Lesson from the Intelligence Module

YPFP’s Leadership Incubator Intelligence module concluded on April 28 after 8 weeks of engaging sessions. Over the weeks, the 31 participants learned about America’s 17 intelligence agencies and how they work together (or try to work together) and the 6 types of intelligence (Humint, sigint, geoint, masint, imint, and open source).

According to one speaker, approximately 80% of today’s intelligence comes from open sources, such as publicly available documents, news, and social media.  But it’s not enough to have access to information – we need good systems in place to handle and analyze that information. Intelligence is a tool, and it has to be sharpened and placed in the right hands in order to be useful. 

From listening to the speakers, it became apparent that each intelligence agency has its own culture, which shapes how its acts and interacts with others. These cultures are shaped by a variety of factors, such as the agency’s history, sense of its own significance within the system, and who its “client” (end user of information) is. Module speakers had experience in the military, CIA, DHS, DIA, and Congress, and agreed that agency culture and perspective matters. No matter how well-designed a system, it’s still made up of people and it matters how people view their agency and its mission.

One theme that emerged was the limits of intelligence. Intelligence is tool for policy-makers to use when making decisions or conducting operations – intelligence tells what’s happening, it doesn’t recommend what should happen. Analysts don’t make policy recommendations, as that’s for elected officials.

Resources also emerged as a major influence on the intelligence community. Intelligence spending is a “boom and bust” cycle where spending is up for several years and then down for several more. The cuts make it challenging to maintain agencies’ capabilities, as their mission never diminishes even though their funding does. As one speaker described it, agencies spend their resources in the gap between what they have to know and what they don’t know. Finding out what you have to know takes resources.

There are several more Leadership Incubator modules happening this year.  Check out more information here.

Beth Scott is a YPFP member and a Project Manager at Reingold LINK. She has a Master's Degree in International Studies from Marquette University.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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