Notes on Analytic
Addressing US Interests in DI Assessments
This is the first of a series of Product Evaluation Staff notes to clarify
the standards used for evaluating DI assessments and to provide tradecraft
tips for putting the standards into practice.
The DI professional ethic requires that analysts provide direct support
to policymakers' efforts to define and defend US national security interests.
The standard is for DI products to convey distinctive value added that promotes
feedback, tasking, and access generally. In many cases, this standard requires
going beyond general relevance to US interests to customized assistance
for identified policy officials who have the "action" on designing,
implementing, or monitoring US policy on an individual issue.
The ultimate judges of the utility of DI products for the policymaking
process are the officials who choose whether or not to rely on them. The
opportunities for adding distinctive intelligence values are usually clear
to DI analysts when policy officials ask for a study, memorandum, or briefing.
These officials indicate what they expect to gain from their request: for
example, specialized information, research findings, cause-and-effect analysis;
cost-benefit assessment of tactical alternatives.
The challenge to address effectively US interests is greater when the
initiative for launching a DI product comes largely from the intelligence
side of the relationship. It is here that Agency monitors (such as the staffs
of the congressional oversight committees) are most likely to raise questions
about the policymaking utility of individual DI products.
How to proceed? Each analytic assignment represents a distinctive opportunity
for providing support to policy officials and the policymaking process.
That said, veteran analysts and managers have garnered from direct experience
and feedback from policy officials that DI products are usually best directed
to meet the needs of the user when they are either organized around or specifically
highlight one or more of the following values:
- Opportunities and dangers for US interests, especially unexpected developments
that may require a US reaction.
- Motives, objectives, strengths, and vulnerabilities of adversaries,
allies, and other actors.
- Direct and indirect sources of US leverage on foreign players and issues.
- Tactical alternatives for advancing stated US policy goals.
Veteran analysts and managers also recommend the following Tradecraft
Tips for increasing the utility of DI assessments for policymakers.
- Think of the analyst's role as that of the objective or tough-minded
expert for a policymaking team. Much of the time, hands-on policy officials
know the "story" or general pattern of events overseas regarding
their priority accounts. What they need most from the intelligence analyst
is organized information, including specialized intelligence, that clarifies
the goals and motives as well as the strengths and weaknesses of adversaries,
allies, and other foreign players.
- Recognize that research and reporting are inputs or means to an
end. The output is customized support to help policy officials get
their jobs done usually planning for, taking, or monitoring an action.
The goal is to convert substantive expertise into action-support analysis
before conveying it to consumers.
- Put a face as well as a name on the five to 10 policy officials
who are the core customers on a country or functional account. Analysts
should study what these officials have written or said on important substantive
issues and debrief policy staffers who work for core consumers, as well
as anyone on the intelligence side of the river who knows their professional
habits. The goal is to learn how key officials absorb information and reach
judgments, as well as their current priority interests.
- Target the policymakers' specific interest in a substantive issue.
To identify lines of analysis that provide value added, analysts should
think through what they would want to know if they were policymakers charged
with leveraging an issue. That done, in drafting an assessment or outlining
a briefing, the analysts bring to bear the DI's collective substantive
expertise, distinctive collection resources, and rigorous analytic tradecraft.
- Be aware that consumers' needs may change as the policymaking process
evolves. Policy officials often are receptive to broad analytic treatments
when an issue first emerges and they are in their long-range planning or
goal-setting phase. But once the lines of US policy are set, their focus
shifts to specifics about vulnerabilities, leverage, and other facets of
Special Tradecraft Challenges
- Support the policymaking process without engaging in policymaking
per se. The "if, then" approach can facilitate close policy
support without crossing the line to policy prescription. If the
US policy goal is to get from A to B, then the analysts' research
findings, all-source collection, and general expertise indicate the following
opportunities for moving forward and dangers to be avoided.
- Long-shot threats and opportunities. Policy officials often
have a strong interest in low-probability, high-impact dangers and objectives.
DI analysis in support of policymaking in these circumstances should provide
expert, tough-minded assessments that concentrate, not on whether an event
is likely, but on how and why it might come about, including the leverage
the United States has for constricting dangers and enhancing opportunities.
- Pointing is not choosing. Policy-support analysis at times requires
the analyst to identify and clarify the vulnerabilities of adversaries
and the sources of US leverage over allies and third parties as well as
enemies. The responsibility and risk of choosing what actions to take remains
with the policymaker.
- The timeliness challenge. When policy officials are engaged
in managing day-to-day crises, they will use whatever information is available
to them when a decision point comes. Rarely will they wait for intelligence
analysis. To provide utility, intelligence updates and other analytic support
must be delivered in time to meet decision and action deadlines.
Drafting and Self Review
- Convert issues into questions. One way to assure utility for
policymakers is to organize an analytic effort around the known or presumed
questions of key officials on the account. Whenever appropriate, use the
questions as section headings, or otherwise make sure that the sections
address the identified operational concerns of hands-on policy officials.
- Use the "so-what" test. In reviewing a first draft,
analysts should evaluate the sections of the paper from the intended customers'
point of view and ask - so what? Does the draft address specifically
and effectively what key policymakers need to know to get their
- Or use the "action-support" test. As an alternative
test of the policy utility of a draft, analysts can list the five or so
matters they personally would like to see clarified if they were directly
responsible for managing US policy action. Next to each entry, list the
paragraphs of the draft that provide actionable information or insight.
Adjust the draft if key identified concerns are not addressed or if too
many of the paragraphs are not directly related to specific concerns.
Forward to "Note 2"
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