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Strategic Warning Intelligence

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
June 05, 2021
1 min read

This is a bit of a random one, but perhaps a good chaser to my last recommendation. Strategic Warning Intelligence is an intro to a very particular branch of the national intelligence function — deep foresight on the six-month to several-year time horizon for where potential risks might manifest as threats.

I’m currently writing my final essays and thesis for a part-time masters in international relations and security studies, and many of my interests have revolved around issues tied to foresight and decision making. So reading a book like this felt like a good idea. Broadly, it explores the strategic warning function, described somewhat vaguely as “communication to senior national decision-makers of the potential for, or actually impending, events of major significance to national interests and recommendations that leaders consider making policy decisions and/or taking actions to address the situations.” This ends up manifesting in a bunch of different ways — though often it’s through documents that decision-makers like a president, congress, or prime minister end up considering in their daily briefing or in a meeting surrounding a specific issue or decision.

The reason this book stands out is that it helps tape together an aspect of intelligence and security foresight that has felt somewhat disjointed in my previous study. While foresight is often hinted at, it’s often considered only as part of a broader cycle that also includes more popular types of intelligence like targeting intelligence (popularized in books like Nada Bakos’ The Targeter and the movie Zero Dark Thirty). The frustrating part about security foresight is that while creative futurists like William Gibson are lauded for the societal dysfunction they hint at in their writing, security futurists (if that’s what you can call them) aren’t well equipped to create much beyond a graceful handoff to their nearer-term counterparts, while carrying a substantial liability on their shoulders if they miss something big.

Still, this book is fascinating for its scope, historical examples, and exploration of the relationship between foresight and decision-making. Regardless of its security focus, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in foresight topics — especially the methods section in chapter 6 and the chapter on managing decision-making stakeholders in chapter 10. (Also chapter 11 is a big one for my thesis).


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