Intelligence: January 4, 2005

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The U.S. intelligence community is suffering from an analyst shortage. No one will say just how many analysts are needed, one would expect that. But the problem is so severe that the fourteen or so major intelligence agencies are hiring away key people from each other. What is not mentioned, its something of a dirty little secret, is the intense competition from the civilian sector. Capable government intelligence analysts can get better paying jobs with commercial firms. In the financial industry, analysts (of stocks, bonds, currencies or whatever) can make several times the top government pay. There is also growing demand for risk management analysts in corporations. Theres also the specialization problem. The best intelligence analysts know the language of the people they are studying, and have spent some time there as well, in order to pick up on the cultural quirks. Analysts with appropriate language skills in the civilian sector tend to follow the most economically successful nations. Thus there are far more good analysts speaking German, Japanese and Chinese than Arabic. The Arab countries are a disaster economically. Without the oil (which they just pump and ship, using imported equipment and technicians to do much of that) the Arab nations would be near the bottom of the economic pecking order. Only sub-Saharan African nations are worse off. So asking someone with good analyst skills to invest the time and energy into learning Arabic, with the only payoff being a government salary, is making an offer that is usually refused. So not only does the government have a shortage of analysts for the war on terror, but they have an enormous disadvantage in attracting the best people to the job. Its often the case that a good analyst, who cannot speak Arabic, can do a better job than an analyst who does know the language. Overall, the analyst situation for the war on terror is grim, and likely to stay that way unless the government does something to overcome the financial disincentives. 

 


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