Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis

  • Published

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer Jr. and Randolph H. Pherson. CQ Press, 2010, 343 pp.

Richards J. Heuer Jr. and Randolph H. Pherson have produced a “how-to” guide for your brain. Having previously written about the mental pitfalls encountered during intelligence analysis, they have done the community a great service by providing a guidebook on how to mitigate such faulty intellectual thinking. (The intelligence community recognizes Heuer in particular as an expert in metacognition, or “thinking about thinking.”) An essential element to any analyst’s tool kit, this study should prove valuable to people involved in the decision-making process.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis is not a textbook on intelligence, the analytical process, or obstacles to effective, unbiased thinking. Furthermore, although Heuer and Pherson do walk the reader through the eight phases of analytical thought, it is not a checklist that one must follow rigidly from start to finish. Rather, this book serves as a guide through the process, providing analysts a number of different options they can employ at their discretion to improve their end product. For each phase of the analytical process, analysts will find a number of valuable techniques that will allow them to conduct multiple approaches to each problem set, either individually or with the assistance of other analysts.

The book emphasizes analytical thought, which the authors proclaim central to good analysis. Heuer and Pherson argue that analysts should encourage the effective usage of these techniques by integrating them into daily thinking, allowing analysts to become familiar with ways of applying them. Additionally, the book examines the manner in which structured analysis can best support the distributed nature of the intelligence community, which relies on the collaboration of analysis from disparate organizations—geographically separated and dependent upon a shared understanding of the thinking process employed. Structured analysis not only overcomes an analyst’s obstacles to clear thought but also offers a transparent format to explain the thought process to others.

Heuer and Pherson supply 50 different techniques for structured analysis but do not suggest using all of them in every effort. Instead, analysts should choose the most appropriate one for the given situation, taking care not to limit themselves to one or two “go-to” techniques. The authors warn that analysts should not become too comfortable with any selection of techniques, recommending that they continuously push the boundaries of their cognitive processes to avoid mental shortcuts that might lead to false assumptions and flawed thinking. However, they do recommend a handful of “core techniques” with which analysts should become familiar due to their frequency of use and applicability to a wide range of intelligence problem sets. These procedures equip novices with a good starting point from which they can then begin to integrate other techniques. The more varied the techniques employed, the higher the thought processes attained. Although the authors organize the techniques into eight phases of analysis, a number of them overlap these categories because of their effectiveness in multiple functions.

Heuer and Pherson carefully explain their methodology for choosing techniques, highlighting their criteria for selecting each one and always maintaining that no single technique is necessarily better than another. Analysts should use each one to tackle a particular problem set. The authors also include 12 questions to help analysts decide upon the most appropriate technique(s) for their project.

Recognizing that all analysis should be subject to review, Heuer and Pherson submit their own thesis—the value of structured analytic technique—for critique as well. In chapter 13, they lay out the different ways (though never promoting one technique specifically) by which one can judge the improved effectiveness produced by their recommendations. They also propose that the intelligence community as a whole establish a formal process for evaluating such techniques to ensure that the community continues to grow and refine its thinking processes rather than rely on any one source, including this book.

The study’s format makes the book quite easy to use. A flowchart on the back cover walks the analyst through the eight phases of problem solving and lists likely techniques for use. The aforementioned 12 questions also help analysts seek out the best ones for employment. For each of the 50 techniques, the authors include a brief summary, an explanation of how to use it to best effect, its value, and methods for applying it, as well as examples of the technique in use and an explanation of how each one relates to the others and their original sources. In this fashion, analysts can carefully make their choice, based on the problem at hand, or if they are already familiar with the techniques, they can simply skip to the most appropriate one and review its methodology.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis would prove most suitable as an in-class reference for a course on intelligence analysis or as an excellent resource for individuals who have completed such a class. Granted, an analyst could learn these techniques by reading the book, but they are best incorporated through hands-on training. Although intelligence analysts will benefit most from this work, anyone involved in the decision-making process—especially those who must leverage intelligence to execute their operations—will find it of incredible utility.

Lt Col Stephen C. Price, USAF

Stuttgart, Germany

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."