Analytic Tradecraft Standards

An Opportunity to Provide Decision Advantage for Army Commanders


Lt. Col. Robert W. Schmor, U.S. Army
Maj. James S. Kwoun, U.S. Army

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(Photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan, U.S. Army)

The Army Military Intelligence (MI) Corps has a challenging requirement to merge the expectations of its parent warfighting service with those of the intelligence community (IC). While distinct, these two communities naturally converge when providing defense intelligence at the joint and national levels. The best practices in one community can provide insights that improve performance in the other. In this regard, the nine analytic tradecraft standards in Intelligence Community Directive (ICD) 203, Analytic Standards, can be useful in further professionalizing Army all-source analysis. The Army lacks tradecraft standards to ensure analytic rigor throughout the intelligence process, undermining the role of analysts as providers of a unique service that commanders cannot obtain elsewhere. Commanders have no shortage of options when soliciting insights about the operational environment. Army analysts in uniform have an advantage as they are fellow warfighters who can relate to their commanders, but that alone is not enough. The Army’s implementation of ICD 203 and the creation of nested analytic tradecraft standards would further enhance the value of the MI Corps to commanders by filling a significant gap in how analysts are trained.

Far from being a purely IC invention, analytic tradecraft is instinctively what Army commanders have always wanted from their intelligence staffs. For example, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf recognized the need for common IC standards well before the first publication of ICD 203 in 2007. During congressional testimony in 1991, Schwarzkopf provided critiques of the intelligence support he received as commander of U.S. Central Command during Operation Desert Storm. He stated, “I personally feel that there’s a serious need to develop a standardized methodology within the intelligence community for making estimates and predictive analysis.”1 He further commented how IC assessments were “unhelpful” because they were heavily “caveated” and contained “so many disclaimers.” Today, three of the nine analytic tradecraft standards in ICD 203—the standards for uncertainty, argumentation, and accuracy—would address any problems like those identified by Schwarzkopf in 1991.

Other senior Army officers recognized the benefits of what we now call analytic tradecraft. Throughout his career, Gen. Colin Powell applied a set of rules for his intelligence staffs: “Tell me what you know. Tell me what you don’t know. Then tell me what you think. Always distinguish which from which.”2 These rules closely mirror the analytic tradecraft standards for distinction and uncertainty. Gen. Stanley McChrystal also came to appreciate the tradecraft standard for distinction before it was officially codified in ICD 203, specifically the requirement to transparently identify key assumptions. He acknowledged that his special operations headquarters in late 2003 assumed that al-Qaida in Iraq had a “traditional pyramid-shaped hierarchy” when in reality the group consisted of “tangled networks” that exhibited “unfamiliar patterns.”3 McChrystal’s command conducted operations against al-Qaida based on this faulty assumption. Chris Fussell, a former Navy SEAL officer under McChrystal at the time, remarked how “biases” led to this faulty assumption that the command eventually corrected “nearly too late.”4

The Army and the other military services are significantly behind the rest of the IC in further professionalizing their all-source analytic workforce. Since 2001, two national commissions examined intelligence failures associated with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs prior to 2003. Both commissions identified deficiencies in the IC’s analytic performance. Some IC organizations have already addressed these deficiencies by issuing ICD 203 implementation guidance and developing nested analytic tradecraft standards. However, the Army has yet to act upon the widely documented failures over the last two decades. A 2018 Department of Defense (DOD) inspector general report concluded that the “majority” of uniformed analysts assigned to combatant commands (CCMDs) “had no prior training on ICD 203.”5 This report further concluded that uniformed analysts were “often less proficient in applying ICD 203 standards … than their civilian counterparts.” As a learning organization, the Army must heed the lessons learned since 2001 and examine best practices throughout the IC for relevance to the ground warfighting mission (see table).

