The agencies and individuals responsible for protecting the United States from international and domestic threats need to understand complex and rapidly evolving security challenges. Historically, their primary focus may have been on potential threats posed by nation-states, but the landscape has evolved. Intelligence experts anticipating risks to U.S. security in the coming decade must not only monitor nation-states but also track shifting combinations of both nonstate and state-sponsored actors, and even individuals who may have the capacity to cause large-scale harm to human life and to disrupt governance and civil society. These potential adversaries may be motivated by factors different from those that have been understood to drive nation-states, and they have access to new kinds of weapons, including computing technologies and cyberspace operations, as well as chemical and biological agents. These new weapons can dramatically amplify the power of potential adversaries to inflict harm and to “disrupt commercial activities, daily life, and military operations; cause economic damage; compromise sensitive and/or technical information; and interrupt critical infrastructure such as power grids and information networks” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2017, p. I-1). Communication in the cyber world has the potential to undermine political stability and democracy. Looking beyond the intentional actions of people and entities, moreover, intelligence analysts must seek to understand such developments as global climate change and the growth of autonomous technology.
In concert with these developments, the tools available to intelligence analysts for understanding, forecasting, and mitigating security risks are also evolving. Advances in data processing and other technologies, including
artificial intelligence (AI),1 large dataset analytics, dynamic search tools, and interactive technologies, along with access to new kinds of data, such as digital video footage, are allowing intelligence analysts to process multiple sources of data and intelligence far more quickly and efficiently than ever before. These advances are also dramatically expanding possibilities for collaboration among personnel and integration of data sources.
Even as they assimilate both evolving global threats and complex new tools, intelligence analysts continue to rely on research produced within many academic disciplines. Analysts have always synthesized large volumes of data and information on fast-breaking developments to produce reliable and accurate assessments that support urgent and consequential decisions. Those assessments must reflect lessons and insights derived from a deep understanding of cultural and political history and context, the way humans and political entities behave, and current trends and forces shaping the actions and decisions of individuals and groups. These factors remain critical even as the Intelligence Community (IC) must respond to the need both to understand human interaction with increasingly powerful technologies and to use those technologies effectively in its own work.
The deep understanding and expertise that are crucial to the work of intelligence analysts rest in large part on findings generated by research in the social and behavioral sciences (SBS)—the set of disciplines that “focus on the behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of people and their organizations, communities, and institutions” (National Research Council, 2012, p. 10). This report summarizes vital opportunities to leverage this research in support of the work of intelligence analysts and thereby enhance national security.
Academic disciplines including international relations and political science, statistics, public policy, anthropology, public health and epidemiology, environmental science, sociology, demography, economics, psychology, neuroscience, and many more contribute in essential ways to the work of the intelligence analyst. A National Academy of Sciences committee recently summarized the value of SBS research for national priorities: “Nearly every major challenge the United States faces—from alleviating unemployment
1 AI is commonly understood to refer to a machine performing functions that previously could be performed only by human intelligence. Computer technology makes it possible for machines to complete such tasks as recognizing patterns, speech, or images far more quickly than humans can. However, human input is essential for the programming of an AI agent: the machine can draw on and process essentially infinite amounts of data, but humans must develop the models and algorithms that direct the AI agent’s actions (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 2018; see also Stanford University, 2016).
to protecting itself from terrorism—requires understanding the causes and consequences of people’s behavior. . . . Having a fundamental understanding of how people and societies behave, why they respond the way they do, what they find important, what they believe or value, and what and how they think about others is critical for the country’s well-being in today’s shrinking global world” (NASEM, 2017b, p. 1). The study of cybersecurity offers a compelling illustration of the fundamental contribution of SBS knowledge to national security. Human behavior is a critical factor in both adversaries’ capacity to discover and exploit design flaws and the development and operation of cybersecurity systems to protect against such threats. Understanding human behavior is therefore vital for reducing vulnerability to cybersecurity threats (NASEM, 2017a).
