In China’s Great Cultural Revolution, landlords and other capitalist roaders were paraded through the streets wearing dunce caps. The 20,000 analysts in the U.S. intelligence community whose job it is to make sense of the world for the U.S. government are all now compelled to “wear cards around their necks reminding them to remain ‘independent of political considerations.'”
That, at least, is what the Los Angeles Times reports today in a lengthy puff piece about Thomas Fingar, the director of analysis at the ODNI and the fellow who drafted the egregious National Intelligence Estimate of last December that stated, misleadingly, that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.
The article also describes some of the training new analysts are given in a six-week course called Analysis 101.
During a recent class in northern Virginia, students from a dozen agencies formed teams to work on a war scenario. It was their first day of class, but many seemed to have arrived having absorbed the lessons of Iraq.
Dissent was encouraged. Attempts to goad students into policy debates were rebuffed. As one young analyst went through the mock exercise of briefing a general who was considering an invasion, she offered a pointed warning.
“Once you go into a country and take it over,” she said, “it would be best to have a plan.”
Perhaps a better name for the course is “Analysis for Dummies.”
There are some outstanding people in the U.S. intelligence community, and the fact that we have not been hit a second time after September 11 is testimony to their achievement.
But the stars appear to be those doing operational work, keeping the terrorist watch lists in order, running covert operations, and managing drones armed with Hellfire missiles in places like Waziristan.
Analysis remains a chronic weak spot; the products of this side of the intelligence house are typically either irrelevant or wrong. Indeed, the more one learns about what is going on there, the more convinced one becomes that the CIA and other spy agencies should be concentrating their efforts on purchasing (they are available for a good price in China) 20,000 dunce caps. These would be a good complement to the cards analysts are now required to wear around their necks. Fingar — and his deputy Richard Immerman — should be at the head of the parade.