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Review: Lahneman and Arcos, The Art of Intelligence

William J. Lahneman and Rubén Arcos, The Art of Intelligence: Simulations, Exercises, and Games (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). 282pp. $45.00 pb.


51hT0+MXdXL._SL500_AA300_This volume is intended to be a resource for those who teach about intelligence analysis, by providing a series simulations and classroom exercises that can be used directly or with modification. As the editors note in their introduction:

…students of intelligence courses can learn analytic tradecraft best through experiential learning methodologies such as simulations and games. These learning vehicles allow students to experience intelligence analysis and issues related to its practice by performing analyses and then derive other meanings from their experiences through reflection. It often happens that, after we have run a simulation in class, a student will say (in the American vernacular), “I didn’t get it before. Now I get it!” Usually he or she is referring to things such as the difficulty associated with working with information gaps, or with trying to convey uncertainty in words that a policymaker will understand, or with the need to respond to a requirement even though there is little raw intelligence on the topic, or with the effect that denial or deception had on the outcome of the student’s analysis. The student had heard about these sorts of challenges in lectures, but participation in the simulation raised the student’s understanding to a new level.

We need to highlight that we are not speaking about opposite approaches to intelligence education or training or advocating for a single approach. Rather, it is a matter of balancing the use of lectures, reading assignments, and discussion with experiential activities such as simulations, exercises, and games, on the other.

The rest of the volume contains fourteen chapters each presenting a different simulation or exercise. These range from those that take up 1-2 classes of time to longer multi-week activities. Each of the authors is describing an activity they have used in their own classroom. Throughout, the simulations and exercises are clearly explained. Many are presented in a similar format, with contributors discussing instructional and simulation objectives, target audience, playing time, number of players required, materials required (most of which are supplied in the book), other equipment required, and the debriefing format. The issues addressed include the analysis of competing hypotheses, the perils of intelligence collection, cognitive strategies, interagency collaboration, and the production and presentation of intelligence analysis.

It would have been useful if the book had included a chapter or two (or even a longer introduction) addressing cross-cutting thematic issues, such as simulation moderation, curriculum integration, and effective debriefing. Still, the volume is a very welcome contribution and will be a valuable resource for those teaching in the field, as well as those in related areas (such as public policy analysis or international relations) who might wish to adapt some of the exercises to their own specific needs.

Serious games and teaching intelligence analysis

Kris Wheaton, who teaches intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College, is among those who have used serious games in the classroom—in this case, to help students develop and sharpen their analytical skills. He also writes about it on his excellent blog on intelligence matters, Sources and Methods, which is very helpful for the rest of us too.

As a recent press report on his graduate course notes:

Wheaton has embraced what’s called “game-based learning” in his graduate level strategic intelligence course for the past two years.

“I think the students expected it to be more fun than it was,” Wheaton said. “But since it began I can see an obvious increase in the quality of work.”

The course is the capstone for Mercyhurst’s applied intelligence master’s program, graduates of which go on to fields such as Homeland Security.

Students are graded on how well they learn theories behind strategy and not how well they do in games.

Second-year applied intelligence graduate student Regis Mullen said this approach to teaching allows students to take a new approach to learning.

“Students generally tailor their learning to getting a good grade,” Mullen said. “But this has to do more with reflecting on what you’ve done, and it sticks a lot better.”

Most of the games in Wheaton’s course are video games, but they aren’t all just the most popular strategy games.

You’ll find more on his classroom use of games here.

In his most recent blog post, Kris discusses “gamification, and what it means for intelligence,” including a forthcoming request for proposals for the Sirius Program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (Office of the Director for National Intelligence). Sirius aims to produce “serious games” for analyst training:

The goal of the Sirius Program is to create Serious Games to train participants and measure their proficiency in recognizing and mitigating the cognitive biases that commonly affect all types of intelligence analysis. The research objective is to experimentally manipulate variables in Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) and to determine whether and how such variables might enable player-participant recognition and persistent mitigation of cognitive biases. The Program will provide a basis for experimental repeatability and independent validation of effects, and identify critical elements of design for effective analytic training in VLEs. The cognitive biases of interest that will be examined include: (1) Confirmation Bias, (2) Fundamental Attribution Error, (3) Bias Blind Spot, (4) Anchoring Bias, (5) Representativeness Bias, and (6) Projection Bias.

A “proposer’s day conference” for this is to be held in Washington DC on February 24, to inform potential partners of the impending request for proposals. I’m not sure if the meeting is FOUO or subject to non-disclosure agreements, but if it’s not and it isn’t, we would love to hear what was said.

h/t: INTELST listserv and Sources and Methods blog


Kris Wheaton, who attended the event, has posted some comments below. As he notes, the SIRIUS presentation can be downloaded from the IARPA website.

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