Since I started this blog, its motto was “All we need is philosophy… which is love for knowledge”. Naturally, it was a paraphrasis of Beatle’s song “All we need is love”, an over abused mantra. The irony is that the paraphrasis is almost untouched as philosophy was classically defined by Plato as love for knowledge (or wisdom, or whatever it increases human understanding): “all we need is love for knowledge” is what I would have sung if only I was a good songwriter. “All we need is love for knowledge” seems to be a far better and more universal creed, so much so that so great music composers such as the Beatles did not miss it. As it was said in a private conversation by one of the two editors of the esteemed Intelligence and National Security, this special issue was an act of love toward philosophy. As strange it may sound, as unlikely it could be in hour days, when everything is reduced to brutish emotions and useless sarcasm and cynicism, this is the truth.
I’m honored, delighted, and humbled by all the knowledge shared in this interview. Like many of us, I first James Bruce in his writing, from RAND reports to book chapters and papers. When I contacted him, I wanted to share my gratefulness for his seminal work on the epistemology of intelligence, because of my long-lasting interest in that almost esoteric (but crucial, I believe) topic. We had a deep conversation on intelligence analysis, the intelligence profession, and the conceptual understanding of intelligence from that moment on. As in all the best and deep conversations, there is a margin for different opinions, boosting further insights and deep thoughts. There will be so much reflection to be awed for all of our readers who will read the interview. Dr. Bruce has an outstanding position for covering so many topics at such a detailed level to be difficult to be matched, impossible to surpass. Although I try to be as grateful as I can be to all who enriched my knowledge, I can only publicly reinforce my deep appreciation for James Bruce’s interview, knowledge, experience, and all the thoughts he put into his conversations. His work and thought should definitely be an example, an inspiration for younger scholars and, more broadly, all who think human knowledge is crucial for the progress of civilization and meaning. In this very respect, James Bruce is absolutely a deep thinker. These words must be understood in the best way, as all our readers will immediately discover reading this interview. We covered crucial topics from intelligence analysis, its future as well as the epistemology of intelligence. It is then with my distinct pleasure to publish the interview on Scuola Filosofica – for those who don’t know it yet; it is one of the leading cultural blogs in Italy. In the name of Scuola Filosofica Team, our readers, and myself, Giangiuseppe Pili, James: thank you!
1# Hi James Bruce, let’s start from the basics. How would you like to present yourself to our national and international readers?
Hello, Gian, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss analysis! To start with a caveat: These interview responses are my own personal views, and they do not reflect the positions of the Central Intelligence Agency, the US government, or the RAND Corporation.
I am a retired intelligence analyst with 24 years’ experience at CIA. While there, I worked on a variety of substantive issues and also some methodological ones. With Ph.D. in hand and 10 years’ teaching experience in academe when I entered the Agency, I still had much to learn on my path to becoming a professional analyst.
My early career focus was on the Soviet Union, and I published a very controversial (then classified) paper in 1983 on civil unrest in the USSR. It described and successfully forecast growing political instability in the Soviet system due to a breakdown in the social contract between the governing Communist Party (CPSU) and the population that was growing increasingly restive with the regime’s authoritarianism and unfulfilled promises. That quantitative study of demonstrations, strikes, riots, and political violence revealed a tip-of-the-iceberg change afoot in the Soviet political culture across its 11 time zones that the KGB couldn’t curtail by force alone. The collapse of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day in 1991 was seen by some as a US intelligence failure. While that fateful day wasn’t specifically predicted, a few analysts had reported the early signs of imminent system failure and, by 1990, CIA had its demise pretty well in hand. Gorbachev’s rule was becoming increasingly precarious. Today Putin may be riding a similar tiger.
Pili, G. (2021). “Why HAL 9000 is not the future of intelligence analysis: Intelligence analysis in the 21st century.” The Journal of Intelligence, Conflict, and Warfare, 4(1), 40–60. https://doi.org/10.21810/jicw.v4i1.2566
Intelligence analysis is a core function of the intelligence process, and its goal is to synthesize reliable information to assist decision-makers to take a course of action toward an uncertain future. There is no escape from uncertainty, friction, and the fog of war. Since the dawn of human history, the present moment has been experienced as unpredictable, and the challenge of determining the right future through sound decisions has always existed. Investing in new technology, continually touted as the answer for analytic troubles, seems far less difficult in the short run than trying to find consensus about a long-term vision. It is easier to develop a nuclear missile, for example, than to give a universal definition of peace, and this is what the history of the XX century was all about. While intelligence analysis is still a necessary tool for decision-makers, it is unclear who or what will perform this function in the future. Though the solution cannot be only technological, the current trajectory tells a different story whereby the human analysts are removed from their central position to make way for Artificial Intelligence.
