ON WARNING

Created: 12/1/1965

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

STUDIES IN

INTELLIGENCE

A coacction ol articles on Ihe hrsiofical. operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects ol intelligence.

All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence are those of

the authors They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US Govemment endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations

CONFIDJHNTIAl

Some observations on the hazardous duty of conveying early warning in political and other "soft" areas of intelligence.

ON WARNING Keith Clark

ctrt-

Theof VS. Intelligence have improved markedly in the course of the lait fifteen yean or so, but in the same periodorn about what it ought to be able to accomplish have probably grown even faster, This fj natural enough, and probably professionally salutary for those who pry the trade, since most people needrequirements to keep them up to the mark. In any case, tbe governmentreat deal of money to equip itself with good intelligence and is rightly impatient with anything less than the best But the situation does carry irritations aod hazards for thet Is comparable to that lo modern medicine, wherein Improvement in techniques and medications, by giving rise toof consistent success, makes occaiionaloubly grievous matter.

And by some standards intelligence falls more than occasionally, since ft is considered in many quarters to have fallen down oo the job if there takes place anywhere in tbe world an important, oreven mildly interesting, political event which it had not heralded in advanceay to make the warning stick in the minds of itsWe are all familiar with the queries and tbe resulting search of the record to End out whether top officials had been warned of such andevelopment prior to its occurrence, and if not why. The short answer it often that these officials had indeed been warned, sometimes repeatedly, but won't admit it This is the one likely to Jump to the tongue of the participant in the post mortem, whether intelligence collector, analyst or estimator: he hadeekonth ago that coup plotting was afoot in Buritaaia and the government's position was shaky, so nobody should have beenwhen it was thrown out last night

Whether or not anyone should have been surprised, however, the fact is that they often enough were surprised, and so mclined to ask why. Exceptarrow and not very profitable way, tho

CONFIDENTIAL

Warning

analyst or estimator cannot meet the question by pointing out that an estimateurrent intelligence daily "covered" yesterday's big event when it noted weeks or months ago the possibilityoup in Run tan la. Too often that teport has been forgotten in the intervening stream of mielbgence Issuances and other papers or their equivalent In briefing sessions. Unless tbe consumer has beenrecendy, and with sufficient emphasis and impact to make it stick, he has not in an effective sense been warned.

The following observations on this subject are Intended neitherefense of the intelligence community's record nor as definitive analysis and solution of the difficulty. The problem of crisisand early warning will continue withuspect, despite the recurrent efforts of this computer age to gear up machines for effective and reliable prophecy in these sort areas of intelligence, here art, oldfashkMied expertise,udicious arnount of imagination still count for more than science. But while these reflections can offer no new secret insights or intellectual breakthrough,may nonetheless be usefulrofessional journal to record some guide-linos and techniques derived from experience In asking the questions, if not always giving the right answers,

Varfum at MutabtU

The obvious first consideration is that the world itselfhancey and uncertain place. In which change, sudden or gradual, is more the rule than tbe exception. One need only compare the world today, or any one area of it, with what prevailedears ago toeasure of the flux we bv'e In. Technology, altering the lives and the thinking of men everywhere, has been accelerating the pace of even the most massive historical trends, the kind that used lo take decades to work themselves out To take one conspicuous example: with some stretching of the historical imagination one canolonial revolt against imperialism getting underentury ago and gaining wide support in various parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but one can scarcely picture such awinning hands down, butew Isolated spots. In Utile rnoreecade Yet this is what has happened In tbe lastears, and the accompanying turbulence has generated some of the principal problems. foreign policy and intelligence during most of our official careers.

On Warning

In thi* world and this period of history, the Intelligence analyst and his customers are going to be nearer the mark if they think of change at more or leu constant, and the main question as being not whether but when and how it will manifest Itself. Unless proven otherwise, it should be assumediven society Is changing daily. Weemantic pitfall in the possibility of Inferring from the overworked term "stable" or "stability" that things are rernairung static; this attribute Is often ascribedind of mere surface calm below which change and Bus are going on all the time.

If accepting the fact that change Is normal and widespreadus favorably, ft still does not begin to solve the problems arising from what we have to work with inarticular change. Io rrrott cases the raw material of the evidence is necessarily fragmentary and Inconclusive, and as It Is rounded out It normally becomes not the stuff of early warning but news of currentumber of things contribute to the poor quality of evidence oo future developments.

One is the sheer inrpesribuity of keeping track of the moves of every individual, organization, or government that may beosition to change things in some part of the world This difficulty is compounded when the success of tbe move for change depends oo the abibty of the promoters to keep it secret If tbe coup plan that gets leaked is the one most likely to be frustrated by its enemies, it followsot of ruch Impending moves that have been reported either do not come off or go quite differently than anticipated No one in the early-warning business can afford to overlook such reports in his own calculations, but some-of them are going to prove ill founded by reason of the same lack of secrecy that led to our getting them.

There is also tbe intrinsic element of caprice in tbe affairs of men

and nations. Some events cannot be predicted because the principals scire sudden opportunities to act or arc reacting to sudden stimuli, unforeseen and quite often unforeseeable by those on the spot If tbe participants themselves could not have predicted tbe turn of events, tbe most sensitive and pervasive of intelligence systems would not be likely to do better. It isalutary sign of awareness of such limitations that the unanticipated fall of Khrushchev was not followed, at least to my knowledge, by stern admonitions to the Intelligence community to reform its procedures and sharpen Its sense of urgency.

