Intelligence Versus Policy Bernhardt


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Intelligence Versus Policy Bernhardt

  1. 1. Intelligence Versus Policy: Healthy Tension or Lost Cause? By Douglas Bernhardt Quite possibly the most difficult set of questions worse, if it is ignored or rejected altogether by consumers that competitive intelligence (CI) professionals could ask who simply cannot “abide analysis or reporting that [runs] themselves reads something like this: counter to their own view” (McLaughlin, 2008). Intelligence that is not integrated into the mix of factors influencing • Does CI actually make a difference to our internal the thinking of decision-makers represents little more than customers? intellectual impotence. • Do we clearly and consistently answer the “so what” question as we frame our judgments? • Do our ‘products’ have a substantive influence on the AN INTELLIGENCE WORKING RELATIONSHIP decisions – in particular strategic decisions – made As this author has repeatedly argued, “The most by our organization’s management? Are they, in fact, overwhelming challenge faced by practitioners of competitive compelling? intelligence has little to do with the development of their • Do our executives understand the unique role professional skills” (Bernhardt, 1999). Rather, it is the extent intelligence plays, or can play, in providing them and quality of the working relationship between intelligence with early warning of threats, unbiased assessments of and policy (i.e., management) that should command the current problems (e.g., predicting competitor reactions central focus of our attention and energies. Drawing on to a strategic move), and longer-term estimates of lessons from the US national security experience, Professor future developments likely to have an impact on the Richard H. Immerman (former US Assistant Deputy firm’s objectives, strategies, and interests? Director of National Intelligence for Analytical Integrity • Are our CI managers routinely invited to sit in on and Standards) makes the observation that “when all is said high-level policy discussions so that our intelligence and done…scholars may conclude that intelligence mattered team might better understand the core concerns and relatively little to [the] Cold War’s history” (Immerman, perspectives of our consumers? 2008). This a somewhat disquieting notion given the complexity and magnitude of the high stakes ‘game’ being Unless and until such questions are answered in the played at the time, and for which, despite the changed nature affirmative, no competitive intelligence function anywhere, of today’s geopolitical threats, leaders throughout the civilized regardless of the size or nature of the company concerned, world remain accountable. can be expected to be more than yet another black hole in the Now ask yourself, “Is corporate leadership any different?” universe of the organization’s bureaucracy. In short, even CI Indeed, in the light of so many big US policy failures over units whose deliverables repeatedly meet the necessary tests the past five decades – Vietnam (the Johnson administration for accuracy, relevance, and timeliness are simply wasting was not prepared to accept CIA assessments that US and their time if their output is not sufficiently persuasive – or South Vietnamese military strategies could not succeed); 24 Competitive Intelligence
  2. 2. intelligence versus policy Iran (President Carter and his national security team were Yet, as the 19th Century French journalist and novelist unwilling to “think the unthinkable,” that the Ayatollah Jean-Baptiste Karr once suggested, “plus ça change, plus Khomeini might have sufficient following and power to c’est la même chose.” Today the dynamics of the consumer- topple the Shah); the profound ‘failure of imagination’ that producer relationship remain no less a priority and just as The 9/11 Commission Report findings reveal to be “the most complex as they ever were. Surprisingly, the CI community important failure” of US leadership prior to the terrorist hasn’t yet reached ‘first base’ in terms of its debate over the attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the issue. Pentagon; and Iraq (no weapons of mass destruction and no verifiable links to 9/11) are a few examples – would it not A culture of optimism be irresponsible, and perhaps dangerous for CI analysts to John McLaughlin, who served as Deputy Director of assume that those who set and oversee business policy and Intelligence at CIA, as well as Chairman of the National strategy (and who, for the most part, have no experience Intelligence Council, describes the problem in terms of policy whatsoever in intelligence operations) will somehow, culture versus intelligence culture. First, he points out: instinctively perhaps, recognize what intelligence is and how it can support their agendas and decision-making challenges, The culture of the policy world is marked by let alone their own roles and responsibilities in the process? elements of realism but is essentially – and necessarily – Unfortunately, the rhetoric heard at SCIP conferences a culture of optimism (McLaughlin 2008). about the need to ‘gain management buy in’ or recruit an ‘executive champion’ in order to launch or grow a successful Think. When was the last time you heard a CEO speak CI program is seldom supported by a deeper examination of the future prospects for his or her company in the language of the dilemma, and how, realistically, we might go about of gloom and doom? It’s not what they’re paid to do. Even resolving it. The hard truth is that despite the presumably as firms struggle to survive the so-called ‘financial meltdown’ common goal of advancing