The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Richards J. Heuer, Jr.

What’s this? Nonfiction, you say?!

I honestly did not actually intend to post fiction reviews for weeks at a time, but this is where we ended up. So, to break up that streak (and also prove I do actually read things for work), here we have The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards (that is the correct spelling, don’t @ me) Heuer, a former CIA analyst (this was a publication by the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence).

What most people tend not to realize is that intelligence analysis is an incredibly difficult, time-consuming, and somewhat treacherous proposition. Because they deal specifically in uncertainty, unknowns, and (im)probabilities, there is an extensive amount of training and education that goes into developing a new recruit into a good analyst. Or there should be, anyway.

Another fairly common misconception is that analysis can be objective. While it is possible to present facts and draw from them conclusions or recommendations, these are always filtered through the analyst’s perceptions and experiences, their background and knowledge: basically, no analyst will ever reach the same conclusion the same way because people do not have the same lived experience.

What Heuer Jr. does in The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis is go over some of the biases that people have in terms of the way they think about things, which will affect both what they then think about those things but also the information that they will integrate into their analysis and thus the conclusions at which they arrive. He also notes that often, even when analysts are informed of the particular biases that may be affecting their work, and even if they attempt to mitigate for those biases, they will rarely be successful in presenting an objective analysis because by nature people are not objective. Everything we take in, everything we see, hear, touch, read, smell, taste, feel – everything is filtered by what we know, what we think, what we believe, and what we have experienced in the past. It is useful, however, to take note of the potential of cognitive biases to affect work because knowing about them and attempting to mitigate their effects is a more stable position to be in that to accept without consideration or examination everything you are told or read.

This isn’t limited to intelligence analysis, by the way: cognitive biases have been researched by psychologists for years, and because they are present (and manifest differently) in every person, the advice and information in this text is relevant to every field of employment there is.

This is far less of a ‘weekend read’ than most of what I review here, and this is more of a manual on how to avoid the worst expressions of cognitive bias in thinking and analysis, but if you are in a field where research and analysis is something that you undertake, or if you are in a position that requires extensive interaction with other people, or if you are in a position where you receive reports from others and need to synthesize the information therein – understanding and being able to identify cognitive biases will help you.

Well worth the investment of your time, people.


Image credit: my photo of my supervisor’s copy of the book (though it can also be found online here).

Categories: Intelligence

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: