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29 December 2007

Training versus education in intelligence studies

We have entirely had our fill of the debate over the supposed differences between training and education when examining the development of new entrants to the intelligence profession. This is at its core as profoundly anti-intellectual as it is diametrically opposed to the applied art and science of the field. The argument ill serves both the students it is aimed at improving as much as the instructors and professors that it is designed to elevate.

The typical argument goes something as follows: a particular aspect of professional tradecraft is highlighted and disputed, with the academics claiming that instruction on the topic is “mere training”. From the other side, a complex concept or idea is criticized as being “too theoretical” and of no practical value to the working level analyst. In both cases, it is almost always the subjective biases of the individual commentator that is most clearly reflected. (Though we do allow some small exception, and a full measure of understanding and sympathy for those rare folks – almost entirely within the training model camp - that are simply fighting the never-ending balance of trying to fit too much teaching material to too little student time and attention.)

The predominate origin of this argument is from the perspective of those that would denigrate most tradecraft – especially those fundamental building blocks of the profession - as merely training. We are frankly astounded by this argument. No one disputes the need to teach medical students basic procedures such as incisions or injections, nor budding economists the basics of financial analysis, nor law students the art of legal writing. Yet the argument is somehow given great deference when it comes to applied intelligence practice: in analysis, writing, or the more specialized forms of functional disciplines. Typically, such criticism relies heavily upon an implied appeal to authority, used as the worst sort of bludgeon to halt further debate.

It has taken us some time to understand this dynamic. We are however now convinced that its primary perpetuation comes from the deep unease displayed by many academics towards the actual business of doing intelligence as an activity. We agree that it is a far more comfortable life to offer critique upon the history and current activities of others. This is not a luxury given unto most – and should not be the model to which one’s students should be prepared. Those that are not themselves practicing professionals – particularly given the gap between practitioners and the academy – tend to ignore the very things that are needed most in the cultivation of new intelligence professionals. These things are not valued within their world-view, and are frequently not even understood by those that have not walked within the community (or who did so for too short a time).

This state of affairs is simply unacceptable. We cannot imagine a field in which students emerge after years of preparation nearly unable to perform even the most basic of tasks without weeks or years of further training. We acknowledge that there will be entire realms of new learning specific to their assignment that will always be required – particularly when academic teaching is conducted at the unclassified level. However, let us be done with the specious argument that those aspects of tradecraft commonly deemed “training” are inappropriate for the academic environment. We are not building a generation of comparative theory critics – we are building the generation which will have to fight, and win, the Long War.

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