Just a couple of observations on my most recent drill that saw me interacting with a few analysts.
First, I got to speak with a senior NCO who recently came back from an intelligence school and returned as a newly minted analyst. I was interested to hear his impressions of the class. He described his class as ‘very smart’. Perhaps too smart. They were so good that no one failed the class exams. While that would normally be a good thing, Army schools hardwire time in the schedule for study halls and retests. No failures means that gaps open up in the training schedule. Apparently the was much gnashing of teeth among the instructors as they had to figure out what to do with the extra time.
I asked him for his impressions about the threat training and how they were preparing analysts to do their jobs in a COIN environment. I was therefore shocked to hear that threat training continued to focus on conventional forces arrayed in the Soviet model. To some extent that’s fine. I guess North Korea’s forces are probably close enough to give such training some value but perhaps it’d be better to talk about conventional forces more generally by picking out forces of a two or three nations (perhaps North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela as three suggestions off the top of my head. Anyone else have alternate possibilities?) that could be used to highlight differences in their structure and operations. That way they could teach how such differences impact how analysts do their jobs.
What was even more shocking was hearing that there was NO instruction about intelligence analysis in a counterinsurgency environment. Are you kidding me? What the hell has the Intelligence Center been doing for the past nine years? Apparently their capstone exercise involved a COIN operation but if they hadn’t given the students any context on how analysis there differs from analysis in conventional fights they really didn’t do anything except set the students up for failure.
Second, I got to speak with some younger analysts and was just chewing the fat (so to speak) when I mentioned the Afghan restaurant that I recently went to. I mentioned, since most hadn’t deployed yet, that if they want a little taste of cultural flavor they might want to stop by and get something to eat. Afterwords, I overheard a couple of the more senior people talking and one said that a few soldiers live in the area of the restaurant and were uncomfortable going there.
Now, that’s disappointing for a couple of reasons but particularly from an analytical perspective. We all have biases and operate with unexamined assumptions but one rarely finds a decent analyst who isn’t intellectually curious and willing to at least consider alternate perspectives. If your job is likely to involve analyzing the Afghan environment it seems the least you could do is become familiar with some basics like food. How in the world are these soldiers likely to act if they really do deploy and have to engage the local population? Ugh.
And this feeds into another problem. At least among some, there’s a belief that analysts can do their job entirely in front of a computer (in fact, my S3 tried to push that crap on me – the guy was a total douche). There’s no way I would expect anyone from a lowly infantryman to combatant commander to trust analysis about Afghanistan (or anywhere else) from someone who had never walked through an Afghan village, driven down a road, talked to locals or been outside the wire – especially if they refused an opportunity to do so. I’m not saying analysts need to go out on every patrol but it is very difficult to do analysis under the best of circumstances. To do it while intentionally shutting off an avenue that would allow direct experience of the subject to be analyzed is just crazy. And if analysts (particularly military analysts) have a problem with that, it’s time for them to find a new line of work. Analysts should be chomping at the bit to see the stuff they’re analyzing.
So…linking back to my posts of last week. These are reasons why I say prescriptions demanding ‘better analysis’ just aren’t going to get us very far. We recruit analysts based on their score on a bullshit multiple choice test and then don’t train people for the situations they find themselves in. Should we be surprised that they don’t produce high quality, thoughtful and thorough analysis that unlocks the secrets of a country with different language and culture? I suppose our current system keeps out the functionally illiterate but that’s about all you get. Otherwise, you have to hope that people self-select into the field. Let me rephrase that…our best hope that we’ll get good, qualified analysts in the Army is that 18 year olds will recognize they they possess (or not) raw analytical talent and decide to volunteer for that position.
Now think back to when you were 18. Is that the person you want selecting who’s qualified to be an analyst?
And, just to put things in an even rosier perspective…as bad as this system is that I’ve just described? Analytical selection and training in law enforcement is worse. MUCH worse.