Intelligence Community Directive (ICD) 203 analytic tradecraft standards Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) application of ICD 203
Sourcing: Properly describe the quality and credibility of underlying sources, data, and methodologies used to arrive at analytic conclusions. Sourcing: DIA is more specific in its guidance than ICD 203, requiring products to have source characterizations, source summary statements, and endnote citations.
Uncertainty: Properly express and explain uncertainties associated with major analytic conclusions. Uncertainty: Like ICD 203, DIA’s guidance focuses on two concepts: likelihood of events and confidence levels. DIA provides a specific framework to determine both.
Distinctions: Properly distinguish between underlying evidence and analysts’ assumptions and judgments. Distinctions: DIA introduces the idea of signaling language to help with distinctions. It also introduces a technique called key assumptions check.
Alternatives: Always consider plausible alternatives to the main analytic conclusion. Alternatives: DIA provides specific guidance on how to develop and present analysis of alternatives.
Relevance: Demonstrate relevance by addressing implications for analytic conclusions provided to intelligence consumers. Relevance: DIA explains this standard in specific terms, telling analysts to “go beyond the obvious” and identify “vulnerabilities and leverage points.”
Argumentation: Prominently display the main analytic conclusion and distinguish from subordinate conclusions. Combine evidence and reasoning to support conclusions. Argumentation: DIA guidance discusses argument mapping, linking logic, and argument evaluation as tools to meet the broad standard in ICD 203.
Analytic line: Be transparent about how an analytic conclusion is different than previously published analysis. Analytic line: DIA provides example language to use in communicating changes to previous analytic conclusions.
Accuracy: Ensure clarity of message in all analytic products. Accuracy: DIA prohibits relative assessments (e.g., “increases the risk of”) and assessments of mental states or beliefs.
Visualization: Use visual information to clarify, complement, or enhance the presentation of analysis. Visualization: DIA discusses the different types of visuals: tables, charts, timelines, maps, imagery, photos, custom infographics, and interactive graphics.

The central role of all-source analysis makes tradecraft a pressing requirement for the Army. The intelligence warfighting function is unique because it elevates the mere act of thinking to the level of a core competency (i.e., intelligence analysis).6 The MI Corps’ most decisive interaction with commanders on a battlefield is through its all-source analytic community. Analysis is the final output that represents the type of refined knowledge that commanders ultimately expect from their intelligence staffs. This reality is reflected in the fact that commanders approve priority intelligence requirements—which are inherently analytic requirements—but they do not necessarily approve the supporting information or collection requirements. Strict standards should govern any core competency that has such a direct role in enabling decisions and framing commanders’ visualization of the operational environment. The Army currently provides no service-wide direction on how to implement ICD 203 analytic tradecraft standards, which limits its ability to ensure all-source analysis is conducted with a level of rigor that commanders deserve.

(Photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan, U.S. Army)

There are several implications for the Army’s lack of routine and consistent application of analytic tradecraft standards. First, analysts are more vulnerable to cognitive biases. As Dr. Richards Heuer, author of The Psychology Intelligence Analysis, stated, “Cognitive limitations cause people to employ various simplifying strategies and rules of thumb to ease the burden of mentally processing information.”7 These simplifying strategies are the source of cognitive biases. These biases cause analysts to rely on preexisting “mental models” formed through past experiences, rather than objective realities on the ground.8 Second, analysts who already apply critical and creative thinking to mitigate cognitive biases are doing so largely in a vacuum without the benefit of institutionalized analytic tradecraft standards to ensure consistent application across the force. Finally, Army analysts face interoperability challenges when collaborating with their counterparts throughout the IC. The analytic tradecraft standards in ICD 203 promote interoperability throughout the IC by providing a common framework while allowing each organization to tailor how it implements the standards.

