nature of the IC’s work, whose predictions can change the world, so that they become self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophesies. A third barrier is being judged in the court of public opinion, where the details of its work may be unknown or even deliberately distorted.

Two examples illustrate the difficulty of extracting a clear signal regarding the IC’s performance. One is that the apparent U.S. surprise at the end of the Cold War obscured the fact that the IC had consistently given strategic warnings about the Soviet Union’s instability during the final year of U.S.-Soviet competition and had correctly predicted the coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev that took place in August 1991 (MacEachin, 1996). A second example is the U-2 spy plane shot down by the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960: the IC is often blamed for the risks it took in having the U-2 fly over Soviet territory, but it is not given credit for the information gained by using the U-2’s unique technical capabilities.

The IC has taken notable steps toward improving its ability to learn from its experiences. The National Defense Intelligence College1 began granting a master’s degree in strategic intelligence in 1980. The CIA’s Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis opened in 2000, followed 2 years later by the CIA University. The CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence produces reflective reports based on declassified data, which are published in Studies in Intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Journal is another source of new analytical and scientific techniques. The IC has also supported the numerous publications reviewing the contribution to learning from structured analytical techniques, such as analysis of competing hypotheses, team A/B work, and alternative futures (Heuer and Pherson, 2010; U.S. Government, 2009). The success of these efforts depends on how well they accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of the human judgment needed to accomplish this learning.


The conditions for learning are well understood. Central to them are prompt, unambiguous feedback, with proper incentives. The threats to learning are also well understood. They arise at the levels of individuals, teams, and organizations. A brief reprise of these threats will set the stage for the solutions proposed in the succeeding chapters of this report. Fuller exposition of the research can be found in the companion volume.

Analysis is an exercise in judgment under conditions of uncertainty. The failings of those judgments are well documented (Ariely, 2008; Gilovich


The National Defense Intelligence College was founded in 1962 as the Defense Intelligence School. It was renamed in 1981 as the Defense Intelligence College and again in 1993 as the Joint Military Intelligence College.

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