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13 August 2008

What’s in an intelligence professional curriculum

In the wake of the summer conference season, and in particular the recent events hosted by the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE), we have been left to ponder one of the enduring challenges of the field’s ongoing professionalization: the widespread disagreement regarding what exactly prospective candidates and serving practitioners ought to be taught in an entry level and continuing education programs. (Note that we deliberately emphasize the need for an intelligence professional curriculum, vice entering into the debates over intelligence education versus intelligence studies. While such discussions have their place, we do not wish to address them here, and have chosen a third terminology as a proxy to encompass both the theory and application intended to serve the practitioners’ needs in order to address both training, education, and the meta- or comparative study of the field.)

One would think that this should be a largely uncontroversial matter. After all, there is widespread agreement regarding a number of the common skills and tasks required of intelligence professionals – particularly in the analytic side of the house (which admittedly has been better explored from the perspective of intelligence theory). There is even a growing consensus on the other qualities required by an intelligence professional, developed as part of a number of human capital competencies modeling efforts that are occurring both within the government and its private sector contractor and competitive intelligence counterparts.

This is not the first time the question has been raised. Several contemporary model curriculum efforts came out of the United Kingdom’s National Intelligence Model, translated in the United States under the Generic Intelligence Training Initiative to the law enforcement realm of the then dominant counterdrug mission circa 2000. Such efforts eventually culminated (through a fascinating pathway of memetic diffusion) in the now popular International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts’ Foundations of Intelligence Analysis Training standards. This has essentially displaced the previous standard curriculum model, at least in the criminal intelligence discipline, a defacto mix of the 1970’s era Anacapa training coupled with limited GEOINT and quantitative methodologies that grew out of the NYPD’s COMPSTAT. By default, this is also the dominant paradigm for the emerging discipline of homeland security intelligence, given the now overwhelming participation of state and local law enforcement in the new structures that have emerged in the strange evolutionary turns of the domestic mission and its capabilities.

Other models have been developed and presented from the academic perspective over the years since, involving separate deliberative efforts at four universities, the National Defense Intelligence College (formerly the Joint Military Intelligence College), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Yet none have been widely adopted, even in principle - and the debates over the topic remain exceptionally heated.

We should note that controversy is of course a matter of perspective. While the latest evolution of curriculum within one particular institution sparked such a degree of debate and dissent that upon the recent departure of one of the significant players involved in implementing these changes, it was joked that the traditional hail and farewell meal was held at an undisclosed offsite location in order to prevent a prominently vocal critic from arriving driving a VBIED. And although this little jest was made without the knowledge of any of the involved individuals that had participated in the debate, it would certainly not be the most contentious faculty meeting we had ever observed. For a real civil war level dispute, one must look to the tenured staff at in other disciplines.

Yet none of these differs markedly in content or kind from the first intelligence curriculum design attempt that we are aware of, a modest but nonetheless foundational study authored in 1965. Those unaware of the true history and impact of intelligence privatization might be scandalized to learn that this was a contractor led effort, explicitly designed to create the government curriculum for the then emerging Defense Intelligence College that resulted from a recommendation contained within the 1946 Gerow Report on officer’s education. The latter is widely considered to be the origin of current military professional education. We would like to see its role in establishing the concept of intelligence professional education likewise remembered, particularly given that it encompasses both education and training concepts.

To be sure, the profession has evolved since this time. Entire new disciplines within the field have emerged, and pedagogy likewise has come a long way. But somehow, practitioners are constantly confronted by those wishing to re-invent the wheel when it comes to implementing a new program. In no other field would it be possible to credibly ignore all antecedents when it came time to discuss program objectives and outcomes, especially when these are ignored in favour of long debates over first definitions. It should not be thus in the intelligence profession.

Likewise, we strongly object to the oft-heard statements that an intelligence curriculum ought to merely concern itself with teaching the basics of critical thinking, writing, and briefing. While these are indeed vital skills, and their mastery strongly correlated with success in the field, they are by no means the only things an entry level analyst needs. And despite the claims that the IC will provide all further necessary instruction on tradecraft topics, we would venture to guess that these claimants have not led a line unit for some time. Similarly, those that have never served outside of the cloistered confines of the most established of the big sixteen may not always appreciate how little training budget (and time) is available to those in other agencies and elements. Again, in few other professional endeavors does one anticipate that college educated entry level candidates are merely blank slates, waiting to be imprinted with the One True Way.

Lastly, we would offer one final consideration for those developing a new intelligence curriculum. Pay no heed to those that demand that the study of intelligence be the academic discipline that dare not speak its name, or that this name be somehow muted and altered to provide greater attraction for interdisciplinary students. Such programs are inevitably a confused pastiche, and fail in the most important function of the educational process: the cultivation of personal passion and the all consuming interest that drives the best professionals. A muted program under a politically sanctified name merely mutes its students, not critics. We cannot as a profession allow the prejudices of those critics to dictate the terms under which new generations come of into the field – particularly given the vital importance of the generation after next at this historic turning point in the community.

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