the firm’s interests, relations of 2008/9 and the resulting shockwaves of global economic between consumers and producers of intelligence are not disruption, we continue to hear the desperate clarion calls of naturally harmonious. At best, this state of affairs leads to business leaders in America, Europe, and elsewhere for their healthy debate and helps sharpen thinking. At worst, it ‘troops’ – at least what’s left of them – to prepare for still leads to counterproductive arguments about “what’s right” one more charge onto the competitive battlefield. Too bad or “who’s right” as the lines between evidence, facts, and the outcome in many cases is destined to be a replay of the opinions become ever more blurred. disastrous charge of the British Army’s Light Brigade during So what lies at the root of the intelligence consumer- the battle of Balaclava in 1854 (a powerful example of what producer disconnect? Or is it, after all, a healthy tension? can go wrong when good intelligence is lacking). And how do we fix it? Why? Because most executive teams still work harder at doing what succeeded in the past and what they already do rather than applying their imagination to strategically THE INTELLIGENCE – POLICY DIVIDE repositioning their firms to “compete for the future.” The competitive intelligence literature over the past Until recently, when he was asked to resign by President twenty years or so has paid scant attention to the dilemma Barack Obama in March of this year, General Motors CEO of the intelligence-policy divide. Instead, it concentrates on Rick Wagoner, whose corporation lost $82 billion in the issues such as collection techniques, analytical frameworks, last four years under his stewardship, insisted right up to various organizational models, and first-person ‘kiss-and- the last day at the helm that GM’s future was bright and tell’ cases of SCIP members’ experiences. Regardless of how he had yet another “plan” for future success. And is there important these issues are, they seldom help us advance the anyone who glows with more optimism than a marketing intelligence discipline in the eyes of our customers. or brand manager? Most of them, certainly insofar as their The question has, however, been explored at length by world views are concerned, could easily compete with the academics and other observers in the national intelligence irrepressible optimism of Iraq’s former Information Minister, community. Indeed, sixty years ago Sherman Kent (regarded Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, who, as CNN cameras were as the father of US intelligence analysis, and from 1952 to broadcasting live pictures of tanks of the US 3rd Infantry 1967 chairman of CIA’s Board of National Estimates) made Division rolling into Baghdad, continued to declare, “We are clear the following: winning!” There is no phase of the intelligence business which A culture of skepticism is more important than the proper relationship between Second, McLaughlin notes, in stark contrast to the intelligence itself and the people who use its product (Kent, culture of decision-makers, “the culture of the intelligence 1949). world is marked by skepticism.” As he puts it, “the analytical Volume 12 • Number 4 • July/August 2009 25
  3. 3. intelligence versus policy world always [centers] on what things mean and not – as in speculation, an analysis, probabilities, possibilities, the policy world – on what to do” (McLaughlin, 2008). estimates. Best guesses. (Office of the Assistant Remember, it is not the task of intelligence to recommend Secretary of Defense 2002) policy actions to management. The responsibility of intelligence is to inform decision-makers and articulate alternative futures, options, and the likely consequences of each. TWO THEORIES Of BEST PRACTICES Jack Davis, an expert in analytic methodology, explains: Before competitive intelligence practitioners begin to tackle the problem of the consumer-producer disconnect [The] tensions in the relationship between… in their respective working environments, it is instructive intelligence analysts and…policymakers are a common to revisit the “[t]wo normative theories [that] animate occurrence—an essentially normal byproduct of the two the debate about best practices in the intelligence-policy camps’ distinctive professional missions. The analyst’s nexus” (Wirtz, 2007). One emphasizes the classic view that professional commitment is to assess national security “intelligence must be close enough to policy, plans, and issues without bias for or against the outcomes sought operations to have the greatest amount of guidance, and by the…administration; the policymakers professional must not be so close that it loses it objectivity and integrity commitment is to articulate, advocate, and advance of judgment” (Kent, 1949). The second, albeit related theory the administration’s national security agenda (Davis, is one which “focuses on providing ‘actionable’ intelligence, 2006). information of immediate and direct use to policymakers” (Wittz, 2007). Thus, the challenge for CI practitioners has as much to In practice, the CI analyst will find that these two do with managing the conflicting cultures and missions of perspectives reflect differing priorities rather than two decision-making versus intelligence analysis as it does with diametrically opposing philosophies. It is a matter of balance. fine-tuning the various elements of our craft. In the ever changing environments typical of most large-scale Intelligence producers must never lose sight of the fact businesses, the weighting given to one or the other approach that decision-makers, by their very nature, are uncomfortable will vary depending on the specific context