CIA Makes Analysis Less Useful
National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported the unusual story of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysts publicly sharing changes in the way CIA develops analysis used by policymakers, including the President, in the wake of seemingly inaccurate conclusions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). NPR felt this change particularly noteworthy given the continuing controversy about evaluations of Iran's possible nuclear capabilities.
Among other changes in the way CIA trains its analysts and crafts its work product, CIA disclosed a move away from reaching conclusions. They say fear of bias renders the conclusions of experts reached after studying all available information unreliable. Of course, less than certain information or information from less than fully reliable sources can produce mistaken conclusions. And analyst bias will bias the results. But this describes any conclusion by a covert intelligence agency.
This struck me, a practicing attorney, as analogous to the constant complaint about lawyers that our lawyerly training leads us to offer clients advice of the "on the one hand . . . but on the other hand" variety. In my experience, the best lawyers -- likewise analysts of imperfect information - reach conclusions. This makes their input more useful for clients. After all, good lawyers amass the expertise and experience to reach conclusions unavailable to most clients. Moreover, reaching conclusions forces discipline and accountability in our gathering of information and analysis.
Thus, I think it unlikely that CIA believes this new approach produces more useful work product for policymakers. Rather, once burned by prognostications about WMD, CIA moved to protect itself from future accountability.
Most clients would refuse to hire an attorney who refused to reach conclusions. Our policymakers should not accept such an intelligence service.
David C. Christian II is an attorney actively practicing in the areas of bankruptcy and distressed transactions around the United States working out of Chicago.