Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis
Papers: Volume 2, Number 3, Jun. 03
Kents Final Thoughts on Analyst-Policymaker Relations
Sherman Kent Center
Kent, widely recognized as the single most influential contributor to
the analytic doctrine and tradecraft practiced in CIAs Directorate
of Intelligence, was long seized with the importance, and difficulty,
of establishing effective relationships between intelligence analysts
and policy officials.
Based on World
War II experience in the Research and Analysis Branch of OSS, Kent
concluded that analysts, ever the junior partners, had to carry the
larger burden in managing the relationships with their policy counterparts.
This required analysts to reassess regularly the issue of effective
ties as challenges and opportunities changed. Over his 17 years of
Agency experience (1950-1967), Kent experienced frustrations as well
with what he saw
as the central professional challenge of simultaneous service to two
demanding mastersanalytic integrity and policy clients.
In a series of
post-retirement lectures in training courses for CIA and Defense Intelligence
Agency analysts, Kent addressed two recurring challenges in analyst-policymaker
relationsproviding warning and analyzing intentionsthat
he argued needed fresh examination by each new generation of practitioners.
Kent titled these lectures Aspects of the Relationship between
Intelligence Producers and Consumers. While he admitted, in
his final recorded thoughts on the issues, that his generation had
found no failsafe formulas to ensure effective ties, he did point
to the general paths that he believed needed to be taken.
In warning analysis, Kent judged that the analytic and policy
trades were too distant in their relations. As a result,
the Warnees, to use Kents term, mistrusted
the motives and findings of Warners and too often
failed to take requisite action to avoid dangers and seize
opportunities. Kent, never wanting for an earthy turn of phrase,
quipped, Warning is like loveit takes two to make
it. The challenge was somehow to introduce much needed
mutual understanding and trust into the relationship.
In intentions analysis, in contrast, Kent judged that analysts
and policymakers were at times too close in their thinking about
an adversarys likely course of action. In this case, neither
side would take proper measure of new information that could undermine
a shared conclusion. Kents examples include the misreading
of Soviet intentions prior to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The
challenge here was to introduce more open-minded argumentation to
the estimative process, not via intuition or worst-case estimating,
but via solid alternative reasoning.
recorded observations on policy relations are contained in a series
of handwritten manuscriptswritten (scrawled, really) with No.
1 pencil on legal-size padsincluded with the papers he donated
to the Yale University archives. Six are outlines of lectures for
CIAs Office of Training and DODs Defense Intelligence
School, 1971-1973. One is a note prepared for his retirement speech
in December 1967. One other is a response to a request from an intelligence
colleague for review of a manuscript on warning.
complement Kents 1949 book Strategic Intelligence for American
World Policy, based on his wartime experience with OSSs
Research and Analysis Branch, and his essay Estimates and Influence,
prepared for an Allied conference on intelligence in London in 1965.
Both noted the challenge of effectively managing the analyst-policy
client relationship, with the latter cautioning that if analysts seek
influence ahead of credibility they are in
danger of achieving neither. Very similar challenges still confront
intelligence analysts today, some 30 years after Kent rendered his
final recorded thoughts on the issues.
The Danger of Too Distant a Relationship
One of the most
often-cited passages from Kents Strategic Intelligence
explains that the analytic process can be undermined both when analysts
are too close in their ties to consumers (inadequate independence)
and when they are too distant (inadequate guidance). Kent concluded
that, of the two, being too distant was the more harmful to analysts
and the national security. He was concerned, in 1949, mainly about
the impact of organizational arrangements between the two callings
on policymaker trust in analysts judgments.
In his 1970s lecture
notes, Kent advanced the argument that warning analysis often did
not work because of too great a distance in the priorities and mindset
of analysts as Warners on the one hand, and policy
officials as Warnees on the other hand. Kent started
off by defining the warning process as much more demanding than the
issuing of intelligence reports and assessments. 
central issue of warning is that it is a multi-step process which
involves two parties: the Warner and the Warnee.
Warning is not
The Warner warns
The Warnee hears, believes, and acts.
