What It Looks Like When The Intelligence Community Recycles Analysis

on March 16 | in Bureaucracy, Homeland Security, Intelligence Reform, Metrics, ODNI

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“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is the mantra the Environmental Protection Agency says helps America save “money, energy, and natural resources”—and it also applies to some analysis in certain high-level intelligence products.

It’s certainly no crime to reuse analytic bottom lines—why create new text when you’ve already something that fits the bill?—but it’s a bit odd to read almost the same verbiage on critical national security issues year in and year out.

Here’s an example: I wanted to read the IC’s analysis on an issue that’s (A) high-profile but (B) one I don’t follow closely: Iran’s efforts to develop missiles that can deliver a nuclear weapon. This is what the last five ODNI Worldwide Threat Assessments have stated about this topic:

The 2015 Assessment:

We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles—along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies—provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The 2014 version:

 We judge that Iran would choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if Iran ever builds these weapons. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles—along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies—provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

 The 2013 version:

We judge Iran would likely choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon, if one is ever fielded. Iran’s ballistic missiles are capable of delivering WMD. In addition, Iran has demonstrated an ability to launch small satellites, and we grow increasingly concerned that these technical steps—along with a regime hostile toward the United States and our allies—provide Tehran with the means and motivation to develop larger space-launch vehicles and longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

And 2012:

We judge Iran would likely choose missile delivery as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon. Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and it is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

And 2011:

 We judge Iran would likely choose missile delivery as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon. Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. It continues to expand the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

And 2010:

 We judge Iran would likely choose missile delivery as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon. Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East and it continues to expand the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces—many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

I guess the IC’s believes Iran’s nuclear missile development hasn’t changed in years — it’s as if all of Iran’s missile development personnel remain in suspended animation, like insects encased in amber.

My gut tells me this probably isn’t the case since nothing stays static forever. Furthermore, employees don’t get paid for just sitting around, even if you’re working on a clandestine missile program. They are doing something!

But those are musings for a different post.

Yet considering this high-profile document went through 17 different departments & agencies and dozens of analysts & administrators, it’s odd this text remains very plug-and-play. If this same canned verbiage was turned in by one of my students over the course of a half decade, I’d contact the University’s ethics board to start expulsion proceedings.

photo credit: the thumbs of select employees of the Environmental Protection Agency. (EPA)

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