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Change the Analyst and Not the System: A Different Approach to Intelligence Reform



Recent intelligence failures, including first and foremost the mistaken estimate of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) prior to the war, show that a prime source of such failures is the adherence by analysts to preconceptions (or mind-sets) which entail the rejection of new information that contradicts it. The source of this kind of problem lies in well known psychological mechanisms. Yet official investigations into intelligence blunders have typically ignored this problem or have not suggested an appropriate solution thus far. Our paper suggests an original approach based on the fact that certain types of personalities are more likely than others to fall victim to these biased judgments. Existing psychological tests can help determine individual susceptibility to such tendencies. Therefore we suggest that intelligence organizations should pay far more attention to these personality characteristics, especially an analyst’s level of openness, in recruitment, training, and promotion. Such attention would help create more effective reforms in intelligence than organizational models which advocate “devil’s advocate” kind of solutions.