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Managing the “Reliability Cycle”: An Alternative Approach to Thinking About Intelligence Failure

Rethinking Failure
Managing the “Reliability Cycle”: An Alternative Approach to Thinking About Intelligence Failure

Scott J. Hatch

Soon after becoming the director of the Intelligence Success and Failure Course of CIA University’s Kent School for Intelligence Analysis, I realized that much of the literature on intelligence success and failure made no mention of insights from professions outside of our intelligence domain. Many of these professions also face severe consequences for failure. Increasingly, as I taught the class, I came to draw from business and organizational literature on so-called high reliability organizations (HRO) and normal accident theory. In this article I have adapted the material contained in the literature to the domain of intelligence analysis. I believe a shift in our thinking about this subject would allow the Intelligence Community to think more proactively and holistically about the ways to increase the reliability of our intelligence analysis.

During the past few decades, business researchers have produced a substantial body of literature on organizations that achieve high reliability under conditions of dynamic uncertainty, inherent complexity, high risk, and potentially catastrophic costs should they fail. The researchers have focused on are in fields like aviation safety, nuclear power plant operations, chemical or oil processing, medicine, and wildfire control.

Given that Intelligence Community (IC) organizations face challenges of ensuring reliability under conditions in some ways similar to those faced by HROs, I believe the IC should apply the lessons HROs have learned in thinking about failures of intelligence analysis. Doing so may yield not only additional lessons for the community but could help managers of intelligence analysis think more effectively about their own environments in order to avert or mitigate risk of failure and improve prospects for success.

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Posted: Oct 24, 2013 01:08 PM
Last Updated: Oct 24, 2013 01:08 PM