Normative intelligence analysis

This book is not about geopolitics in its own right, but as it relates to the field of economics. The book aims to tie together a number of disparate theoretical threads: the frequent lack of relevance in much of the established economics literature, the growing but fragmented body of intelligence studies (pursued in different ways in different countries), and the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics with the onset of what we know as globalization. We shall mainly be concerned here with macro factors in our environment. That is rather different from the field of competitive intelligence, where the focus is mainly on micro factors. We are concerned first of all here with those macro factors about which we cannot be sure. This group of problems represents the largest challenge to the study from either a practical or a methodological perspective. We call this area, where guessing is often required, normative intelligence analysis.

How do we deal with behaviour that we cannot be certain about, which seems to demand some form or degree of speculation or guessing on our part? Should we ignore the problem or defer it, as we do with similar problems in the social sciences when we encounter questions that cannot be examined empirically? This would mean having to discard a large number of problems. In intelligence studies it is necessary to live with speculations, ultimately for the simple reason that they are used (by others and by ourselves) in making real decisions, and in some cases also because we want to mesh our interests with existing theories. This is not a problem that we shall ever overcome: information asymmetry is the natural state of the world, even today, when we have better and more information than ever before. Since we are forced to use normative intelligence, we know that some decisions will be appallingly wrong and there is little we can do about that.

We saw the consequences of poor intelligence when the USA invaded Iraq on the pretext that someone thought, or said they thought, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. That was probably in part a pretext, but it probably also played a role as a genuine motive, at least further down the chain of command. It could also be that it was a pure fabrication. But we shall assume here that it was not, that the idea was more like an error of rationality which followed from poor intelligence. By the time the intelligence was revealed as erroneous, among the higher military command and elsewhere, it had metamorphosed into something else: a new idea, a useful excuse for going to war. It also allowed the Bush administration to blame others, in this case the CIA, for its own subsequent actions. It is too simplistic to explain this as a mistake. It can instead be seen as a more or less rational decision, like any other important decision made in a large organization where facts are one thing but interests another. Decisions are often not actually made, but rather emerge over time, as the balance of all arguments and total press and television coverage comes to tip to one side. We must seek to model our analysis of the world to reflect more complex social situations.

The reality is that we make decisions using less than fully rational analyses of incomplete information, based on generalizations and a particular set of personal and cultural values. To complicate the picture even further, the real motives for many decisions made in the field of international politics are known only to a few people. For instance, continuing with the example above, few people within the CIA know any details about their "black operations" (assassinations), only that they are a reality. Quite often the head of the CIA has no idea what the President himself wants to do. This is said to have been so during Bill Clinton's presidency and under Donald Rumsfeld (George W. Bush). Clinton made it clear that he wanted no contact with the CIA, and Rumsfeld ignored the Agency, preferring to rely on military intelligence from the Pentagon. The Bush administration supposedly requested no strategic intelligence on Iraq from the CIA, even though plenty of such analysis existed (Betts 2007: 115). If we assume a perfect world, where our adversaries have symmetric information, idealistic motives, and high ideals, we will be wrong in our predictions about world events.

To be realistic we must assume not only self-interest and sharp conflicts of interest between organizations which appear to be co-operating, but we must also assume that a number of different subjective models of reality and erroneous conclusions are all present at the same time, all taken into consideration and leading to actual decisions. The analytic skills which this situation demands of us are closer to those associated with literature students rather than students of political science. In contrast with the methodology of most social sciences, intelligence professionals have come to accept that they have to live with wide margins of error, in a working environment that resembles a room of revolving mirrors. The point is that this is a more realistic world view on which to base a study of human behaviour. It is also the reason why this book has a clear intelligence perspective. We are obliged to try to analyse the social complexity of the world we inhabit as best we can, so that at least we can know why we cannot know, but, more important, we can know how and in what respects we might improve our knowledge of human behaviour, ultimately in order to make better predictions. This all requires a more elaborated social-science methodology than has been presented so far.

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