The Evening of the Deluge (J. W. M. Turner, 1843)
"The Need to Know" and "The Need to Share"
I think I'd like to take a break from "The Poverty of Communitarianism"
for awhile and consider some other matters. One of these is politics.
Today, the 9/11 Commission released its long-awaited report. The rare
display of bi-partisan unity, directness, and commitment to the need
for reform was notable in this campaign season. Lee Hamilton, the
Vice-Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, in his initial summary remarks at
the Press Conference accompanying the formal release of the report,
said that we need a basic change of attitude in the intelligence
community from "the need to know" to "the need to share". And Hamilton
as well as other Commissioners emphasized the fragmentation of
information about terrorism before 9/11 and the need for structural
change in the US intelligence community to facilitate both an end to
fragmentation and integration of information to let us see the patterns
of terrorist activity and threat. Of course, there is little to argue
with in this diagnosis from the point of view of First Generation
Knowledge Management. The commission found "stovepipes" in the
intelligence community aided and abetted by the doctrine of "the Need
to Know", and the cure for that problem seems most immediately to be
the integration of stovepipes and the substitution of "the Need to
Know" with "the Need to Share." But will this recommendation really
make us safer? Is it only information integration that we need to
thwart the terrorists?
"The Need To Know" Can Mean Different Things
course, my answer to these last questions is that information
integration will not make us safer, because we need more than just that
to thwart the terrorists. In fact, what else we need is to
"know" more about what the terrorists are likely to do. So apart from
"The Need to Share" we also have "The Need to Know" but, of course, my
"Need to Know" is not the same as "The Need To Know" Lee Hamilton was
talking about. That "Need to Know" is about a situation where
information or knowledge already exists in the intelligence community
and access to it is restricted by security regulations in such a way
that it is "stovepiped" and is unavailable to people in the community
who need it to solve problems. In other words, that "Need to Know" is a
negative doctrine about constraints that produces fragmentation and
mal-integration of our intelligence knowledge base.
In contrast, our current "Need to Know" is about situations where the
information or knowledge we need to make a decision does not exist and
our problem is the knowledge gap between what we know and what we need
to know. This "Need to Know" is about the need to solve problems
effectively and about new policies in the intelligence community that
will enable better success at making new knowledge that works against
"The Need to Know" and "Groupthink"
This second meaning of "Need to Know" brings us to the recent report of
the Senate Intelligence Committee. While recognizing "stovepiping" as a
problem, that report also attacked "groupthink" at the highest levels
and attributed our intelligence failures to it. But what is
"groupthink"? Stripped down to its essentials, "groupthink" is a
problem solving process in which the range of tentative solutions and
the range of criticism and evaluation of them are restricted so as to
bias knowledge production towards the dominant opinion in the group. As
much as we need information integration and to instill "The Need to
need even more to ensure that our new better integrated intelligence
community has healthy and "open" problem solving patterns. We
need such patterns to encourage members of the community to create
innovative solutions that have been subjected to and have survived our
best efforts to refute them.
danger in current proposals for a new Intelligence Directorate is not
that they won't solve the problem of information integration, but that
they may do so at the expense of imagination, creativity, and critical
evaluation of proposed solutions to problems and intelligence estimates.
In that case we will have more failures, more commissions, and more
reorganizations, but no solutions to our intelligence problems.
"Fighting the Last War"
In the end, the 9/11 commission investigated 9/11 exhaustively and made
recommendations for how another 9/11 can be avoided. But what about
another Iraq? What about another 9/11 where the problem is not
fragmentation of information, but a "glut" of conflicting information
all integrated in the new National Directorate of Intelligence? If our
objective is information integration, I'm sure the 9/11 commission is
right in recommending a new National Directorate of intelligence with
real authority over the community. But authority is always a two-edged
sword. It can create the greater integration of information we need,
along with a greater capacity for rapid response to threats. But, we
must also see to it that the new Directorate runs an "open", adaptive,
intelligence enterprise. And that means building both more creativity
and more criticism into the intelligence gathering and estimation
process. In reorganizing the intelligence community, we must not "fight
the last war". We
must build not just to fulfill "The Need to Share", but also to fulfill
the real "Need to Know", the need to solve problems, to close knowledge
gaps, that arise in the course of their intelligence work.
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7/23/2004; 10:58:07 AM.