Intelligence analysis is the interpretation of facts. Analysts examine a scenario or data set, put the facts into context, add perspective, and explain to a decision maker why it all matters. The written format of an analytical statement is sometimes described as the “what/so what?” The “what” is the fact; the “so what” is its relevance. In an intelligence assessment, the thesis, which is the overarching finding of the work, and the key judgments that support the thesis, are all based in analysis, thus follow the what/so what format.
Here are some examples of analytically-formatted thesis statements and key judgments from products published by the IC:
1. “Afghanistan’s progress since the end of Taliban rule toward meeting broadly accepted international standards for the conditions of women has been uneven, reflecting cultural norms and conflict.” (source: Afghanistan: Women’s Economic, Political, and Social Status Driven by Cultural Norms, published in the National Intelligence Council Sense of the Community memorandum, 2 April 2021)
What/so what: The “what,” or the factual part of the statement, is that Afghanistan’s progress toward meeting accepted international standards for the conditions for Afghani women since the end of Taliban rule has been uneven. Why? The analysis, or the “so what,” found cultural norms and conflict explained the uneven progress.
2. “We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” (source: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections, published 6 January 2017)
What/so what: The “what” is Russian President Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Why? The analysis, or “so what,” found Putin’s goal was to undermine faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and to harm her electability and potential presidency.
3. “UAP sightings also tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds, but we assess that this may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.” (source: Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, published 25 June 2021)
What/so what: The “what” is UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) sightings tended to cluster around US training and testing grounds. Why? Analysis (the so what) found the likely reason was these facilities had the equipment to detect such phenomena as well as personnel who were trained to identify and report it.
The above examples are presented solely because they reflect the what/so what format. This is not an endorsement of the underlying analysis or the accuracy of the conclusions.