Analysts, who bring backgrounds in many fields to their work, often draw on research from SBS fields. Since the 1950s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has supported work that integrates findings from SBS research, as does the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), established in 2006. Likewise, the Minerva Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) was established in 2008 to draw on academic research to “improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.” (Minerva Research Initiative, 2018). The IC invests in SBS research through grants to external researchers and spending on a variety of projects carried out within its walls. (See Appendix A for a summary of SBS research efforts within the IC.)
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees and directs the work of the agencies and organizations responsible for foreign, military, and domestic intelligence for the United States, thus has a strong interest in research from the SBS disciplines that may be beneficial to the IC. ODNI has also noted interest in SBS research among experts such as those involved in the Intelligence Science and Technology Experts Group (ISTEG).2 To develop a systematic understanding of the potential benefits of these disciplines for national security, ODNI requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conduct a decadal survey of SBS research with applications to national security. The objective was to develop understanding and direction regarding resources from these disciplines with the greatest potential to augment and support the intelligence process and national security, as well as to identify lessons that could be learned from the application of the decadal survey process in this context.
2 ISTEG is an online forum in which experts from various disciplines assist ODNI in addressing key questions related to national security. It was organized by ODNI in partnership with the National Academies.
To carry out this work, the National Academies convened the Committee on the Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security; the charge to the committee is shown in Box 1-1. This report describes the product of the decadal survey.
A decadal survey is a method for engaging members of a research community to identify lines of research with the greatest potential to be of use over a 10-year period in the pursuit of a particular goal. The National Academies pioneered this type of survey with a study of ground-based astronomy in 1964 (see National Academy of Sciences, 1964), and committees appointed by the National Academies have conducted more than 15 decadal surveys to date. The decadal process has become an integral resource in planning future research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey; the two branches of the United States Congress and officials on the staff of the White House have also relied on decadal surveys (NASEM, 2015). Many research communities look to the decadal survey process as both an opportunity to share the potential benefits of their work and a source of guidance on the needs of government agencies. Agency leaders, in turn, rely on the process to provide “a science community consensus on key questions” (NASA Science, 2018).
Decadal studies have targeted many sorts of missions and have involved research disciplines within the space and earth sciences that use a range of methodologies. Many have been designed to assess research in comparatively confined sets of disciplines to address charges related to specific missions. The first such survey, for example, Ground-Based Astronomy: A Ten-Year Program, resulted in recommendations regarding telescopes needed for radio and optical astronomical programs (National Academy of Sciences, 1964). Subsequent decadal studies have addressed broader and more complex missions, but few if any are as broad as improving the analytic capability of agencies responsible for national security, or that draw on a range of disciplines as wide as that encompassed by the SBS.
The Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security is the first application of this approach to SBS fields. It was planned as an opportunity for the IC to benefit more systematically from relevant research produced across these numerous fields, as well as for researchers in these fields to consider critical applications for their work of which they may not previously have been aware. However, there is no established decadal tradition in the IC: although this community relies on a wealth of research, it has not had such a mechanism for seeking input
to its program development, planning, and allocation of funds. Similarly, the SBS community has had no systematic way of focusing on its potential contributions to national security.
The committee formed to conduct this study was made up of experts with decades of experience in intelligence, scholars in diverse SBS fields, and several individuals with extensive experience in both worlds. No committee could begin to reflect all the expertise that would be relevant, but we were committed to applying the well-established decadal survey process in a way that would benefit both the IC and the SBS community. We looked closely at the examples set by other decadal committees, as well as lessons documented in a 2015 National Academies consensus study of the process (NASEM, 2015). The National Academies also has released more than 500 reports on issues related to national security and conflict, and all six of the institution’s divisions have contributed to this body of work. This work provided background and context for the committee’s efforts, and some of it was collected in preparation for a summit held as a precursor to the present study (discussed below) (NASEM, 2017a). The committee took note as well of relevant ongoing work of the National Academies, including the projects listed in Box 1-2.
The decadal survey process has two essential elements: assessing the needs associated with the mission it is to serve and assessing the landscape of research with the potential to contribute to that mission. The committee used an iterative process to assess the needs of the IC and the strength of potential ideas from SBS research to help meet those needs.
