Dealing with Uncertainty & Intelligence

One of the current themes in the U.S. right now is uncertainty over election results and what plays out between November and January. There’s not just electoral uncertainty, but also uncertainty over civil unrest and disruption coming out of election results.

Luckily, intelligence reduces uncertainty about the future, so these are not impossible questions to answer.

Today, I’m going to write about how to deal with the two most frequent sources of uncertainty: Accuracy and Credibility of reporting. If you acknowledge that Intelligence Drives the Fight, then intelligence analysts are like the fuel filter of your engine. If you don’t learn how to identify the good, the bad, and the ugly, then you are going to put low grade fuel and particulates into your engine. It’s not going to drive as smoothly and as quickly as you need it to. Intelligence matters. Analysis matters.

ACCURACY: The first problem of uncertainty is accuracy. Intelligence analysts depend on reported information, whether that’s coming from HUMINT sources, SIGINT, OSINT, or some other source.

The analyst’s first job is reducing his own uncertainty by determining the accuracy of the reported information. Can this information be confirmed through other reporting? Can it be denied through other reporting? Is it consistent with what we know or believe to be true? Often, we can only ascribe some level of confidence in its veracity: this information is likely true, or unlikely to be true. There aren’t many slam dunks in intelligence.

CREDIBILITY: Another source of uncertainty that plagues analysis is the credibility of the source. What is the source’s reporting history? Does he have a history of providing reliable information? If so, then he has built credibility. If not, then he has no credibility, either through reporting falsely or not having any prior reporting. Once a source’s credibility can be established, the analyst can work towards reducing uncertainty.


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