Sorting Out 'National Interests': Ways to Make Analysis Relevant but Not Prescriptive   [open pdf - 32KB]

"The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] is neither a policy nor a law-enforcement agency--this is our mantra from the day that we sign on. Analysts do not have policy preferences. Analytic products do not lean in specific policy directions. The Agency produces intelligence free from political bias. We say implicitly that we focus on national interests, not the policy or political interests of an administration or the Congress. Every piece of intelligence we produce is to be both policy relevant and--despite the correlation between relevance and the political stakes behind it--reflect a non-politicized interpretation of the national interest. We say we can swim without getting wet. Remaining relevant but neutral is a noble goal, but not an easy one. The lure of conforming to the view of reality held by interested players in the Executive and Legislative Branches is strong, although our culture in the Intelligence Community alerts us to resist. But who determines what is in the national interest if not the policymakers and the political processes that empower them? The answer, in a democracy such as ours, is no one. Our system encourages a political competition to define problems as well as solutions. 'Good analysis of the problem gets us 90 percent of the way to a solution,' a senior national security adviser told me. For that reason, one party may see the other's analysis of an international matter as a crass manipulation to achieve an advantageous policy outcome. In fact, some solutions are embraced more readily than are analyses of the problems. In the late 1990s, for example, US counter narcotics efforts in Colombia received bipartisan support, but there was nowhere near a consensus on the causes, effects, and prognosis for the Andean nation's difficulties--or the resultant implications for what we loosely called 'US national interests.' Analytic papers in the Intelligence Community traditionally have ended with a section that lays out the implications of foreign developments for US national interests. But how do intelligence analysts know what measures to use? At the dawn of the 21st century, rapid changes in international affairs and in how they are covered by the information business, of which we are a specialized part, make defining and prioritizing national interests more urgent and more difficult than ever before. We in the Intelligence Community have to do a lot of the defining for ourselves."

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Center for the Study of Intelligence: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/index.html
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Studies in Intelligence (2002), v.46 no.3
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