Friday, September 28, 2012

Top 5 Books Every Intel Professional Should Read (But Have Probably Never Heard Of)

There are tons of great reading lists for intelligence professionals.  The CIA has a list, The National Intelligence University has a list, The Marine Corps and other military institutions have lists; even intelligence professionals in the business community have lists.

I have noticed, however, that, oftentimes, these lists contain many, if not all, the same books.  Everyone recommends Heuer, everyone recommends Sun Tzu, everyone recommends something of regional or topical interest and for good reason -- these are great books.

Over the last several years, though, I have identified a number of books that I think every intelligence professional ought to read ... but aren't yet on anyone's list.  Typically these are not books about intelligence, or, at least, were not intended primarily for the intelligence audience but still have deep meaning for intelligence professionals in all of the various sub-disciplines.

Without further ado (and in reverse order):

#5 The Lady Tasting Tea:  How Statistics Revolutionized Science In The Twentieth Century.  If you are like me, you probably did not much care for statistics in college.  That is probably because you did not have this book to read.  It is an absolutely fascinating book that tells the story of modern (frequentist) statistics.  Nothing I have read helps put the numbers in context -- what you can get from traditional stats and what you can't -- better.

#4 The Theory That Would Not Die:  How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines and Emerged Triumphant From Two Centuries of Controversy.  Just the title ought to catch the eye of most intel professionals.  Bayes, for those of you unfamiliar with the theory, is the other side of the statistical coin - a different way of doing and thinking about stats that is probably more useful for intelligence than traditional, frequentist, approaches.  This very readable book is a great introductory volume for those who know nothing about Bayes. 

#3 How To Measure Anything:  Finding The Value Of Intangibles In Business.  While this is pitched primarily at the business audience, it really isn't a business book.  It is really a book about how to think about problems creatively.  While there are many tangible strategies discussed in Hubbard's fine volume, it is the attitude that Hubbard has as he approaches seemingly intractable problems that I find most compelling here.  It is a nearly perfect approach for intel professionals confronted with wicked problems.

#2 Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It?  How Can We Know?  What is the correlation between forecasting accuracy and years of experience?   .00.  Between forecasting accuracy and education?  .02.  Between forecasting accuracy and access to classified information?  .02  In other words, almost none.  Philip Tetlock's 2005 bombshell of a book is still not as widely read as it needs to be by intel professionals.  Whether you ultimately agree or disagree with his findings, it is a must read.

#1 Collaborative Intelligence:  Using Teams To Solve Hard Problems (Lessons From And For Intelligence Professionals).  Hackman, like Tetlock, has spent the better part of a decade researching his subject (in this case small teams of intel analysts).  His findings and recommendations about how to structure and manage intel professionals charged with solving difficult analytic problems in challenging environments where collaboration is required are essential reading.  In a world that constantly talks about collaboration, Hackman has done the hard work to lay out a roadmap about how it can and should be done most effectively.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite book that you think ought to be read by intel professionals but no one ever talks about? Leave it in the comments!


Kat C said...

Kris - I'd nominate "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything," by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. I'd argue that with the explosion of social media around the world, intel professionals need to understand the seismic socio-cultural shift that has taken place regarding collaboration as a tool of growth and economics. This book is a good place to start.

David said...

I'd also recommend "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman. I think it helps any analyst know what biases they have and are probably unaware of.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Kat C., David;

Both are excellent, I agree!


Mrichey17 said...

Blink. By Malcolm Gladwell. The story of the adaptive unconscious.

Tim B said...

'Irrationality' by Stuart Sutherland.

Years ago it introduced me to the concepts of 'regression to the mean' and the 'sunk-cost error' (amongst other things).

Forever grateful.

Pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat said...

Erving Goffman's "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" (1959) and "Frame Analysis" (1974) are sociological in orientation but can be easily overlaid onto intelligence problems related to covert role playing. I doubt they are on anyone else's booklist.

For history related to indicators and warning, I recommend "Knowing One's Enemies" by Ernest May. It takes you through, country by country, the efforts of the intelligence machines of the great powers as dark clouds gathered before the two World Wars.

"The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" by Nassim Taleb taught me to never say never.

Thanks for the recommendations, Kris. I'm going to look for the book on collaboration.

john Buckley said...

Excuse any self promotion but I genuinely think that few of you will have heard of this book but many involved in humint or managing confidential informants may be interested. Note it is only available to law enformcent/government bodies.
"The Human Source Management System: The use of psycholgy in the management of human intelligence sources." The book is about how to proactively recruit and manage informants.

Anonymous said...

The Thinker's Toolkit: 14 Techniques for Problem-Solving, by Morgan Jones is a must read.

Anonymous said...

Slater's Ordering Power. It might seem strange since it has nothing to do with espionage but sets rather reasonable rules for under what circumstances a certain type of authoritarian government might develop and how they might be recognized (divided into elite-coalition, military-dominated and elite-fragmented authoritarian states). Considering how easily intelligence agencies seem blindsided by revolutions and coups I would make it required reading for all of them.

wingke6 said...

Mr. Wheaton, I'd like to make two recommendations.

One serious: "The Information" by James Glieck. An absorbing educational read about the origins and manifestations of Information Theory. Bayes' Theorem and Entropy figure prominently here as well.
A couple of interesting companion books would be "The Idea Factory" and "Tubes."

Another for fun: "Double Cross" by Ben McIntyre. Great book about the D-day double agents and the incredible and sometimes silly deception efforts behind the D-day invasion.

Bela Trimmel said...

I also recommend "Frame Analysis." I'm using it as part of my thesis.

Also, I'd recommend "Intelligence and the National Security Strategist." It is full of wonderful and insightful essays by some big names in intelligence.

Adi Gaskell said...

If we're going for doozies, can I recommend Godel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid?