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Reflection on Learning: Intelligence Pathologies Essay

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This paper provides insights on my learning outcomes in the field of intelligence failures, namely, paradoxes of perception and pathologies in communication. The reflection cycle framework by Gibbs (1988) is used to structure the paper and focus on such points as description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and an action plan. Each of the phases contains the synthesis of my learning and evidence findings.

It is stated that intelligence failures are not only unavoidable but also natural since they depend on politics and psychology. While every threat can be regarded as serious or resources and personnel can be controlled more accurately, the role of a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) seems to be the most relevant to reduce failures. The creation of the cognitive framework and corporate awareness are also important steps to enhance the current situation.


Today, nations tend to rely on intelligence agencies to track the global and local events and ensure national security. The very concept of intelligence is used by the governments and agencies to have the opportunity to endanger potential threats, with the paramount goal of preserving a nation’s existence. The main function of intelligence is to inform policies, operations and strategies, which are expected to help in avoiding invasions and attacks. However, the history shows that intelligence failures exist: for example, the attack of Japan in Naval base at Pearl Harbour, US in 1941, terrorist attacks of 9/11 or the failure of the US and the UK to reveal Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq. These events require paying more attention to the causes of failures, their nature and relevance to practical actions.

This paper aims to present the critical reflection on my learning based on the framework that is suggested by Gibbs (1988), including such phases as description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and an action plan. This reflective cycle is chosen due to its ability to encourage systemic thinking with regard to the experience gained (Rolfe, Freshwater, & Jasper, 2001). The structured organisation of the cycle also helps to consider the details of a problem and relate knowledge to practical options, thus learning from the creative synthesis of evidence, personal feelings and academic literature. The areas for improvement and related strategies are to be identified as a result of this reflection.

I have learned that intelligence failures present the inability of the system or one of its parts to ensure collection, analysis, assessment and dissemination of information that is significant to policymakers as well as safeguarding procedures (Marrin 2018). It became clear that intelligence failure can be defined as a misconception of a concept or phenomenon, which leads to the fact that unstable steps are taken, as stated by Schmitt (Barnea, 2017). The intelligence cycle, as a rule, involves five stages of development: “planning and direction, collection, processing and exploitation, analysis and production and dissemination” (Yengoude, 2017, p. 2).

Paradoxes of perception and pathologies of communication are the two aspects that are selected for this paper due to their great importance and widespread nature in the contemporary environment. I have learned that pathologies in communication refer to gaps that occur in the process of intelligence transmission to consumers (Lowenthal, 2015). While addressing information to policymakers, there are political and social conflicts that surround the field of intelligence.

Communication is most often called the main reason for failure, which is inherent in the relationships between policy-making and intelligence analysis. Paradoxes of perception are associated with beliefs and biases of policymakers that hinder accurate decision-making. The consumption of intelligence in practice is performed by people who have subjective views and are affected by politics.


During the examination of perception paradoxes and communication pathologies, I felt that they are unavoidable. The review of the pertinent literature along with my own attitude helped me to understand that these biases are inevitable. According to Betts, the intelligence failure results from psychology and politics instead of thorough analysis and proper organisation (Eiran, 2016). Betts’ theory of intelligence failure sounds to be rational and evidence-based since it posits on the assumption that the most critical mistakes are made by decision-makers rather than collectors of data (Lowenthal, 2015).

Indeed, looking back on the materials being studied, I feel that people always have psychological limitations and misunderstanding, which cannot be fully eliminated in the course of work. In addition, communication pathologies cannot be completely prevented since the links between various professionals may be poor and even totally broken. In spite of the efforts to establish appropriate communication, I feel that perception paradoxes and communication pathologies create the inevitability of errors in the intelligence area.

Considering the feelings of others who worked on the problem of intelligence failures, it seems to be important to note some relevant scholars (Tilley, Marsh, Middlemiss, & Parrish, n.d.). In “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis”, the fundamental work in the field of intelligence, Heuer (2013) explains one of the key principles of perception, which affects the analysis: people tend to perceive what we expect. The author emphasises that a person tends to see what he or she expects to see, and not what he or she wants to see. This basic principle of the analytic theory was established in the 20th century, yet when this failure happens, it causes surprise. As for my perceptions, I can state that they are also often based on my inner expectations, even though I would like a different outcome.

