A strategic threat to policy leadership.

In the first half of 2004, three high profile enquires were reported in the press. Each dealt with the same topic, the adequacy of the national intelligence system. In the US, the congressional enquiry examined the function of the intelligence system as it related to 9/11, in the UK the Butler enquiry investigated the basis on which that country elected to go to war in Iraq, while in Australia the Flood enquiry investigated the same.

In each case, the elected administration was found to be blameless. What was found was that there had been systemic failure on the part of the intelligence system, the system whose responsibility it was to furnish its government with the best intelligence advice available. In his summary remarks, the head of the US congressional enquiry claimed ….‘and above all, a failure of imagination’.

The purpose of this paper is to explore why such systemic failure of imagination occurred and to raise the possibility that such systemic failure is presently occurring everywhere and probably always has. We are unable to manage that which we do not understand.

Governments and large corporations everywhere have boards of management and senior executive teams that are served by their own intelligence agencies, bodies of dedicated professionals whose role it is to provide the best professional advice to their masters to aid the effective governance of their organization. These ‘intelligence agencies’ are rarely named as such; rather they are called ‘policy units’ or similar. Yet their task is the same – to scan the environment, look for early signs of opportunity and threat and to propose strategic policy accordingly. Those observations and recommendations must then be fed up the line to those at the helm of the organization. Those recommendations, of necessity, may suggest a change of direction. It is for this reason that each and every one of those policy bodies is at risk of the same systemic failures identified in the three enquiries mentioned above.