or circumstances trusting a discipline described during a 2002 press briefing of the company and the problems concerned. And while the by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General independence of intelligence analysis must be protected at all Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in this costs – especially from the pervasive dangers of politicization way: – it serves no purpose to prepare an analytical product that the decision-maker is not, for whatever reason, happy to use. If you think about it, what comes out of intelligence Consider, for a moment, the President’s Daily Brief, is not fixed, firm conclusions. What comes out are a prepared by the office of the US Director of National TABLE 1. KEY DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN DECISION-mAKERS AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYSTS Decision-maker Intelligence Analyst Enjoys possessing and using power. Tends to distrust power and those who enjoy exercising it. When possible, makes hard decisions quickly. Given to extensive research and examination of an issue. Generally more comfortable with action than Believes the real world is ambiguous and uncertain; tries with contemplation. to avoid oversimplification; essentially objective. Regards the world as highly personalized Rewarded for identifying problems, obstacles, or threats. (Anything that impedes his or her perspectives and actions amounts to a personal attack.) Sense of vulnerability; does not like to be Has greater potential to be perceived as wrong without perceived as wrong. risking self-esteem. 26 Competitive Intelligence
  4. 4. intelligence versus policy Intelligence, and which the president receives every morning, resources, how far can CI managers and analysts go with updating him on the country’s most pressing international that? How, in other words, can CI practitioners be expected threats. It is concise, to the point, and deals exclusively with to properly fulfil their operational responsibilities without those issues which are of direct and immediate concern to the exploring the topics of concern together, virtually hand-in- president. Is this – say a “CEO’s Daily Brief ” – what you are hand, with the user? producing for your chief executive and his closest advisors? Competitive intelligence managers must also be given If not, why not? Is it because you’ve never been asked to do opportunities to propose intelligence topics about which so? Are you simply too busy getting on with the research and decision-makers themselves may not even be aware. Likewise, analysis you’re paid to carry out? Or do your organizational CI managers cannot allow themselves to be constrained, or silos simply prevent you from enjoying access to your key sidelined, by organizational protocols that require them to ‘go decision-makers and thus your most important internal through channels’ rather than deal directly with the ultimate customers? users of their product. Briefings received indirectly are not sufficient. If an issue is important enough to assign to the CI unit, it’s important enough to warrant briefing time. THE CONSUmER – PRODUCER RELATIONSHIP In my original paper on the subject of the consumer- formal feedback producer disconnect (Bernhardt, 1999), I attempted to Another deficiency I find in many organizations is the illustrate some of the key distinctions between decision- lack of formal feedback mechanisms. Following delivery of makers and intelligence analysts. They’re worth repeating any intelligence report, the user has an obligation – or so the here (see Table 1). theory goes – to inform the CI director or manager about What do these distinctions mean for the CI practitioner? what was useful, what wasn’t, and why. How else can CI Essentially, they mean that he or she must develop a deep analysts know what to improve or refine in terms of future appreciation for the basic personality differences that exist tasks? Feedback procedures, as part of the ongoing dialogue between executives and analysts, and take these into account I have argued for, must be institutionalized rather than left to in every phase of the intelligence process. Just as good chance and good intentions. salespeople must know their customers before there is any real prospect of closing the deal, this is the only way to ensure Education effectiveness. One final tip. If intelligence consumers and producers are to find common ground, it is the responsibility of CI to Personal dialogue educate its key customers about what intelligence is, how Perhaps the most important aspect of strengthening it works, and what it can and cannot be expected to do for the consumer-producer relationship is dialogue. I am them. How often, for example, are you given a slot (10 constantly surprised by the number of times, whether minutes? 20 minutes?) in executive committee meetings to during a consulting engagement or in a business school explain the role of intelligence, your recent successes (and lecture hall with a class of soon-to-be MBAs, that I find a failures) and their impact, and what you require in order glaring lack of ongoing dialogue between executives and to improve CI’s future performance and contributions to competitive intelligence. In an age when most of us face competitive success? electronic communications overload, intelligence consumers To this end, why not give some thought to producing “A and analysts alike need to take a step back and rediscover Consumer’s Guide to Intelligence” similar in concept, say, to the value of face-to-face interaction, i.e., good old-fashioned the one published by the CIA in the 1990s (available from discussion. the National Technical Information Service, US