One of the most famous experiments was conducted by Chabris and Simons in 2009. The phenomenon that was designated as inattentional blindness states that if a person is not tuned to the perception of a particular object, most likely she or he will not notice it. Between the players in black and white T-shirts, there was a man in a gorilla costume, and even this potentially dangerous creature remained unnoticed by a half of the audience. Personally, I also did not notice the change in colour of the curtain and the absence of one of the girls. Simons made many modifications to this experiment to see how the viewer would react to changing conditions (Johnson, 2016).

For example, the viewer may know about the gorilla in advance, but if during the observation process, the colour of the curtain against which the action takes place was changed. The latter is another well-known mistake of attention – the so-called blindness to change: one does not notice even large changes in the visual scene if they occur gradually or are accompanied by quick breakage.


The review of the description and feelings parts of this reflective paper as well as the available evidence allow for suggesting that intelligence analysis makes a limited impact on policies. Namely, Marrin (2017) states that intelligence analysis per se is often disregarded since it is considered to be a repetition of decision-making processes. Many intelligence analysis conclusions tend to be redundant and, therefore, ignored by policy-makers or interpreted differently. In other words, the visions of intelligence analysts and policymakers are likely to be diverse and varied, which creates additional challenges (Johnson, 2017). In this connection, it is possible to assess the learning materials that were studied in the given course as useful to understand the role and impact of intelligence on policy-making.

The categorisation of intelligence by time is another vivid aspect that should be discussed in terms of evaluating my learning outcomes. According to Kent, the past, the present and the future are associated with two categories of intelligence, as stated by Gill and Phythian (2016). Namely, the basic descriptive form contains contemporary information on the nation’s security, while the speculative-evaluative form focuses on prediction, especially in communication failures.

The latter goes in line with the assumptions of Smith (2017), who emphasised that intelligence should provide guesses and estimates, which, among other issues, should take into account the efforts of other countries in the given field. In their turn, Richelson (2018) and Røssaak (2017) confirm the idea of the great potential of intelligence, which results from the accomplishments of social sciences and recent advancements in prognosis.

The mentioned assessments of intelligence limitations and perspectives promoted my in-depth awareness of the current problems and the very nature of intelligence. It is important to stress that not only reading of materials but also critical thinking and discussions were beneficial to master my knowledge (Copley, 2011; Goldhill, 2010). Speaking of my learning, I should also mention difficulties that were related to synthesising different opinions and understanding the arguments of authors.

For example, while Sherman and McKay claim that paradoxes in perception are inevitable, others assume that there are some ways to minimise them (Marrin, 2016; Scoblic, 2018; Wirtz, 2016). Therefore, I can conclude that my learning was effective for my professional career as it equipped me with the necessary theoretical foundation to be used in practice.


The progress in Gibbs’ reflective cycle largely depends on the ability of a person to bring experience and theory together at the analysis phase (Tanaka, Okamoto, & Koide, 2018). The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the American Intelligence Community (IC) are the two key agencies that manage intelligence-led policing (ILP) that contributes to technological improvements in order to produce valuable directions (Ratcliffe, 2016). In fact, the inevitability of perception paradoxes and communication failures mean that there are external factors that affect the analytical process. The empirical study of the mentioned intelligence failures seems to be well-developed yet lacking potential solutions.

The theory of intelligence by Betts offers the solution to communication errors: the increased attention is to be paid to the organisation and IC management (de Lint & Kassa, 2017). More to the point, paradoxes in perception as preconceived notions can be reduced by proper and objective assessment. Nevertheless, intelligence consumption can never be perfected, remaining under the impact of human psychology and politics.

