Boston Globe columnist Thanassis Cambanis has a long article on IARPA's efforts to "to transform America’s massive data-collection effort into much more accurate analysis and predictions:"
[The intelligence network has] a key role in informing decisions of war and peace, and the near impossible task of preventing another terrorist attack on American soil. With so much at stake, you would assume the intelligence community rigorously tests its methods, constantly honing and adjusting how it goes about the inherently imprecise task of predicting the future in a secretive, constantly shifting world.
You’d be wrong.
In a field still deeply shaped by arcane traditions and turf wars, when it comes to assessing what actually works — and which tidbits of information make it into the president’s daily brief — politics and power struggles among the 17 different American intelligence agencies are just as likely as security concerns to rule the day.
What if the intelligence community started to apply the emerging tools of social science to its work? What if it began testing and refining its predictions to determine which of its techniques yield useful information, and which should be discarded? Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, a retired Air Force general, has begun to invite this kind of thinking from the heart of the leviathan. He has asked outside experts to assess the intelligence community’s methods; at the same time, the government has begun directing some of its prodigious intelligence budget to academic research to explore pie-in-the-sky approaches to forecasting….
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA — a two-year-old agency that funds experimental ideas — is already trying a novel way to generate imaginative new steps to make predictions better. It is funding an unusual contest among academic researchers, a forecasting competition that will pit five teams using different methods of prediction against one another. If they come up with new methods that work better than the old, intelligence analysts could adopt them.