Research Shorts

Archive Research Shorts & Notes

Research Shorts and Notes are brief publications. Research Shorts are a cross between conventional intelligence products and the shorter academic papers published by universities and think tanks. Research Notes fuse current events with a research insight. Though most of our Research Shorts and Research Notes appear within government channels, those below have cleared for public release. 





Why Define Intelligence?

March 28, 2024
For more than a half-century, government leaders, intelligence practitioners, and scholars have sought to define and redefine intelligence in the national security sense. The effectiveness of the US Intelligence Community (IC), without consensus on this basic term, begs the question: Does defining intelligence matter? The answer is an emphatic yes. Defining intelligence is critical for the IC and the nascent intelligence studies discipline. Achieving agreement on what intelligence is would better focus IC missions, authorities, resources, and oversight. Moreover, understanding what it should be is essential to envisioning and achieving an efficacious future intelligence enterprise to enable sound decisions in a rapidly changing world.

Integrating GenAI and Strategic Foresight for 21st Century National Security

March 14, 2024
Today’s political leaders are using military force as a go-to solution for geopolitical disputes in Ukraine, Gaza, and beyond. This assertiveness is not confined to isolated regions; it is an emergent global phenomenon. Victory in these and future conflicts requires pivoting to a foresight-based approach that informs strategies rooted in a deep understanding of complex global dynamics. Building a generative-artificial intelligence (GenAI)-powered “cognitive operating system” to navigate uncertainty can harness GenAI’s ability to synthesize vast arrays of data into coherent, actionable insights. Integrating GenAI with strategic foresight will bolster the US national security ecosystem’s capacity to think, act, and adapt in an unpredictable, ever-changing global landscape.

Blind Spots: Preventing Will-To Fight Intelligence Failure

February 27, 2024
Recent US failures to accurately evaluate “will to fight” in Afghanistan and Ukraine are said to derive from IC analytic deficiencies and a US military culture that prioritizes weapons and technology. However, they are rooted more in how the United States projects influence globally and structures its government. Intelligence customers and producers focus on military capabilities of friends and foes and on the intentions of foreign leaders, while focusing less on the will of the military forces and local populace. Ongoing efforts to improve analytic methods will not prevent recurring failures. Only institutional reforms within the national security and foreign policy communities to prioritize human influence and greater IC assertiveness in initiating long-term, in-depth collection and analysis on the human aspect will resolve this institutional blind spot.


Pursuing Geopolitical Advantage? China’s Search for Military Allies

November 14, 2023
China’s leaders apparently see their partnership-focused foreign policy strategy as adequate, but that view may not hold indefinitely. Strategic competition with the United States and its allies, even now, is beginning to expose the limitations of Beijing’s partnerships. If, as many theorize, China were to attack Taiwan, would it not be best prepared for success by seeking military alliances beyond its sole current ally, North Korea? This Research Short provides theory-driven indicators to raise awareness among decisionmakers in Washington and elsewhere about the conditions that could lead China to seek new military allies— for military adventurism focused on Taiwan, or something else. Understanding these alliance formation conditions offers opportunities to counter China’s efforts to expand its hard power

(Re)defining Warning

August 9, 2023
This Research Short looks to reignite debate on how the IC defines warning and several terms associated with it in the context of intelligence. The term has been used inconsistently over time and across intelligence organizations, and past definitions have often presented limited views of the concept. To ground the discussion, this Short will note problems arising from how the IC has defined the term across history and then identify key themes that distinguish warning as a distinct intelligence discipline. It will then propose two definitions of warning for consideration by intelligence practitioners and scholars as part of an ongoing research effort.

Foreign Language for National Security: Let’s Act, Not React

July 27, 2023
The IC requires the utmost capability to meet increasingly complex national security threats. Having sufficient foreign language-qualified personnel should be the least of its worries. Yet, we face the same challenges year after year in meeting foreign language demand. Let’s be proactive and reframe our approach. We can create an intentional and dynamic foreign language strategy that adapts to new requirements, is immune from resource constraints, mandates the skill-set visibility needed to optimize talent, and harnesses ever-emerging new technologies to supercharge human capabilities.

