The CIA: Method and Madness

Ok column by David Brooks in the NY Times today about the problems with the way the CIA analyzes threats against the US. In general, the points he makes about the use of “scientism” to predict these threats to the exclusion of all else is correct. He doesn’t specify the lists of errors that the intelligence community has made, but the general point that they’ve missed threats by non-rational actors is perhaps the most important he makes in the entire column.

If there’s any problem I have with the column, it’s the idea that “scientism” has no use whatsoever. Implicit in that argument is a defense of the creation of a new intelligence unit within the Pentagon. They operated on the sort of intuition that Brooks advocates. But without the sort of processes and actual intelligence know-how that exists in the CIA and elsewhere, intelligence information of dubious credibility was put forward as fact.

While relying solely on “scientism” to predict and stop threats isn’t the best idea, neither is turning to the other extreme (going exclusively with your gut, or instinct).