What are mysteries ? Discuss several foreign policy problems in which mysteries were involved from the intelligence perspective.

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What are “mysteries”? Discuss several foreign policy problems in which mysteries were involved from the intelligence perspective. Again, please feel free to use examples not mentioned in this week’s readings.



“The business of intelligence analysis often entails distinguishing between “secrets” and “mysteries.” Most laymen and even seasoned intelligence professionals fail to appreciate the differences between secrets and mysteries.

Secrets are concrete pieces of information that can be “stolen” from foreign adversaries. The methods of theft are human agents, diplomatic and defense attaché sources, intercepted communications, and over-head imagery. Secrets are knowable facts that can be gathered by intelligence means. The number of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles in Russian and Chinese military inventories would be examples of secrets that are knowable facts that can be gathered by American intelligence methods. Some intelligence professionals also refer to secrets as puzzles, which can be answered with the right intelligence collection.

Mysteries, on the other hand, are the marshaling of secrets, public information, and expert analysis to gauge how international situations are going to develop or trend or predictions about what is to come. Intelligence analysts are asked by policy makers and military commanders to answer mysteries. How stable is a foreign government? Is it vulnerable to a military coup or revolution by Islamic militants? The critically important political, military, and societal players in foreign countries do not even know the answers to these mysteries. And yet, American intelligence consumers have a right to ask their intelligence analysts for their best assessments of such mysteries.

Distinguishing between secrets and mysteries often illuminates the origins of failures in intelligence. When one begins to study a perceived intelligence failure it is often useful to ask two questions. Did American intelligence collectors fail to gather specific pieces of intelligence or secrets that would have revealed the surprise to policy makers? Or did CIA analysts fail to fuse sufficient subject matter expertise to a mosaic of secrets to accurately forecast the trends that ended up surprising policy makers? “






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