Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 26, 2010

Do you have what it takes to be an intelligence analyst?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on January 26, 2010

In yesterday’s post, Jessica rhetorically asked if it’s “the case that intelligence challenges are unfixable and as a nation we need to reassess how we work around them.”

The question reminded me of a meeting I was in a few weeks ago.  For reasons that now escape me, someone showed the brief (3 minute and 10 second) Richard Wiseman video, featured below.

Immediately after the video was over, one of the meeting participants — who has been a member of the Intelligence Community for more than 2 decades — said, “That’s just what it’s like to be an intelligence analyst.”

The video is called “The Colour Changing Card Trick.”

Your task — should you decide to take the test — is to watch the video and see if you can figure out the trick.

The only rules are to watch the video once, and don’t look at any of the “here’s how it’s done” comments on the website.  At least not before you watch the video.

So if you have a few minutes, click on the video and then come back.


In 1978, Columbia University professor Richard Betts wrote an article (in World Politics) called “Analysis, War and Decision: Why Intelligence Failures Are Inevitable.”

He argued the problems we keep running into are less about the intelligence process, and more about context. He said, “Policy premises constrict perception, and administrative workloads constrain reflection. Intelligence failure is political and psychological more often than organizational.”

If Professor Betts’ thirty year old claim remains correct (or if — like me — you failed to connect the card-trick-dots), some enduring intelligence challenges may indeed be unfixable at a fundamental level.

As a nation we will need to explore options beyond remodeling organizations and composing rules.  We need to reinvent intelligence.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 26, 2010 @ 3:06 am

The problem or conundrum of INTEL for me is that you can always examine capabilities but you cannot look into the human mind (heart?)and determine motivations or intentions! Still reading another man’s mail clearly is necessary but whether the $80 Billion annually now spent is a worth while investment is to me an open question? Suppose a portion say 10% of that investment went into the educational system to study languages and cultures that are not normally studied in the colleges and univesities in the US? Would that be a better investment? Not sure but perhaps the secrecy of the INTEL world is its own biggest enemy. Motivations and intentions are clearly always masked to some degree in HOMO SAPIENS given the 45 facial muscles.

Comment by christopher tingus

January 27, 2010 @ 7:31 am

Very well stated and it is interesting when you refer to the 45 facial muscles in Homo Sapiens, expressions which apparently the French security wants to see as the government in France challenges their residing Muslim community and its women who choose to cover their faces – apparently tensions will be heightened and portrayed on both sides and as mentioned numerous times, INTEL throughout Europe and in their neighborhoods will be what safeguards from the broadening threat of a larger Muslim community as the cultures come face to face….

It is so unfortunate that there is so much mistrust in our 21st century, yet we are at war and unless the Muslim community itself provides more detailed intel and commitment to such and we in the West especially in Europe learn more about the “other” culture, not for anyone to necessarily embrace one another, but at least to respect and share dignity for Life and the pursuit of civilized ways – surely not choosing to kill – innocents – on buses and planes – to these folks, there is no room for your dastardly intentions as we are very much enligtened by the capable atrocities of those with evil intent –

Let’s hope our intel communities and all of us can be vigilant and work together to ensure a safer and more productive global community where each of us respects our differences and makes attempts to understand one another – communication among us – listening – listening and talking is a good start –

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