Academic journal article Military Review

Full-Spectrum Analysis: A New Way of Thinking for a New World

Academic journal article Military Review

Full-Spectrum Analysis: A New Way of Thinking for a New World

Article excerpt

We relied as usual on our own Soviet experts. (1)

--Sherman Kent, commonly referred to as the "father of modern day intelligence analysis," commenting in 1964 on some of the reasons why the U.S. intelligence community missed the deployment of Soviet missiles into Cuba.

... actions we undertake as individuals are closely related to survival, more importantly, survival on our own terms. (2)

--John Boyd, military strategist, commenting in 1976 on how we create mental models to understand the world.

THIS ESSAY PROPOSES a new cognitive frame of reference for the intelligence community to use in thinking about the world. Such mental frameworks can be double-edged swords. We cannot think without them, but if they create an inadequate paradigm for useful thought, or if we use them uncritically or without appropriate adjustment to square with the prevailing realities of current circumstances, they hedge us into thinking in limiting ways that result in faulty conclusions. This article contends that the prevailing mental framework in the intelligence community is flawed in just this way and must be changed.

We in the intelligence community aren't receiving the education and training we need to enable us to think effectively about the world's current security environment. The way we have been taught to think is overly simplistic; in many ways it is disconnected from reality, a fact made all the more apparent by our recent failures to understand the behaviors and motivations of Middle Eastern peoples. Still operating under ways of thinking formulated during the cold war, we are tied to a cognitive framework that is no longer a useful construct; in fact, it is in many cases misleading and destructive.

To develop this discussion further, consider the way we thought about warfighting until just recently. Combat operations--in this case, regime change--were a series of linear events to be dealt with in turn, one after the other: first, pre-combat equipping and training; then combat operations; then actions aimed at providing essential services and promoting stability; then civil-military governance; and finally, establishment of economic pluralism. Underpinning this old, linear cognitive framework were assumptions about the propensities of adversaries who, we assumed, thought like we did about achieving social and political goals via war. We expected these adversaries to behave in a manner consistent with the Western conventions of war, in phased approaches, and in compliance with the conventions and rules of war. That our adversaries did not is not news. The non-state adversaries we face in Iraq and elsewhere do not think or behave in accordance with a framework based on assumptions about war's conventions and rational conduct in conflict. As a result, our conceptual approach has proven ineffective.

Similarly, since 9/11, intelligence experts have been constantly surprised by adversaries who have been not only more ruthless and unpredictable in their actions than intelligence assessments previously forecast, but also more strategically adept than was thought possible. In short, our intelligence failed because the cognitive framework with which we operate did not allow for our adversaries' irrational, blatant disregard for the established conventions of war or for their street-smart adroitness at exploiting the media for strategic gains. (3)

We need to change the way we think if we want to succeed in this new kind of war. Those in the operational field have already begun doing so, and we in the intelligence community can follow their lead to improve our performance.

Moving Toward a New Approach

Currently, the concept of full-spectrum operations is being introduced (albeit painfully) into the warfighter community. (4) This concept asserts that certain actions are required of the warfighter--not sequentially, as before but simultaneously--prior to, during, and after the unfolding of events associated with any particular conflict. …

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