After so many topics, it was time to face one of the structured analytic techniques, also known by the acronym “SATs” (where the “s” is the plural). Actually, when I try to explain to my mother (ah, the mothers!) what intelligence analysis is about, I use SATs. Well, not for analyzing her, but for giving her a concrete example of what intelligence analysts do. All we need is SATs, according to many. But the research in the intelligence studies shows that SATs are not so widespread, their benefits are not so measurable, and ultimately (you will discover in this interview) they are not even so widespread. All the leading intelligence scholars from different corners of the world tackled the issue and, still, there is no universal agreement. Whatever their pros and cons, whatever they are, this is a crucial topic and, I believe, we all must know what they are (if we deal with intelligence). Exactly, for this reason, I thought it appropriate to let Alexei Kuvshinnikov speak about them. Indeed, Alexei is a passionate and professional SATs user, a member of the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE), and, as you will discover, a promoter of SATs use. As a professional expert active in criminal investigation and narcotics for international institutions, and a teacher, he argues for the need for SATs for limiting biases and cognitive pitfalls. Considering his long experience in the field and his knowledge of intelligence methods, Alexei was an ideal referent for talking about this interesting topic. I don’t want to spoiler more, but if you are interested in intelligence analysis, this is something for you. It is then with my distinct pleasure to publish the interview on Scuola Filosofica – for those who don’t know it yet; it is one of the leading cultural blogs in Italy. In the name of Scuola Filosofica Team, our readers, and myself, Giangiuseppe Pili, Alexei: thank you!
1# Professor Alexei Kuvshinnikov, let’s start with the basics. How would you like to present yourself to the national and international readers and Philosophical School (Scuola Filosofica)?
Dear Giangiuseppe, thank you very much for the compliment, but I have to decline it. Being just a titleless lecturer with no academic qualifications beyond a Master´s degree, I have no pretence of belonging to the academia. Getting a taste of reality leads to getting a taste for reality, and graduate students can only benefit from it, that´s my firm belief. Accordingly, I teach SATs not as a science but rather as a tradecraft. You see, from an academic perspective, there is no difference between the academia and the real world. From the perspective of real-world operators, there often is.
When I was working on my recent three-fold research papers on intelligence analysis, I came across a journal article that fascinated me quite a lot since I’ve read the title. It was the case in which the content I read was exactly as good as my expectations (which are usually extremely high when they come to peer-review scientific papers). Indeed, since I started studying war theory and the philosophy of war, Clausewitz’s On War was mandatory reading. Interestingly, Clausewitz is inversely proportionally considered in intelligence and war studies. If he is one of the founding fathers of the modern understanding of war (and rightly so, notwithstanding many critics), he is almost entirely dismissed in the intelligence domain. Yes, true, he stated that intelligence is unreliable by nature, that the commander should avoid to trust intelligence (too much), and that uncertainty is inherently part of war and warfare… and so he couldn’t be said a big supporter of intelligence in general. Is this sufficient to discharge his work? So, when I read An Outline of a Clausewitzian Theory of IntelligenceI finally found a partial vindication of my long-lasting necessity to see Clausewitz better considered within the intelligence studies and, more broadly, intelligence. But even more importantly, in an age that prizes all that comes from the last technological invention but the human brain, it is always healthy to remember how our world is ultimately unpredictable and dominated by an intrinsic uncertainty. The efforts of the last seventy years were to prove that everything has its own place as if nature and human beings are only tiny cogged wheels, in spite of all suggested by history and by ordinary life (actually). Then, after such a reading, I almost felt obliged to contact Dr Lillbacka to have a deeper conversation about these topics. This interview is part of this discussion which, I hope, you will find as fascinating as insightful. In addition, I invite the readers to discover Lillbacka’s publications, which are as rich as rigorous. There is no question that not everything can be covered in a single interview but I hope you will find so much to think about prediction, friction, and uncertainty that, at least, you will be enriched as much as I did. It is then with my distinct pleasure to publish the interview on Scuola Filosofica – for those who don’t know it yet; it is one of the leading cultural blogs in Italy. In the name of Scuola Filosofica Team, our readers, and myself, Giangiuseppe Pili, Ralf: thank you!