chapter  1
The past and future of the Intelligence Cycle
Pages 12

Introduction The Intelligence Cycle needs no introduction to intelligence professionals or scholars. Its circle of links representing a set of sequential and repeated operations – educing decisionmakers’ requirements for information; collecting relevant data; evaluating the data for reliability; analyzing their significance; disseminating the resulting intelligence product to decisionmakers; and then starting the process all over again by passing the decisionmakers’ updated requirements to the collectors – sounds familiar to anyone who has sat through a college or staff-school course on intelligence. The Cycle per se now seems less interesting than its significance. To wit, we have grounds to suspect that the Cycle, even as a teaching device, has passed its point of maximum utility. Indeed, the usefulness of any classroom tool, analogy, or thought experiment must lie in increasing the mental agility and acuity of the student, analyst, or decisionmaker employing it. A good teaching device should not require more explanation to clarify it than it returns in increased understanding, and it should not predispose analysts toward inaccurate judgments (or decisionmakers toward courses of action that are likely to fail). Based on that criterion, growing evidence suggests that the Intelligence Cycle – even as a heuristic device, not to mention as a doctrine for real-world intelligence operations – could be doing more harm than good. This examination of the Intelligence Cycle comprises discussions centered around three questions. First, where did we get the Cycle in the first place? Second, how is it working now, and how do we understand it? Finally, where is it going; i.e. how are intelligence scholars and practitioners of the future likely to view it? Considering the possible answers to these three questions might induce greater caution among teachers who employ the Intelligence Cycle as a learning tool.