Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Bridging the Uncertainty Gap in Intelligence Analysis: A Framework for Systematic Risk and Threat Assessment

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Bridging the Uncertainty Gap in Intelligence Analysis: A Framework for Systematic Risk and Threat Assessment

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Despite contextual and functional differences, intelligence analysts have much in common with social science researchers. Similar to social researchers, intelligence analysts for example regularly make epistemic statements about aspects of human and social life and behaviour, and subject their findings to mutually shared scientific values such as reliability, credibility, accuracy, validity and objectivity. These values are pursued in a quest to obtain 'valid knowledge' about the social phenomena under investigation. Essentially, both disciplines must therefore ensure that the epistemic content of their statements remains scientifically beyond reproach and, from a methodological point of view, well above the realm of conventional wisdom and uninformed speculation. For intelligence practitioners, the quest for 'valid knowledge' is especially important when they make statements about the future in the form of early warning and threat analysis. Policy-makers' concerns about unforeseen future surprises are also reflected in South Africa's National Strategic Intelligence Act, 1994 (as amended), which tasks the country's various intelligence structures to identify and evaluate not only 'threats', but also 'potential threats' to the security of the country. In order to be of value to policy-makers, intelligence warnings and threat analyses must, however, assist policy-makers to effectively bridge the 'uncertainty gap' between the present and the future, without resorting to speculation, simplistic forecasting or 'semantic disclaimers'. This emphasises the need for a systematic approach and credible methodology. This article proposes one such approach and methodology, termed 'Intelligence Risk and Threat Assessment'. It presents not only a general introduction, but also a practical demonstration of the model's applicability in the context of South Africa's civilian domestic security and intelligence analysis.

1. INTRODUCTION

Contemporary intelligence structures, including those in South Africa, are confronted by a very real dilemma: policy-makers require clear, unambiguous and authoritative intelligence analyses, assessments and early warning about the future in order to make effective policy decisions. Moreover, policy-makers expect intelligence structures to assist them with the prioritisation of security threats--including those that have not yet occurred--in order to ensure the most effective allocation of scarce resources. The inherently uncertain nature of the future however tends to limit the extent to which analysts can meet these expectations. (1) Several authors have documented the fact that intelligence analysts subsequently often respond to policy-makers' questions about the future with vague, speculative or non-committal 'semantic disclaimers' that do not provide policy-makers with sufficient understanding or answers. (2) Typical phrases or words often encountered in this respect include 'it is possible that', 'conceivable', 'apparently', 'may have', 'perhaps' and 'maybe'. (3) Laqueur refers to this phenomenon as the "dodging of uncertainty" through the "creative use of language", and acknowledges that it is frequently a "major problem" of many intelligence products and early warning. (4) As a result, several authors urge intelligence analysts to "clearly lay out their chain of reasoning"; to systematically "build a case"; and to adopt a "self-conscious epistemology" in order to establish credibility for their products, especially if these contain forecasts about expected future developments. (5)

The challenge to develop a credible intelligence methodology on matters related to the future is especially acute in a democratic context, where a variety of functional, ethical, legal and constitutional implications could hypothetically arise should any issue, person or group be designated as a 'security threat' or a 'potential security threat' on uncertain or unspecified grounds. …

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