Book review of “We Never Expected That” by Avner Barnea

Barnea We Never Expected ThatIN HIS NEW BOOK, We Never Expected That: A Comparative Study of Failures in National and Business Intelligence (Lexington Books), Dr. Avner Barnea has coined two new terms in the field of strategic surprise. One is diffused surprise and the other is concentrated surprise, two terms that help us to better understand why intelligence failures occur. In a diffused surprise there is difficulty in identifying the intelligence target and therefore the chance of a surprise increases; while in a concentrated surprise the intelligence target is usually a recognized organization. At the same time, the mistake lies in the assessment of the target’s abilities and intentions.

To illustrate the difference between the types of strategic surprises in the two areas, the author analyzes these types of surprises through a discussion of four test cases. Two of them are from the field of national intelligence and two from the field of competitive intelligence. In the field of national intelligence, Barnea analyzes the surprise of the outbreak of the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 1987 and the surprise of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The first Intifada was a strategic surprise for the State of Israel and broke out as a result of a popular uprising. Therefore Barnea defines it as a diffused surprise. The September 11 terror attack is defined by Barnea as a concentrated surprise, since the terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, which was known to American intelligence, initiated and carried out the terrorist attack. One of the reasons for the surprise was that the American intelligence agencies did not properly assess al Qaeda’s intentions and capabilities, nor did they share the intelligence information that had accumulated.

In competitive intelligence and the business world, units within an organization share intelligence information. One of the lessons of the September 11 surprise in the United States is that intelligence information needs to be shared between the various intelligence organizations. The test cases that Barnea discusses in the field of competitive intelligence include the process of deterioration of the IBM Corporation that almost led to its demise in 1993. This is a classic case of concentrated surprise. IBM’s board  of directors did not internalize the processes and transformations in the field of computer hardware, while competing companies like Dell, Toshiba, and others were aware of the changing needs of customers in this field and also offered customers appropriate solutions. As a result of this failure of a concentrated surprise, IBM’s revenue fell sharply and the company almost declared bankruptcy. The new CEO of IBM, who took office during the crisis, has since adapted the company to changes in the competitive environment.

The second case study in Barnea’s book focuses on a diffused surprise stemming from the 2008 global credit crunch that led to the collapse of the huge investment bank Lehman Brothers and the near-collapse of the United States and global financial system. Authorities and the Federal Reserve had information on the state of the United States credit market, but they underestimated the chances of a financial crisis and the collapse of a major bank like Lehman Brothers. In the United States this is considered one of the most severe economic crises since 1929.

Aside from an interesting and in-depth analysis of these four test cases, the reader notices the similarities between state intelligence and competitive intelligence. This book is recommended for those involved in the field of intelligence from all aspects. Those engaged in the field of state intelligence must learn from competitive intelligence and vice versa.

In addition to Dr. Barnea’s original distinction between concentrated surprise and diffused surprise, Chapter 8 of the book contains a discussion on mutual learning, which addresses why each of the two areas —business intelligence and national intelligence— can and should learn from each other. Based on the test cases discussed in the book, the author discusses a set of tools that already exist in the field of business intelligence for possible use in the field of national intelligence. These include: the sharing of Information, using open collection (OSINT), the field of analysis such as assistance in the discipline of market forecasting (markets prediction), and the field of measuring the value of information/intelligence (measuring of information). It is worth emphasizing that using these tools, which are common in the business world, can help prevent strategic surprises. This implies that studying business administration, with an emphasis on the areas of business strategy and competitive intelligence, can contribute to the quality of national intelligence personnel and improve their capabilities.

Barnea’s book is another important step in understanding intelligence as a whole and in researching the surprises and failures of intelligence.

* Dr. Ephraim Kahana is former chair of the Political Studies Department and the National Security Program at the Western Galilee Academic College in Acre, Israel.

Author: Ephraim Kahana | Date: 25 November 2021 | Permalink

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