I just spent a few days with a bunch of civilian intelligence analysts and that plus a number of other recent events have prompted some observations on the state of the field.
This particular group came from a number of agencies spread across two states and I have to admit I was blown away by their motivation and drive. While, generally, analysts remain an introverted bunch (even I, gentle reader am an INTJ) their work ethic seemed to overpower that trait and didn’t dawdle when there was work to be done, even in groups. While they were much more quite than comparable groups of law enforcement officers I’ve worked with before they were more task focused by orders of magnitude. You know you’ve got an engaged bunch when you have to tell them to go home three times! The next time you hear someone talk about lazy government workers, tell them to suck it.
They also had a great deal of interest and pride both in their craft generally and in their specific fields. These are people who are chomping at the bit to do their work. It’s stuff like this that really keeps me going in this field.
That’s good because (yeah, thanks, bring on the buzzkill. eds), I’m convinced (based on observations and reports from others) there remain deep structural problems in the field of law enforcement intelligence. Let me count them (well, some of them anyway):
- I keep hoping to come across analysts that actually have some sort of ‘seat at the table’ and to be quite honest at this point I’d even be happy if it was the kiddy table out in the kitchen with all the 4 year olds making jokes about poo. Analysts are simply not brought in to discuss serious issues in which they should be central players. I’m talking about issues of hiring, training, and career progression where (and for once I’m not exaggerating) I don’t think I can think of more than three or four analysts I’ve met over the past eight years that have been brought in to actually have a serious voice on these issues. There are even fewer incidents of analysts being allowed to have a say in things like analytical focus or resource allocations. And just forget about the idea of analysts actually supervising in analytical shops. I’m not saying these things never happen, just that they’re so rare we might as well consider them mythical creatures.
- Given that most state and local agencies are facing big budget problems with many departments considering laying off police officers, does it make sense to pay cops to not conduct investigations, enforce the law and arrest bad guys and, instead, assign them tasks for which they are rarely trained in and, usually, have little interest or capability to do? Does it make sense to take those people with training in intelligence work and perpetually keep them at the bottom of the food chain?
- This makes sense only if you consider the following:
- These supervisory positions represent promotional opportunities for agencies and you always take care of your tribe first. No matter how much they may like their civilian employees, they simply aren’t on the right side of that thin blue line and if push comes to shove, you take care of your tribe first.
- Further riffing off the tribal theme…There’s an abundance of literature and anecdotal evidence that civilian analysts are secondary or peripheral players (or, as I recently heard to my annoyance, ‘cop-lite’). Given the recent emphasis on things like ‘Intelligence Led Policing’ where intelligence is supposed to be the prime mover in operations, this attitude is simple cultural chauvinism. There’s unease at letting ‘out-group’ members get access to information or resources. Who knows what they’ll do with them? Can they be counted on to further the ‘in-group’ interests?
- (A brief vignette) I once sat in on a meeting, the only civilian in a room of law enforcement officers discussing some procedural issues. When the possibility arose that civilian analysts might have access to investigative information, you would have thought wikileaks just published the nuclear launch codes. Bizarre scenarios began floating around about analysts being sleepers for criminal groups, selling confidential information, etc. I then pointed to the dearth of evidence of ‘dirty analysts’ and recommended we asked internal affairs to generate some numbers of investigations of analysts compared to cops. For some reason, there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for following this up with hard numbers. While the point was made, analysts still were barred from accessing important information.
- Think I’m being too cynical? Allow me to recommend part 2 of last week’s This American Life (ignore the first part which is about a jerk who can’t understand why publicly threatening to shoot people would possibly get him in trouble). It’s laden with interesting items regarding what happens when you rely too much on poor metrics, question the status quo and if such problems are the result of a ‘few bad apples’ or a rotten barrel which spoils most of what you put into it, regardless of how nice the apples were when you started out.
- I still think Fusion Centers do more harm than good. Since they were created without a great deal of forethought, their numerous flaws just continue to get bigger and more obvious. Agencies which run them (usually law enforcement entities) have limited experience dealing with ways to measure success meaningfully (whether that’s intentional or accidental, I’ll leave for you to ponder) and so nobody has really bothered to figure out what these centers should do and how you should measure their effectiveness. As a result, they generally figure out what the easiest things are to measure and then reverse engineer metrics and mission statements around those. Therefore, things like number of bulletins published, database checks made, events hosted, or agencies contacted are used, giving a priority to activity rather than progress or effectiveness.