The Evolution and Components of Analytic Tradecraft

The evolution of analytic tradecraft provides best practices that the Army can leverage. The need for IC-wide standards for all intelligence functions—not just for analysis—was clearly documented in the 9/11 commission report that examined the circumstances leading to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.9 The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act established the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and required it to establish IC-wide analytic tradecraft standards.10 The need for such standards received further emphasis in 2005 when the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission documented IC failures to apply “fundamental logical and analytic principles” prior to the 2003 U.S. military intervention in Iraq.11 In 2007, ODNI codified eight analytic tradecraft standards (eventually nine) when it published ICD 203 (see table).12 Some IC organizations have developed their own tailored standards using ICD 203 as a baseline. These experiences provide valuable insights on how to tailor and apply national-level standards to an all-source analytic organization’s unique mission.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) represents a useful case study on how to apply ICD 203 within a defense context. The DIA Office of the Research Director publishes tradecraft notes and primers that contain implementation guidance and agency-specific standards nested under those found in ICD 203. These notes and primers form the core of DIA’s curriculum for its initial-entry training of civilian analysts in the Professional Analyst Career Education course. The DIA tailors its guidance and standards to its defense-oriented mission and product lines. For example, the ICD 203 tradecraft standard for accuracy provides broad guidance to “express judgments as clearly and precisely as possible.”13 The DIA expands upon this standard by requiring analysts to make judgments only on “outcomes, actions, or behavior.” The agency generally prohibits assessments on a foreign actor’s “mental states or beliefs” because they are inherently untestable and difficult to evaluate without specialized expertise.14 DIA issues similar guidance and agency-specific standards for other ICD 203 tradecraft elements.

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., then commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command

Analytic tradecraft has multiple components that are important to understand when identifying opportunities for improving all-source analysis. Analytic tradecraft standards as codified in ICD 203 and DIA tradecraft notes and primers represent the criteria used to evaluate the work of all-source analysts. Structured analytic techniques are various methodologies or tools that help analysts meet tradecraft standards. Specifically, these techniques help mitigate cognitive biases and prevent common mental pitfalls. Furthermore, they employ deliberate processes that break down complex problems into manageable parts. This methodical approach can simplify what otherwise would be a complex process, allowing analysts to focus their energy on conducting critical and creative thinking rather than scoping difficult analytic problems. Finally, product lines guide the presentation of analysis. Some rules within product lines reflect specific tradecraft standards. Other rules are internal to a particular product line and are not necessarily driven by tradecraft. Collectively, these standards, techniques, and product line rules represent what the IC refers to as “analytic tradecraft.”15

Among all the analytic tradecraft components, the Army’s most significant gap is the lack of codified standards. The Army lacks its own tailored version of ICD 203 that is approved by a central authority and consistently applied across the force. In other words, the Army does not provide guidance and tailored standards to help its analysts understand ICD 203 in a service-specific context. This gap can lead to the misconception that analytic tradecraft is inconsistent with the Army’s mission. At their core, the analytic tradecraft standards in ICD 203 reflect universal principles related to critical and creative thinking that could easily apply outside of an intelligence context. However, the Army must provide implementation guidance and service-specific standards to make analytic tradecraft practical for its analysts. Without guidance and tailored standards, the Army will struggle to bridge the wide gap between the national-level standards of ICD 203 and the practitioner’s interpretation of how to implement them in a local context.

The Army has already implemented some components of analytic tradecraft. The MI Corps teaches its own variation of structured analytic techniques designed for battlefield application. Some of these techniques are identical to those taught to DIA analysts. For example, step four of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) process incorporates two techniques that are taught to DIA analysts. First, Army analysts conduct what the DIA refers to as “hypotheses generation” whenever they develop multiple enemy courses of action during IPB. Second, they conduct what the DIA refers to as “analysis of competing hypotheses” when creating an event matrix to identify which course of action the enemy will conduct. Other structured analytic techniques are unique to the Army’s mission, such as the time-event chart and the framework for assessing the civil considerations of areas, structures, organizations, people, and events. To display the results of these techniques, doctrinal publications provide example products and templates—the rough equivalent of DIA product lines—that units can use.