The committee used numerous methods to solicit input from the IC and the research community and to collect information about potentially relevant research; our charge was to look forward, not to synthesize the vast existing body of work from which the IC can benefit. The first phase of the study was a summit, held in October 2016, and planned by a separate steering committee. The Summit on Social and Behavioral Sciences for National Security brought together researchers, members of the IC, and government officials to explore a sampling of research relevant to national security and consider its possible benefits and limitations, and to engage in structured discussions of strategic challenges faced by the IC. The summit, which was summarized in a published document, was intended in part to broadcast the goals for this decadal study within both communities (NASEM, 2017a).
Once the decadal committee had been appointed, we initiated a multipronged effort to investigate the research literature in many salient areas and to assess IC needs. Appendix B provides a detailed description of this information-gathering process; the discussion here summarizes the primary activities with which we supplemented our own investigations. In addition to issuing announcements of our work and invitations to contribute—disseminated through e-mail blasts to networks associated with the work of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE), professional organizations representing SBS disciplines, and other groups and individuals with potential interest in this study—we used four pri-
mary means of soliciting input. These sources were supplemented by the collective expertise we brought to the project and our own reviews of the relevant literature, which became increasingly refined as we identified key topics to pursue.
An established component of the decadal survey process is the use of calls for white papers from relevant communities to solicit ideas and comments on specific topics. The committee issued two such calls: the first for input on the key questions, needs, and challenges for intelligence analysis that members of the IC regard as having the highest priority; the second focused on research solutions—concepts, methods, tools, techniques, and new ideas that could advance knowledge—in SBS fields relevant to a variety of analytic challenges and needs. This input was solicited from all SBS disciplines, not just those normally associated with national security and international relations, and notice of each call was widely distributed (see Appendix B). We received 36 responses to the first call and 62 to the second. The papers thus obtained clearly did not reflect the full range of disciplines and ideas that would be relevant, but they did provide us with a diverse set of ideas to explore, as well as an intriguing cross-section of perspectives.3
As noted, the solicitation of such papers has become a widely recognized procedure within communities that have adopted the decadal survey process; submission of a compelling white paper in this context is also an established step in the pursuit of significant research funding. Some decadal survey committees have received as many as several hundred submissions; our yield of white paper submissions was considerably less. However, there is currently no tradition within SBS disciplines of submitting white papers for this sort of purpose, and no reason for scholars to be looking for such opportunities. Indeed, many SBS scholars whose research may be relevant to the classified work of the IC may never have considered it in that light. Moreover, the term “social and behavioral sciences” encompasses a wide range of disciplines, methodologies, and research subjects. It would be impossible to carry out a systematic survey of such a broad terrain in the same way that one might survey the research relevant to, for example, ground telescopes. Thus, we made a concerted effort to solicit ideas with application to national security through other channels.
Structured Discussions with Researchers, Representatives of the IC, and Other Government Officials Representing Diverse Agencies and Perspectives
In the course of the study, the committee used time at its meetings to hear from 17 individuals, including researchers in the SBS disciplines, members of the IC, and other government representatives. These discussions provided an opportunity for the committee to ask questions and hear a range of perspectives.
Building on the insights gained through the white papers and discussions at our meetings, the committee identified issues and questions about which we wished to learn more. Separate steering committees, each of which included members of the parent committee and outside experts, were appointed to plan six 1-day workshops aimed at exploring some of these issues. Various experts were invited to make presentations, answer questions, and engage in discussion with members of the committee and external participants, who included primarily researchers and current or former members of the IC. Thus, the committee was able to take advantage of a much broader range of expertise than could be reflected in any single 16-member committee, with the workshops serving a function similar to that of the expert panels used in many decadal studies.4 The workshops, each summarized in a published document,5 addressed the following:
- Changing sociocultural dynamics and implications for national security
- Emerging trends and methods in international security
- Leveraging advances in social network thinking for national security
- Learning from the science of cognition and perception for decision making
- Workforce development and intelligence analysis
- Understanding narratives for national security purposes
4 The work of many decadal committees has been supplemented by expert panels, also appointed by the National Academies, to represent particular scientific or technical communities; they examine aspects of the parent committee’s charge in detail. In this case, it was not possible to specify disciplines in advance, as the development of topics to examine and relevant disciplines was an important part of the committee’s deliberations.
