Bradley alumnus and former CIA analyst returns to campus

Dennis Bowden ’83, a former analyst for the CIA, speaks to students on campus.

April 17, 2013

By Elizabeth Cachey ‘15

Dennis Bowden ’83, a former analyst for the CIA, returned to Bradley recently and visited one of Dr. Charles Bukowski’s international studies classes for an interactive lecture. Bowden, who received his bachelor’s in international studies, earned a master’s in political science with a concentration in Soviet studies at Indiana University. From there, he started working for the CIA and stayed with the agency for 26 years before retiring.

Dr. Bukowski’s students, who were excited to have the opportunity to speak with a successful and personable man who had once been in their very position, listened attentively during Bowden’s hour-long talk. By the end, the students better understood the complexities of intelligence gathering and its analysis.

When asked about the impact Bradley had on his career, Bowden answered, “The international studies department here laid the groundwork for critical thinking processes that helped me later in life.“

After a brief personal introduction, Bowden dove into the main subject of his talk—his work in the CIA. Bowden explained that there are four sections of the CIA: the Directorate of Intelligence, the National Clandestine Service, the Directorate of Support and the Directorate of Science and Technology. Bowden was a part of intelligence section, which is responsible for all-source intelligence research and analysis.

Bowden began his career as an intelligence analyst, focusing on highly classified Soviet nuclear technology. He analyzed satellite imagery and signals to form hypotheses, which he then wrote extensively about and shared with various government agencies and officials.

“Basically,” Bowden said with a smile, “I was the nerd who wrote term papers.”

He went on to explain the significance of intelligence and its analysis. “I look at analysis as a process of arraying information that is important and characterizing what we know about it and [from that] making appropriate statements of probability—to define reality to the consumer, whether that be the military or the president of the United States,” he said.

“We want to give [the military and the president] an unfair advantage,” Bowden said. “We want to give them many cards to play so that they can defeat the enemy.”

This, however, was no easy task. Bowden compared gathering intelligence and analyzing it to “putting a puzzle together but there’s WAY too many pieces, some pieces are missing, and there’s no picture to look off of for reference in putting it together.”

Bowden was faced with the constant struggle of determining whether or not his conclusions were as well supported as they could be and whether or not sources he obtained intelligence from were reliable. “Nothing was ever one hundred percent certain,” he added.

After years of working in intelligence, Bowden was promoted to the position of Managing Editor of the President’s Daily Briefing; meaning Bowden decided which topics were going to be briefed to the president on a daily basis and what those briefings would contain.

This presented an entire new set of challenges for Bowden. With such a massive amount of intelligence at hand, Bowden had to sift through and determine what was urgent enough to be shared with the president on any given day. His decisions were influenced based on whether or not the information was seen as being “relevant, timely, and actionable,” he said.

Bowden then distributed a paper to the class to illustrate this fact. It was the daily briefing from August 6, 2001, which reported that intelligence collected indicated Osama Bin Ladin was “determined to strike in [the] US.” A month after that briefing, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 were carried out.

The students in Dr. Bukowski’s class were flabbergasted. Hands shot up in the air, looking for answers.

Bowden went on to explain to the students that “if they knew when and where [the attack was planned for] they would have stopped it. All we had was the information. It wasn’t actionable.” Because the briefing had no possible way to have all the pieces to the puzzle, nothing policy-wise could be changed for protection.