Top positive review
22 people found this helpful
Great introduction for newcomers and reminder for old hands
on February 20, 2010
I was an Air Force military intelligence officer in the late 1990s. I've been working in computer security since then. I read Intelligence, 4th Ed (I4E) to determine if I could recommend this book to those who doubt or don't understand the US intelligence community (IC). I am very pleased to say that I4E is an excellent book for those with little to no intelligence experience. I also found I4E to be a great way to catch up on changes in the IC, particularly since Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA).
Mark Lowenthal struck me as an author who really understands the IC. When I read his descriptions of MASINT not being appreciated (p 96), the institutional bias against open source intelligence (p 105), and related cultural issues, I thought he offered a view of the IC not found in other sources. His explanations of friction between agencies, between various Congressional oversight committees, and between branches of government were very enlightening. The interests and bias of each party were interesting; for example, Congress (like Chief Information or Technology Officers) likes to buy new tech (satellites, etc.) instead of investing in analysts! I appreciated his description of the importance of Congressional authorizers vs appropriators, and how those duties affect the IC budget.
I4E really frames IC issues in a way that makes sense to the reader. For example, p 2 says "Intelligence agencies exist for at least four major reasons: to avoid strategic surprise; to provide long-term expertise; to support the policy process; and to maintain the secrecy of information, needs, and methods." He explains that while Pearl Harbor was a strategic surprise, 9/11 was a tactical surprise. On p 1 he explains that "Intelligence refers to information that meets the stated or understood needs of policy makers and has been collected, processed, and narrowed to meet those needs. Intelligence is a subset of the broader category of information; not all information is intelligence." In Ch 4 he describes the seven phases of the intelligence process as 1) identifying requirements, 2) collection, 3) processing and exploitation, 4) analysis and production, 5) dissemination, 6) consumption, and 7) feedback.
He emphasizes that professional intelligence officers do not offer policy recommendations. The two questions one must ask of new intelligence officers are 1) do they think interesting thoughts and 2) do they write well (pp 118-119). Good intelligence is timely, tailored, digestible, and clear, with objectivity assumed (p 147). On p 148 he makes the case that "the 'big things' tend to be the hardest to foresee for the very reason that they run counter to all of that accumulated intelligence," and on p 167 he says government actors tend to have "an inability to use historical examples. Decision makers are so accustomed to concentrating on near-term issues that they tend not to remember accurately past analogous situations in which they have been involved... they learn somewhat false lessons from the past, which are then misapplied to new circumstances." I also liked his discussion of the "capabilities vs intentions" debate, where he differentiates between those who worry about parties because of what they can do, vs those who worry about parties because of what they want to do.
Despite being a book on intelligence, the author manages to transmit a really dry sense of humor -- if you know where to look. For example, p 107 features Table 5-1 comparing advantages and disadvantages of various collection disciplines. SIGINT lists "voluminous material" as an advantage, and "voluminous material" as a disadvantage. Both are true, which is a subtle joke.
Finally, the author shares some really helpful insights regarding the two biggest intelligence issues of the last decade: 9/11 and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. On pp 310-311 he says the following:
"Both of these events have entered into popular legend as to the mistakes that were made and the necessary fixes. However, a critical examination of the 'received' lessons of these two events... reveals that they are almost diametrically opposed.
- Warning: The lesson of September 11 is to warn as stridently as possible to make sure that policy makers comprehend the gravity of the situation. But the lesson of Iraq WMD is to warn only when you are absolutely certain that the situation is real. You can warn extravagantly or cautiously but not both.
- Information sharing: The lesson of September 11 is that intelligence must be shared broadly across the intelligence community so that necessary connections can be made. But the lesson of Iraq WMD is to be careful and not share information that is dubious, such as the discredited reporting of the human source known as CURVEBALL.
- 'Connect the dots': If we overlook the inappropriate relationship of this phrase to the work of intelligence, for the moment, we see that the lesson of September 11 is the need to connect the dots. But the lesson of Iraq WMD is not to connect too many dots and create a false picture." Well said!
Anyone interested in learning about the IC and how professional intelligence officers think and act will enjoy reading I4E. Great work!