Communicating Meaning in the Intelligence Enterprise

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March 08, 2019

Intelligence organizations are tasked with informing decision makers about complex worldwide threats. The resulting analysis products are typically founded on a base of significant technical expertise, and may entail several assumptions that are not transparent to decision makers. Consequently, these analysis products can be prone to misunderstanding.

Decisions based upon misunderstood analysis products can have dire consequences. To illustrate, consider a scenario in which the intelligence community (IC) is given a directive to assess an adversary’s nuclear capabilities, to determine whether a preemptive invasion is warranted. If the IC determines that no nuclear weapons are present when, in fact, they are, opportunities to prevent nuclear proliferation, an arms race, or another shift in the regional or global balance of power might be missed. If, however, the IC determines that weapons are present when, in fact, they are not, a preemptive strike might be launched without justification, committing friendly troops to a long-term, and costly, exercise in state-building and inflaming regional tensions.

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