An officer monitors intelligence from Gaza in IAF headquarters..
(photo credit: HAGAR AMIBAR)
Although Israel has greatly expanded its intelligence cooperation with foreign countries in recent years, it may miss opportunities to collect intelligence from allies and adversaries alike without certain structural changes, an intelligence center article warned.
The Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IHCC) published an article on Wednesday arguing that Israel’s intelligence agencies should work harder to incorporate “red-teaming” (analytical teams who will follow alternative sources) in their judgments over when cooperation with an ally or adversary is desirable or not.
The center is highly influential and has surprisingly close links to Israeli intelligence agencies. There is frequent cooperation between Israel and the “five eyes” – US, England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – but even with allies, such cooperation has limitations unless there are imperative reasons to share information.
Since allies may have different interests on a given issue, this is a helpful tactic as it avoids over-exposure of a state’s highly classified sources. The most glaring example of an ally misusing Israeli intelligence was when US President Donald Trump shared information about ISIS with Russia in May 2017, breaching an understanding that the US would only be relayed these findings if it kept them private.
Intelligence cooperation with adversaries, such as when Israel and Jordan shared information before 1995 when they were still at war – or with parties that have common and opposing interests, like with the PA, Saudi Arabia or Russia – is risky since it is possible such information may be misused. However, this may be necessary and even more important than sharing with allies.
This is especially true if the country in question is more likely to help solve or at the center of a national security issue, or if both country’s interests coincide. Judging when to share or when not to is especially complex in precarious situations – even for the most skilled and objective analyst.
The IHCC article suggests that most intelligence analysts are likely to fall into two traps, making it miss important opportunities to cooperate, said the article which reviewed two separate US studies in intelligence.
First, numerous studies have found that intelligence analysts, like most people, are most likely to give too much weight to information which confirms preconceived notions, and downplay information which contradicts them. A survey of US analysts in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, written by former US signals intelligence official Sean F. X. Barrett, presented a new twist explaining how analysts act when presented with scenarios that offer possible cooperation against the backdrop of a national security threat.
The study showed that their concerns of the threat overpowered their perception of potential opportunities. Prior to the study, researchers hypothesized this might be related to how analysts approach the idea of cooperating with adversaries. However, the study found that an analyst’s suspicions of allies increased as well. The data from the study dovetailed with ones prior which suggested that intelligence analysts are overly worried about being blamed for errors and tend to be more conservative in avoiding them.
Analysts size up that their managers care more about final results – which are often beyond an analyst’s control – and less about whether his or her predictions were reasonable given the limited information available at the time. This leads them to sometimes delay issuing forecasts and waiting too long for additional information in order to confirm their leanings, guarding against potential blame for missing the boat.
In contrast, the IHCC article suggested that sometimes the national interest requires daring predictions and an aggressive willingness to cooperate with allies and adversaries – which a typical analyst will go against. The US study recommended recruiting more people with diplomatic backgrounds as analysts, since they are more likely to be optimistic about international engagement and less skewed by worries when there is a hovering strategic threat. But overall, IHCC said that such recruitment may not always be possible.
In any case, a more systematic way to increase cooperation, risk-taking and avoiding the trap of being overlyrisk-averse is “red-teaming” analysts’ conclusions. Analysts or their managers will have to contend with a well-thought-out counter-forecast scenario of the benefits of such cooperation before declining. This could help solve the issue for Israeli intelligence agencies.
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