RECOBIA - Reduction of Cognitive Biases in Intelligence Analysis

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Iran 1978-1979: Reflections on Intelligence Failure

By Adam Moscoe
May 30 2014
At the core of the Iran intelligence failure is a series of four unchecked assumptions and prefabricated beliefs combined with an absence of methodological rigour. Failure to ‘connect the dots’ left the US unable to advance its interests. However, when examining analytical failures, one must be attentive to hindsight bias and the problem of noise – the challenge of discerning warning signals amid chaos. Since they must defend their views, analysts are more likely to be thorough, systematic, and conscious of biases or subjective beliefs. Sharpened analysis could enable agents to mark indicators for confirming or denying predictions. For example, they could have set a threshold level of violence after which they would have committed to revising estimates of the Shah’s strength. However, Robert Jervis, in a recently declassified post-mortem, is quick to note that this style of competitive analysis must be valued and rewarded in ICs in order to bring about meaningful change.