No intelligence analyst wants to be a part of an intelligence failure or see their analysis described in an Intelligence Community post-mortem as “quite simply, obviously, and starkly—wrong,” as was the case after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.ᵃ Nowhere in intelligence analysis is the risk of this outcome higher than with predictive analysis, yet despite the difficulty in detecting strategic surprise, the bane of predictive analysis, there is no escaping the inevitable policymaker or agency-generated request to provide a predictive judgment or strategic warning on some issue of great national importance.
Policymakers might thank analysts for alternative analyses such as a “What If,” “Alternate Futures,” or “Devil’s Advocacy,” which are all useful in expanding the horizon of what might happen and can be appended to strategic warning analysis. There will be times, however, when analysts are called to forecast the likelihood that an event will happen. Will Russia invade Ukraine? Will Afghan forces collapse after the US withdrawal? Will Iraq invade Kuwait? Will a foreign terrorist organization attack the United States? While acknowledging the complexity, high degree of difficulty, and potential impact on US national security of such questions, the purpose of this article is to provide an analytic framework that will facilitate strong predictive judgments and their corollary, the detection of strategic surprise, sometimes referred to as discontinuous change or the idea that present-day capabilities or dynamics will change abruptly and unexpectedly.
In the first section of this article, I will discuss a proposed Structured Analytic Technique (SAT) that I have dubbed the Kinetic Predictive Analytic Technique (KPAT) because of its emphasis on behavior, action, and the requirement to develop a pathway of antecedent steps or conditions leading to a future event. It is based on declassified documentation of intelligence successes, post-mortems of intelligence failures, and my experience working in the Intelligence Community.