Given the realities of the intelligence budget for the foreseeable future, we are probably at the end of the great surge of new hires we saw after September 2001. However, we are still in the middle of a more protracted generational shift of analysts that presents both challenges and opportunities in terms of Intelligence Community (IC) skills and ongoing capabilities. We must therefore focus on the opportunity at hand to reshape how we manage education and training across the intelligence community.
Even in an age obsessed with whiz-bang technology, it remains true that any intelligence community can only be as good as the people who make it up. I believe there are four truths about personnel throughout the intelligence community that are as critical as they are often ignored.
First, the large cadre of analysts hired primarily during the Reagan-Casey build-up in the 1980s is retiring. This, coupled with the likely downsizing of workforces (at least among the defense intelligence analysts) will result in an accelerating brain drain.
Second, the large number of analysts hired since 2001 has produced a workforce in which more than half of all analysts have fewer than five years experience. We probably have the least experienced analytical workforce since 1947, when the modern IC was created.
Third, while these younger analysts have some extremely useful skills (they are particularly adept at collaboration and information sharing), they tend to lack the fundamental skills of in-depth knowledge, writing ability and the capacity to think critically about broader patterns—as opposed to finding discrete packets of information. In a sense, this is the distinction between reading to decode information and reading fluently; in the former, context and nuance are minor concerns, while in the latter they are crucial.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the IC still has not achieved a true community-wide approach to education and training. This failure harms the effort to generate more thorough horizontal integration among our 17 intelligence agencies and it distorts vertical career development as well. Analysts are largely trained within their own agencies when they enter the workforce; any subsequent education or training is largely self-initiated and haphazard.
For an enterprise that depends on intellectual activity as its end result, the IC has behaved in recent years in a surprisingly anti-intellectual manner. The four data points listed above argue strongly that it is time (if not past time) to make some changes.
First and foremost, we need improve community-wide education and training. The National Intelligence University (NIU) has existed now for almost seven years and has had at least five chancellors (the number depends on how you count). It has not, however, had any...