BOX 5-1
The Political Instability Task Force

The Political Instability Task Force (PITF) is an ongoing and unclassified research program funded by the Central Intelligence Agency that began work in 1994 as the Task Force on State Failure, a panel of academic scholars and meth-odologists. Its original task was to assess and explain the vulnerability of states around the world to political instability and state failure, focusing on events like the collapse of state authority in Somalia and the former Zaire and other onsets of disruptive regime change, civil war, genocide and mass killing, and onsets and terminations of democratic government. The task force uses open-source data and research to develop statistical models that can accurately assess countries’ prospects for major political change and can identify key risk factors of interest to U.S. policy makers.

SOURCE: Personal communication with Lawrence Woocher, PITF research director.

consequences for the United States. At least since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has invested heavily in research to provide the basis for understanding and predicting the sources and onset of political instability in countries and regions of concern. Following the collapse of Somalia and the war in the Balkans, another related literature on “state failure” developed, again with substantial support from the U.S. government, including the intelligence community. In addition, other governments supported comparable research, and there was active research in the academic and think tank community as well.7 Two reviews of the literature on state failure (Bates, 2008; Marten, 2010) make clear the close relationships with efforts to understand the origins of extreme political instability, in particular, armed internal war.

One example of these connections, described in more detail in Box 5-1, is the work of the Political Instability Task Force (PITF), a research effort funded by the Central Intelligence Agency that began in the mid-1990s as the Task Force on State Failure. Over time and with continuing adjustments, the PITF has developed a model that is able to correctly identify the onset of “adverse regime change” or “ethnic or revolutionary war” two years in advance in 80 percent of the recorded instances. The methodology and results for a set of cases between 1955 and 2003 are described in the most recent published account of the PITF’s research available (Goldstone


7 Marten (2010) includes discussions of a number of the other major research projects on state failure.

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