5 The workshop proceedings are available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BBCSS/SBS_for_National_Security-Decadal_Survey/index.htm [December 2018].
The committee used several venues to spread word of its interest in hearing from members of both the IC and the research community. A virtual platform called IdeaBuzz allowed any interested user to post ideas and to comment or engage in dialogue about ideas already posted. Notice of this opportunity was widely disseminated through channels similar to those used for the white paper calls. Participation in a town hall at a meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis in 2017 was another opportunity to interact with potential contributors to the discussion and spread the word about the study. We also used announcements distributed through email to experts and academic departments throughout the country, inviting input and participation via workshops, IdeaBuzz, or simply submission of comments through the web portal for the study.
The committee used multiple strategies to sort and assess the input received. A first step was to synthesize the input on the needs of the IC provided in written comments and white papers and remarks made at our meetings and workshops. The IC needs thus identified fell largely into two general categories.
One area of need was for support in taking advantage of developing research and technology to improve the skills and tools of intelligence analysts. The areas in which members of the IC cited a desire to improve included (1) ways to determine the usefulness of and analyze information and data; (2) ways to communicate findings effectively to decision makers; (3) means of monitoring and measuring current and evolving events; (4) methods for modeling and understanding complex, multiple-actor phenomena; and (5) ways to avoid errors and biases in decision making.
The second area of need was the desire for support in strengthening the IC workforce itself, taking advantage of developing research and technology to improve recruitment, selection, training, and the building of teams. Among the specific needs expressed were improved coordination and communication among researchers, analysts, policy and decision makers, and teams; the sharing of information and the organizational culture and supports available for managing workload in a high-stress environment; and strategies for identifying and mitigating incidences of insider threat.
In the process of refining our understanding of the primary needs of the IC, we also explored a large number of intriguing research topics and assessed their potential links to the needs we had identified. We deliberated at length about criteria for identifying those topics with the greatest promise for supporting the work of the intelligence analyst. Building on
the guidance provided in our charge (refer to Box 1-1), we identified four primary criteria:
- Potential for impact on urgent national security priorities
- Strength of the supporting evidence base
- Technical readiness, encompassing the state of development along the research continuum from basic research, to field testing and evaluation, to applied research
- Use or development of emerging data sources, methods, or other technical advances with potential to yield significant progress
Our charge makes reference to two elements we were unable to consider fully. One was the “relevant capabilities of elements within the security community to support and apply SBS research findings.” The breadth and scale of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, together with the classified nature of much of its work, prevented us from developing a detailed picture of how the IC is currently making use of research from SBS disciplines. Indeed, even a count of the analytic personnel currently employed in the agencies that make up the IC was not available to us. Given that DARPA, IARPA, and Minerva integrate work from SBS fields, it is likely that some elements of the ideas discussed in this report will be familiar among some segments of the IC. Others may not, and may be difficult for the agencies to apply immediately. Our objective was to clearly identify ways specific research could be of use for national security purposes and to be as explicit as possible about how that research might be exploited, not to address precisely how it might be implemented within the walls of the IC. The second element of our charge we were unable to address in detail was cost. Because we covered such a broad range of topics, it was simply not feasible to address any one in sufficient detail to support realistic estimates of even relative cost.
Through this multistep filtering process, we identified a set of key opportunities SBS research offers for strengthening national security—specifically by supporting the work of the intelligence analyst. The intelligence analyst’s key function is to make sense of information about the world that can be used to protect the United States. SBS research offers the opportunity to provide new insights about individuals, groups, and societies—using new types of data, including such artifacts as video data—that can transform intelligence analysis to improve and expand understanding of change, dynamics, and disruptions in the world.
