Friday, January 8, 2010

Analyzing Underpants: On Intelligence Sharing Problems and Solutions

A lot of articles, columns, blogs, and other material is out there analyzing what happened and why the intelligence community was not able to do its job and stop the Christmas Day "underpants bomber." Of course anyone looking for information should read the White House's own report (I've heard the classified version is much harsher). The Washington Post's infographic is quite good in showing how the system was supposed to work.
For a good insider account of the difficulties involved, especially with different spellings of non-English names, from former intelligence and friend-of-the-blog Jim Arkaedis read his latest post. (Jim's post on AQAP is also quite good, though I disagree with him regarding terrorist safe-havens).
If you want to follow the finger pointing, Josh Rogin is all over it.
If you want to talk about solutions Jennifer Sims and Bob Gallucci have a very sharp piece in the Post today, which echoes some of Malcolm Gladwell's ideas from Blink.
To win against a networked adversary, the intelligence community must share critical information with decision makers but not always with every element of its own community first. Assembling "puzzles" from many pieces is often necessary for planning and strategy; it takes time and the meticulous management of databases by analytical experts. But for day-to-day operations, decision makers often hold as many or more pieces than intelligence agencies do and certainly know better from moment to moment what knowledge they need to act. In terms of tactical decisions, sharing among intelligence agencies so that an "all source" product can be generated can be a form of hoarding. It can result in finished analyses that are irrelevant, unhelpful or even harmful to national security. [Italics mine]

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