I was sitting in a really good movie earlier today and I saw an example of how we allow our key assumptions to fill in the “don’t knows” of intelligence analysis.
Unless you’re watching Game of Thrones, our key assumption is always that the main character will stay live, defeat the bad guy and save the day. That’s the plot of nearly every action movie since the dawn of mooveez. So that’s a solid key assumption for tens of thousands of movies that followed and will follow. Spoiler Alert: We don’t know for a fact that the protagonist will stay alive but we put our money on it, anyway.
It’s sort of the same concept in intelligence analysis. The history of movie plots in which the protagonist wins can be called ‘doctrine’. That’s the observable history of action movie plots and (more or less) the rules of those movies. Intelligence analysts can rely on doctrine to guide their analysis in the same way that we expect the heroes to save the day. That’s just the way things work.
In the schoolhouse, we learned intelligence on a Soviet-style adversary. Everything we expected to see from our adversary was based on doctrine and their order of battle (OB) – the recorded history of the way they did things in previous conflicts and engagements. Everything our adversaries expect of the US military are based on our doctrine; they expect us to act in a similar fashion in future conflicts as we have in recent conflicts of the same type.
So my rhetorical question to the burgeoning intelligence analysts out there is, What is the doctrine of your potential adversaries? Record the history of recent and similar conflicts, and identify what they’re doing and use it as a baseline. It does not mean that they will act in accordance with their doctrine 100% of the time, however, using it as a baseline is safer than starting with no expectations. If the rely on doctrine more than five times out of then (which is very likely), then you will be correct at least 50% of the time. That’s much better than knowing nothing about the way they operate and having each engagement become a crap shoot in which you are likely to lose. If you find that you’re correct less than 50% of the time, then take another look at their doctrine because it may be evolving to adapt and overcome… the exact same as you are doing.
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