Kent, in notes
for his 1967 Swan Song address to CIA colleagues, had
set out what he meant by the requirement that the policymaker must
act to complete the warning process. Policymakers, in effect, have
to acknowledge the fact of having been warned and take the warning
aboard, at least to the extent of calling policymaking
colleagues to meet and discuss the reported threat or policy opportunity.
no warning if [the analysts assessment] (1)
is not read;
(2) is read but not believed; (3) believed but not really taken aboard.
In assessing the
performance of warning intelligence, Kent made clear he was excluding
warning of a Soviet military attack, because that danger was then
without peer in its importance and was overseen by the fulltime mechanisms
of the Inter-Agency Warning Committee and National Indicators Center.
Kent argued that this omission was not the same as producing Shakespeares
Hamlet without the prince. For warning, as he
addressed it, still encompassed very important issues. For example:
acts of the USSR which were still far short of an armed attack on
the US and its allies. Hungary, 1956. Czechoslovakia, 1968.
possibility of an attempted political change in an important state.
war between two friendly states. India-Pakistan.
A possible economic crisis [affecting US well-being], etc.
the two completely different life styles of the often
reluctant partners in warning analysisanalysts and policymakerswhich
is a major cause of the disconnect that undermines effective relations.
He set out their distinctive psychological drives, starting
tries to watch everything in the world and issues a warning when in
his opinion the thing he sees coming up is:
- Of considerable
importance to the national security.
- Highly likely
(or likely) to take place.
- The right time
a something [i.e., a prospective event] to tell how it meets these
criteria you [the analysts] realize that you are judging, weighing,
In some cases
the gravity of the something, its likelihood, and the timing of its
occurrence is crystal clear. Lucky you. Your own input into the
decision to warn is minimal.
however will require that you do a lot of soul searching.
What is likely
to determine how grave? How warning worthy something is?
surebut in the marginal cases there arent enough. There
are your prejudices, etc.
But the big
determinant is likely to be a fear of under-warning. The Warners
nightmare is having something important happen without having given
warningnot having blown the whistle loud enough and in time.
loose criteria above, he has a lot of latitude and a lot of room for
subjective judgment. The tendency is to overwarnto overvalue
At the same
time, the Warner realizes that important things will happen that he
will not and cannot know about. History amply proves the point.
The Iraqi coup, 1958. The Berlin Wall, 1961. The Indonesia coup,
Mark well that
the two matters, (1) the Warners built-in tendency to overwarn
and (2) his record of fallibility, are well known to the Warnee.
Kent, for his
audience of analysts, then turns to the world of the Warnee
and points to the cultural differences that work against the effectiveness
of warning analysis as intelligence analysts prefer to conduct it.
the policymaker is no dope. He reads as much intelligence as he has
time forespecially in his own area of concern.
intelligence [that is, the intelligence collector], proud of its nuggets
and wanting recognition for them, passes them around long before any
final evaluation or synthesis by analysts is possible.
In such a way,
intelligence encourages its consumers to be junior grade intelligence
officers. Sometimes they get to be adept indeed.
that the Warnee has a full time job and is not looking for extra work
or needless interruption of his regular duties. His circuits are
the Warnee receives a warning and elects to act upon it, the least
that he must do is begin some very speedy contingency planning. The
way the US government works this means a lot of meeting, talking,
writing, clearing cables, etc. For a minor crisis in a minor African
or Latin American republic the waves [of activity] will hit 100 officers
perhaps. There really isnt anything in contingency planning
that is easy and effortless.
the Warnees psychology, Kent noted in one draft outline
that policy officials also dread not heeding a warning and getting
caught unprepared. The problem: It is a lot easier [for
the Warner] to warn than [for the Warnee] to get ready [to take action].
Kent next homes
in on the consequences of the cultural divide between producer and
intended consumer of warning analysis and the suspicions and distrust
To cap all
this: Both Warner and Warnee know of each others weaknesses.
Warnees are hard to convince. They will not be warned by a hint. The
thing that will really jolt them into being warned is for the Warner
to push his conclusions beyond what his evidence will legitimately
support. This is seldom done for good reason. It aint honest.
It aint prudent.
all about the Warners tendency to overwarn. And also about their
credibility declines with warnings that turn out to be false alarms.
