how analysts go about their work, and select methodologies of their effort to deal with the needs and interests of policymakers.

PP noted much of the challenge for intelligence analysts is a result of the busy and dynamic nature of policymakers’ duties.  Whereas most of the idealizations of intelligence work assume that policymakers can articulate their intelligence must analysts and collectors, he noted that actuality is way extra complicated.  Policymakers’ ideas, pursuits, and ideas about points can evolve shortly and unexpectedly.  This makes it troublesome for them to anticipate exactly what their intelligence wants are or might be sooner or later.  Moreover, because policymakers have little time, they can’t all the time educate themselves on the issues that intelligence analysts have experience on.  Alternatively, intelligence analysts can’t replicate the dynamic demands on policymakers, that are crucial to understanding how shoppers’ concepts, wants, and views will evolve.

A follow-on question was on the differences between what qualifies a high-quality completed intelligence product inside the intelligence group compared amongst their policymaking shoppers.  PP famous that internally, features such as the intellectual cogency and magnificence of an assessment are deemed essential.  Alternatively, shoppers might care extra concerning the usefulness of the assessment, and marvel why it could not have been produced sooner, or if something might have been carried out to resolve excellent uncertainties and gaps in info.

One among PP’s most insightful feedback came as he emphasized the primacy of shopper pursuits.  Importantly, he noted that tradecraft and methodology increased in importance each time analysts acquired less steerage from policymakers about their interests and necessities.  Thus, evaluation is usually an easy act when enough steerage relating to priorities and pursuits are offered.  Nevertheless, within the absence of this stuff, evaluation turns into more and more topic to methodological issues in an effort to expose the assumptions and logic behind inferences given their uncertain relevance to shopper’s needs.  PP’s word on the importance of methodology as an alternative to external steerage also led to a related but inverted statement—that increased customer curiosity and steerage in a subject typically lowered the extent to which analysts might explore options.

PP’s observations recommend an fascinating pressure that isn’t unfamiliar to evolutionary and complicated techniques that must stability using assets between exploration and exploitation.  In this case, too much interest and steerage from shoppers focuses analysts on exploiting a restricted set of data and perspectives that may fulfill the pursuits of policymakers on the expense of looking for various points of views and further assortment.  In consequence, analysts might lose the power to explore options (spending assets on probably uninteresting or unproductive strains of reasoning), missing out on probably necessary discoveries or alternatives to reframe questions.  By comparability, if policymakers take little interest in an intelligence drawback, then analysts might always explore various frameworks, collect knowledge, and interact in an infinite search course of which will produce conflicting assessments that don’t construct in the direction of a shared understanding of the problems or character of a goal or alternative.  Thus, too little exploration leaves analysts and policymakers weak to shock, while an excessive amount of exploration doesn’t present any consistent theme or strategy around which an analytic basis might be developed that may warrant the sustained curiosity of shoppers.

A associated question that I requested PP had to do with the contributions of Structured Analytic Methods (SATs) (formerly often known as Various Evaluation).  SATs have been launched into tradecraft in an effort to make analytic assessments extra clear with respect to the assumptions of the analysts, the info they used, and the logic of their arguments—making the relationships between evidence and inference specific.  Moreover, they search to increase the variety of views into account, making certain that analysts scale back the psychological tendency to satisfice and settle for the primary principle that explains a specific state of affairs or solutions a query satisfactorily.  On the entire, PP believed that such methods have been usually helpful and ought to be encouraged, but in addition noticed that their implementation was not easy or simple.  Particularly, it was famous that exact items meant to stimulate considering or advance a case for a given speculation, no matter its deserves, might invite cherry-picking.  PP noted examples of CIA evaluation during Vietnam, where a specific evaluation was offered to the White House to reply a query relating to whether or not a specific case for fulfillment might be made, and was then handled as a thought-about analytic judgment as soon as stripped of the caveats that characterized it as an intellectual train.  Likewise, he referred to an identical piece was written relating to an effort to assassinate Pope John Paul, laying out how you can interpret the out there intelligence to make a case for Soviet covert action—yet, PP famous that no shopper had requested for an analysis setting out the case towards Soviet sponsorship of the assassination attempt.  Thus, it was recommended that in some instances, SATs and in depth explorations of options might exacerbate certain producer/shopper pathologies, and that when such explorations have been useful, packing them in a bigger, complete product might hedge towards cherry choosing single perspectives or situations if introduced as individual merchandise.

