Best Defense

CIA study of ‘Commanders and Surprise’ says that if you want to avoid being surprised, manage your intel people

I found this article interesting, but mistitled. It really is about how military commanders should manage their intelligence people, and how doing so can avoid being surprised. "Surprise [is] . . . largely due to failure properly to evaluate information at hand," wrote Robert Williams in 1982 article in the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence that ...

via Wikimedia/Library of Congress
via Wikimedia/Library of Congress

I found this article interesting, but mistitled. It really is about how military commanders should manage their intelligence people, and how doing so can avoid being surprised.

"Surprise [is] . . . largely due to failure properly to evaluate information at hand," wrote Robert Williams in 1982 article in the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence that only was released recently.

So he makes several recommendations:

-"Identify loudly and clearly your intelligence requirements. . . . Do not permit your staff officers to decide for you what critical information you need."

-"Do not make the mistake of overrelying on some intelligence officer’s estimative abilities or even his ability to interpret facts."

-"Do not count solely on your principal intelligence officer to provide you with early warning."

-"Hold yourself — not your intelligence officer — responsible if you are surprised."

-"Assume (and honestly try to believe) that your opponent is as smart as you." Or, he adds, "smarter."

-"Not only does [your opponent] have a plan, he intends to win."

-"Listen carefully to your opponents."

-"Fight to get a good officer . . . as your top intelligence staff officer. . . . He will be your entrée into the total intelligence system."  

He also recommends the book Risks: The Key to Combat Intelligence, by Maj. Gen. Elias Carter Townsend, of which I hadn’t heard before.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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