Cultivating Communities of Practice To Support Analytic Collaboration

April 25, 2023
Informal communities of practice (CoPs) already help analysts collaborate across the IC, and their expertise is often levied against threats that do not fit neatly into existing organizations. CoPs are typically formed organically by analysts, and while they may briefly thrive independently, these groups face long-term challenges including the lack of resources, visibility, and authority. A CoP may collapse when a key individual leaves, or the U.S. national security enterprise may create an entirely new CoP that can disrupt, displace, or dilute the existing information-sharing patterns.

Understanding and Mitigating the Long-Term Risks of AI Operationalization

March 1, 2023
State-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI) systems are almost certain to transform how the IC executes its mission, but the risks that accompany the use of such powerful tools are not well understood. Before any AI system is deployed, the IC should focus on understanding AI decision making processes to ensure that they are explainable, align with human ethical standards, and are controllable.

Intelligence Integration War Stories Can Teach Inclusion

February 7, 2023
An inclusive culture can help integrate the unique talents of a diverse intelligence workforce, but the inclusion process is not well understood. The greatest knowledge gap is behavioral—what actions can intelligence officers take to include their colleagues and ensure they are an integral part of the mission? After the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 mandated the IC integrate across diverse job functions and organizational cultures, intelligence officers learned firsthand that subtle actions can include—or exclude—diverse team members. Their integration war stories can help the IC understand the small but high-impact behaviors that build inclusive intelligence teams.


Flipping the Script: How Can the IC Recast Its Story?

August 17, 2022
Most Americans experience the Intelligence Community through works of fiction—stories told on the silver screen, in powerful prose, and through conspiratorial overtures. These stories influence their thoughts about the mysterious entity that provides a critical national security function but is rarely seen or heard. Thoughts become beliefs, and beliefs form biases, making it incredibly difficult to convince the average person that the NSA doesn’t listen to their phone calls and that CIA doesn’t have a dossier on every American.

Using Complex Systems Practice To Assess the Youth Bulge in the Sahel

September 14, 2022
U.S. intelligence analysts sometimes mirror-image their own sense of time—how they relate to the past, present, and future—onto actors of national security interest, creating misunderstandings that can skew judgments. This Research Short offers a conceptual framework of temporal complexity that analysts can use to consider how these actors perceive their place in time and, thus, to better understand the actors’ mindsets.

How Analysts Attain Insight: The Benefits and Opportunities

March 28, 2022
Policymakers call upon intelligence analysts to deliver insightful assessments, yet consistent success has faltered due to a lack of understanding of the insight process and insufficient institutional emphasis on insight. This Research Short reports the results of a scientific study that explains the IC analysts’ insight process and its benefits, and provides opportunities for overcoming these dilemmas.

Weighing Taiwan’s Economic Take Aways from Russia-Ukraine War

November 2, 2022
Asia watchers have been exploring what lessons Taiwan might take from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to bolster Taipei’s ability to deter or defend against a Chinese attack. They have focused on global political engagement and military preparedness. But what are the economic steps Taipei might take to increase its global posture and encourage the world’s developed democracies to come to Taiwan’s defense? This Research Short will explore the economic tools Taipei might use to strengthen its global standing and their implications for the United States.

Integrating Nonstate Intelligence: Ukraine Shows How It Might Work

December 7, 2022
The war in Ukraine has seen nonstate actors, including private corporations and NGOs, assume a prominent role collecting, producing, and distributing intelligence—directly impacting military operations. Although these “intelligence auxiliaries” have helped Ukraine defend itself, the absence of an overall coordinating mechanism for interoperability with state actors presents a risk that state and nonstate actors will find themselves at cross purposes on the battlefield. Today, the United States and its allies have an opportunity to structure interactions with intelligence auxiliaries under a durable, legal framework with a division of labor that can ensure nonstate intelligence actors contribute effectively to IC priorities in future fights.


