learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...


learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

and persuasive arguments you construct from the evidence at hand. These are the core

activities of intelligence analysis — the “science of analysis,” if you will — discovery,

proof, and choice.

As we all know, failures of intelligence analysis are often widely advertised while

successes are not made public, and often cannot be. The truth is that analysts are routinely

asked to perform tasks for which they have received little if any tutoring. Conventional

courses in logic, probability, and statistics do not prepare a person for the task

of drawing conclusions based on masses of evidence whose items suggest many, often

complex and interrelated, lines of arguments on hypotheses of interest. The evidence of

interest to intelligence analysts usually concerns events that are unique, singular, or

one-of-a-kind and are thus not replicable or repeatable. This means that there are rarely

any useful or relevant statistical records available to draw upon in making inferences

about the capabilities and intentions of potential or real adversaries. We had no existing

statistical records regarding the intentions of foreigners who showed up in our civilian

flying schools wishing only to learn how to steer multiengine aircraft and not how to

perform takeoffs or landings. Lacking existing statistical records to draw upon, we must

generate new information by inquiry, the asking of questions. Skill in asking productive

questions is as vitally necessary in intelligence analysis as it is in any other situation in

which discovery and investigation are necessary. Effective intelligence analysis rests

upon mixtures of both imaginative and critical reasoning. Intelligence analysts whose

work has been exemplary have almost certainly acquired their skill through years of

experience and, perhaps, through often-painful trial and error experiences. Given the

need for accurate and timely intelligence analyses, whose urgency is evident in light of

current events, we cannot afford to have intelligence analysis learned just on the basis

of many trial and error experiences.

But where are the skills of marshaling evidence, analyzing evidence, and the construction

of persuasive arguments in support of intelligence estimates taught? Do we

assume that such analysis is something that can be done instinctively? Or do we think

that collecting and cataloging evidence is more specialized than analyzing evidence? I

start from the premise that such assumptions are false. Basic skills in marshaling and

analyzing evidence are important and teachable skills that are largely neglected in our

intelligence analysis education.

Just as you cannot do very much carpentry with your bare hands, there is not

much thinking you can do with your bare brain.

Bo Dahlbom and Lars-Erik Janlert

As cited by Dennitt in “Kinds of Minds,” 1996

Fortunately, there are methods for marshaling masses of evidence and for constructing

complex arguments that are very useful and that may at least reduce the number of

trial and error experiences that so often accompany learning the business of accurate

and timely intelligence analyses. Some of these methods have been in existence for

decades, but have not been given the attention they deserve. The exception is in the field


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