And in the event that the Warners once hurt by a false alarm fail
to warn of an important event, their credibility may be cooked for
In face of
uncertainty and aware of the CYA attitude of the Warners, Warnees
make their own judgment of [the criteria for] warnability.
Such then is
the unhappy psychological relationship between those who guard the
healtheven the life of the state.
Kent sees the
circumstances that work against effective warning analysis as in
the nature of things and therefore resistant to change. In
his earliest lecture draft, he notes, we are in luck if [warning]
ever works. Later, he ratchets down the level of gloom a notch:
Of course it is not all that bad, but it is bad enough.
His lecture drafts
in the end provide a barebones outline for a potential remedy
for the disconnects between analysts and policymakers that complicate
Care on the
part of Warners not to overload the circuits.
Care on the
part of Warnees not to develop too much callous.
more talk between the two.
We do not know
how Kent expanded on the issue of improved practice once in the classroom.
But with his third point, Kent identifies what I believe to be the
most hopeful path to more effective warning analysis. In an earlier
Kent Center Occasional Paper on Strategic Warning, I advocated
a transformation of warning analysis from an intelligence function
to a governmental function.
Under such a regime,
the policymakers responsible for completing Kents warning analysis
loopbelieving and taking action on warningswould
join forces with analysts in determining priority issues for assessment,
likely triggers of changes in momentum, and signposts of increasing
danger. Whether the appropriate response to a warning was calling
a contingency planning meeting or alerting US military forces, the
Warnees would by virtue of their participation
in the process have a greater stakeand thus greater confidence
in the sounding of an alarm.
This closer partnership
between what Kent referred to as the two national security trades
would also provide the analysts with much needed guidance for developing
the specialized substantive expertise and analytic tradecraft that
would be received with action-inducing credibility by their policymaking
The Danger of Too Close a Relationship
Kent had some
difficulty in choosing a label for the challenge he paired with warning
analysis in his lectures about two worrisome situations in
the [policymaker] relationship, which are diametrically opposed.
His goal was to choose a challenge to effective analyst-policymaker
relations for which ties were too close, and he
settled on the term vested intellectual positions.
Since all of the case examples that Kent raised in his lecture notes
concerned estimating adversary intentions, I have substituted a labelintentions
analysisthat focuses on the analytic process involved
rather than the cultural or psychological root of the malfunction
It is worth noting
that as Kent developed the two issues in his lecture notes, warning
analysis often involves estimating an adversarys intentions,
and intentions analysis often involves the decision of whether or
not to issue a warning. In his lecture notes on intentions analysis,
Kent first sets out the inherent uncertainty that characterizes estimative
judgments on an adversarys planned course of action. 
In any intellectual
utterance there are likely to be three sorts of statements. [Those
knowable and known [essentially the facts].
knowable and unknown [secrets].
two statements are estimates. You can think of an estimate as a sort
of intellectual structure which has: (1) a base of more or less solid
factual evidence; and (2) a top of highly reasoned conjecture. To
carry weight this conjecture must have a rationale built on a plausible
interpolation and/or extrapolation, or an analogy or a history, tradition,
etc. The conjecture must display some sort of logical consistency
and intellectual integrity. If it has these qualities it will be convincing
But this does
not mean that the estimative judgment is correct today. Nor that
if it is correct today it will still be correct next month or year.
Kent then talks
about the sharply focused recognition of the fallibility of a complex
estimative judgment on its birthday, and then the subsequent
fading of this recognition.
and consumers begin by being fully aware that an estimate is a tentative
judgment with odds pro and con. We in intelligence cite the odds
so that probable, say, equals 3:1 for a judgment and at
the same time 1 in 4 against a judgment. When the passage of time
affords new evidence it is thus susceptible of change,
But no matter
how clear everyone is about the estimates tentative nature on
its birthday, the tentative quality recedes more and more into the
background of the thinking, especially of the consumer. Consumers
tend to take such judgments as yes or no answers. Once
accepted as correct it begins to take on a life of its own.
too becomes numb in absence of new evidence. In the nature of things,
once articulated and agreed to in the Intelligence Community, it [the
estimative judgment] is just as hard or harder to upset then it was
to write in the first place.
The odds against
[the 1 in 4 likelihood that a judgment will be wrong] tend to be forgotten.
