Monday, November 20, 2017

The Intelligence Community Debate over Intuition versus Structured Technique: Implications for Improving Intelligence Warning and Analysis

Sundri Khalsa of the United States Marine Corps examined the debate of intuition versus structured analytic techniques in intelligence analysis. The role of bias, filtering out key information, including vague information when it supports a hypothesis, and distributing fractional information both intentionally and unintentionally were mistakes noted as reasons for intelligence failures. Using vague information since it supported a hypothesis was the mistake most repeated in intelligence analysis.

Pearl Harbor and Iraq were two cases of intelligence failure due to vague information within the analysis. The analysts told the decision makers about a possible attack by the Japanese, but they did not name Hawaii as a possible target because they assumed it would be included in the warning and Hawaii was a low probability target. They made the same mistake Iraq's WMD program.

The study goes on to examine the arguments for intuition, structured technique, and a systematic process which is a mixture of intuition and structured technique. Khalsa argues that the systematic approach is better because it allows for unforeseen variables while limiting the bias that is problematic with intuition.


The researcher is very thorough in the examination of intuition vs. structured technique and the solution of systematic process. However, his technical language would make it difficult for someone not familiar with intelligence language to understand.

Citation: Khalsa, Sundri.  GREGG CENTER for the Study of War and Society.


  1. Did the author give any additional information on how the systematic process was developed?

  2. I wonder how successful the systematic approach is in situations when there are time constraints. If an analyst has to choose between a longer process of applying the systematic approach versus trusting his/her intuition, I wonder what generally obtains in such situations.

  3. This was an interesting article the part I enjoyed the most was when the author addressed the argument of what is better intuition or a structured analytic method. This section highlighted the importance of using intuition in conjunction with structured methods to produce the best results.

  4. The author really shoots down the use of intuition alone, which I agree with, but he rarely puts forth evidence about the benefit of intuition. I think his argument could be backed up further by citing some of the data on experience in the subject matter and forecasting accuracy, because it highlights the benefits intuition can have for inexperienced analysts.