The four broad, high-priority areas of opportunity we identified demonstrate how multiple research areas must be integrated so they can be fully exploited by the analytic community. Our focus is on a key contribution of SBS knowledge domains: the insights they provide into human behavior, capacities, and limitations, and how that understanding can be integrated into both the content of intelligence analysis (understanding what people and adversaries do) and the technical means of analysis (improving and supplementing the analyst’s human capacities). We do not claim that these are the only areas of opportunity, but we are confident that they are “ripe” in the sense that they offer innovations in theory and/or application likely to bear fruit in concrete ways in the coming decade and are responsive to significant goals and needs related to the analyst’s work. This report describes each of these broad opportunities and identifies objectives for research that could bring them closer to readiness for implementation by the IC.
The first two opportunities address the need for ways to improve the content of analysis, while the second two address ways to strengthen the capacity of the analytic workforce.
Opportunity 1: Emerging Ways to Answer Intelligence Questions
Advances in SBS research offer promising ways to glean answers to intelligence questions from the vast streams of information to which analysts potentially have access. New developments in such fields as cognitive and behavioral science, linguistics, psychology, and communication are providing the basis for knowledge and skills that can significantly enhance existing means of understanding many of the social phenomena important to national security. Research is expanding opportunities to apply new and familiar tools and methods, including those for analyzing new sorts of data on a very large scale and for harvesting meaning from data with respect to the behaviors and interactions of individuals, groups, and systems.
Opportunity 2: Enhancing Security in Cyberspace
Cyber-related developments have dramatically expanded the landscape of security threats, as well as the potential tools for countering those threats. Cyber experts from multiple technical disciplines have a laser focus on cybersecurity, but there is a pressing need to integrate understanding of human beings and social processes into the analyst’s approach to understanding this critical set of problems. The emerging field of social cybersecurity has developed to meet this need. Researchers have been taking advantage of foundational work in SBS fields to characterize cyber-mediated changes in individual, group, societal, and political behaviors and outcomes, and also to build the cyber infrastructure needed to guard against cyber-mediated threats.
Opportunity 3: Optimal Design of a Human–Machine Ecosystem
A key emerging asset for the analyst—as well as an emerging challenge—lies in the rapidly accelerating sophistication of computer technology and AI. Collaborative computing ecosystems, in which autonomous computer agents augment the work of the human analyst, offer the potential to develop a collaborative intelligence analysis team with far greater capacity than would be possible with either humans or machines alone.
Opportunity 4: Preparing the Analytic Workforce for Future Challenges
The opportunities described in this report will pose considerable new challenges for the analytic workforce even as they provide powerful new capabilities. A significant body of existing research offers insights into how the workforce can be prepared to absorb and exploit the range of information made possible through new tools for sensemaking and the capabilities brought by collaborative computing.
This report is structured in three parts. Part I provides essential context on the SBS community and the work of intelligence analysis, intended to aid readers who may not be well acquainted with one or the other of these communities. Chapter 2 provides an orientation to the two communities and identifies a few similarities and differences between them. Chapter 3 is a summary of global trends and the urgent security risks associated with those trends that are at the heart of the analyst’s challenges. This chapter relies on the work of the National Intelligence Council and other entities who track such developments. Chapter 4 provides an overview of the work analysts do.
Part II (Chapters 5–8) describes opportunities offered by SBS research for enhancing national security. For each of the four areas of opportunity outlined above, these chapters describe benefits for the IC that can be reaped over the coming decade and specific areas of research that require support and development if those benefits are to be fully realized.
Part III (Chapters 9 and 10) considers how the IC can capitalize on the opportunities highlighted in Part II. Chapter 9 summarizes lessons learned in conducting this decadal study, examines the ties between the national security and SBS communities, and suggests the elements needed for productive collaboration between the two communities. Chapter 10 offers a look at intelligence analysis a decade from now. It synthesizes the primary benefits for the IC of the opportunities discussed in earlier chapters, highlights the importance of integrating research-based understanding of human
and social processes into the IC’s analytic capabilities, and describes what is needed to capitalize on these opportunities.
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