Army Interoperability with the Intelligence Community

There are budgetary and funding considerations that must be understood in order to properly characterize the Army’s relationship with the IC. By default, ICD 203 and other ODNI directives are not binding on the entire Army unless specifically dictated by policy. Although it is one of seventeen members of the IC, the Army manages its own intelligence funding stream and exercises significant autonomy over how its soldiers are trained. The ODNI manages implementation of the National Intelligence Program, whereas the Office of the Secretary of Defense—more specifically, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence—manages the Military Intelligence Program. Under the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s direction, the military services manage their own Military Intelligence Program funding sources that provide resources for much but not all of their intelligence capabilities.16 As a result, service cultures heavily influence how MI capabilities are developed. In general, the services have prioritized battlefield integration by developing their intelligence force as interoperable elements within their larger service-specific formations.

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The Army has chosen to focus its analysts on learning battlefield processes in direct support to ground commanders at the tactical and operational levels.

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Legislative, policy, and doctrinal factors can further explain the autonomy of the services in developing their own MI capabilities. The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act is clear that ODNI policies regarding “standards for education, training, and career development … shall not be inconsistent with the personnel policies otherwise applicable to members of the uniformed services.”17 Furthermore, DOD policy authorizes each of the services to maintain “intelligence capabilities necessary to fulfill service-specific intelligence needs.”18 Finally, doctrine advises joint commanders to “allow service and special operations tactical and operational forces … to function generally as they were designed,” which includes the analytic and collection capabilities organic to many units.19 The consensus is that the services require wide latitude in developing and employing organic intelligence capabilities to succeed in their respective warfighting domains. Given this latitude, the Army has chosen to focus its analysts on learning battlefield processes in direct support to ground commanders at the tactical and operational levels.

This focus, while critical to success in ground combat, has created interoperability issues between the Army and the rest of the defense intelligence enterprise (DIE), the DOD component of the IC. The Army routinely collaborates with DIE organizations that have already implemented ICD 203, creating a need for horizontal alignment of analytic tradecraft across the enterprise. The Army is a significant force provider for DIE and a smaller subset of that community called the defense intelligence all-source analysis enterprise (DIAAE). The DIAAE consists of DIA, CCMD joint intelligence operations centers (JIOCs), and service intelligence centers.20 Collectively, these organizations represent DOD’s strategic all-source analytic community. The National Ground Intelligence Center, one of four service intelligence centers, represents the Army in the DIAAE. The Army also contributes individual personnel to joint organizations in the DIAAE, namely to DIA and CCMD JIOCs. The Army’s role in providing strategic-level assessments requires the adoption of analytic tradecraft standards that are compatible with those used by the rest of the enterprise.

The services’ failure to implement ICD 203 is one of the primary obstacles preventing tradecraft interoperability among the DIAAE organizations responsible for producing strategic-level assessments for DOD decision-makers. Currently, only DIA civilians, analysts assigned to the agency’s headquarters, and CCMD JIOCs are required to learn common analytic tradecraft as part of the Professional Analyst Career Education Course. The service intelligence centers may have local analytic tradecraft standards, but so far they have not been formally adopted by the parent military services. The lack of common analytic tradecraft is problematic because each DIAAE organization is an authoritative producer on topics managed under the Defense Intelligence Analysis Program, a framework overseen by DIA that assigns analytic responsibilities.21 A community that conducts analysis based on the same framework should use common standards. Each DIAAE organization could benefit by broadly aligning itself with the DIA’s tradecraft standards, given the central role of the agency in integrating the DOD’s strategic analytic community.

