Sunday, July 28, 2013

Comments on "Why does intelligence analysis sometimes fail?" (Science Daily)

Comments on "Why does intelligence analysis sometimes fail?" (Science Daily)

1  There are several things that are objectionable about this Science Daily piece [1] and other jobs...

First of all, the author seems not to have read the article in full. It says that Wirtz "focuses in particular on the contribution of the scholar Robert Jervis," as if this happened by no special reason.

Not so, Wirtz's article [2] is, as said in the acknowledgements, a contribution to a book [3] __in honor__ of R Jervis:
This article was previously published in a collection of essays in honor of Robert Jervis.

And second, it loads too much the conclusions. Science Daily's writer says that "The way to reduce failures Jervis believed [...] was to improve agents' analytical skills rather than endlessly reorganising the bureaucracy."

Wirt'z essay says that "Jervis focuses on analytic tradecraft, not bureaucratic reorganization, as the best way to improve intelligence. In that sense, he agrees with intelligence analysts, who often identify the quest for better tradecraft as the best guarantee against intelligence failure," which is a bit different of that statement by SD's writer. Maybe Jervis believed what SD published, but Wirtz goes not so far, he only says that Jervis focuses on analysis improvements.

To me, it is not in Wirt'z paper that Jervis is in some way against all reorganizations after intel failures or that he was skeptical of reorganization, generally speaking, as SD suggests with "rather than endlessly." Maybe both things, reorganization and analytic improvements, are needed in many occasions: First, make heads roll and dissolve some directorates or units after intel failures, and second, improve the craft.

2  Going now to Wirtz's job, maybe Jervis did focus "on analytic tradecraft, not bureaucratic reorganization, as the best way to improve intelligence" [2] because, one, he wasn't a manager and didn't have to focus in reorganizations, and was not contracted to give opinions of that field of reorganization, but in the one of analytic craft; and two, because he "is best known for his scholarship on international relations; especially the way human cognition shapes foreign and defence policies". [1] As Jervis said, as described in the presentation of his book, [4] "Give someone a hammer, everything is a nail."

This is applicable to Prof Jervis, isn't it? Like to everyone of us.

3  More generally, many scholars and professionals think like Prof Jervis: "In light of these critical intelligence failures, Jervis says, “We can do better.”" [4]

I doubt we can. And not only me. Jeffrey Cooper suggests, in a work he did for the CIA, [5] several, many ways to improve the analyst's job, but after those, he reminds us of Kahneman's suggestion of using methodologists in the teams to watch over the analysts' work, to prevent our falling in some trap of our sad, human nature, which is a way of saying there is no training or changes in our way of thinking/working that can compensate for our analytical pathologies:
Finally, the introduction of a "process watcher," as suggested by Kahneman, is intended to bring a clear and unbiased, outside expert’s eye to analytic teams. The process watcher function, unlike that of a Red Team, is intended to focus exclusively on identifying errors in the analytic process, not on alternative interpretations of the evidence or different logic chains.

Also, I infer from this recommendation that our bosses and organizations are also let's say less than capable of guaranteeing quality for the taxpayer's bucks.

Aside of the need of experts not in the contents, but in the methods, since we are not capable of working/reasoning/computing well [6 and references therein], can anyone compute the costs of adding to the intelligence units more personnel to improve the quality of our analysis?


[1]  Why does intelligence analysis sometimes fail?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/07/130723073955.htm?goback=%2Egde_2216219_member_260803925

[2]  James J. Wirtz. The Art of the Intelligence Autopsy. Intelligence and National Security, Mar 2013; DOI: 10.1080/02684527.2012.748371

[3]  James W. Davis (ed.), Psychology, Strategy and Conflict: Perceptions of Insecurity in International Relations (Oxford: Routledge 2012).

[4] Saltzman Lecture Report. Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War New York, New York – March 9, 2010. Retrieved July 28, 2013, from

[5]  Jeffrey R Cooper: Curing Analytic Pathologies - Pathways to Improved Intelligence Analysis. Langley, VA: CIA, December 2005

[6]  Biased Policy Professionals. Sheheryar Banuri, Stefan Dercon, and Varun Gauri. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 8113.