Intel – from neurosurgery to national security

Whether it is the FBI or Europol, Google or Statoil, the Garda or Mercyhurst University, organizations that are successful are those best able to adapt to an intensely competitive and rapidly changing global environment. That ability to adapt is rooted in intelligence – and effective intelligence at that.

“We have only to look at 9/11, the Iraq WMD forecast and the recent financial crisis to know that the intelligence analysis skill set cannot remain the same,” said James Breckenridge, executive director of the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., USA, and the driving force behind the university’s biennial Global Intelligence Forum (GIF), which convenes in Dungarvan, IE, July 7-10.

“We have designed this event to explore how the intelligence enterprise should adapt and respond to the security, safety, economic and social challenges of the 21st century,” Breckenridge said.

Now in its third year, the GIF engages government, business and civil society leaders, practitioners and academics in an international brainstorming session intended to leverage new models of intelligence sharing and collaboration. This year’s theme - Preparing Intelligence Analysts for the 21st Century – welcomes representatives from 16 countries.

Mercyhurst chose to host its forum in Ireland because it is geographically accommodating to the U.S. and European countries. Forum organizers also recognize Ireland’s reputation for hospitality and, specific to Mercyhurst, the historical ties between the Sisters of Mercy and the university as well Erie’s sister city of Dungarvan. In time, Breckenridge said, he hopes that Dungarvan becomes to the world of intelligence what Davos is to global economic interests.

Being interdisciplinary in nature, Breckenridge said intelligence analysis can be improved with exposure to other domains so, in addition to national security and public safety professionals, the forum brings together the neurosurgeon, the financier, the anthropologist, the investigative journalist, the supply chain manager, the legal scholar, the economist and the business CEO.

Intelligence, he explained, is about reducing uncertainty and surprise for decision makers; a purpose that extends beyond cultural, national and professional boundaries. During the forum, private and public sector leaders will address how they collect, analyze and interpret information to make decisions and provide career insights on what they learned about information/intelligence and its impact on their decisions. Participants will weigh in on how their institutions modify behavior or change goals, objectives, policies and procedures as a result of new information or discordant information.

Once analytic best practices are identified, the issue of how they should be taught is another matter entirely. “Teaching involves a level of emphasis on process and explanation that the application of best practice alone does not require,” he said. “How do intelligence educators identify analytic best practices, evaluate their effectiveness, and teach them to students in a classroom environment?

“Leaders who focus on these types of questions and seek answers to them, create learning organizations … a goal of the forum. Organizations that employ intelligence processes effectively and have leaders who are actively engaged in these processes become learning organizations, which is to say, organizations that are able to successfully adapt to an intensely competitive and rapidly changing global environment.”

This year’s forum picks up where its predecessors left off. In July 2010, panelists focused on innovation and discovery, themes augmented in 2011 with an exploration into the nature of analysis, its application in intelligence professions and the interaction between the intelligence analyst/practitioner and the decision-maker.

“This July, we hope to continue to build bridges between practitioners and scholars within intelligence- related professions and discuss emerging 21st century intelligence best practices while forging creative partnerships that will, in time, assist in providing solutions to 21st century problems,” Breckenridge said.

For more information on the forum, its panelists and event offerings, please visit

 The Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., USA, is the world’s largest full-time applied intelligence studies program in academia and has developed and delivered products and training for national security, law enforcement and competitive intelligence organizations across the U.S. and Europe. It founded the Global Intelligence Forum, held biennially in Dungarvan, IE.







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