Warrant Officer Alan Mendoza, an all-source intelligence technician assigned to 2nd Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team

The Army’s improved integration with other DIAAE and IC organizations will ensure that its unique perspective is incorporated into all-source analysis disseminated to decision-makers throughout the interagency community. The Army MI Corps’ contribution to U.S. national security goes beyond its activities at the tactical and operational levels. Army officers and enlisted personnel are assigned throughout the DOD and the IC, routinely providing strategic analysis for senior commanders and civilian policy makers. The MI Corps has unique insights that the interagency community values, but it must ensure that its analysts are trained to work alongside their DIAAE and IC counterparts to deliver these insights in strategic-level forums. Creating tailored analytic tradecraft standards based on ICD 203 would promote interoperability with organizations beyond the Army. Reflecting the need for warfighters to think beyond their respective services, Gen. James Mattis once said,

In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony—even vicious harmony—on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.22

Alignment of analytic tradecraft must also occur vertically across all echelons below the strategic level. The intelligence staffs of higher headquarters provide assessments that frame problems for subordinate units. In turn, subordinate units refine these assessments, providing details that only units closer to the fight can obtain. In his memoirs, Mattis described how intelligence staffs in Iraq in late 2003 had significant differences in their assessments regarding the insurgency.23 He recounted how the 82nd Airborne Division assessed an organized insurgency based on “coordinated patterns of attack.” He further described how the V Corps, the core of Combined Joint Task Force 7 at the time, assessed that violence was the work of “robbers and a few disgruntled former soldiers.” Mattis described these assessments as “odd” given that Gen. John Abizaid, then commander of the U.S. Central Command, described the insurgency as “a classical guerrilla-type campaign.” This situation underscores the need for common underlying standards across all echelons. Analytic disagreements can be healthy only if transparency and integrity exist in the underlying process.

Addressing Potential Misconceptions About Analytic Tradecraft

The Army must accept the premise that analytic tradecraft can be just as useful at the tactical level as it is at the strategic level. The application of tradecraft will be different at each level, but the need for critical and creative thinking does not disappear at lower echelons. In fact, analysts at the tactical level are often the most vulnerable to cognitive biases. The urgency of ground combat and the rapid tempo of operations can create incentives for analysts to employ the “simplifying strategies” that Heuer argued were the source of cognitive biases.24 The Army has a moral imperative to mitigate these biases and generate competitive advantages on the battlefield to support those soldiers closest to the fight. Improvements to tactical-level analysis will also yield direct strategic benefits. As Maj. Gen. Bob Scales wrote in 2016, “all our enemies have recognized that our vulnerable strategic center of gravity is dead Americans.”25

Far from hindering rapid thinking, analytic tradecraft will enable all-source analysts to operate more effectively under time constraints. When pressed for time, most analysts’ natural reaction will be to rely on their intuition and existing mental models of how to perceive the battlefield.26 While a soldier’s instincts are valuable, there are many problems with making intuition the sole mechanism that guides analysis. Doctrinal processes, such as IPB, can help analysts narrow their focus on relevant aspects of the operational environment. However, analysts are still left to rely on their own individual intuition when making assessments, creating circumstances conducive to cognitive biases. The Army’s implementation of analytic tradecraft standards will provide a universal framework and structure for thinking that analysts currently lack. Over time, analysts’ proficiency in applying tradecraft will become more instinctive as they gain experience. Thus, the Army can train its analysts to think effectively under time-sensitive circumstances by making critical and creative thinking a natural part of what they do.

The application of analytic tradecraft can be abbreviated just like units routinely do with doctrinal processes on a time-sensitive battlefield. The Army already embraces the idea that learning something in its deliberate form will enable its abbreviated application under time constraints. As Field Manual 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, states, the military decision-making process (MDMP) is conducted deliberately if time allows, but commanders “may alter the steps of the MDMP to fit time-constrained circumstances.”27 The deliberate application of MDMP is arguably more time-consuming than most structured analytic techniques used by national intelligence agencies. It is also useful to consider an analogy involving the three types of integrating cells in Army command posts: plans, future operations, and current operations.28 Each of these cells works within a different planning horizon, but personnel in every cell must still have a common understanding of how to develop an operation plan and order. Similarly, analysts at the tactical and operational levels must have the same foundational understanding of critical and creative thinking (i.e., analytic tradecraft) as their civilian counterparts at the strategic level.


