Cómo pensar acerca de seis imposibles antes del desayuno

AutorShmuel Bar

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The author of the Webster Diaionary, Noah Webster is said to have come home one night to find his wife in the arms of another man. According to the anecdote, his wife cried out "My husband, you surprised me", whereas he responded, "My wife, you astonish me". In Alice through the Looking Glass, Alice complains to the White Queen: 'One can't believe impossible things.' The Queen retorts: 'I daresay you haven't had much practice ... When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, some-

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times I've believed as many as six impossible things befo re breakfast.' More recently, former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld expressed his concern not about what he knew or about what he knew he didn't know, but about what he "didn't know that he didn't know." This arricie deals with ways to take the advice of the White Queen; if we do so, we may yet be surprised, however perhaps — by training ourselves to think impossible things — we can reduce our chances of being astonished.

Let us imagine that in January 1989 we had gathered a group of the best intelligence officers in Langley, Vauxhall Cross and Tel Aviv and told them that the following would be their strategic environment in the year 2010: The Soviet Union will no longer exist and former Warsaw Pact nations would have joined NATO; Iraq will occupy Kuwait, be evicted by a coali-tion based on the US, and eventually be occupied by a coalition led by the United States, resulting in a protracted war of terrorism and counter-insurgency; a Saudi Sheikh named Osama bin Laden would be public en-emy number 1, after having been responsible for the worst attack on the US since Pearl Harbour; that consequently, the West would invade Afghani-stan, topple the Taleban regime (until then non-existent) and be embroiled in a war against "insurgency" in Afghanistan. It is safe to say that few serious analysts would have taken such a forecast seriously.

The risk of being "astonished" is even greater when dealing with irregular warfare, insurgency and terrorism. These forms of conflict pose many unique dilemmas for intelligence collection, analysis and operationalization, insofar as they are characterized by an abundance of "Black Swans":

• Their inception can rarely be surmised from a traditional intelligence analysis of the adversary's capabilities and intentions. They can develop "on the fly" without prior strategic planning by the ostensible initiator.

• They are fraught with "unknown unknowns"; they frequently take place in places that are not even on the radar screen. Leaders of insur-gencies and terrorist movements are usually unknown factors — "dark horses" — that emerge from their national or social milieu without prior notice. Their worldviews and operational codes are, initially at least, closed boxes.

• They are characterized by a seemingly irrational willingness to con-front the superior forcé of a state.

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• The courses of these conflicts tend to be far more chaotic and sensitive to non-military inputs than regular military conflicts.

• Technological collection means do not provide the level of strategic intelligence that they do in regular conflicts; terrorist attacks in the making rarely show up in satellite images. Even high-level SIGINT does not deliver the same degree of certainty regarding what will eventually happen.

• In addition to all of these factors, intelligence on such conflicts tends to be tactical and not strategic. Intelligence on the leadership does not necessarily provide a picture of what is really happening. The level of control that insurgency and terrorist leaders have over their forces is far less than those regular militarles and states. On the other hand, intangible factors such as popular support, interaction within the host population, thresholds of fear and despair that determine susceptibil-ity to deterrence replace traditional assessment of ORBATS of tanks, aircraft and fighting men.

To face these challenges, we must develop an intelligence methodology that will enable us to: 1) postúlate developments that may have strategic implications, deriving from theatres, means and intentions that we have not yet encountered; 2) develop intelligence contingency plans for those eventu-alities that can be flexible enough to serve as a framework for challenges that stem out of a wide variety of geographic, demographic and cultural envi-ronments and enable quick adaptation of assets, and identification and pri-oritization of targets; 3) protect intelligence assets, and at the same time, enable them to contribute to effective countering of terrorist threats; 4) develop methodologies for human terrain intelligence that can be tailored to the specific cultural and regional needs.

There is no "silver bullet" that can solve these complex problems. The helms of the ship of strategic intelligence and of tactical human terrain intelligence have in common that they respond slowly. However, the follow-ing are six key "impossible things" that are worth thinking about.

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1. Things that never happened before can happen

It is a truism — but one worth reiterating — that when we are not surprised by an event, it is usually because there are precedents of similar events and that they were unexpected before they first happened. The fact that we are aware of this does not immunize us against the tendency not...

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