What is Analytical Tradecraft?

Analytical tradecraft is a buzzword that is used extensively in intelligence circles, but few people know what the term entails. It’s now critical for all citizens to know what it means because intelligence analysis affects everyday life, from Russian involvement in the 2016 election to foreign countries gathering data analytics on rivals, according to the New York Times. Understanding the term and what it consists of will not only help make current news make more sense, it will also ensure that professionals interested in joining an intelligence agency have a grasp on that field’s terminology.

Intelligence Analysis

This kind of tradecraft is not merely intelligence analysis; it is the body of various methods that are used to deliver intelligence in an organized manner. It requires the professionals doing this work to be objective, timely, thorough, and most of all, correct in the intelligence that is distributed in the community. Professionals are also required to make judgments based on the intelligence and stand by it, requiring keen analytical and judgment skills. While this tradecraft cannot be found as a stand-alone program at any major university, it falls under the Intelligence Studies program that is offered at a variety of government-focused universities and graduate schools.


The primary function of analytical tradecraft is to observe a situation, write a report, and build a reaction based on the intelligence available. This type of tradecraft has been used in business as well as finance in order for entities to remain competitive, but it is most often used in intelligence circles. For that reason, the type of intelligence analysis and methods used to obtain that intelligence varies, but it comes with high stakes; this is a profession for those who care about the safety and security of their country and are willing to defend it. It is also one of the most integral parts of a country’s diplomacy and foreign affairs policies.

Different Types of Intelligence

This tradecraft relies on a variety of intelligence forms, known as INTs, in order to paint a complete picture of an unfolding or past event. Signals, imagery, and human intelligence are among the most well-known, but there are other versions of intelligence. Together, these reports and filings make up an intelligence report; it is up to the professional writing the report to make a judgment based on the data and provide a conclusion that may or may not include courses of action that a country or agency make take.

The Standard

This tradecraft is not an exact science; intelligence can often be wrong or uncertain, especially when handling human intelligence. Therefore, this type of tradecraft requires professionals who can make judgment calls with uncertain intelligence quickly; in this community, time is always the main concern, particularly if an event has not yet passed and the reports are meant to help prevent a major catastrophe. It is also necessary that an analyst recognize patterns or connections that may not be obvious to the audience that receives the report; because analysts generally work in one specialty, they are in the best position possible to create a full picture for their superiors. This standard is always sought after, and there is a growing need for more analysts who can think on their feet and provide genuine insight that may not be apparent.

Related Resource: What is Intelligence Analysis?

Intelligence analysis is a demanding career, one where lives are always on the line. With the methods discussed above, these professionals do all they can to keep citizens safe. Analytical tradecraft continues to be the best way to interpret intelligence and prevent disasters, and no one knows that better than the brave men and women who have made this their career.