The Army should voluntarily subject its analysts to ICD 203 to align itself with the rest of the IC and further professionalize its all-source analytic community. As highlighted earlier, ICD 203 is not binding on the entire Army by default. The Army can implement the current version of ICD 203 without automatically subjecting the entire force to future directives from ODNI that may not be appropriate. Adherence to ICD 203 will significantly improve the Army’s interoperability with other DIAAE members and IC all-source analytic organizations. Joint doctrine recognizes these potential benefits, specifically stating that all-source analysts operating in a joint capacity “should comply” with ICD 203.29 To ensure consistent application across the force, there must be one primary authority in the Army on all analytic tradecraft matters similar to the role played by the DIA Office of the Research Director. Consistent application of analytic tradecraft would enhance battlefield integration by giving the Army a common vocabulary and frame of reference during analyst-to-analyst discussions and more importantly, during analyst-to-commander discussions.

oldiers from the 341st Military Intelligence Battalion conduct low-level voice interception 8 February 2020 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

As the Army conceptualizes its own approach to implementing ICD 203, it must carefully balance three primary requirements. First, the Army should establish its own analytic tradecraft standards tailored for ground combat. Ground combat presents analytic challenges that are significantly different than those faced by other IC members. Without tailored standards, analysts will be forced to rely purely on their own interpretation of how to apply national-level standards to their local circumstances. Second, different parts of the MI Corps will need to apply and enforce analytic tradecraft standards in their own way. The National Ground Intelligence Center, for example, may need to apply tradecraft in a manner like the DIA based on their common role of providing strategic-level assessments as part of the DIAAE. Finally, the Army must ensure that whatever tailored tradecraft it develops is nested under the common standards of ICD 203 to maximize interoperability with the rest of the IC. Balancing these requirements would enable the Army to interchangeably fulfill multiple roles: as a warfighter with organic intelligence capabilities, as a member of the DOD’s strategic analytic community, and as a member of the national IC.

Once Army-specific analytic tradecraft standards are established, they should be comprehensively integrated into doctrine. Doctrinal publications must explicitly label these standards as fundamental principles that apply to the Army’s all-source analytic community rather than mere best practices for analysts to consider. Additionally, publications should integrate tradecraft standards in sections that discuss foundational processes such as IPB and the Army design methodology. There are already direct parallels between ICD 203 and existing doctrinal processes that can facilitate this integration. The integration of tradecraft into doctrine, however, must go beyond merely listing each analytic tradecraft standard in separate chapters within publications. The Army must communicate that tradecraft standards represent an ethos that should reflect everything all-source analysts do rather than representing a simple checklist to examine after products have already been developed. Ultimately, this entire effort will improve the Army MI Corps’ ability to execute its current doctrine.

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The key to implementing analytic tradecraft in the Army will be to establish a spectrum that outlines how deliberately leaders can enforce standards under different circumstances.

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The Army should leverage parallels between existing publications and ICD 203 when integrating analytic tradecraft standards into doctrine. For example, Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process, describes the importance of “breaking old habits of thought” and countering “biases” throughout the operations process.30 The doctrinal definition of the Army design methodology includes the words “critical and creative thinking.”31 These doctrinal passages are nearly identical to how the IC describes the role and purpose of analytic tradecraft. Additionally, IPB already reflects some tradecraft standards in ICD 203. IPB requires the development of a most likely threat course of action, the primary analytic conclusion derived from subordinate assessments regarding the terrain, weather, civil considerations, and threat capabilities. This effort is consistent with DIA’s tradecraft standard for argumentation that requires the presentation of a “primary analytic message” supported by “subordinate assessments.”32 Finally, Army analysts are adhering to the tradecraft standard for alternatives when they develop a most dangerous threat course of action that alerts commanders to a low-probability/high-impact scenario.

