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This essay is intended to set the stage for the discipline- and field-specific essays of the other contributors. It seeks to identify key characteristics of the IC and to explicate, albeit in abbreviated fashion, why the IC is organized as it is and how mission, expectations, and structure empower and constrain the work of individuals, agencies, and the IC as a whole.


The mission of intelligence analysis is to evaluate, integrate, and interpret information in order to provide warning, reduce uncertainty, and identify opportunities. Providing insight on trends, the political calculus of particular foreign leaders, or the way problems are perceived by people outside the United States is often more helpful to decision makers than is the presentation of additional “facts” or speculation about “worst case” possibilities.4 Discovering that a country is cheating on a treaty commitment may be less important than providing insight into why it is doing so.5 Ferreting out all details of an adversary’s new weapon system may be less useful than finding a vulnerability that can be exploited. Prompting decision makers to rethink their own assumptions and preliminary judgments may be more beneficial to the national security enterprise than providing definitive answers to specific questions.6

Intelligence, especially analytic support, is useful to decision makers in direct proportion to the degree to which it is timely, targeted, and trusted by those who receive it. Thorough examination of all relevant factors and how they interact is seldom possible within the real-world decision timelines of U.S. officials, and getting it completely right is often less important than providing useful information and insights to the right people at the right time. Even data-rich and methodologically brilliant analytic products may contribute little to the national security enterprise they are supposed


Examples of trends affecting the agendas and capabilities of governments include the rapid “graying” of populations in Europe and Japan and youth bulges in African and Central Asian countries already struggling to meet demands for education and jobs (National Intelligence Council, 2008a). Political leaders widely considered “close” to the United States who found it expedient to distance themselves from Washington when running for reelection include Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (Steele, 2008) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai (Voice of America, 2009). For an example of how other countries view U.S. policies, see Tiron (2007).


For example, “Russia” failed to honor its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention because the retired general assigned to oversee dismantlement of now-prohibited activities failed to do what he was supposed to do. When this was discovered, the general was fired by President Yeltsin (Boudreaux, 1994).


For example, the way in which U.S. policy makers approached the problem of illicit Chinese sales of chemical weapon precursors changed when they understood that part of the problem stemmed from the limited ability of the Chinese government to enforce its own export regulations (Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2007).

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