A (Nearly Perfect?) Modern Intelligence Report… On Haiti

One thing that has often amused me about the guidance offered to novice or would-be employees in the intelligence field – be it national security intelligence, law enforcement intelligence, or business or competitive intelligence – is that there are any number of books, websites, classes, and other resources that tell you how to produce a good final product, but there are almost no good examples of actual final products to use as examples.

Intelligence relies greatly on the written word, and while everybody has their own idea of what formats should be used, and so on, there are a lot of more fundamental things that are somewhat universally considered “best practices” – the use of words of estimative probability, for example. There are some very good books that will teach you most of the fundamentals, but they all either leave it to the reader to put all the pieces together, or use samples or examples that are dated and don’t fully reflect modern practices.

If your job is to write, say, press releases, I can assure you that there are lots of classes, books, and resources that show you examples of successful, recent, real-world press releases. If you spend a lot of money to learn to write screenplays, you’re going to learn by looking at real, honest-to-goodness screenplays.

If you’re supposed to learn how to write intelligence reports, you’re given some vague guidance on what’s in vogue just at the moment, and kind of left to fend for yourself.

Strange, isn’t it?

Well, I recently came across a very good example of a modern intelligence report, courtesy of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Entitled Haiti: Health Risks and Health System Impacts Associated With Large-Scale Earthquake, the 14-Jan-2010 report is U//FOUO//SBU (For Official Use Only / Sensitive But Unclassified) and was published on the internet, probably on purpose. Obviously, you’d expect the DIA to do a good job, and they don’t disappoint – it’s short, sweet, and to the point; the one-paragraph summary tells you everything you need to know, the scope of the report is spelled out simply and clearly, there’s a note on sources from which the report was drawn, it (mostly) includes words of estimative probability, and it closes with succinct sections on “outlook, implications, and opportunities”.

If you need or want to write concise, user-friendly reports, you could do far worse than to emulate this. (You can download a copy right here (188KB PDF file).)

Is it a perfect intelligence report? Probably not. (I’m not sure there is such a thing.) It’s pretty good, though. There are certainly (much) worse examples out there to learn from…

One fundamental of intelligence writing that’s very hard to teach is the instruction to “know your audience”. Now, I don’t know who this report was written for, but after reading it, I’ve got a pretty strong hunch that it was written for reasonably high-level homeland security officials. Why? Well… see if you can figure it out. 🙂

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on February 12th, 2010| Comments Off on A (Nearly Perfect?) Modern Intelligence Report… On Haiti

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