The Army should also incorporate its analytic tradecraft standards into training at its Intelligence Center of Excellence, combat training centers, and other venues. When read initially, ICD 203 can appear simple and straightforward. However, its simplicity belies the difficulty of creating service-specific standards and applying them during operations. Training scenarios can help analysts gain experience making decisions involving tradeoffs when applying tradecraft. Analysts may sometimes choose to omit certain tradecraft elements during briefings but may apply them to written products. Tradecraft standards do not limit an analyst’s flexibility in making informed decisions on how best to communicate with commanders. DIA acknowledges that similar decisions may need to be made at the strategic level. For example, ICD 203 requires the consideration of alternatives for every assessment, but DIA guidance states that “not every alternative generated in the thinking stage will necessarily warrant presentation to clients.”33 The Army can train analysts to make decisions on how to apply analytic tradecraft standards using existing scenarios, curriculums, and programs of instruction.

The key to implementing analytic tradecraft in the Army will be to establish a spectrum that outlines how deliberately leaders can enforce standards under different circumstances. Some circumstances may allow for a more deliberate process, including the use of structured analytic techniques and multiple layers of product reviews, to ensure that all-source analysis adheres to tradecraft standards. If time and space allow, this type of process may be ideal for analysts supporting long-range planning or future operations. However, other environments may require rapid assessments to support commanders in fluid situations. In these cases, leaders must apply their judgment on the extent to which they should abbreviate the analytic process based on the variables of mission, enemy, terrain, troops available, time, and civilian considerations; commander’s intent; the unit’s decisive operation; and the main effort at any given time. Even if the analytic process is heavily abbreviated, leaders can mitigate the risks of omitting tradecraft by making informed decisions based on full awareness of what is being left out.

Concluding Thoughts

The widely recognized merits of analytic tradecraft standards make for an easy decision by the Army to implement ICD 203. All-source analytic organizations across the IC have already developed their own tradecraft standards using ICD 203 as the starting point. Within the DOD, DIA’s analytic tradecraft program is the most mature since it also applies to the vast majority of civilian analysts working in CCMD JIOCs, who are agency employees. The core ideas contained within ICD 203 could easily apply to any mission because they reflect universal principles related to critical and creative thinking. In fact, private firms led by former IC analysts offer consulting services and lessons on analytic tradecraft to businesses that want to better understand their commercial environment.34 In other words, tradecraft expertise is something businesses are willing to purchase in the free market, which speaks to its inherent and universal value. The Army must seize the opportunity to develop its own analytic tradecraft expertise, leveraging its organic resources and relationships throughout the IC.

This article provides a conceptual foundation for more detailed planning to implement ICD 203 across the Army. This planning must involve leaders outside of the MI Corps, especially commanders throughout the force. The Army must also leverage its relationships with IC organizations that have already tailored ICD 203 to their unique missions. In particular, the DIA’s experiences applying ICD 203 could be useful, given the agency’s focus on defense issues. These interactions will address a key tenet of the Army’s concept of multi-domain operations, namely the importance of “interoperability across service, interagency, and multinational partners” in future conflicts.35 The MI Corps has an opportunity to cultivate a unique combination of ground warfighting acumen and analytic tradecraft expertise within its all-source analytic community. In addition to providing decision advantage on the battlefield, this unique combination of skills would provide a valuable perspective in strategic and interagency forums that can shape critical decisions impacting our soldiers.



