In 2012 I started a minor controversy in the world of intelligence by publishing Peak Intel: How So-Called Strategic Intelligence is Making Us Dumber in The Atlantic. In it I vented my frustrations about what I saw as a pervasive abandonment of rational, fact-based decision making. I was so frustrated that I had decided to abandon the field.
I am not quitting this industry for lack of passion, as I still believe — more than ever — in using good information and sophisticated analytical techniques to decode the future and make decisions. The problem is, the market for intelligence is now largely about providing information that makes decision makers feel better, rather than bringing true insights about risk and opportunity. Our future is now being planned by people who seem to put their emotional comfort ahead of making decisions based on real — and often uncomfortable — information. Perhaps one day, the discipline of real intelligence will return triumphantly to the world’s executive suites. Until then, high-priced providers of “strategic intelligence” are only making it harder for their clients — for all of us — to adapt by shielding them from painful truths.
Well, I didn’t abandon the field. Ironically, the publication of the article started a much-needed discussion among professionals about just what was happening. This itself is a healthy sign of true intelligence professionals in action.
There were three main groups who responded. First was the general public. Their response was one of curiosity. They had little insight into how decision making was done – well or badly – at such a level of society, and hearing the complaints of an insider seemed to give them insight into a world that was starting to go a bit mad.
Then there were the rank and file of intelligence professionals. Several private consultants were put out by the article’s conclusions, I think out of fear that they would lose client interest if they heard there was a problem.
Yet the third group was most interesting. A number of very senior individuals approached me and said, “We can’t say this in public, but you’re right. And please stick with it.”
It’s six years later, and the cost of abandoning the rigor of intelligence culture has finally come due. It is much uglier than I even predicted.
It will not always be this way. When the real pain of our losses and poor decisions finally occurs to people, when the last quantitative easing bailout no longer hides the logical incongruities that are fundamental to the system, and when enough people refuse to believe that “the new normal” is normal at all, we will then return to a real discussion of what is next. In the meantime, the remnants of the strategic intelligence world will be happy to take your money in exchange for telling you that everything is fine.
Well, the world may have an explanation for why this happened: a global corruption scandal involving foreign enemies and organized crime. And the people who exposed them?
The intelligence community. Of which I am proud to be a member in good standing for the last twenty-one years.