Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 00:47 | SYDNEY
Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 00:47 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Intelligence and predictions

22 July 2010 13:55

Scott Burchill from Deakin University responds to Sam's post arguing that intelligence agencies should not be in the business of predicting the future:

I think prediction is one of several important tasks for the intelligence community, or at least narrowing the range of future possibilities so governments can frame policy. Ministers specifically demand it. So they should. ASIS's raison d'être is to give Canberra opportunities through advanced notice of issues that will impact on Australia (eg. Japan's negotiating position at WTO meetings). It's not their only function, but it's an important one.

In his article, Mark Colvin gives examples of what the intelligence community failed to anticipate. It's a long list which includes virtually every seismic political development over the last 25 years. But what about things they get completely and catastrophically wrong? To take one example, their incontrovertible claim that Iraq had WMD? Think about the consequences of this error, for a moment. Another example, the AFP's Haneef debacle, an incompetent and outrageous attack on an individual which led nowhere. It seems the failure of our intelligence agencies is inversely proportional to their funding by governments.

For a brilliant analysis of the limits of intelligence, see Gabriel Kolko's World In Crisis. The title of chapter six, 'The Limits of Intelligence', says it all.