  1. Intelligence Successes and Failures in Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Report of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, 103rd Cong., 1st sess. (1993), 30, accessed 18 November 2020,
  2. Colin Powell, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 115–16.
  3. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Organizing to Fight and Win in a Complex World, YouTube video, 16:30–16:33, posted by “Modern War Institute,” 22 June 2017, accessed 18 November 2020,; Stanley McChrystal et al., Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (New York: Portfolio Penguin, 2015), 25.
  4. One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams, YouTube video, 4:40–5:25, posted by “New America,” 15 September 2017, accessed 18 November 2020,
  5. Evaluation of Combatant Command Intelligence Directorate Internal Communications Processes, Report No. DODIG-2019-032 (Washington, DC: Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense, 4 December 2018), 11–12, accessed 18 November 2020,
  6. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 2-0, Intelligence (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], 31 July 2019), 2-4, accessed 18 November 2020,
  7. Richards J. Heuer Jr., Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (Langley, VA: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1999), 111, accessed 18 November 2020,
  8. Ibid., 4.
  9. The 9/11 Commission Report (Washington, DC: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, 22 July 2004), 409, accessed 18 November 2020,
  10. Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-458, 118 Stat. 3638 (2004), accessed 18 November 2020,
  11. The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction Report to the President of the United States (Washington, DC: The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, 31 March 2005), 407, accessed 18 November 2020,
  12. “Our Values: Objectivity,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, accessed 18 November 2020,
  13. Intelligence Community Directive 203, Analytic Standards (Washington, DC: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2 January 2015), 4, accessed 18 November 2020,
  14. “Tradecraft Note 02-18: Accuracy” (Washington, DC: Office of the Research Director, Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA], 2018).
  15. Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States, 12. The commission’s report defines analytic tradecraft as “the way analysts think, research, evaluate evidence, write, and communicate.”
  16. Michael E. DeVine, “Intelligence Community Spending: Trends and Issues,” Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report No. R44381 (Washington, DC: CRS, 18 June 2018), 17.
  17. Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-458, 118 Stat. 3638 (2004).
  18. Department of Defense Instruction (DODI) 3115.17, Management and Oversight of DoD All-Source Analysis (Washington, DC: Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, 16 November 2016), 7, accessed 18 November 2020,
  19. Joint Publication (JP) 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 22 October 2018), IV-4, accessed 18 November 2020,
  20. DODI 3115.17, Management and Oversight of DoD All-Source Analysis, 6.
  21. JP 2-01, Joint and National Intelligence Support to Military Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 5 July 2017), III-12, accessed 18 November 2020,
  22. Michael Ledeen, “Mattis Provides the Bottom Line,” National Review (website), 23 June 2010, accessed 18 November 2020,
  23. James Mattis and Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (New York: Random House, 2019), 116.
  24. Heuer, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, 111.
  25. Bob Scales, Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2016), 4.
  26. Heuer discusses mental models in his work Psychology of Intelligence Analysis.
  27. Field Manual 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 5 May 2014), 9-4, accessed 18 November 2020,
  28. Ibid., 1-8.
  29. JP 2-0, Joint Intelligence (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 22 October 2013), I-16, accessed 18 November 2020,
  30. ADP 5-0, The Operations Process (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 31 July 2019), 1-15, accessed 18 November 2020,
  31. Ibid., 2-16.
  32. “Tradecraft Note 03-18: Argumentation” (Washington, DC: Office of the Research Director, DIA, 2018).
  33. “Tradecraft Note 03-17 and Primer: Analysis of Alternatives” (Washington, DC: Office of the Research Director, DIA, 2017).
  34. Private firms such as The Analytic Edge offer training on analytic tradecraft to commercial companies.
  35. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (Fort Eustis, VA: TRADOC, 6 December 2018), 23, accessed 18 November 2020,


Lt. Col. Robert W. Schmor, U.S. Army, serves as the functional training branch officer in charge and course manager for the Strategic Intelligence Officer Course at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He previously served as a branch chief and senior military analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Schmor also served in intelligence positions from the tactical to strategic level with the U.S. European Command, the National Training Center, and multiple assignments with the 1st Infantry Division. His overseas tours and deployments include Germany, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Maj. James S. Kwoun, U.S. Army, is assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency where he teaches agency analysts on tradecraft standards. He previously served as a branch chief in the same agency, supervising all-source analysts who produced authoritative political-military and terrorism-related assessments on North and West Africa. Prior to his service at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Kwoun served in intelligence positions at the combatant command level and various assignments at the brigade level and below. His overseas tours and deployments include the Republic of Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


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January-February 2021