Gaming For Clarity Recognizes Intelligence Biases

Whatever the case may be and whatever the actual facts were that were used to inform senior policymakers at the time, the failure of the initial media reports — which is generally always wrong — raises a valid question about the role of biases in analyzing, assessing and predicting likely geopolitical outcomes.

Unrecognized biases can wreak havoc and lead to a seemingly endless cycle of misinformed, ill advised and poorly structured assessments and conclusions. Whatever the reason for the failure of such recent analysis — be it misreporting, situational fluidity, geopolitical perception management or what have you — biases in critical thinking and decision-making abound.

There is a plethora of historical examples that fall into this category. “Failure to detect and mitigate bias is widely considered to be the cause of many intelligence failures in the past,” explained Professor Kristan J. Wheaton, an associate professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University and a retired Foreign Area Officer with the US Army.

“For example, the “Jeremiah Report” blamed the US’s failure to predict Indian nuclear tests in the 90’s squarely on the bias of mirror-imaging (thinking that the other side will see the facts and interpret them the same way you do).”

Following the Intelligence Community’s failure to have provided warning of India’s nuclear testing, the Director of Central Intelligence at the time appointed a panel of outside experts, chaired by Admiral David Jeremiah, a former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to provide a list of specific recommendations regarding analytic assumptions, collection management and tasking, manning and training and organizing and integrating the Intelligence Community.

“Cognitive biases (as distinct from prejudices) impact anyone who makes decisions,” Wheaton said. “Obviously, the more important the decisions, the more impact which is why you typically see de-biasing training in places like law and medical schools, in the military and within the intelligence community.”

Wheaton has spent years focusing his research on countering innate biases. And as he noted, “All my research over the last 5 years has been focused on teaching intelligence analysis with games.”

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