Department of Computational Social Science Seminar Abstract

Friday, November 11 - 3:00 p.m.
Center for Social Complexity Suite
Third Floor, Research Hall

Title: Strategic Intelligence, Analytic Tradecraft, and Agent-Based Modeling

Aaron Frank
CSS PhD Candidate
George Mason University

Abstract: The successes, failures, and conduct of intelligence analysis moved into the public consciousness following al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001 and the 2003 Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction National Intelligence Estimate. The predictable result has been a significant effort to “fix” the intelligence community through a series of reforms that have mostly included the creation of new organizations and determining their authorities. However, significant consideration has also been given to analytic processes and tradecraft. In doing so, the community has turned to new techniques in an effort to improve the quality of analytic production.

Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) has increasingly, and simultaneously, been viewed as a tool of great promise and dubious value. The promise of ABM stems from the ability for computational models to improve the rigor and transparency of analytic tradecraft, allowing for analysts to depersonalize their work and judgments, integrate the perspectives and insights of larger, more diverse teams, and explore numbers of scenarios than unassisted methods cannot consider. However, skepticism comes from an enduring mismatch between the time and expense required to build credible and relevant models that provide insights within the decision-making cycles of policy-makers, a propensity to distrust mathematical models, with which computational models are often confused, and a deeper, unresolved definition of intelligence and its purpose that often demands what lies beyond the epistemological limits of what analysts can offer.

This seminar with provide a tour of these issues—specifically discussing the design of the intelligence community, analytic culture, sources and remedies of analytic failures, the evolution of analytic tradecraft, and provide examples of how different approaches for integrating ABM into analytic tradecraft and organizational processes can prove useful or harmful to intelligence analysis.