Years ago Frank Watanabe wrote the following 15 axioms for Intelligence Analysts.
Frank wrote the 15 axioms as a way to provide practical advice to new intelligence analysts –
He later decided these axioms might also be of interest to other officers in the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).
I think these 15 axioms are just as relevant today, so I’m sharing (with my own personal comments) to provide practical advice for junior intelligence professionals.
While Frank admits he didn’t rigidly adhere to each of them, they provide a general guide to the professional conduct as a DI analyst.
Each of Franks axioms are in bold with my interpretation and explanation afterwards.
Fifteen Axioms for Intelligence Analysts
Believe in your own professional judgments. To paraphrase Frank, don’t be so pig-headed to think you know everything. But make sure you back yourself and your assessments.
Be aggressive, and do not fear being wrong. Make a call! Anyone can re-state the facts, you get paid to interpret what they mean, so make an assessment. You won’t always get it right, but hey, that’s Intel.
It is better to be mistaken than to be wrong. Don’t be afraid to re-examine your findings, and update your assessments in light of new information.
Avoid mirror imaging at all costs. Don’t just project your view on the situation, check for bias and make sure you consider all angles, not just those that ‘make sense to you’.
Intelligence is of no value if it is not disseminated. Ship, ship, ship! Whether it’s email, phone call, conversation or trained pidgion intel must get to the decision maker, otherwise what’s the point?
Coordination is necessary, but do not settle for the least common denominator. Sometimes people will disagree with you – that’s fine. But don’t water down your assessment because of it. Consider how to reflect differences of opionion in your assessments (perhaps using a footnote). Don’t bitch out.
When everyone agrees on an issue, something probably is wrong. Avoid groupthink and try to approach your analysis differently. Frank says “differences of opinion are healthy because they force both sides to make their case on the field of intellectual battle.”
The consumer does not care how much you know, just tell him what is important. Don’t waffle or try to show how smart you are – give the facts, provide what’s important to allow for questions as required.
Form is never more important than substance. Your intelligence is more important than your formatting. While this is not a licence for sloppy work, give the bulk of the time to the work, not the product design. (Hot tip: leave the custom animation out of it).
Aggressively pursue collection of information you need. I was always taught to ‘fight-for-information’, this does not mean send an email and wait for a reply – no, aggressively pursuing information often means getting up and finding people who’ve got the answers you need.
Do not take the editing process too seriously. Typically analysts put too much information into their products…The goal is to say the same thing with less words.
Know your Community counterparts and talk to them frequently. Frank puts it best when he says “the CIA does not have a monopoly on truth or information” You need to make close ties with you counterparts in other agencies and communicate regularly… How regualrly? An email / phone call per week and coffee every month, at least.
Never let your career take precedence over your job. Don’t be afraid to make an unpopular call, maintain your analytical integrity.
Being an intelligence analyst is not a popularity contest. People don’t like bad news. Your job is to deliver bad news. Not everyone will like what you say all the time. This is part of the business.
Do not take your job-or yourself too seriously. Yes, you’re busy, and people reply on you – but you are not the single point of failure. There is always more work thank time, but ensure you take time for yourself. Don’t neglect your family or your health no matter what.
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