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31 July 2007

Revisiting analysis and law school

Our opposition to the over-involvement in intelligence of those who have gone the path of the lawyer remains unchanged, however upon reflection, and in response to the comments of others, we would like to caveat our position when it comes to the formalized study of analytical methodologies. (This of course has nothing to do with the fact that one of the more celebrated professors and writers on analytical tradecraft, David Schum, himself went to the dark side and law school....)

There are a number things which the major legal academies tend to instruct their newer students on which are too often forgotten, or ignored, in the intelligence studies field. These include the theory and philosophy of logic, as well as rhetoric and argumentation – not to mention good concise writing skills. However, when the body of statutory and case law, and the framework of looking at the world through those lens, become the focus of the law student’s time and energies, something seems to change, and it is nearly impossible to break them free of that mold thereafter. While this is a good thing from the perspective of the bar, it is almost always fatal for the work of intelligence.

In an excellent related post, Volokh Conspiracy again comes to our notice examining how analysis is taught within the legal environment. In some ways, this discussion mirrors the debate within the intelligence studies academy regarding the proper way to teach analysis and substantive target accounts – does one focus on the targets, and teach the tools along the way, or should the courses be built around the tradecraft with a smattering of the history and account issues thrown in as the means by which one demonstrates mastery of the toolset? This is part of the debate that came to define the new curriculum in place at NDIC (JMIC, not the other…), and one that many of the newly constituted intelligence programs in civilian academia are going to have to face on their own. (And hopefully soon, rather than assembling a pastiche of legacy courses from existing departments and instructors with the garnish of an intel intro or history class.)

We have heard both arguments, with merits to each. The additional elements of target language and cultural knowledge also weigh into this equation, but we too often find that accounts surge so quickly there is little assurance of longevity in the kind of specialization that would weigh these latter factors more decisively (as they often tilt in favour of substantive regional and target expertise vice analytical emphasis). Unfortunately, spending a career on one target simply isn’t how most of the community must work these days. Like the related debates of regional accounts versus functional issues, this is damn close to a matter of theological dispute, if not an outright invitation to civil war, within the community.

We think however that we shall be checking out the author’s book - The Legal Analyst. We are always open to new ways in which one might choose to teach the basic methodologies of analysis, and perhaps we might even find a means to begin to bridge the divide between fully minted lawyers and established intelligence professionals.

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