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Structured Analytic Techniques in Intelligence Analysis

Intelligence analysis is a way of testing hypotheses within their context, and structured analytic techniques are essential tools important for critical thinking. Consequently, they are required for the proper decision-making, formulating ideas, and establishing and implementing efficient strategies. The most common techniques can be divided into three categories: diagnostic, contrarian, and imaginative thinking. Quality of information check and brainstorming are considered to form a strategy of intelligence analysis that is suitable for intelligence-related cases and investigations. Still, this point of view and these methods require critical evaluation.

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Critical evaluation of the quality of information check and brainstorming needs a detailed understanding of how all the structured analytic techniques are classified and how they work. Coulthart (2017, 368) points out that “to perceive them exactly, the definition of structured analysis is needed.” The analysis is the detailed evaluation of the consumed information and its division into the primary and the secondary. Abstract and non-systematic analysis can lead to the wrong results, consequently, it should be structured (Pherson and Heuer 2020). Structured analysis requires a framework separating and organizing the matter’s elements. Then, the information should be systematized and set to reflect on and generate a hypothesis. The next step is proving whether this hypothesis is true or not.

To work on the information, the techniques of the structured analysis are needed. Sometimes a single technique is not enough, and a number of them can be used according to their functions. The application of different methods that relate to one another, consequently, can be classified according to their similarities. Diagnostic techniques are used to make the analysis clearer, and contrarian techniques serve to change the way of thinking, enabling people to analyze problems from new points. Imaginative techniques are mostly used to get extra and unconventional ideas.

Diagnostic techniques are predominantly used together with other methods in order to make strong conclusions. The types of diagnostic techniques include several methods, the first of them is key assumptions check that reviewes the analytical judgments of the problem. The second is the quality of the information check that is focused on the evaluation of the source’s credibility, plausibility, and imminence (Hayes and Magana 2019). The third technique includes indicators or signposts of change that identify a set of hypotheses, create lists of potential events and revisions, and identify the most suitable hypotheses.

Contrarian techniques enable analytics to broaden the possible outcomes of the hypothesis and test it. This approach is beneficial because it leads to the challenge of analytical arguments, emphasizes the strong ideas and eliminates the weak ones (Headquarters, Department of the Army 2020). The most common contrarian techniques are Devil’s advocacy, Team A/Team B, High-impact/Low-probability analysis, and the so-called What if.

Imaginative thinking is a beneficial structured analytic technique that enables people to explore the same problems from different points of view at the same time. The most well-known method is brainstorming which means generating new ideas through various techniques that require prompt thinking and functional analysis for defining threat capabilities. Then, imaginative thinking involves an outside-in thinking technique that enables to shape of an issue from a huge range of factors. Last, this type of technique includes the red hat/team analysis with role plays to figure out how the imitated people would act in different situations.

Quality of information check and brainstorming are widely used in different spheres, consequently, their efficiency should be evaluated. The study will include their definitions, descriptions of origins, the examination of functions, advantages and disadvantages, and the identification of proper circumstances and situations where they would be applicable. Next, they will be illustrated by examples of intelligence-related cases and investigations. Then, their practical productivity will be critically evaluated.

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Quality of information check can be defined as a method of evaluation and validation of the data separately from its source. The approach is important for an understanding of the strong and weak points of the information because without knowing its context, there can be no confidence in an intelligence assessment. Its functions include the division of the data into the known, unknown, and needed to be figured out.

The exact origin of the quality of information check is not described, but its methodology is discovered as an instant process that can be divided into logically structured steps. First, to figure out the most and the least appropriate sources, a systematic revision of their accuracy is needed. Second, for the reinforcement of critical reporting, the strongest information should be validated. Third, the dismissed data should be reconsidered and reexamined following the new facts and circumstances pointed out. Fourth, recalled reporting must be identified for further analysis. Fifth, this analysis is to be reviewed to find out whether the reporting corresponds to the evaluation or not, and sixth, weak or ambiguous data must be rechecked. Seventh, the level of new sources’ confidence should be explored.

