from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 54
May 3, 2006

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A new study published by the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence calls for a fundamental reconceptualization of the process of intelligence analysis in order to overcome the "pathologies" that have rendered it increasingly dysfunctional.

"Curing Analytic Pathologies" by Jeffrey R. Cooper has been available up to now in limited circulation in hard copy only. Like several other recent studies critical of U.S. intelligence, it was withheld from the CIA web site. It has now been published on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

Author Cooper provides a thoughtful critique that notes the intrinsic difficulties of intelligence analysis and observes how current organizational practices have exacerbated them.

"The Intelligence Community presently lacks many of the scientific community's self-correcting features," he writes.

One major impediment to improving analysis is the hypertrophied secrecy practices that prevail in intelligence organizations.

"Unfortunately, the more that evidence and judgments are restricted in dissemination by compartmentation and distribution limitations, the more likely it is that questionable judgments will pass unchallenged."

Fundamentally, the whole concept of the "intelligence cycle" -- referring to the conventional sequence of collection, processing, analysis and dissemination -- is misleading, Cooper argues, and should be jettisoned.

"With its industrial age antecedents, it usually conveys the notion of a self-contained 'batch' process rather than a continuous spiral of interactions."

Taking Cooper's thesis seriously, one could respectfully say that his new study embodies some of the defects in intelligence analysis that he writes about.

Thus, the study presents what is essentially one moment in an ongoing conversation and freezes it in a nicely produced but static document. This reflects the kind of spurious finality that Cooper dismisses as the "conceit of finished intelligence."

And then the CIA, by disseminating the document in hardcopy only, sharply limited its audience and effectively precluded a "continuous spiral of interactions" regarding its contents.

That last part, at least, can be corrected.

See "Curing Analytic Pathologies: Pathways to Improved Intelligence Analysis" by Jeffrey R. Cooper, Center for the Study of Intelligence, December 2005 (5 MB PDF):

Author Cooper said he would welcome feedback from interested readers. Comments can be posted on the Secrecy News blog:

Alternatively, Cooper's contact information can be obtained from Secrecy News.


The latest study by the JASON scientific advisory panel to be approved for public release has the forbidding title "Quantifications of Margins and Uncertainties" (QMU).

The meaning of this term is somewhat elusive, as discussed in the report, but it involves a methodology for assessing the reliability of complex technical systems, and specifically the performance and safety of the U.S. nuclear stockpile in the absence of nuclear explosive testing.

After a lengthy review process, the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration released the March 2005 report in its entirety in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.

See "Quantifications of Margins and Uncertainties," March 23, 2005:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) relied on the JASON report in a recent study on the nuclear weapons stockpile that also included a relatively clear description of QMU.

See "Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Needs to Refine and More Effectively Manage Its New Approach for Assessing and Certifying Nuclear Weapons," GAO Report No. GAO-06-261, February 2006:

The somewhat mysterious JASON panel was the subject of Ann Finkbeiner's well-received new book, "The JASONs: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite".


Some notable recent reports of the Congressional Research Service include the following:

"Intelligence Issues for Congress," updated April 10, 2006:

"Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses," updated April 6, 2006:

"Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance," updated April 26, 2006:

"India-U.S. Relations," updated April 6, 2006:

"Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and American Interests," updated April 3, 2006:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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