The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 26

26
JULY-AUGUST 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
While technology enhances brainpower,
it is no substitute for the seasoned diplomat’s
powers of observation and assessment, argues
this veteran consumer of diplomatic reporting.
BY JOHN C . GANNON
A
s an analyst or manager of gov-
ernment analysts for more than
25 years, I acquired a deep appre-
ciation for diplomatic reporting.
That does not mean I romanticize
it, however. U.S. policy formula-
tion, which depends on reli-
able diplomatic reporting, is a
hardscrabble business, not an
ivory-tower pursuit.
Not all of the reporting I saw was useful or well-sourced,
any more than was the output of other agencies over the same
period. Reporting was not a high priority for some embassies,
FOCUS
EMBASSY REPORTING
DIPLOMATIC REPORTING:
ADAPTING TO THE
INFORMATION AGE
During a government career spanning a quarter-century, John C. Gan-
non served as the Central Intelligence Agency’s director of European
analysis, deputy director for intelligence and assistant director for analy-
sis and production. He also chaired the National Intelligence Council,
worked in the White House transitional planning office for the Depart-
ment of Homeland Security and was the staff director of the House Select
Committee on Homeland Security. He is now an adjunct professor at
Georgetown University and the executive director of the congressionally
directed FBI 9/11 Review Commission.
and others simply lacked the talent to excel at it. The ideologi-
cal bent of powerful policymakers and ambassadors at times
suppressed or distorted analysis on important issues. Occa-
sionally, high-quality reports were sadly late in arriving.
That said, I came to respect diplomatic reporting and analy-
sis from the field. It added to my knowledge of the local stage
and its key actors, broadened my perspective on potential
outcomes, deepened my understanding of complex issues and
tested my own, sometimes-rigid assumptions—all building
critical context for the judgments I made.
Accomplished diplomats, who artfully captured ground
truth while skillfully pegging the story to U.S. interests, always
informed, sometimes entertained and often had real impact.
They helped to reduce the confusion and uncertainty faced by
senior decision-makers and government analysts in Washing-
ton.
The Record Is Clear
Timely and insightful reporting from U.S. diplomats has
given meaning to major geopolitical transformations in Latin
America, Europe and Asia, as well as to persistent or escalat-
ing violence and conflict in the Balkans, the Middle East and
South Asia. More recently, Foreign Service officers have ably
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