In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, it is likely
to stand. Not that the judgment is not reviewed. It is. But it is
The worst case
is when it is a Siamese twin. That is, when the intelligence estimate
coincides with the estimate of consumers.
After this explanation
of the cognitive and bureaucratic psychology of the analytic challenge,
Kents lecture notes give illustrative examples from what he
calls ancient history. In each case a flawed estimative
conclusion swung around a probably course of action of the
USSR. In each case, the factsmostly, the USSRs
past practiceswere well known, and the estimate was made that
the Soviets would probably continue to adhere to well-understood
USSR and the Mid-East in the mid-1950s [missing the advent of close
Soviet ties with Egypt in 1955]. Soviet Mid East policy had been
hands off for years. That the Soviets would move on
Egypt in a big way seemed highly unlikely. Not only
because of the general Soviet [lack of interest] in the Mid East
but also there was no vestige of a hint that the Soviets would move
to help a non-Communist bourgeoisie government with a strong local
Sino-Soviet Relationship. The crux here was the unlikelihood [of
a shift from alliance to enmity] when the relationship (to us at
least) seemed of greatest benefit to both parties. Communist China
was the Soviet blue chip in the Far East. The USSR was Communist
Chinas helper and protector. Intelligence was timid in announcing
[a split]. Consumers were too.
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The best case [for illustrating the
problem] is Soviet missiles in Cuba.
and its rationale: [The 14 September 1962 estimate on the military
build-up in Cuba concluded that the] Soviets were developing a defensive
[military] capability. There was no evidence of an [actual or prospective]
offensive weapon [deployment]. The judgment that the Soviets would
probably not deploy offensive weapons [in Cuba] was based on secondary
evidence. The estimate was very convincing and believed because of
its reasoning based on secondary evidence [especially previous Soviet
policy of not stationing offensive strategic weapons outside its borders
and not risking direct confrontations where the United States held
decisive military advantage].
The one doubter
was DCI John A. McCone [who believed the Soviets would deploy offensive
weapons in Cuba]. His problem was that he was away [when the 14 September
1962 estimate was produced]. But, and very important, [a judgment
based on] intuition [and otherwise] unsupported doesnt make
converts. [That is,] if McCone had been in Washington and made a federal
case of his intuitive guess, and had got the Presidents ear,
McCone would have had opposing him (1) the members of USIB [i.e.,
the Intelligence Community]; and (2) most presidential advisors including
the four most important ones [who were experts on the Soviet Union][former
Ambassador Charles] Bohlen, [former Ambassador Llewelyn] Thompson,
[former Ambassador George] Kennan, and [serving Ambassador] Foy [Kohler].
In a handwritten
letter draft dated 3 December 1971, Kent reports that the latter statement
is based on his having asked the four experts on Soviet affairs, after
the discovery of the missiles had made clear that the estimative judgment
on offensive weapons deployment was incorrect, what their previous
judgments on the matter had been.
They were all
honorable and decent enough to say they believed the NIE when it was
In his draft lecture
outlines, Kent summed up the malfunction of the Egyptian and China
cases of misjudging Soviet intentions in language that encompasses
the essential elements of the Cuban Missile case as well.
in both cases is the same: Our estimate of Soviet policy became less
flexible than Soviet policy per se. If the Soviets telegraphed a change
in policyor if our indicator board showed a change in policy
was perhaps in the makingwe did not read it. Nor certainly did
judgments of both groups] hardened, so that barring incontrovertible
evidence, which is rare, it becomes more and more difficult to modify,
or upset, with both intelligence and the consumers [As a result]
the USG was slow to react to what was going on.
As with warning,
Kent concludes that the malfunction in misjudging enemy intentions
when analysts and policy officials share vested intellectual
positions is [rooted] in the nature of things
and not open to easy fixing. His lecture outline ends on a pessimistic
Is there anything
to be done? I doubt it. What we have is just our own particular
phase of the cultural lag [that is, the limits of the human intellect].
How Kent handled
the issue of improving estimative performance in his classroom presentations
is, alas, a matter knowable but unknown. In lecture notes and related
unpublished commentary, he was particularly wary of worst-case estimating
and also of ducking the hard cases by making no bottom-line estimative
judgments. He made clear in addressing the Cuban Missile Crisis that
intuitive alternative judgments, those without a convincing
rationale, would not change minds of either analysts or policymakers
who had done their homework via rigorous research and conjecture.
