chapter  5
24 Pages

Improving intelligence analysis with analytic teams

Intelligence analysis is both an art and a science, and it is important to improve each to whatever degree possible. One approach that guided the recommendations for improving intelligence analysis in the previous two chapters involves optimizing the art and science of each individual analyst, by providing him or her with a toolkit of techniques to maximize social scientific rigor as well as maximizing both imagination and empathy. But there is another way to improve intelligence analysis as well, and that is by combining both scientists and artists together in teams. Individuals have differing strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps rather than expecting each analyst to be both an artist and a scientist it would make sense to provide the opportunity for each individual to specialize in his or her area of strength. For example, analysts who demonstrate an ability to apply structured analytic techniques in a rigorous and useful way could specialize in the science of analysis, while analysts who prefer the more imaginative or empathetic approaches could specialize in those as well. Each of these respective strengths could then be optimized through the use of analytic teams built on the premise that greater knowledge can be produced through the collaboration of complementary skillsets. Recently, Richards Heuer has begun to emphasize the significant value that small group processes, both in person and online, can play in the production of high quality intelligence analysis. As he says, “Intelligence analysis is increasingly a team or group effort rather than the product of a single analyst working alone . . . Consequently, the success or failure of group processes plays an increasing role in the quality of intelligence products.”1 As a result, “it becomes increasingly important that analysts be trained in the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for facilitation and management of face-to-face as well as virtual team or group meetings.”2 Heuer then goes on to emphasize the potential value that structured analytic techniques can provide in this kind of group or team context. Much more broadly, analytic teams provide the mechanism for maximizing the contributions of many different kinds of intelligence analysts possessing many different kinds of knowledge. For example, intelligence analysts are employed by and work in organizations, and the structure and processes of these

organizations shape the kinds of knowledge analysts possess. While this fracturing of knowledge helps produce greater specialization, the reintegration of these specialties into greater systemic or holistic understanding is more difficult. Analytic teams provide the mechanism for doing so on-demand in a fluid and flexible way. Unfortunately, this approach to teamwork may be counter-cultural in some organizational contexts. Intelligence analysis is frequently described as the intellectual activity of a single intelligence analyst, and one way to organize their activities in groups is to have each individual work autonomously in parallel where “the group output, then, is simply the assembly of the separate contributions of individual members.”3 This is the prevailing model of group work that takes place at the CIA. As Harvard University Professor Richard Hackman and Michael O’Connor from Mitre observe, in this individualistic approach to analysis managers of intelligence analysts “organize the work to encourage and support excellent individual performance. They are likely to give special attention to selecting highly talented analysts, training them well . . . and providing them with sophisticated technologies and informational supports.”4 Hackman and O’Connor go on to say that in this model, called a coacting group, “individual analysts work in parallel and each analyst is held accountable for his or her personal output” precisely because the group interactions help “individual members competently fulfill their personal responsibilities.”5 By way of contrast, an alternative model for aggregating the work of individual analysts is the analytic “interdependent work team” which according to Hackman and O’Connor involves the integration of different kinds of knowledge and perspectives into a single synthesized product.6 In this kind of team members are

collectively responsible for a significant piece of analytic work . . . that, since it is being performed by a team, can be larger in size and potential significance than usually is possible for a task performed by any single individual. Members of work teams bring their own special expertise to the work, of course, and over time evolve specialized team roles-but it is the team as a whole that produces and is accountable for the analytic product.7