On Sherman Kent and the Profession of Intelligence Analysis

  • Intelligence analysis must adapt to the demands and conditions under which they find themselves. “… scholarship, while essential for getting the job done, had to adapt to the conditions and commands of wartime.”
  • Individuality and eccentricity are valuable as long as you have analytic talent. “When an intelligence staff has been screened through [too fine a mesh], its members will be as alike as tiles on a bathroom floor — and about as capable of meaningful and original though.”
  • Intelligence analysis is a branch of philosophy. When asked “what after all is the purpose of analysis?” Kent replied “To elevate the quality of discussion in this town”. Don’t worry, I won’t make the argument for why this is philosophy in this post.
  1. Avoidance of a Personal Policy Agenda
  2. Intellectual Rigor
  3. Conscious Effort to Avoid Analyst Biases
  4. Willingness to Consider Other Judgements
  5. Systematic Use of Outside Experts
  6. Collective Responsibility for Judgement
  7. Effective Communication of Policy-Support Information and Judgements
  8. Candid Admission of Mistakes
  1. Recognize my personal agendas and remove them proactively from any analysis. Have a peer review the work for any thing missed.
  2. Information used for analysis must first be evaluated for validity with an open-mind and as much expertise as can be brought to bear. Any uncertainties or gaps must be identified explicitly and accounted for.
  3. Identify my cognitive and analytic biases. Reduce their presence in any analysis. Publish my known biases and keep the list updated. Have a peer familiar with my biases review my work and point out mistakes or potential oversights.
  4. Argue against my own conclusions. Find a peer or mentor to argue the counter point. Always assume the null hypothesis could be as likely as my hypothesis.
  5. When dealing with any data set, review and consult with experts for understanding. Review analysis with those experts before drawing conclusions.
  6. Allow time for all stakeholders to consider the impact. Acknowledge and explicitly state any source of authority for sources.
  7. Clearly define estimative language. Don’t use 10 words when 5 will do but consider ambiguity a detriment.
  8. Admit failures in logic. Track my analysis failures and frequency of the same mistake. Identify underlying biases or misunderstandings for repeat failures.


If you skipped everything until now, this was a brief review of Sherman Kent and the Profession of Intelligence Analysis. If you read everything, congratulations! You made it!

  1. Identify your own biases. Even if you aren’t looking to pursue a career in intelligence analysis when you approach any task and identify where you might arrive at a less then ideal conclusion because you didn’t know you hold a cognitive bias you are freed to find the best outcome.
  2. Consider at all times the goal of your consumer. This transcends intelligence analysis to any field where you produce a deliverable. Ask yourself if this meets their concerns.



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Philosopher and analyst. Views are my own and no one else would claim them anyway. What you’re reading is a journey, nothing more.