Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bayesian Analysis of Intelligence or Improved Advice to Decision-Makers


Although not the standard article, M. Elisabeth Pat-Cornell and David M. Blum’s ongoing research into the use of Bayesian analysis in intelligence problems is extremely relevant to the current subject matter. Their work builds on previous and ongoing research conducted by the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE).



According to the article, one of the main problems facing US national and homeland security is the response to very-near future threats. While longer term threats allow the time to build reports and plan courses of action, near term threats do not. As a result, analysts need to be able to judge the reliability of the new threat information in the context of all available intelligence in order to both minimize risk as well as responses to false threats. Researchers at CREATE have previously determined that Bayesian analysis is useful in such situations, as a way to gauge the credibility of potential threat scenarios. Furthermore, Bayesian analysis has been used in conjunction with various other analytical approaches, including probabilistic risk analysis, game theory, and Markov models.

Although the use of Bayesian analysis to measure threats is not new, it has not yet been adopted by the intelligence community, for several reasons:

1) the idea of the prior in intelligence has not been well defined;

2) academic research tends to assume a substantial amount of pre-processing by analysts to produce intelligence reports from raw intelligence feeds;

3) many Bayesian tools evaluate only a single hypothesis, ignoring multiple strategic interests;

4) crises imply a short but moving time horizon, which current models lack;

5) the process through which new intelligence data relating to a threat updates the prior belief about the threat has been considered trivial.

This new research seeks to remove these obstacles by incorporating a moving time-horizon into dynamic signaling games to better simulate crises, and also by creating a new model which will eliminate the intelligence community’s resistance to Bayesian techniques. The researchers then go through an in-depth research proposal, a case study, and the deliverables, of which the final results will be released in August 2012.

Further Readings:

Another research project on a similar topic is Bayesian Approach to Intelligence Analysis: (http://create.usc.edu/2011/03/bayesian_approach_to_intellige.html)

History of Bayesian analysis in risk assessment: http://www.usc.edu/dept/create/assets/001/50765.pdf

Probabilistic Modeling of Terrorist Threats: A Systems Analysis Approach to Setting Priorities Among Countermeasures: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/mors/mor/2002/00000007/00000004/art00004 (Purchase required)




  1. I found it useful that you used a few different articles and especially relevant that you found a way to link to the intelligence community. What do you think the likelihood is that the intelligence community will adopt this method?

  2. If the above articles are accurate, this CREATE intends to 1) work out the "kinks" in the Bayesian model to make it more intelligence-friendly, 2) have already proposed working with a government agency or agencies to incorporate their new methods. As time goes on, I feel this method will become more acceptable, and more widely adapted.