75. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to Director of Central Intelligence Turner1


  • Political Intelligence and Analyses

After reviewing the record of the dinner meeting you hosted on October 27,2 and reflecting on the discussion at the PRC meeting on November 25,3 I want to provide you with a few personal observations relating to the problem of improving political intelligence.

As I see it, the political intelligence problem has three elements: a lack of priority attention to the opportunities for overt collection; insufficient collection by clandestine means of basic political and economic information; and inadequate exploitation of information already in hand. The first of these problems should be easiest to remedy, but it is not your problem. I am taking it up separately with Cy Vance because most of this work needs to be done by embassies. The other two are primarily within your area of responsibility.

Clandestine Collection

Good analyses cannot be based on inadequate information. We need to know more about thoughts and plans of key leaders of groups in important advanced and secondary countries, how they make policy decisions and how they will react to our decisions and those of other powers. More often than not, clandestine collection is likely to be the best source of this information.

In this connection, I am concerned that [less than 1 line not declassified] the clandestine collection efforts go into “hard targets,” especially the Soviet Union [10 lines not declassified]

I understand that various kinds of restrictions on clandestine collection hamper efforts in some countries. I would appreciate having a paper on this subject, describing each situation where restrictions, whether imposed by ambassadors or resulting from other factors that are to some degree under our control, limit intelligence reporting. We [Page 358] can then consider whether and how some of these restrictions might be lifted or adjusted.

I look forward to reviewing the papers on political intelligence collection in the thirty selected countries you promised at the dinner meeting. Rather than wait to present these all at once, I suggest you send them to me as they are done so that I can have my area specialists review them. The papers should comment on reporting from open and non-clandestine official sources in each country with which we deal as well as clandestine collection.

Finally, considering the enormous amount of money and manpower the Intelligence Community devotes to technical collection and exploitation, I believe we should make certain that we continue to devote adequate resources to human intelligence collection. I continue to think that a PRC(I) discussion of manpower and budget resources devoted to clandestine collection would be useful. I urge you to include this on the agenda for such a meeting.

Exploitation of Information

Good information does not ensure good analysis. The Intelligence Community must find ways to sharpen and improve its analyses. I know that as a result of our meetings during the budget cycle, you and Bob Bowie are initiating a program to achieve this objective. I would like to offer my own thoughts about this problem as I perceive it from here. Specifically,

—Political analyses should be focused more on problems of particular concern to the U.S. Government. We see too many papers on subjects peripheral to our interests or offering a broad overview of a region or country that is not directly linked to a particular problem, event or development of concern to the government. These often resemble political science seminar papers rather than highly sophisticated intelligence analyses. For example, a broad paper on Soviet global political and military intentions and objectives, which can do no more than amplify views available to the policymakers from sources outside the government, is of little use. More valuable would be specific papers based on unique intelligence information and specialized analysis concerning Soviet intentions and objectives in particular areas such as arms negotiations or individual countries or regions (i.e., the Horn of Africa). Moreover, the more specific the subject, the more likely that unique intelligence sources can make an important contribution.

—Political analysis needs to pay greater attention to the future. Predicting intentions and objectives are the essence of political analysis. Too often the papers we see explain or review events in the past and give only a bare nod to the future. I would like to see more papers that succinctly set forth the facts and the evidence on a subject or [Page 359] problem and then conclude with a well informed speculative essay on the implications for the future. The consumer wants 100% accurate crystal ball gazing by Intelligence; but we recognize this is unrealistic and unattainable. So, we expect and hope for thought-provoking, reasonable views of the future based on what you know about the past and present in any given situation. Above all, analysts should not be timorous or bound by convention: we may disagree, but you will perform the most useful service in forcing our attention to the future and prompting us to think about potential problems.

—Any program to improve political analyses should address the hiring and training of analysts; incentives that promote creativity, expertise, and self-improvement; and means by which well thought out though controversial views of proven individual analysts can be circulated more easily. A committee is rarely the source of insight or wisdom.

—Finally, it is my impression that Chiefs of Station often have more understanding of the political dynamics of the countries that they serve than any other American officials. Their experience abroad gives them perspective that analysts at home lack. I believe they should be encouraged to submit more frequent field assessments and also that their comments should be sought on draft analyses.

In the past, intelligence consumers have frequently failed to articulate their needs and too often have offered only blanket criticism of intelligence products. I have tried above to be specific in expressing my concerns and needs. I hope to be helpful in the future in conveying requirements and complaints in such a way as to assist you in pinpointing and remedying problem areas. I also will encourage my staff likewise to establish close working relations with the senior officials of the Intelligence Community to foster better communications on the problems and opportunities of political intelligence analysis.

Zbigniew Brzezinski
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 2, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/77–3/78. Secret.
  2. A memorandum of record of this meeting is in the National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Political Intelligence and Analysis—Reporting, Nov–Dec 1978.
  3. See Document 67.