Innovator Series: The Analyst’s Perspective

Welcome to the very first round of the Innovator Series!  This compilation is designed to inspire and excite our thinking on innovation and creativity as it pertains to analysts (or those who do analysis but have a different title)  in law enforcement, the security sector and larger criminal justice enterprise.

Today, for the interview portion of the series, you will hear from Travels with Shiloh, an intelligence analyst with over 20 years of experience.

  What does being an innovator mean to you?

A willingness to experiment with how we do things to see if it is possible to improve results or get efficiencies.  Most importantly, it involves a willingness to admit that a particular effort was a failure and stop doing something that doesn’t work.  I became an intelligence analyst in the military at the tail end of the Cold War and one piece of Soviet military doctrine has stuck with me ever since I learned it.  ‘Reinforce success…not failure.’ If something isn’t working, failing faster or with more people is rarely the answer.  Of course, I can think of few failures that didn’t come with valuable lessons learned.

  What kind of disruptive (or innovative) thinking do you see in the intelligence and law enforcement realm? 

I think the law enforcement and intelligence fields suffer terribly from not having an outlet to honestly and openly talk about failures and lessons learned.  It goes so far as to discourage any type of criticism in the community.  The military is by no means perfect but there is a tradition of having forums to openly discuss shortcomings and recommend changes that can shake up the status quo.

In terms of innovative thinking, I’ve really enjoyed watching how social media has allowed intelligence to be shared, debated, collaborated on and improved.  I don’t think ‘traditional’ intelligence products will ever disappear but I’d like to think that we’re moving towards a time when they will only be one type of dissemination method (and perhaps only an occasional one).

 How do you see education playing a role in the future of intelligence analysis? 

Intelligence really can play a dual for intelligence analysts.  It can provide the tools for thinking about problems, methodologies for addressing them and context for helping to understanding them.  It can also allow the student to discover if intelligence analysis is a good fit for them.  Education by itself, however, can only get you so far.  I’ve always believed that good training can make just about anyone an adequate analyst.  To move into the realm of the exceptional analysts one really needs to combine that with a variety of other, I suspect inherent, traits.

 What are some ways that you think government, industry and individuals could collaborate to meet the future demands of intelligence analysis? 

I suspect the well is a bit poisoned now to the idea of joint intelligence work done by government and the private sector.  It need not be, however, and with a dedication to transparency and oversight there really are some incredible possibilities.  Government has the ability to provide focus and guidance to intelligence efforts, whether that’s to solve a difficult crime problem in a municipality or identify emerging terrorist threats.  Business and individuals have access to expertise and deploy it much more nimbly than government usually can.  Their willingness to embrace new technology tools also can provide significant benefits.  I’ve been intrigued about the idea of crowd sourcing analysis in the wake of the Boston Bombing.  While that was in large part a cautionary tale of what can go wrong with crowd-sourced intelligence I still believe there’s potential there. 

 Now for a fun one.  What are four of your favorite things that you’d recommend readers check out? 

1) I’d highly recommend the International Spy Museum’s podcast .  Engaging and detailed interviews about the intelligence field.

2) I’ve been a huge fan of the book ‘Imperial Secrets’ by Patrick A. Kelley for a number of years now.  No matter how good our software and other tools may be we are ultimately limited by the way we see the world and Kelley recounts how other empires suffered from those limitations.

3) The Environmental Investigation Agency is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and the environment though intelligence work.  They are a phenomenal example of how a small, nimble organization can produce top quality intelligence analysis.

4) Finally, for anyone in or contemplating service with the government, I cannot recommend more highly the British comedy series ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’.  These were made in the 1980s but can not be beat in terms of giving you a primer on governing and how the various elements within government interact to support (or undermine) each other.  I recommend every intern I meet to watch these series several times over.

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