Department I would argue that it is virtually impossible for of Commerce)? Designed for intelligence users, this 53- intelligence analysts to earn their keep if they do not know page document covers topics such as the intelligence process, their users. And how can one know his or her user without major products, and classification systems. A CI department regular human contact? could hardly ask for a better way to educate its customers, while at the same time reinforcing its brand and credibility Propose intelligence topics within the company. To begin with, most executives, if asked to articulate Jack Davis (Davis, 2006) offers his own suggestions their explicit intelligence needs are ill-prepared to do so. It’s regarding how he believes analysts should respond to the not their fault. How many of your senior managers have criticisms of policymakers. A brief summary of his general worked in the intelligence field or been through a course on recommendations is provided in Sidebar 1. intelligence? Sure, they’ll be able to provide a shopping list of If CI is to make a difference, it is up to its managers any number of information wants that might make life easier and analysts to first recognize, then accommodate, the for them, but given the limitations of budgets and other human differences between themselves and their customers. Volume 12 • Number 4 • July/August 2009 27
  5. 5. intelligence versus policy SIDEBAR: THE ANALYSTS’ RESPONSE TO POLICYmAKER CRITICISm: BEST PRACTICES Become an expert on the policymakers’ world. Use estimative terminology carefully. To deter both Commit to learning as much about your firm’s strategic misunderstanding and manipulation of judgments, analysts decision-making processes as possible. should avoid vague estimative phrases such as “real possibility” and “good chance.” While not without risk Become accomplished at understanding and managing of an exaggerated precision, analysts should aim to set sustentative uncertainty. Consider approaches boundaries to key judgments (for example, “We judge the to alternative analysis such as devil’s advocacy, key likelihood of development Z to be low – on the order of assumptions check, quality of information review, argument 10 to 20 percent“). mapping, and analysis of competing hypotheses. Be responsive to criticism, but not at the cost of Become adept at role playing. Analysts will be well objectivity. As long as an analytic unit believes it has positioned to prepare a professional response to criticism done its homework in evaluating evidence and considering by undertaking an open-minded assessment of the policy alternative explanations and projections, it should stand critic’s paradigm (i.e., mental model) on a contentious issue. by its estimative judgments even if policymaker criticism persists or intensifies. Lean forward professionally with action analysis. Analysts should not hesitate to respond to criticism about Watch out for self-censorship. As a rule, a blending of unhelpful analysis by changing the question from the one deliverables that indicates an openness toward alternative they initially believed should be addressed to one called for interpretations with regular affirmation of what analysts by policy critics – again a possible path to both objectivity believe to be sound, if vulnerable, judgments will protect and utility. analytic professionalism, maintain credibility with and access to the policy clients, and best serve the organization’s Master techniques for evaluating inconclusive interests. evidence. Careful consideration of alternative meanings of gaps in information can help build credibility with critics. Overcoming the disconnect is tough, but not impossible. It’s DC: U.S. Department of Defense. Available at: hardly a lost cause. It’s a professional imperative. <URL: aspx?transcriptid=3798> Wirtz, James J. (2007). “The intelligence-policy nexus.” REfERENCES In: Johnson, Loch K. (ed.), Strategic Intelligence: Bernhardt, Douglas C. (1999). “Consumer versus producer: Understanding the Hidden Side of Government, Praeger Overcoming the disconnect between management and Security International, Westport, CT. p139-150. competitive intelligence,” Competitive Intelligence Review v10/3. Davis, Jack (2006). “Intelligence analysts and policymakers: benefits and dangers of tensions in the relationship,” Intelligence and National Security v21/6, December. Douglas Bernhardt is an author, consultant, and lecturer. He Kent, Sherman (1949). Strategic Intelligence for American teaches Competitive Intelligence as an MBA elective at leading World Policy. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. European and South African business schools, and provides CI Immerman, Richard H. (2007). “Intelligence and strategy: consulting and training services for firms in Africa, Europe, historicizing psychology, policy, and politics,” Diplomatic and the Middle East. Douglas previously served as Managing History v32/1, January. Director for the Geneva-based consultancy, Business Research McLaughlin, John (2008). “Serving the national Group SA, and is a former member of the SCIP Board of policymaker.” In: George, Roger Z. and Bruce, James Directors. His last book, “Competitive Intelligence: Acquiring B. (eds.), Analyzing Intelligence. Georgetown University and using corporate intelligence and counterintelligence,” Press, Washington, DC. p71-81. was published in London by FT Prentice-Hall in 2003. An Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public American citizen, Douglas is now based in South Africa and Affairs), 2002. DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld can be reached at and Gen. Myers, 24 October, 2002. Washington, 28 Competitive Intelligence