On Sherman Kent and the Profession of Intelligence Analysis

5 min readMar 2, 2021


Original text located here comes from the Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis Occasional Papers: Volume 1, Number 5. The author Jack Davis provides us, according to the foreword, a “biographic sketch” of Sherman Kent. What follows is a critical reading of the text and initial thoughts as I digest the ideas and concepts presented.

If you want to skip the “lengthy” (remember I’m a philosophy guy) intervening sections, you can skip down to the summary below.

When approaching a new text it is important to me to establish the origin and intent of the work so that any biases or interpretive lenses may be understood. If we take the text for this reading we can infer that the author, Jack Davis, held the subject, Sherman Kent, in high esteem. This becomes more evident as the author lauds what may be considered by some, objectionable traits of the subject. While this observation does not detract from the validity of Kent’s presented doctrine and professional code beginning on page 9, the estimations and assessments of intent of those doctrine and code may be considered opinion with potential confirmation bias issues at a minimum. Understanding this lens lends us understanding and does not diminish the essay or its intent.

Let us now then begin our reading of the text. I will not be reviewing the proceeding 8 pages in full as they include the forward, stories of Sherman Kent, quotes, and historical events that are not of help to my understanding of intelligence analysis save to point out a few pertinent details. I did mention this was my opinion and not that of a scholar who has spent years studying Kent and his contributions, didn’t I? Good, let’s move on then.

Key takeaways from the first 8 pages for me:

  • Sherman Kent’s intelligence analysis was based on his methodology for understanding and teaching history. “To derive useful lessons, you had first to test the authenticity of sources, and then to curb your own ‘predilections and prejudices’ in support of convenient answers”.
  • 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.

Now to the center of the piece. Page 9 gives us the doctrine and professional code of Sherman Kent as extrapolated by Frans Bax, founding Dean of the Kent School. In the following 3 pages and change we are presented with what amounts to what the text suggests is the core of intelligence analysis.

  1. Focus on Policymaker Concerns
  2. Avoidance of a Personal Policy Agenda
  3. Intellectual Rigor
  4. Conscious Effort to Avoid Analyst Biases
  5. Willingness to Consider Other Judgements
  6. Systematic Use of Outside Experts
  7. Collective Responsibility for Judgement
  8. Effective Communication of Policy-Support Information and Judgements
  9. Candid Admission of Mistakes

The beauty of this section is in its focus on what the purpose of intelligence analysis and goals while allowing for the fluidity of individual tactics and methodologies. No mater how you or your team approach solving individual intelligence requests the purpose, goals, and rigor remain within this framework. The discussion for each of these sections is well handled in the text and I would not hazard to assume I could do better in this regard. What I will provide is my reaction and how I will implement these doctrine into my intelligence analysis.

  1. Strive to understand the concerns of those making intelligence requests. Anything that achieves another goal has violated intelligence analysis.
  2. Recognize my personal agendas and remove them proactively from any analysis. Have a peer review the work for any thing missed.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. When dealing with any data set, review and consult with experts for understanding. Review analysis with those experts before drawing conclusions.
  7. Allow time for all stakeholders to consider the impact. Acknowledge and explicitly state any source of authority for sources.
  8. Clearly define estimative language. Don’t use 10 words when 5 will do but consider ambiguity a detriment.
  9. 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!

The reality is that this text could have easily stretched into a much longer post. The concepts presented are easy to grasp but deep on impact. I am beginning to see why Kent is regarded as the “father of intelligence analysis” by most. I will need more time putting into practice the doctrine laid out above but I can already see how it can shape not only my intelligence analysis but how I conduct other job duties.

Final takeaways:

  1. Read the text. It will be shorter for you to read it then to read my thoughts on it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Thanks for joining me on my journey. Hope to have another post up soon but the next assignment is reading Richards J. Heuer’s Psychology of Intelligence Analysis so it may be a bit. In the mean time I may post some philosophy or general “about me” info. Only time will tell.

A reminder: the inspiration for this post is my journey through Katie Nickels’ (https://medium.com/@likethecoins) Cyber Threat Intelligence Self-Study Plan. I highly recommend you check out her blog, Twitter, other writings, and presentations as she is a better resource than I.




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