With all the steps taken into consideration, a quality of information check is a complex method that requires evaluation of its efficiency before being applied. The critical analysis involves pointing out the approach’s advantages and disadvantages. The positive sides include an opportunity to prove such important aspects as the potential quality and accuracy of the given data. Next, the validity, weakness, and strength of the information may be studied independently from its source. Additionally, analytics who use the quality of information check method become more confident in the evaluation of the data they get without binding to the sources, and this approach improves its intelligence.

Regarding the benefits of this approach, its limitations must be taken into consideration:

  1. The proper realization of the quality of information checks requires a long period of time.
  2. Such types of elicitation and data vetting as surveillance may require extra costs spent on such sources as cameras. For example, street camera recordings may be required to identify people who appeared at crime scene locations.
  3. The quality of information check depends on the analysts’ attitude of mind; consequently, this method can be subjective.
  4. The quality of information check may define some data as relevant, but it still can be inaccurate, because it may have been edited by external sources beforehand.

The quality of information checks is constantly used during investigations. For example, an inquiry of misuse of public funds is a complex case that requires a permanent validation of data. First, the basic information about the crime itself is to be tested: what has happened, where, with what projects this can be connected, and who has been administering the funds. Second, the ideas are to be made and checked, and third, the collected evidence needs to be sorted and proved. Fourth, when a potential criminal is found, a financial and tax quality of information check is needed.

This example of a situation where the quality of information check can be used clearly shows the major drawbacks of the method. Specifically, misuse of public funds may be committed by a potentially influential person who may annihilate, change, and falsify all the evidence. Though all the needed evidence maybe finally found, the first attempts to work on the case may result in no proper validation of information found for a long period. Consequently, the quality of information checks may take much time.

The quality of information check method is widely used for the intelligence cases that are regarded as secret military operations aimed to find out information about the enemy. This approach is efficient for the further evaluation of the rival’s strong and weak points and, accordingly, for the development of a plan of action. For example, when military forces need to investigate the tactics of their enemy, spies can be sent to collect the information, but the credibility of this data will still be inaccurate or incorrect. To test it, the quality of information check should be applied with a comparative analysis of facts and evidence taken into consideration.

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The important thing is that hypotheses built on the thoroughly studied information are not always right due to different human factors such as overcautiousness. For example, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US military forces overestimated their enemy, thinking that Iraq had a weapon of mass destruction. To prevent such mistakes, the Devil’s advocate approach should be applied together with more creative approaches, such as brainstorming.

Brainstorming is mostly defined as a way of maximizing the creativity of a group or an individual in problem-solving. The term itself was introduced by A. Osborn in 1953 in his book “Applied Imagination”, where the author described this method and its rules. The origin of the technique derives from Osborn’s practice of group thinking sessions that were highly efficient for ideas’ improvement. Brainstorming can be divided into two types of realization (Kumbhar 2018). The first is structured brainstorming when members of the group sit in a circle and write their ideas on the board with all the members to share their ideas. The second is unstructured brainstorming when members of the group sit without order and are free to point out their thoughts at any time.

Osborn has developed his method of brainstorming with several rules to follow. First, the focus should be on quality instead of quantity, second, no criticism of other participants is allowed, then nonconventional ideas should be welcomed. Inspiring ideas are allowed to be transformed, edited, and complemented. Popular contemporary techniques of brainstorming include such activities as creative writing during a timeline and the creation of mood boards.

The methods of brainstorming can vary, but their functions stay the same: the technique is aimed to generate creative ideas promptly, gather concepts, and highlight the aspects of the matter. Circumstances, where brainstorming is efficient, are multiple, for example, the method is widely used for the development of concepts for writing, screenwriting, copywriting, and advertising (Al-Samarraie and Hurmuzan 2017). Then, brainstorming is widely used for scientific, educational, business, manufacturing, and military purposes.

