Intelligence Community Unites for 'Analysis 101'
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
France's new administration will be one more factor that U.S. intelligence agencies bear in mind as they try to figure out what's happening around the world. This morning, we'll meet some Americans learning to work for those agencies, they are recruits to U.S. intelligence. They are in their 20s. And inside an office park in Virginia, they were confronted with a hypothetical situation. They scoured the latest military intelligence and diplomatic chatter and tried to figure out whether China was about to invade Taiwan.
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly sat in on the crash course called: Analysis 101.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: The China-Taiwan exercise is still unfolding and we're making the rounds with one of the instructors, Zack(ph), as he checks on groups of students.
ZACK (Instructor, Analysis 101): How are you all doing?
Unidentified Man: Good.
ZACK: Do you have any questions?
KELLY: There are lots of questions such as, what's going on at the United Nations? What is China's relationship with Iran or Russia?
One student, Pierre(ph), ventures his opinion that other factors such as the 2008 Olympic Games are playing a role.
PIERRE (Student, Analysis 101): So given that kind of political situation, I think military diplomatic intel preparations have revved up.
KELLY: We were asked to identify Pierre and other students and instructors here by first name only. As we wander from one group to the next, it becomes clear the students are coming at this hypothetical exercise from very different points of view. There's a good reason why.
Ms. NANCY BERNKOPF TUCKER (Senior Intelligence Official): The idea was to have a class in which people from every agency - all 16 agencies - sit in a classroom together at the same time.
KELLY: That's Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, she's a senior intelligence official and it's her job to ensure common analytic standards across all 16 U.S. spy agencies. That's the major innovation of this class. For the first time, new analysts from military intelligence, the CIA, and other agencies are all being thrown together for basic training.
Ms. TUCKER: Our focus is to catch people within the first six months, so that they learn to think of themselves as intelligence community analysts before they think of themselves as CIA, or NSA, or FBI analysts.
KELLY: Analysis 101 runs four weeks. The day we visited, there were 12 students, but this is early days. Tucker says by the start of next year, she hopes to run five classes simultaneously, each with a couple of dozen students. Tucker recognizes that the different agencies bring different perspectives on an issue and that this is a good thing.
Part of the goal here is to get young analysts networking so that if, say, a Naval analyst wants to know the CIA's perspective on a problem, they have a friend whom they can call. Another objective is to establish standard practices for how to sift through raw intelligence. Carl Pierre Augustini(ph), who works with Tucker and oversees Analysis 101, says he wants the students to learn to ask a basic set of questions.
Mr. CARL PIERRE AUGUSTINI (Professor, Analysis 101): What about the sourcing? What can we say about the evidence? Are there alternative explanations for this evidence, and how strong are the inferences we're drawing from this evidence leading to these conclusions? All of those things are very common across the agencies.
KELLY: That may be. But it's pretty easy after spending a few hours with this class to guess which students came from the law enforcement side versus those headed towards a career in foreign intelligence. Some seemed in their element during the abstract morning exercise on China and Taiwan. But after the lunch break, there was a request to spend the afternoon on a good old-fashioned missing person's case.
Ms. AUGUSTINI: So we have a task, or an exercise, that we want you all just try to determine what happened to Lauren.
KELLY: The fictitious Lauren Cohen(ph) has disappeared from her apartment in Hoboken. Students are armed with a dossier on her life and recent activities. Then they split into groups.
Unidentified Woman #1: Okay guys. Her boyfriend told to be involved, because she goes - she doesn't show to work on March 24th.
Unidentified Woman #2: And it isn't really…
Unidentified Woman #1: But it - he doesn't go into the program until March 23rd, which is a Sunday. So he could have like killed her on the Saturday. And she just won't show up for work on a Monday.
KELLY: The students are learning not to lock onto one hypothesis and then collect evidence that supports it, but rather to brainstorm on the whole range of possibilities. In the Lauren case, the students are questioning: did her boyfriend kill her, that she kill herself, that she just run away, and what about the weird email she kept getting from a DJ in Dubai?
But in the end of the exercise, students have ruled out some of the less likely scenarios. But there's no consensus on what happened to Lauren. Such uncertainty is often the case in the murky world of intelligence.
Thomas Finger, the nation's most senior intelligence analyst, says students here are learning key lessons to admit what they don't know and to be transparent about their sources.
Mr. THOMAS FINGER (U.S. Intelligence Analyst): It makes a difference. The analyst knows I've got 17 reports. They're from one source, 17 sources?
KELLY: Such distinctions were at the heart of the recent intelligence failure on prewar Iraq. A failure that a new generation of intelligence analysts is being taught how not to repeat.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
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