- This deemphasizes analysis which is a tricky thing to measure or evaluate easily. I dig, trust me, I do. This sort of thing is hard to do but it doesn’t mean you don’t even try. So, rather than bother with figuring out how to build a system where you ‘fuse’ intelligence into functional analytical products, fusion centers give information sharing primacy because it’s much easier to measure. Now, don’t get me wrong. Information sharing is very important but it’s not intelligence and it’s not going to prevent intelligence failures.
- Many years ago, Richards Heuer wrote that intelligence failures were failures of analysis rather than collection. I’m not sure I agree completely with that (unless you use the term ‘analysis’ broadly to include a leadership component that actively obstructs the work on analysts) but he was definitely on to something. You wouldn’t know that however, by examining how fusion centers operate. Rather than spending their efforts on enhancing their analytical capabilities, they spend all their time on the collection side.
- There’s a manic frenzy to get access to more and more sources of information (what a shock, yet another simple metric you can throw around to demonstrate how ‘cutting edge’ you are) and give any Fusion Center shill a chance to pitch his/her agency and within the first two minutes you can bet you’ll hear them proclaim how many databases they have access to and advertise to anyone who will listen that they’re a ‘one stop shop’ for your agency when it comes to sorting through the numerous datasets out there. That’s great and could be a really powerful tool but problem is the people they assign to answer all those queries, chained to those databases, are the analysts who are supposed to be doing, like, analysis.
- To resurrect a tired cliché, everyone is so obsessed with making sure we’ve got all the dots, nobody is spending any time trying to connect them.
- I’m torn about intelligence professional organizations. I know a number of people in them that I really respect and like but, as I’ve written before, I can’t help thinking they’re just enablers for bad practises and cover for agencies that engage in the trade of smoke and mirrors rather than intelligence analysis. In short, they just don’t have any balls. Now, I understand the argument that we’re talking about big cultural changes and we need to gently and gradually lead everyone by the hand, build consensus and we’ll eventually get to the promised land. I don’t think it’s true but I understand it. But if that’s our plan let’s be honest about it and tell the taxpayers ‘Yeah, you know that whole 9/11 thing? Well, we’re going to fix our intelligence systems to prevent that sort of thing but we don’t want to be too pushy so we’re going to wait another decade or two until people who are uncomfortable with change can ride out their careers without too much stress and then we’ll start fixing things.’
All of these things occasionally make me swerve into the territory of crisis of faith and wonder if talking about intelligence analysis in law enforcement is futile. I still don’t know the answer but suspect it lies in waiting for the analytical community to develop its ‘revolutionary consciousness’.
Update: Ask and ye shall receive! I received an email from someone (who I was kind of hoping would take the bait since I knew he/she was an exception to what I was taking about) who said:
My analysis shop is run by analysts. I’ve never worked in any other shop so I don’t know what it would be like for this not to be the case. Our shop is set up with a “director” who basically just handles grants, supplies, HR stuff, etc., and then a managing analyst, with 3 civil service analysts, and then 6 contract analysts. We’re actually hiring 2 contract analysts and the managing analyst is basically taking care of the whole thing, choosing who to interview and hire.
I think the key is that our shop basically started as one guy attached to homicide, and then another guy who worked with narcotics, and then it grew to 3, and then 4, until it exploded to 10. And because it initially grew so slowly and was working with the most sensitive stuff, and also because the chiefs really liked what we were doing, they basically allow us to run our own stuff. My sense is that this is not how most analytical shops develop.
Still, no idea how to measure our success. Maybe in the # of proactive successful investigations? Or crimes solved with analyst help? The problem is that if we trumpet our success then people won’t want to work with us as much. Part of our success is because we let the investigators and narcotics cops take all the credit (which is why they like us).
I’ve heard of success in analysis shops before but the times I’ve been able to delve into their details (and I can’t speak to the situation above) it’s been attributable to a particularly competent and influential person. The concern (well, at least mine) is that there aren’t sufficient processes in place to maintain that success. Time will tell…
And, thanks to my ghost contributor. I don’t consider this endeavor futile. If I did I wouldn’t stay in the field.