The Middle East is a critical geostrategic locus for the United States: Middle East oil is essential to the world economy; the Suez Canal is vital to international transportation needs; and the region poses a problematic role as the incubator of Islamic terrorist movements. The Middle East has been a turbulent region for the last 100 years; at no time during that period have uncertainties been as widespread across the region as they are currently. These uncertainties foreshadow potentially calamitous economic and security consequences for the world community. The Iranian nuclear weapons program portends a seismic shift in the regional power balances; the "Arab Spring" has devolved into fractured political systems that appear to bring more radical Islamic influences into national governments; the Syrian civil war could produce a new Islamic fundamentalist nexus that impacts the total Middle East; various extremist Islamic terror groups seem to be significant active forces in almost every Arab country; and the generational transition of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia is a wild card in the overall play. In the face of such uncertainties, the United States cannot formulate successful counter-terrorism policies without an intelligence analysis capability that effectively turns All Source raw intelligence data into intelligence information which will bring clarity to this fog of uncertainty.
One of the daunting challenges the US faces is responding to the current fast-paced time dynamic of the regional events: the "Arab Spring" is a preeminent example of the rapid evolution from a seemingly isolated event (the self-immolation of a young Tunisian street-vendor) to the riots and civil wars that overthrew established governments and leaders in multiple countries within two years' time. Those overthrown governments have been replaced by political movements which have histories of supporting violence and terror against the United States. To keep pace with these climatic events, the US must obtain cogent time critical intelligence analysis from the intelligence community; these analyses give policy makers the exigent visibility and understanding as prerequisites to construct effective diplomatic and counter-terrorism policies. The security policy solutions can only be achieved through dedicated intelligence analysts who examine the All Source information they receive and then process these data into expedient intelligence products to support the policy makers.
The intelligence analyst faces a daunting task piecing together fragmented and incomplete data from disparate sources to create a coherent vision for the national-level policy makers. Further, some of these data will inevitably be in conflict with other data; there will be gaps in the data sets and breaks in time continuity of the flow of information. In addition, an enemy may insert deceptive information that may be viewed as truth or fact if not carefully examined and evaluated. The analyst must bring a disciplined toolkit of methods and techniques to vet and validate the raw information. The counter-terrorism analytic process is not just mechanical; it is also an art form. The analyst applies a creative and critical view to the context and substance of the information; the analyst employs a discerning intuition with experience factors and advanced analytic techniques to interpret the meaning and substance of the All Source intelligence information. While the professional profile of the analyst appears formidable, no analyst has all these capabilities as a birthright. These intelligence analysis skills and techniques are learned through an organized process of education further supplemented by the mentoring of senior experts who are knowledgeable and established in the field of analysis. The combination of these factors creates the solid foundation that intelligence analysts need to objectively develop accurate timely analyses that will support the national policy makers.
Dan Sommer works for Henley-Putnam University, a leading educational institution in the field of Strategic Security. For more info on Henley-Putnam University, intelligence analysis, counter-terrorism, visit us online at http://www.Henley-Putnam.edu
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