The CIA has posted the full text of one of its guidebooks, "Psychology of Intelligence Analysis." The 1999 book was published by the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence. It's interesting to just dip into it randomly and read little bits here and there.
Of the diverse problems that impede accurate intelligence analysis, those inherent in human mental processes are surely among the most important and most difficult to deal with. Intelligence analysis is fundamentally a mental process, but understanding this process is hindered by the lack of conscious awareness of the workings of our own minds...
"When we speak of improving the mind we are usually referring to the acquisition of information or knowledge, or to the type of thoughts one should have, and not to the actual functioning of the mind. We spend little time monitoring our own thinking and comparing it with a more sophisticated ideal."
When we speak of improving intelligence analysis, we are usually referring to the quality of writing, types of analytical products, relations between intelligence analysts and intelligence consumers, or organization of the analytical process. Little attention is devoted to improving how analysts think.
Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But like many other skills, such as riding a bike, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing. Most people achieve at least a minimally acceptable level of analytical performance with little conscious effort beyond completing their education. With much effort and hard work, however, analysts can achieve a level of excellence beyond what comes naturally...
A central focus of this book is to illuminate the role of the observer in determining what is observed and how it is interpreted. People construct their own version of "reality" on the basis of information provided by the senses, but this sensory input is mediated by complex mental processes that determine which information is attended to, how it is organized, and the meaning attributed to it. What people perceive, how readily they perceive it, and how they process this information after receiving it are all strongly influenced by past experience, education, cultural values, role requirements, and organizational norms, as well as by the specifics of the information received.
This process may be visualized as perceiving the world through a lens or screen that channels and focuses and thereby may distort the images that are seen.
Previously on BB:
• Puzzles vs. mysteries in Smithsonian Link