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20 August 2007

The need for an intelligence crucible

We have long emphasized the vital need, in the education and training of new intelligence analysts and operators, to replicate as closely as possible the conditions of stress and uncertainty under which they will be forced to perform in the real world. Too often we see bright young things emerge from the academy, exquisitely poised to debate the ever-finer points of language and probability from the comfortable remove of a classroom or library – but who utterly fall apart under the pressure of a crisis situation, or even an unusually aggressive consumer.

We have frequently cited one of the better implementations of such an environment, once upon a time considered the finishing school within a particular institution (but now sadly discontinued due to a change in staff.) The class immediately prior to the student’s capstone / thesis was dedicated to a key national intelligence issue, with a focus on the substantive elements of the account, and the unique applications of analytic tradecraft against the class of target. Each analyst was further assigned a specific segment of the account, again as might be expected in line production environment. The entire class formed a notional joint intelligence task force or joint intelligence operations center, reporting to a notional command structure (the course instructors) and responsible for providing 24/7 intelligence support (including real-time, surge requirements) to a selected group of consumers (course instructors, other cadre, and outside subject matter experts.) The class was among the hardest task facing any student in that program. It however was largely responsible for assuring a level of competence, and of personal confidence, in students which few other learning processes could achieve. As a tradition it should certainly be revived swiftly in its older home – and as an institutional legacy, it should be swiftly emulated by other newer intelligence academic programs.

We are happy to see a perhaps similar form being trialed at the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies in the United Kingdom. Their Brunel Assessment Simulation Exercise, or BASE, is designed to provide a practical simulation of the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment process. The exercise was profiled by one of the Centre’s founders in the Winter 2006 issue of the Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. We are uncertain of how closely the course models the stresses of a real world environment, let alone the complexities of interagency liaison. However, regardless of its degree of fidelity, it is likely a far better adult learning vehicle than any number of dry lectures on the UK’s national intelligence machinery.

We sincerely hope that the new programs being stood up in the intelligence studies field will take a long, hard look at the institution of the Crucible, used so successfully in a variety of applications through the defense, security, and intelligence communities. The benefits of a holistically integrated, cross-disciplinary, high fidelity simulated practicum are too clear to deny, even if somewhat alien to the normally slower pace and more placid practices of the academy. The next generation needs its Hell Week both to test their professional competence and define their fitness and self-confidence to face the unforgiving exam of real world situations in which reputations - and lives - are at risk.

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