THE U.S. GOVERNMENT spends billions of dollars every year to reduce uncertainty. The National Weather Service spends more than $1 billion a year to forecast precipitation amounts, track storms, and predict the weather.1 The Centers for Disease Control spend more than $6 billion to detect and investigate health problems in the United States and abroad.2 The Departments of Agriculture and Energy track and predict production of crops and various types of energy.3 Virtually every agency of the federal government monitors and forecasts a wide range of developments because farmers, manufacturers, state governments, travelers, and citizens in every walk of life want information that will enable them to make better-informed decisions about what to grow, whether to invest, and where to travel. In other words, we spend a lot of money to anticipate problems, identify opportunities, and avoid mistakes.
A substantial portion of what we spend to reduce uncertainty—almost $50 billion a year—goes to the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).4 The need for this amount of money is justified through a process that emphasizes threats to our nation, our interests, and our people. For example, the classified and unclassified versions of the Annual Threat Assessment submitted to Congress by the director of national intelligence devote far more attention to problems and perils than to opportunities to shape events.5 This emphasis is understandable, but it is also unfortunate because it obscures one of the most important functions of the Intelligence Community and causes both analysts and agencies to devote too little attention to potential opportunities to move developments in a more favorable direction.6