Measuring the Influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

February 16, 2021
The prevailing narrative among observers in academic, policy, and intelligence circles is that China’s effort to expand its international influence through aggressive outward foreign direct investment, including under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), will diminish U.S. global diplomatic power. By measuring China’s geopolitical influence longitudinally—through alignment in United Nations General Assembly voting and affinity expressed in foreign public opinion polling over time—this study finds that China’s relative influence appears to be in decline. This raises the possibility that the IC may overestimate the importance of China’s foreign direct investment initiatives, including the BRI.

From a Whisper to a Shout: The IC Should Use Its Outside Voice

June 23, 2021
National security is the U.S. Government’s most basic responsibility, laid out in the first sentence of the Constitution’s preamble: provide for the common defense. But what was once the exclusive domain of the public sector now depends on a range of actors, individuals, corporations, and entities who—unlike government—are not beholdento the public interest. Their voices are noisy, voluminous, and—because they know little about how the government protects them and even less about the role of the Intelligence Community in national security—often ill-informed. Their increased willingness to challenge government authorities means that, unless the IC finds its voice within this rising cacophony, its silence will facilitate its demise and, along with it, thesafety and security of the nation it is sworn to protect and defend.

Rethinking Time: Adopting a Mindset for Interpreting Threats and Imagining Opportunities

December 14, 2021
U.S. intelligence analysts sometimes mirror-image their own sense of time—how they relate to the past, present, and future—onto actors of national security interest, creating misunderstandings that can skew judgments. This Research Short offers a conceptual framework of temporal complexity that analysts can use to consider how these actors perceive their place in time and, thus, to better understand the actors’ mindsets.

Islamic State Resurgence in the Era of COVID-19

March 17, 2021
One year after U.S.-led coalition operations liberated ISIS-held territories in Iraq and Syria and killed ISIS core leader Abu Bakr alBaghdadi, ISIS is resurging. Taking a page from its old playbook, the organization is capitalizing on social unrest and a rapidly deteriorating security environment—exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—to reconstitute in permissive areas of Iraq and Syria. This Short examines ISIS’s pandemic-era ground and information operations through the lens of its state- and nation-making efforts to help analysts and decisionmakers better understand the imminence and scope of the threat. ISIS is rapidly overcoming U.S.-supported counterterrorism gains and, without direct pressure to reverse these advances, is poised for recovery.

Taiwan: Coronavirus as a Catalyst for Self-Determination

February 23, 2021
Taiwan’s success in containing coronavirus infections—with only 77 domestic cases out of 942 total and 9 deaths as of February 22, 2021— gives Taipei a rare opportunity to showcase its leadership in biotech and cybersecurity, push for greater inclusion in multilateral organizations, and establish itself as a sovereign entity separate from mainland China.Citizens’ record-high identification as Taiwanese instead of Chinese and their strong public support for President Tsai suggest she has a mandate for pursuing further sovereignty. These ripening conditions for independence have prompted Beijing to up overt threats against Taipei, making consistent U.S. support for Taiwan’s integration into the global community critical to the island’s pursuit of autonomy.


Anticipatory Intelligence and Adaptive Influence: A New Paradigm for Foreign Policy Development

July 10, 2020
Complexity theory reveals a nation is not just a people with a government: it arises from competition and the compromises. continually being made by the many groups at many levels within it. Anticipatory intelligence that combines this complex system perspective with today’s powerful computational tools can provide the deeper insights needed to advance U.S. foreign policies, particularly promoting democracy, to adaptively influence the behavior of foreign. populations.

Complexity, COVID, and the Failure of Strategic Incrementalism

October 1, 2020
The speed, scope, and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both the real and virtual world underline how today’s complexity is truly unprecedented. Nonetheless, evidence suggests the national security community remains ambivalent about the magnitude of the change. This ambivalence is problematic because it breeds incremental measures that are inadequate to the fundamentally new and different nature of the challenge.

Russia’s New Arctic Policy 2035: Implications for Great Power Tension Over the Northern Sea Route

July 21, 2020
Russia’s new Arctic policy principles illustrate the significance of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to Moscow’s Arctic national interests and could lead to increased great power tension over the NSR. Russia and other states—including the United States—dispute whether the NSR traverses international waters or Russia’s internal waters. This Research Short analyzes the policy principles underlying Russia’s new 15-year Arctic strategy and its implications for the NSR and great power tension.

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