The inability to avoid failures also means that the pivotal goal of intelligence agencies is to integrate this fact into practice and leave some place for uncertainty, which should be considered during evaluation and planning. In particular, the principles of perception that are elaborated by Heuer (2013) show that the analysis of threats should be interpreted as something wider rather than a mere substantive process. Instead, the instruments and techniques for handling inherent barriers should be applied by policymakers, thus establishing such an organisational environment that encourages critical thinking.

The consideration of plausible hypotheses should be accompanied by a range of alternative theories and strong arguments, which should foster the development of a more comprehensive analysis. In today’s world, a lack of awareness of how analysts and policymakers interact can be regarded as the key limitation that causes paradoxes and pathologies of communication. Accordingly, my personal view is consistent with the assumptions made by Heuer (2013), especially with regard to the core need – managing intelligence failures.

The evidence points to several possible directions that can potentially improve the situation, which were beneficial to learn for my future career. One of the most widespread solutions is to consider every threat as serious and probable in order to be prepared for each of them (Gill, 2018). However, this approach requires essential funding and seems to be counterproductive as the resources are used improperly.

The similar attention to all of the challenges can cause even more problems. For example, the simplification and better coordination of analysis can lead to resources and personnel shortage. Among other options, I have understood that a multiple advocacy method is often used to consider multiple opinions to gain new insights, yet it is associated with a high level of ambiguity (Marrin, 2018). Using this method, policymakers have a set of solutions, but they may fail to choose the most appropriate one, focusing on the one that fits best their policy or expected action.

In my point of view, the assumptions of Betts regarding the improvement of contemporary intelligence are the most feasible and relevant (Lowenthal, 2015). In particular, the author recognises that the psychology of policymakers is the key reason for failures in communication and perception, which allows stating that the awareness of their attitudes is important (Borg, 2017; King, Walker, & Gurulé, 2018).

In other words, for these specialists, it is difficult to control their cognitions due to a lack of time or interest. Therefore, a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) should be assigned the role of a skilful advocate, who can review various agencies and report about the difference in their findings. This unorthodox approach seems to be more time-consuming but more productive compared to others. The unusual findings and contradictory arguments are to be explored and explained by the DCI to impact intelligence area positively.


In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that I have gained valuable insights into failures in the field of intelligence. I have learned that perception paradoxes and pathologies in communication are the two failures that are inevitable. The majority of the scholars consider that they cannot be fully prevented, and this point of view coincides with my attitude. I have revealed that there is a range of factors that affect the decision-making process and relationships between analysts and policymakers. It is considered that politics and psychology are the key aspects; however, I would also pay more attention to social factors. I have found that the introduction of the position of the DCI is one of the most pertinent solutions to reduce but not eliminate intelligence failures.

Action Plan

In terms of the reflection cycle by Gibbs (1989), the action plan implies the identification of further steps and improvement of processes. From the reading materials and discussions, I have learned that intelligence pathologies compose an integral part of this field, and they cannot be fully prevented. However, it is significant to note that substantive uncertainty of analysts and policymakers can be handled to some extent by means of creating the cognitive framework and policy sensitivity. The corporate standards need to be reinvented and detailed for various categories of intelligence, so that professionals can take rational decisions (Karam, 2017). As a result, such a solution is likely to decrease the number of perception paradoxes and communication challenges.

Another step that I can also take personally refers to combating against cognitive pitfalls in practice. Even though particular standards would enhance the situation, it is still required that every professional accepts them and implements in his or her field of responsibility. In consistence with Evans and Kebbell (2012), it is important to pay more attention to encouraging employees to doubt their decisions and discuss with others. The gaps that are seen by an analyst should be disclosed to contribute to a sound analysis and more transparent relationships and communication between different specialists.

Furthermore, I would also consider conducting more research on the given topic to explore in detail a range of opinions and solutions. The findings revealed by studies seem to be useful to better understand intelligence pitfalls and find the ways to minimise them in terms of uncertainty as well as the impact of social, political and psychological factors. In addition, I am enthusiastic about contributing to the mentioned improvements from the practical side, working as an analyst and applying the suggested recommendations.


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