Published for The Washington Post, October 1, 2012
The intersection of intelligence reporting and policymaking is tricky.
I’ve often likened the dynamic to a room in which intelligence and policy must meet, though each enters through different doors. Intelligence professionals bring to the conversation facts, data and evidence; thinking inductively, they try to use them to draw generalized conclusions. They should see the world as it is and, consequently, find it hard to escape a generally pessimistic attitude.
Policymakers, on the other hand, tend to be more optimistic, envisioning the world as we would want it to be, thinking deductively as they try to apply a set of generalized principles — the ones that got them elected — to specific situations.
Even in the best of times, the burden on intelligence is heavy, as it is the intelligence professional’s task to get into the heads of policymakers and deepen the officials’ understanding. That must be done without breaking the linkage to his fact-based, dark, inductive, world-as-it-is roots. Often this means making life more difficult and more complicated for the policymaking consumer.
This is especially true when policymaking blends into partisan electoral politics and the interpretation of intelligence becomes part of the political debate.
That’s a minefield in which few intelligence professionals would want to wander, so many were surprised last week when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) seemed to voluntarilyenter the fray with a news release broadly outlining the course of intelligence assessments of the Sept. 11 attack on two U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.