The critical evaluation of brainstorming requires pointing out its advantages and disadvantages. The benefits of the method include an opportunity to discover new unconventional perspectives because it feeds creativity and reveals new ideas, thoughts, solutions, and approaches Then, due to its spontaneous nature and stressfulness, brainstorming activates both sides of the brain, and consequently, it is efficient for defining of issue. Then, being a group way of thinking, this method equally collects different points of view and builds multiple pictures of the current problem’s potential mitigation.

Apart from its advantages, brainstorming has significant weak points to be taken into consideration:

  1. Even with the limits set, this method is time-consuming because not all the efficient ideas can appear within the supposed timespan.
  2. Most thoughts that appear during the implementation of this approach do not apply to the real matter.
  3. Being a team method, brainstorming requires the participation of all its members. Meanwhile, the human factor works, and the potentially useful concepts may be neglected, while the least profitable can be taken into consideration.
  4. Brainstorming requires a mentor who will control the process of sharing ideas without representing the ideas of his own: a whole lot of people are to be involved.

Brainstorming is widely used for preliminary investigations, including the performance of the law enforcement intelligence-gathering activities. This can be illustrated by the situation when a group of policemen is supposed to detect a criminal. For example, he has murdered a victim, left no evidence, and has not been fixed on a camera; meanwhile, there was no eye-witness to the crime. The data on the casualty is collected, then, the quality of information check is applied, and next, the motive of the crime can be pointed out via brainstorming. The best ideas can be used as the potential causes of the issue, developed, checked according to the evidence, acknowledged, or confuted. Then, after the potential criminals are found, brainstorming on their motives and strategies can be conducted.

The application of brainstorming in terms of intelligence-related cases may be implied when the forces seek unconventional tactics that will catch their enemy by surprise. For this all the data about the rival should be gathered, then, all the ideas must be discussed and compared to the previous ones. For example, brainstorming may be the only way to foresee revolutions, and the Iranian Revolution was not predicted because only logical approaches were used.

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Brainstorming is efficient, but it has disadvantages, for example, the wrong application of this technique during the very first step of investigation can lead to a false trial. Additionally, the lack of reliable ideas during brainstorming can bring analysis to a deadlock. Then, the evaluation of brainstorming’s reliability significantly depends on the quality of the information check which can also be inefficient. Meanwhile, severe cases are supposed to involve experts who have studied similar cases. Respectively, brainstorming requires much-confirmed evidence, senior commentary, and supportive methods implied. Summarizing the above, though this method provokes imagination, motivates analytics, and can lead to unique solutions, it is full of subjectivity.

Regarded as beneficial for critical thinking, structured analytic techniques are significant for improving intelligence analysis. Diagnostic, contrarian, and imaginative thinking methods are considered to be applicable for intelligence-related cases and investigations. To prove this, the quality of information check and brainstorming techniques have been critically evaluated. The research of the finding is that they have a lot of advantages that may make them relevant for investigations. Meanwhile, they may lead to subjectivity and require a lot of time for implementation.

References

Al-Samarraie, Hosam and Hurmuzan, Shuhaila. 2017. ‘‘A Review of Brainstorming Techniques in Higher Education.’’ Thinking Skills and Creativity, 27 (1): 78–91.

Coulthart, Stephen. J. 2017. ‘‘An evidence-based evaluation of 12 core structured analytic techniques.’’ International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 30 (2): 368–391.

Hayes, Christopher, and Magana, Patrick. 2019. Critical Thinking Unleashed: How to Improve and Refine Your Thinking Process to Think more Effectively. Texas: M & M Limitless Online Inc.

Headquarters, Department of the Army. 2020. Intelligence analysis. Washington: Army Techniques Publication No. 2-33.4.

Kumbhar, Kalayan. N. 2018. ‘‘Brainstorming technique: Innovative quality management tool for the library.’’ Paper presented on Current Trends in Library Management Conference, At Govt. Polytechnic, Aurangabad, June.

Pherson, Randolph H., and Heuer, Richards J. 2020. Structured analytic techniques for intelligence analysis Third Edition. Washington: CQ Press.

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