“Too much Intelligence work consists of circulating information that isn’t relevant about subjects that don’t matter to people who aren’t interested.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby (slightly amended).
When I was a very junior soldier I became convinced that nobody ever read the intelligence reports that I produced. I discussed this somewhat demoralising conclusion with one of my colleagues, and we found an entertaining mechanism to test the hypothesis – by incorporating increasingly bizarre and flamboyant vocabulary into our reports.
It started – almost subtly – with the claim that a certain militia commander had engaged in some ‘bombastic sabre-rattling’. We were eventually caught and strongly encouraged to desist almost a year later, when someone objected to the use of the word ‘flibbertigibbet’ in a report on Iranian influence in Iraq. I forget the exact context in which the word was used.
We were left with no alternative conclusion but that nobody had read anything that we had written in the intervening period. It was an enlightening experience.
The problem with written intelligence reports designed for an audience of more than one person, is that each individual is going to have a different take on what information is relevant, what subjects really matter and why anyone should be interested in it.
Thankfully, technology has moved on. Interactive intelligence briefs allow the decision maker to focus in on what they need and to quickly find the information of relevance to them – different people can focus in on different geographic areas, time periods or event types, without having to scroll through reams of irrelevant material.
IMSL has just released a series of free, interactive KML based intelligence summaries here which I would encourage you to download and view.
The text based intelligence report is dead. Come and see what the future of intelligence dissemination looks like!