Today’s guest contributor is Lt. Vinicio Mata, Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety. Sunnyvale is one of the few cities in the country to have a single, unified Department of Public Safety. That means public safety personnel in the department are cross trained — and depending on the incident — can respond as police officers, emergency medical technicians, or firefighters.
In March, Lt. Mata will receive a master’s degree in homeland security from the Naval Postgraduate School.
The “inability to connect the dots” has become a rallying cry for pundits who want to criticize the intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination performed by various agencies.
The connecting the dots analogy is an inaccurate way to explain alleged failures in the intelligence world.
Intelligence analysis is not like following numbered dots sequentially from 1-100 and creating a picture. That implies that we know there are numbers, that they are sequential, and that we know the range of those numbers.
Analyzing intelligence is not as simple as connecting the dots. It is more like putting a puzzle together.
Imagine you are given such a task. But with these limitation:
You have a partial idea of what the picture should be. But you don’t know how many pieces the puzzle is supposed to be.
From your experience and by looking at the size of the pieces, you estimate that it is a 1500 to 2000 piece puzzle. The pieces are inside a box.
The majority of the pieces that belong to the picture you are making are missing. These pieces are in the box mixed with pieces from many other puzzles that are in no way related to the picture you have been tasked to put together.
These other pieces look like the ones you need. But they don’t fit.
In order to determine whether you are holding the right piece, every one of the pieces needs to be looked at, compared against the partial picture you have, and compared against the pieces you have already deemed relevant.
From the relevant pieces, you are expected to put a picture together that is clear enough to be actionable.
The puzzle analogy is a much more accurate way to think about what intelligence analysts have to do. The information they have to analyze is often incomplete, seemingly unrelated, and not sequential.
Connecting dots is a children’s game. Transforming data and information into intelligence and making sure it gets to the right people at the right time is a skill, painstakingly acquired.