Analytical grumblings

Ackerman has  an article about analytical dysfunction in the NCTC (h/t ATCT):

According to interviews with several veteran NCTC analysts, the five-year-old center, meant to be a hub for pulling together terrorism information from across the 16-agency U.S. intelligence community to better anticipate future attacks, has a cumbersome bureaucratic structure and a questionable set of institutional values.

It’s hard to know if this is regular grumbling or there’s something fundamentally wrong the the NCTC.  I wouldn’t discount either and the specific charges don’t give one a good feeling:

…the managers who preside over analysts seeking to connect the dots…are often inexperienced in intelligence analysis themselves.

A couple of years ago I was accused of being some sort of anarchist when I made the outrageous suggestion that analysts should be supervised by someone with some sort of background in intelligence.  The anger that I was met with was almost palpable and I was asked to think about the feelings of existing (and potential) managers if they found out about my suggestion.  I kid you not, the argument against the proposal began with an assertion that we shouldn’t hurt people’s feelings.  Once I dispensed with that I was told that intelligence work is no different from any other work and anyone with management skills could run an intelligence organization.

I might have blacked out at that point from an overdose of the stoopid.

Back to the article…

Two NCTC sources told TWI this week that it is far easier to surge capabilities within Groups than it is to bring analysts across them. Surprisingly, the non-al Qaeda-focused groups “are not permitted to [study] al-Qaeda,” one said.

That’s a little disturbing.  I’m not sure how to get there from here but this desire to compartmentalize analytical subjects really isn’t great when you’re trying to uncover linkages and networks.  Gen. Flynn’s plan (that I wrote about last week) seems to try to get at it by cross hatching some analytical elements functionally (narcotics, WMD, etc.) with other geographically (Afghanistan, U.S., etc.).  That way you’re going to have to get cross pollination of people and ideas.

I imagine we’ll be hearing more about this soon as fallout continues to…uh…fall out…from the underwear bomber.


4 responses to “Analytical grumblings

  1. I’m torn on this issue. On the one hand, managers should know what they’re managing. But on the other hand, if somebody’s really good at intelligence analysis, they should analyze intelligence, not be promoted into a manager, because they might suck at managing. I wrote a paper with Michael Tanji on this, he compared it to Peyton Manning being promoted to head coach at age 28 because he was a good QB.

  2. Absolutely. I don’t think there needs to be any contradiction between those two positions. You’ll have some analysts who are quite good at their job and would be terrible managers. It makes no sense to ‘force’ them to take some sort of management track in order to advance.

    I don’t advocate that managers of analysts (or almost anyone else for that matter) has to have years of experience doing the job of those (s)he’s supervising but I would expect them to be knowledgeable about the field to be able to discuss in intelligently so they could provide direction, guidance and mentorship to those under them.

    It’s difficult to make an organization work when a new leader comes in saying ‘I know nothing about this field’.

    The military has faced similar questions in the past. That system is really geared towards moving people up the ladder regardless of their skills, interests and ability. The example I’ve seen is that if you’ve got a guy who’s the greatest mechanic in the world and he loves being a mechanic, why in the world would we rush to make him a motor pool supervisor where he never works on vehicles again?

  3. Agree on the ‘I know nothing’ mentality and that is probably scarily too common – it is important for the manager to have a good grasp of what the broader ‘business’ is and does and where their team fits into that. Loyalty to the team must be balanced with the needs of the organisation. Both analysts and managers should be able to progress up through the system but eventually there comes a point where the hands-on specialist either stops of has to develop new skills in order to continue that progression – I’m sure we’ve all seen highers who couldn’t resist still trying to be hands-on and/or second0guessing those in the seats now…

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