A Case Of Too Many ‘Experts’ In The CIA?

By: - January 17, 2018

Mohr argues that the integrity of the product suffers due to a lack of “true experts” combined with the collective pressure to “be” a “Subject Matter Expert,” or SME.

Two weeks ago, Lee Ferran, an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist (and founder of Code and Dagger), put forth an article entitled, “In Intelligence Analysis, Too Many Experts Without Real Expertise.” Thus is the assertion of Defense Intelligence Agency analyst John Mohr, who authored “A Call for More Humility in Intelligence Analysis,” as published in the CIA’S unclassified Studies in Intelligence Journal. In it, Mohr argues that the integrity of the product suffers due to a lack of “true experts” combined with the collective pressure to “be” a “Subject Matter Expert,” or SME.

Mohr writes:

[I]ntelligence analysts [are] staking their reputations on their specialized knowledge, in addition to solid tradecraft and polished communication skills. No analyst would want to be introduced [in a meeting] as a novice on North Korea, and no manager would want to turn away a tasking because the office lacks expertise, but the IC needs to guard against applying the SME title too broadly and consider what really constitutes an expert.

Based on my experience, my perspective on the issue is consistent with that of longtime former CIA analyst Nada Bakos as presented in Ferran’s report—Mohr was erroneously conflating humility and analytic tradecraft.

In presentation, an analyst is not representing themselves or their own independent analysis, but is speaking on behalf of CIA. Furthermore, the analysis of any one issue is developed through an editing and coordination process involving many individuals with many levels of “expertise” (from novice to journeyman to experienced expert) on the task or issue at hand. Also, in this process is embedded lessons learned such as analytic failings of the past as well as dissenting opinions, which are hashed out and annotated accordingly.

Reading this left me uncertain as to Mohr’s motivation, or exactly what issue the author was seeking to address beyond perceived pomposity in the Intelligence Community, specifically at the CIA. I took from it, maybe mistakenly, that the author was responding to experiences in the inter-agency coordination process and the friction between and among analysts defending ‘their’ analysis. There are serious issues with intelligence analysis, exacerbated by politicization and personalities.

Mohr’s assertion also underscores the merits of all-source analysis regardless of the “expert” egos involved, or lack thereof. Collaboration between analyst and collector may skew the objectivity of the analysis more by relying too heavily on that which is local or corporate whether HUMINT, SIGINT, military or civilian, etc. Critically, this over-reliance may get passed on in the process and lost in the analytic dialogue of “experts,” real or imagined.

It is my opinion that analysis should be conducted under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), vice the separate agencies comprising the Intelligence Community. This would provide an all-source perspective and limit the potential for institutional bias. The respective agencies would produce estimates or assessments, and provide direct analytic support to their collectors, but not analysis.