THE ROLE OF THE CONSULTANT IN INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATES

Created: 9/1/1958

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STUDIES IN

INTELLIGENCE

A collection ol articles on the historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects ot intelligence.

All statements of fact, opinion Of analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence arc those of

the authors They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations.

An "ordinary citizen" appraises his participation in one "form of divination."

THE ROLE OF TBS CONSULTANT IN INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATES Joseph R. Strayer

Most consultants, at one time or another In their careers, wonder what excuse there Is lor their existence. They do not have continuing access to all the sources of Informationto the Intelligence community. They can spendew hours In pondering the significance of events which require days or weeks for proper analysis. Vet they are asked for advice about the most complicated problems and are expected to give their opinion on five minutes* notice. They wonder If the ritual of consultation has any more value than other forms of divination. They fear that they often seem naive and Ignorant and they know that they can correct these deficiencies only by using up the time of intelligence officers whohave something better to do.

These feelings of guilt are made worse by the fact thatIs Interesting and enjoyable. The problems areeven If the consultant's opinion Is not. Howeverconsultant may be at the start of bis career, he willenlightened during his period of service. Thecommunity has not solved all its problems of stylebut It usually succeeds Inlear, logical and compact form. There is noto get an education In world affairs than to act as aBut these' benefits only deepen theWhat does be give one-half so precious as what

For some kinds of consultant the answer Is fairly easy. These are the men who have dined with dictators or haggled with desert sheikha, who understand the mysteries of international finance or the Intricacies of oriental poll tics. Such men have specialised knowledge and technical proficiency, they add to the pool of Information and skill available to the Intelligence

Tfte Role ol the Consultant

community instead of draining it. The need for this type of consultant is too obvious to require explanation; Intelligence can always use expert knowledge of little-known areas or of highly technical problems.

But even these experts are often consulted on matters in which they have no special competence, and intelligence often recruits consultants who are not experts at all. They arewell-informed citizens, with some Interest in foreign affairs. What special knowledge they may have is usually confined to Europe, an area on which practically everyone In Washington Is an expert. It is to be hoped that they also have good sense and good Judgment, but these qualities arc certainly at least as common In the intelligence community as hi any group of outsiders. What can such men contribute to theeffort?

elong to this group of consultants which has novaluable expertise, my answer to this question may be somewhat self-serving. As faran see, the chief value of these consultants lies precisely In their lack of special knowledge. If nothing else, this makes themarge number of the consumers of intelligenceAny text-book writer knows that it is fatal to ask an expertarticular chapter is clear and meaningful. Either he will read all his own knowledge Into it and pass over loose organization and glaring omissions, or he will quarrel with every generalization and load it with unnecessary detail. The best critic of the first draftext-book is an intelligent person who hasophomore's knowledge of the field. In the same way, the best critic of an intelligence paper isthe consultant who haseneral knowledge of the topic. If heey passage, if he is not convinced by the reasoning, if he feels that some essential information has been omitted, then the chances are that several consumers will have the same. For example, .consultants have sometimes been troubled by the ^discriminate use of the terms "leir orince "leftist" can mean anythingan who believes insuffrage to an ardent supporter of Communism it does not help very much to be told that the cabinet ofas "four leftistonsultants have also been critical of the use of technical phrases in places where non-technical

The Role of tht, Consultant

language would be just as effective Why say "has optimum capability" when all that is meant is "workshe war against vagueness and jargon must be fought by all members of the Intelligence community, but consultants can sometimes be used as shock troops in the struggle.

lack of precision is not the only reasonaper may fail to be convincing. Sometimes the argument seems too precise, it places too much weight on logic and reasonableness.may not be expert but they have usually had enough experience to realise that human beings seldom solve their problemsompletely logical and sensibleice example of this clash of logic and experienceew years ago when the French Assembly was debating theof the Ill-fated EDC agreements. The first draftaper shownroup of consultants predicted with some confidence that the agreements would be ratified. The arguments for this belief were strong. They were based on intensiveof the attitude of the government and the deputies and they were presented with impeccable logic. But somedistrusted the underlying assumption that thewould be reasonable andolicy of enlightened self-interest They argued that these qualities are rare in any political group and especiallyrench political group. Their opposition may have helped to make the final draft of the paper much less certain about ratification, even though it still leaned to the wrong side.

Criticism of style and logic Is an essentially negativeThe consultant can also make some positiveHe should not hesitate to ask obvious and even silly questions. The greatest danger in intelligence work, asin all intellectual activity, is that of falling Into aroutine. We all know of cases In which judgments have been repeated year after year simply because they were once sanctioned by the highest authority. It does no harm towhat seems obvious or to question long-established generalisations. Itonsultant who first queried the standard passage about the USSR being unwilling to conclude an Austrian State Treaty. It was anotherwho cast doubt on the cliche that Mohammedanism and Communism are fundamentally Incompatible. On the other hand, certain consultants were demonstrably wrong when

ET

Role of the Consul font

they urged that thereeal possibility that the USSR would withdraw from East Germany in returnon of the reunited country. But their question at least forced the intelligence community to examine with greater care its basic assumptions about Soviet policy in Germany and so in the end to have greater confidence in Its estimate that the USSR considered It essential to retain its hold on East Germany.

Most important of all, the consultant, simply because heittle farther away from the trees, can sometimes see the first signs of the storms which will destroy certain portions of the forest. The intelligence community, like any other group, must assume that there willertain amount of continuity in the phenomena with which it. deals. If it did not do so, it could not function. If precedents mean nothing, iftatesman does today has no bearing on what he does tomorrow, then It becomes impossible to make estimates. Some of the most valuable intelligence papers ever writtenthose projecting the future economic growth of the USSRwere based on the assumption that existing trends would continue. But, granting all this, quantum jumps do occur in human affairs. Sudden changes can overthrow precedents andtrends. It is hard for anyone to foresee such changes; It is particularly hard for men who have spent yearsertain pattern of conduct emerge and apparently stabilize itself. The worst failures of Intelligence in recent years have been caused by this inability to anticipate the possibility of drastic change.

I am not suggesting that greater reliance on consultants could have prevented many, or indeed any, of these failures. Like most educated men, consultants tend to overestimate the element of continuity. But sometimes consultants do not know very well what it is that is supposed to continue. Because they have fewer old facts in their minds they are moreto the scattered new facts which indicatehange Isan remember two Incidents which illustrate this point. The first came after the death of Stalin. Certainly no one could then have predicted the exact nature of the changes which would occur. But thereendency on the part of some members of the Intelligence community to deny that any change would take place. Certain consultants, on the other handmostly those who knew little about the Soviet

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Unionfelt lint drastic change was inevitable, that no one but Stalin could continue Stalin's system. Their arguments may have been weak, but their hunch wasittle more willingness to look for signs of change in the months following Stalin's death might have prevented some poor estimates

The other case was more recent When the GalUardfell in France early this year, the generally accepted opinion was that this was merely another episode In the lamentable history of the Fourth Republic. Another weak government would be formed, which would limp along until replaced by an even weaker successor. Some consultants,felt that this was the last straw, that the French would no longerystem which made them politicallyIn spite of their counsel, the possibilityaullist regime was still being denied by some elements of thecommunity almost up to the moment when de Gaulle took power.

One final moral: on both occasions the consultants deferred to the greater knowledge of the experts whom they wereand did not press their point of view very strongly. This was an abnegation of their proper function. Dissent leads to questioning of established opinion, and only throughestablished opinion can we arrive at the Imperfectwhich Is all that intelligence can ever attain.

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