PP argued that the profitable employment of SATs required managerial engagement and help.  Due to the company’s effort to advance a corporate analytic line, managers needed to be disciplined relating to how and when options have been introduced to shoppers and make sure that Satan’s Advocacy, Pink Cell, Situations, and different merchandise have been developed and advanced in the context of company perspectives and wants.  Absent managerial help, analysts could not advance merchandise with out risking isolation or using assets in unproductive ways.  This steered that a bottom-up strategy to analytic manufacturing was unlikely to improve the general efficiency of the group.  Lastly, PP noted that there stay limits to what tradecraft and methodology can supply, and that attaining the degrees of predictive success that many outsiders want will not be potential.

On the difficulty of Analytic Integrity Requirements and PDB steerage, PP didn’t feel that inner editorial practices significantly affected analytic work and have been usually constructive.  Specifically, they helped to make sure that the policy preferences of the analysts themselves didn’t shade their judgments, and made positive that using language employed by analysts was constant across products—guaranteeing that everyone knew the “strike zone.”

Regarding the relationships between collectors and analysts, PP noted that this was an space where the group has significantly improved during the last couple of many years and that communications and elevated flows of data throughout boundaries had helped lots.  He famous that analysts have more and more supported assortment via using concentrating on analysis, and that collectors have played a stronger position in analysis by validating using knowledge by analysts, making certain that it use is acceptable based mostly on the context of its collection (PP particularly famous the case of Curveball as a case the place analysts would have benefitted from the steerage of collectors with a purpose to understand the best way to use/not use knowledge).  On this matter, he noted that the relationship is usually good, but unstructured and casual and that using computational simulations may add structure and sophistication to this relationship and scale back using scarce assets by limiting the quantity of pointless info pulled into the system.

The final level about unnecessary info served as a prelude to questions on know-how and its position in evaluation.  PP argued that an important problem dealing with analysts was the huge volume of data that have to be processed and examined, much of which coming from open sources.  He argued that this drawback would develop into increasingly acute as human assets develop into scarcer and that merely providing analysts with the tools they want wouldn’t essentially clear up the institutional problems created by the huge portions of knowledge that required analysis.

One other query that I asked dealt with the question how intelligence analysts’ work distinguishes them from students who research comparable subjects.  PP famous that analysts’ closeness to policymakers had a big influence on their work processes, and resulted in elevated expectations, the need to tackle coverage related considerations in real-time, and skilled and private strain and duty for failures.  He famous that no scholar risks the headline “scholarly failure” if their predictions fail to materialize.

Apparently, PP’s emphasis on fixed contact and have to help shoppers evoked one other evolutionary model advanced by Herbert Simon and his work on complicated techniques.  Simon used the analogy of two watchmakers, every developing watches with the same variety of elements.  The difference of their work, nevertheless, was that one assembled the watches as a single unit, and, subsequently, if disturbed, would lose his work and have to start out from the start.  By comparison, the second watchmaker developed watches in modules, such at any disruption would solely have an effect on the module beneath improvement, leaving people who have been already constructed unaffected.  The outcome was that the second, modular watchmaker was extra productive.

This metaphor might capture a few of the salient variations between intelligence analysts and students.  Because analysts are continuously in touch with policymakers, they’re subjected to many “disruptions” and must subsequently do their work in smaller pieces and can’t wait until the “end” to be able to attain a conclusion or advance a judgment.  This will likely additionally mean that analysts’ views or beliefs might look like inconsistent over time, simply because the evolution of their considering will probably be clear and displayed due to the necessity to always publish their greatest estimate at that second so as to help shoppers.  Against this, scholars might cover their evolutionary path from others, which means that what appears as a single, integrated coherent and constant remaining outcome stands out as the product of their inner studying and deliberations that remain personal or shared solely amongst friends, however by no means subjected to demands or disruptions of outsiders through the research course of.

A last question concerned the prospects for brand spanking new models of producer/shopper relations.  Particularly, new models have been superior resembling consulting, internet assessment, and even joint manufacturing and evaluation.  PP felt that the restrictions of latest models have been already recognized and that preserving the space between producers and shoppers remained an essential and needed part of intelligence in the future.  He pointed to the conclusions of the Butler Report that recommended the two have been too built-in within the UK in the buildup to the Iraq Warfare.  There was an acknowledgement that wargames and simulation may function a bridge between the 2 and permit every to work collectively without going as far as “joint publication” which might necessarily politicize intelligence.  PP also noted that policymakers who had backgrounds in intelligence have been totally different shoppers, extra knowledgeable about intelligence capabilities and processes, but have been very few in number.