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training may be required to prevent these intuitive theories from interfering with sound intelligence tradecraft.


Richard Nixon was known as a fierce anticommunist. His congressional and national campaigns were characterized by severe condemnations of those whom he accused of being “soft.” Yet President Nixon visited China in 1972, a trip that began to thaw the long-frozen relations between the two countries.

Anwar Sadat authorized the Yom Kippur War against Israel in 1973. This was another in a series of hostile events between Egypt and Israel that had begun with the founding of Israel 25 years earlier. Yet in 1977 Sadat visited Israel, a trip that led to a comprehensive peace agreement 2 years later between the formerly bitter enemies.

These two examples plus many others illustrate that predicting the behavior of individuals who have previously exhibited consistent behavior is not an easy task. The mistaken belief that people have a stable personality that manifests itself in consistent behavior was criticized many years ago by David Fischer (1970) in his classic book, Historians’ Fallacies. He termed the error in question “the fallacy of essences,” which is predicated on the belief that every person, nation, or culture has an essence that governs much of the behavior of that entity. Fischer was particularly blunt in his derogation of the fallacy of essences: “This most durable of secular superstitions is not susceptible to reasoned refutation. The existence of essences, like the existence of ghosts, cannot be disproved by any rational method” (p. 68). Referring to those people who endorse this fallacy as “essentialists,” Fischer continues, “The essentialist’s significant facts are not windows through which an observer may peek at the inner reality of things, but mirrors in which he sees his own a priori assumptions reflected” (p. 68). Of course, analysts must be on guard not to let their conclusions be nothing more than mere depictions of a priori assumptions.

Contemporaneous with Fischer’s book were a pair of psychological research programs. One of the most famous controversies in the history of psychology was largely engendered by the research of Walter Mischel (1973), who pointed out convincingly that the cross-situational consistency of any person’s behavior was surprisingly low. For example, extroverts did not seem to behave in a gregarious manner in all situations, and introverts did not seem to behave in a reserved manner in all situations. Mischel emphasized that the situation exerted far more influence on a person’s behavior than personality theorists had previously thought. Aggressive

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