Tom Engelhardt on the ‘Fog of Intelligence’

Insightful piece by Tom Engelhardt on serial and serious failures of military intelligence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The intelligence analysis that he is talking about – monitoring a situation, isolating patterns and significant events from background ‘noise’, ensuring that important information is brought to the attention of decision makers, and making forecasts based on trends and events – is the bread and butter of an intelligence community. And yet it’s all going wrong.

There are many possible reasons for the failures. The future is, actually, hard to predict, even for experts. There are problems with bureaucracy and information overload – 1,500 analysts? Continuous streams of data from X number of drones flying overhead? The intelligence stream would be near overwhelming. Fragmentation and silo-ing meaning that it is difficult to get an overall picture of what is happening. These are all problems that arise from systems, and should be amenable to remedies aimed at improving coordination, better sifting through the stream, etc.

And then there are problems arising from the natural limitations on people’s cognitive abilities and the artificial limitations on people’s ability to reason. There are things that can be done about these – this blog exists to draw people’s attention to their existence, and to possible remedies. But getting the job done is hard. And especially under war-time conditions, when the emphasis is on getting the job done rather than addressing how the job is done.

But, as Engelhardt rightly points out, the waste is tremendous and the mistakes are, after 14 years fighting these battles in these parts of the world, inexcusable. Something has, indeed, gone very wrong here.


About Stebbing Heuer

A person interested in exploring human perception, reasoning, judgement and deciding, and in promoting clear, effective thinking and the making of good decisions.
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