Yet by casting
the recurring malfunction in intentions analysis as in instance in
which analyst-policy relationships were too close, Kent implied that
introduction of healthy argumentation would be a suitable remedy to
what has been called group think. I can then estimate
that if exposed to the rigor the current generation of analysts has
introduced to tradecraft by way of Alternative Analysis, Sherman Kent
would have given serious consideration to its use in assessing secrets
A previous Kent
Center Occasional Paper on analyst-policymaker relations indicates
the range of Alternative Analysis approaches.  These initiatives attempt to overcome estimative
inertia and cognitive limitations by changing the lens or framework
through which the issue is addressed while still applying tough-minded
analytic tradecraft. The goal is not necessarily to abandon but to
challenge the strongly held original view.
techniques that could have been applied to assessing Soviet intentions
in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis include:
Advocacya deliberate attempt to support McCones
judgment by alternative interpretations of the meaning of available
evidence and the implications of gaps in information.
Analysisan assessment of various ways the USSR might weigh
the stakes in introducing strategic weapons.
Impact-Low Probability Analysisimplications for US interests
if the Soviets had decided to deploy strategic weapons.
of Information Checkassessing the authenticity, comprehensiveness,
and consistency of the evidence behind the judgment the USSR will
not deploy strategic weapons.
Legacy to Intelligence Analysts
In his published
works and in discussions with his colleagues, Kent did not stint in
his praise of the importance of the analysts mission. Clandestine
and technical collection was important. And computers could amplify
memory and calculations. But Kent let it be known at various times
and in various words that he was convinced that the thoughtful analyst
was, and always would be, the intelligence device supreme
for assessing the complex national security problems confronting policymakers.
Kent also contributed
to his chosen profession by defining in his writings and exhibiting
in his personal practice many values, processes, and methods that
still serve intelligence analysts well todayas surveyed in Kent
Center Occasional Papers, Volume 1, Number 5, November 2002, Sherman
Kent and the Profession of Intelligence Analysis.
In his final attempts
at guidance, however, as indicated by his lecture notes, Kent let
it be known that he and the first generation of professional intelligence
analysts left tough, unresolved challenges as well as a sound legacy
for subsequent generations of practitioners. How typical of Kent the
teacher to leave his students not with textbook answers
to the easy questions but with outstanding problems that demanded
their fresh resolve and continued effort.
 This was the Kent of the Bookhis early,
published thinking on the analyst-policymaker relationship. Many
of his later colleagues remembered more vividly the Kent of
the Agency, who, out of concern for analysts integrity,
warned, during his tenure in the Agency in the 1960s, against the
seduction of analysts who got too close to powerful policymakers.
 Most of these citations are taken from Kents notes
for 19 February and 15 November 1971 presentations to the Defense
Intelligence School. In the many direct quotations cited in the text,
the spelling out of abbreviations and other minor editorial changes
are made without indication. More elaborate editing to clarify Kents
barebones sentences are enclosed in brackets. At times a sequence
of quoted thoughts includes sentences from several manuscripts addressing
the same subject. Interpretations of the meaning of the tersely worded
outlines are based on my reading of Kents published works, service
under him in the Office of National Estimates during 1963-1967, and
interviews of his senior colleagues. Access to the Kent papers at
Yale University Library is gratefully acknowledged.
 Kent Center Occasional Papers, Volume 2, Number
1, January 2003, Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable,
What Role for Analysis?
 The citations are again taken mainly from Kents manuscripts
for 19 February and 15 November 1971 presentations to training courses
offered by the Defense Intelligence School.
 Kent Center Occasional Papers, Volume 2, Number
2, January 2003, Tensions in Analyst-Policymaker Relations:
Opinions, Facts, and Evidence.
of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in Occasional Papers are those
of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect official positions
or views of the Kent School, the Central Intelligence Agency, or any
other US Government entity, past or present.
Nothing in the
contents should be construed as asserting or implying US Government
endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations.
These papers have
been prepared with the support of Central Intelligence Agency funds
and are published with the consent of the authors.