17

m fx>-

CONFIfJFNTIAL

Warning

Shotgun and Pinpoint

For thou charged with intelligence warning there is of coursesimple and appealing solution to these duernxnas-to point the gun inJway, of everythinTgive.echnics defense against the charge that you failed to poXirie warninglso Idcely to lose you most of your readers or listeners andhe remaindera state of permanent hysteria or hopeless apathy.oubtful that anyone couldbe got to read an estimate or cWrt in-

and it fa certain that the irdlatenary effect of this course outne value of intelligence warning would be ruinous,

A cardinal principle of effective warning mtelheence.n be selectivity Selectivity involve, re^

of

teres* of being read and respected, it will have to pick from"metim^^^

re|ec* wUJ Uter prove to be important. The hope fa that the

menting or sheddmg new light on the rejected item and se/ST -notingout of the reject, category. Or perhaps another/better or luckier human mind wiD encounter the same fragment of informs, tenand respond more ser^siovely and perceptively-rHjperully weU

bowever. selection wdl occasionally elirriinate,ha, sequcntly prove, to have been taportant Stuff. It is the argument of

iss of thi, type is preferaSTto die overprudeot shotgun alternative.

Crsrerisv

*warning system will have to deal ins more often than in probabilities or neareertaindes. Br* sonable prudence requiresovernment be prepared at any riven mornent. to cope or a, .east liveumbi of cogent post, bihties^ooly some of which wtB in fact materialize If UetZj cooU happen, it bad better beind, whether itbry" Isappen or not This being the ease, some fairly substantial Fopceten of the wrings delivered mil in the event prove eraggcr-

T *oeot develop,

meats. (Sometime, the factarned-of development fails to

On

come off may be due. action triggered by the warning; here intelligence ha$ done it* Job to perfection even ai its prophesies fail to come true.)

Errors oo the side of caution are less Ivarmful than neglect of warning, but they are notalse alarm will normally be overlooked or forgiven much more easilyailure to call the shot on something that does happen; but both are errors and both ought to be on the consciences of those in the warning business. Most of us recall with acuta pain uutaoces in which intelligence failed to forecast something that dideview of theand opportunities warned of that did not materialize may give less pain but Is still sobering.

Importance

Tbe area between these two lands of error thus represents one of the criteria in the process ofof likelihood. The standard isurryecond criterion offerssolider ground, namely the importance of the matter being warned of. It is often, though not always, easier to Judge howsome contingency would affect our interests than how likely it is to occur. Common senseeasonable familiarity with the scope of our government's interests and activities usually enable us to tell whether some foreseeable event would be of critical, great, moderate, little, or rio Importance to national or departmental interests- In any case tbe policy makers' judgment oo this score can supplement our own.

The complexity and many responsibilitiesovernment like ours suggest that very few foreign developments would fail to be of concern to some department or programriterion for warning selection, then, the question of importance probably refers less to whether than to whom to warn and how. Some predictions should have top billing in national inteUigence publications or briefings, others more subdued treatment in departmental or specializedTbehus most usefully relevant to selection for briefings and publication at the highest levels.

It is this writer's subjective and purely personal opinion that the applicatioo of more vigorous standards in this respect wouldalutary effect on the bulk and readability, and hence on the impact, of most inteUigence publications, not excluding the national esti-

spenterfecting presentation! of detail which can make no earthly difference to policy decision* but confront already overburdened readers with more informa (too than they want or need to know. Thisnot an argument for either carelessness or super-finalitylea for the classic virtues of brevity and coricentration oo the essential as still useful in our hoe of work.

Imminent*

The criteria of likelihood and importance for determining whether, how. and to whom to give early warning are supplementedhird, that of imnunence, which ii most relevant to the choice of when to warn. This timing is often of critical importance, for policy makers are as human as the rest of us and busier than most On the higher levels they are subjectedentally exhausting barrage ofand briefingsost of subjects, and in the dally round ofto inescapably urgent things, some of the rest are going to be remembered and torn* are not

Selection in the bght of imminenceatter of avoidingextremes, warning too early or too late. Logically it might seem the earlier the better, giving as much time as possible to do something about It but this logic leads toatalog of all kinds of Important things that may or are likely to happen eventuaDy. Though it is unquestionably desirable to look ahead, in appropriate context,eneral prediction of developments that seem ultimately probable, our problem hereointed particular warningime when something can and should be done about lt

Even the most prudent and forward-looking administration cannot give as serious attentionroblem foreseen five years ahead as to one shaping up next week. It la not just that something postponable is crowded off the stage by real and present dangers; there is often little that can or should be dona about some foreseen events until they are closer at hand. There Is always the chance that thawu] not arise when expected or not at all

It is true that In addition to delivering specific warning at the right time, intelligenceesponsibUity to keep Its consumersaware of tbe remoter contingencies, of what Walt W. Boslow

recently described is "the lelevance of the lesst has to do this without dulling their senses or straining their patience with frequent laundry lists of all imaginableonfess it is much easier to state this problem than to offer any but the most banal answers. One line of procedure, however, while more the result of evolution in the art of policy making than of intelligence innovation, does offer the intelligence officer someefer to the Increased emphasis in recent years on isolating and studying very long-rangeort which may not. counter action for several years to come. It may be debated whether' the policy lines worked out in these exercises will in most cases bewhen the moment for actionit will not beatter ofeady-made "courses of action" formula out of thethe long lead-time concept is salutary for policyand its acceptance makes the job of intelligenceew degrees easier andit more fruitful. In an uncertain world perhaps we can't ask for much more.

'cture on "Tha Planning of Foreigniven at the School of Advanced International Studios of tbe Johns Hopkins University and published in The Dimension*Dipltmacy (E. A. Johnson, cd, Johns Hopkins Praia,.

Original document.

Comment about this article or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA