America is Polarized: Truth or Propaganda?

In recent years, civil discourse in the United States has become increasingly toxic. Congress has failed to address many key public policy concerns because polarization—and more recently obstructionism—places mounting obstacles to compromise and collaboration. Are we headed down a slippery slope toward more division and crass power politics or are we at a turning point where popular support is growing for forging constructive solutions to our nation’s problems?

Existential Threats
The phrase “existential threats” has recently begun to permeate our consciousness. Traditional policy differences over issues such as gun control, abortion, and health care appear to have been superseded by a spectrum of issues many perceive to pose an “existential” threat to their way of life:

Today’s Growing “Spectrum” of Existential Threats

This shift can be attributed to three key drivers:

  1. People are threatened by the pace of change and/or the dynamics of globalization. Rapidly changing technology accelerates this sense of losing control. Many do not see a way to regain the status quo and believe these changes will only get worse.
  2. Unresponsive politicians (and a dysfunctional political system) exacerbate public frustrations. In fact, some politicians are purposely exploiting and intensifying these issues for power and profit. The move toward majority/minority communities, in particular, is trumpeted as an existential threat to one’s identity.
  3. People’s concerns are falsely bolstered and reinforced by social media networks, advertising algorithms, and cable news. The misleading information then is amplified by ubiquitous echo chambers.

Many who participated in the January attack on the US Capitol building said they had to act to avoid seeing their way of life destroyed. Are we to expect more such insurrections? Are people becoming more desperate? Or is this a misinterpretation of how the public really thinks?

Taking a Second Look
A review of recent public opinion polls suggests that the American public is much less divided over many of these core issues. For example:

  • 70% of US adults say they favor the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. (2021 Pew Research)
  • 71% have received or plan to get the COVID vaccine. (Feb 2021 ABC News/Gallup Poll)
  • 80% strongly support government legislation regarding infrastructure. (2020 Gallup Poll)
  • 92% support background checks for all gun sales. (2018 Gallup poll)
  • 82% favor laws that would protect LGBT people against discrimination (2021 Public Religion Research Institute) and 70% favor the Equality Act. (2021 Hart Research)
  • 77% worry about the ability of public schools to provide quality education to tomorrow’s students. (2019 Pew Research)
  • 75% favor passing the DREAM Act permitting undocumented immigrant children to stay in the United States legally if certain conditions are met. (2020 Pew Research)
  • 58% believe “major changes” are needed to improve police practices, and 96% support changing management practices so that officer abuses are punished. (2021 Gallup Poll)
  • 60% favor dramatically reducing the use of fossil fuels in the next 10-20 years. (2019 Gallup Poll)

A “glass half full” reading of this polling data would suggest that the foundation exists for designing collaborative solutions to many of the nation’s problems. Even if you dispute the percentages or polling methodology, by far the majority of Americans appear to favor seeking constructive solutions.

In many cases, two-thirds or even three-fourths of Americans would be able to reach consensus on how best to address many of the nation’s most vexing problems, such as police/community interaction, quality education, and even health care. What appears to be lacking are sufficient incentives for politicians to come to the table and work out the necessary compromises.

Will the coming months be dominated by news of obstruction and debates over abolishing the filibuster or by the emerging power of centrist forces (such as the Problem-Solvers Caucus in the House of Representatives) to negotiate bipartisan solutions that address America’s looming challenges?  Time will tell.

The next two issues of the Analytic Insider will address strategies for engaging in a more constructive dialogue and the potential role of intelligence analysts in support of this process.

Is There an Active Insurrectionist Movement in the United States?

For decades, I have tracked political instability and insurgencies around the world. I always assumed that the indicators I developed and used to track these instabilities would never have relevance for the United States. The events of January 6, 2021, however, led me to question that key assumption. Using the same set of indicators that was developed to evaluate emerging insurgencies in foreign countries, we should be able to determine if we now face the possibility of a similar occurrence within our own borders.

The matrix below organizes the indicators of incipient insurgencies or insurrection into five categories. We have surveyed a dozen colleagues, asking them to rate the 19 indicators of incipient insurgency or insurrection based on the definitions provided. Their informal, consensus view is reflected in the chart. We encourage you to review the indicators and generate your own set of ratings.

Applying this time-proven “indicators yardstick” to current political dynamics in this country strongly suggests that an incipient insurgency—or in today’s parlance, an insurrectionist movement—is beginning to emerge in the United States. A key unknown is whether the number of active proponents of insurrection is limited to only hundreds or thousands of citizens.

Given these unknowns:

  • Scoping the size, motivations, and intentions of this movement is a critical challenge that merits further investigation by law enforcement and homeland security analysts.
  • Similarly, defining and, if necessary, further codifying what constitutes insurrectionist activity—which is clearly distinguishable from what is protected as political speech under the First Amendment—requires the attention of Congress and the Department of Justice.

Insight into how to use Indicators to track future insurrectionist behavior can be found in the Analyst’s Guide to Indicators, available at

Insurrection: From Foreign Threat to Domestic Problem

The events of 6 January, 2021, may have catapulted the United States into a new reality. Historically, most illicit activity in the United States has been defined by categories such as criminal behavior, hate crimes, and terrorism. We now may need to focus more attention on a fourth category: Insurrection.

As a former CIA political analyst, I spent decades studying the politics of foreign countries. I built models of political instability and tracked the prospects of many insurgencies. At the time, insurgency—or, in today’s terms, insurrection—was defined as “a protracted political-military activity directed toward controlling the resources of a country completely or partially through the use of irregular military forces and illegal political organizations.” One month ago, this term gained relevance for the United States.

Insurrectionist activity includes guerrilla warfare and other forms of political mobilization involving propaganda, recruitment, front organizations, and covert entities. Such activities are designed to weaken government legitimacy and control while increasing insurgent power, legitimacy, and control over territory or institutions.

Recent calls to pass a law for domestic terrorism are somewhat misplaced—because the term “terrorism” doesn’t really describe what we are facing. What we need are more robust laws defining and establishing penalties for domestic insurrectionist activity. Insurrectionist activity is distinguishable from terrorist activity in that terrorists do not seek to create an alternate government capable of controlling a given area or the country. Insurrectionist activity, as it revealed itself on 6 January, now poses a far greater threat to US democracy than terrorism.

Political science literature lists insurrectionist groups as having six primary objectives:

  • Destroying the self-confidence of government leaders, causing their abdication, withdrawal, or removal.
  • Increasing domestic legitimacy of the insurrectionists at the expense of the government.
  • Reducing government coercive power while strengthening insurrectionist coercive capabilities and popular support.
  • Limiting the ability of government to provide social services.
  • Obtaining the support or neutrality of critical elements of the population.
  • Gaining international support for the insurrectionist cause and operations.

Analysts who follow insurgencies or insurrections say they usually pass through four stages of development (see table below). In the United States, we appear to be moving from Stage II to Stage III, crossing the boundary from free speech to insurrectionist behavior and supporting activity. If such a transition is occurring, the country will need more robust investigative authorities for dealing with Stage II activities and better articulated legal structure for prosecuting Stage III insurrectionist acts. The objective is to neutralize the political impact of those who are organizing to conduct—and actually engage in—acts of sedition against the US government and its institutions.

Insight into how to use Indicators to track the emergence of insurrectionist behavior can be found in the Analyst’s Guide to Indicators, available at

Making America Work Again: Using a Constructionist Approach to Move Forward

In the May 2020 Analytic Insider (Vol. 7, Issue 4) I suggested that America’s political dynamics are best defined not by labels such as liberal versus conservative but by two camps:  the Destructionists and the Constructionists. President Biden’s inaugural address places him squarely in the Constructionist camp—those who seek to join hands to build a better society. Many say, however, that the challenges he faces are insurmountable. I am more hopeful and believe these obstacles can be overcome. A key driver of future success may be how each house of Congress organizes itself to deal with at least four critical challenges now facing the country.

In this article, I propose a non-traditional solution: the emergence of blocks of Constructionists in each house that can work with their Democratic caucuses to successfully champion a bipartisan and bicameral agenda that moves the country forward. This positive scenario is based on three key assumptions:

  1. The President genuinely wants to unite the country and will push Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that addresses key needs relating to COVID-19, the economy, racial equity, and climate change.
  2. The majority of Republican congressmen will remain inclined to oppose the Biden agenda. After a possible short honeymoon in dealing with the COVID crisis, representatives in both houses will return to their respective party’s oppositionist ways. If the past is a harbinger of the future, it would not be surprising if in the coming months the Freedom Caucus seizes leadership of the Republican caucus in the House, and a similar far right coalition assumes control of the Republican agenda in the Senate.
  3. More moderate Republican and conservative Democratic congressmen have grown weary of gridlock and are eager to work in bipartisan ways to legislate solutions to the pressing problems that confront the nation.

Continuing polarization is expected by many, guaranteeing at least two more years of gridlock on the Hill. I do not believe, however, that this is inevitable. Gridlock can be avoided if a new, Constructionist focus of power emerges in both houses of Congress.

  • In the Senate: An “independent” caucus already exists, including Sanders (VT) and King (ME). What if Democratic Senator Manchin (WV) joined this caucus and was joined, in turn, by Senators Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Sasse (NE), Romney (UT), and possibly a few others? This would convert a 50-50 Senate to a 47-46-7 body. The seven members of this Independent or Constructionist caucus would then hold the keys to power, providing the needed swing votes for legislation Biden wants to pass and, if successful, might even grow in strength.
  • In the House: The Democrats possess a narrow majority but will have difficulty passing the Biden agenda without some Republican support. As in the Senate, a group of Republicans—including several freshmen such as Nancy Mace (SC)—could wield substantial influence if they split from the party and created their own “independent” or “conservative” caucus that collaborated with the Democrats to pass much-needed bipartisan legislation. Key participants could be Cheney (WY) and the congresspersons who voted for impeachment. Such a new Republican “Constructionist Caucus” could form the foundation for a new conservative party.

A safer political route forward for Constructionist Republicans would be to buttress the influence of the Problem Solvers Caucus—an independent group of Representatives formed in 2017 seeking common ground on key issues facing the country. The group is almost 50 members strong and equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Bottom line:  What if Congressional politics shifted from a two-party system to a three-party system—or more realistically, a three-caucus system? Democrats would work with the Constructionists to negotiate and pass much needed legislation. The potential for such a shift would be greatly enhanced if the Republicans evolve toward increasingly obstructionist behavior. In that case, Congresspersons who aspire to pass needed legislation would have no choice but to either join—or agree to collaborate with—a Constructionist caucus to advance their agendas with bipartisan support.


Structuring the Debate Over COVID

The debate over how to manage the COVID crisis has surfaced two highly dissimilar perspectives:

  • Some argue that we must follow the guidance of scientists to minimize deaths.
  • Others say the greater threat is to close down the economy.

The current focus of this debate is whether and how to open schools. The first group maintains that the first priority should be avoiding further spread of the virus caused by forcing students into classrooms where many are unlikely to maintain appropriate distance. The contrary argument is that young children are at far less risk of contracting the virus, and their parents cannot rejoin the economy if obligated to stay home to care for their children.

Instead of viewing this dilemma as “us vs. them,” concerned citizens should frame the debate as a tension between two key drivers. When these drivers are arrayed on a 2×2 matrix, four scenarios can be constructed that better represent what choices are available to find an optimal resolution to the problem.

The two drivers can be represented on a simple spectrum:

 When these two spectra are arrayed on a 2×2 matrix, four distinct scenarios are generated:

The Hope Strategy in Quadrant I was followed to a large degree in countries such as China, South Korea, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. As a result of restricting population movement and extensive testing, COVID numbers dropped sharply. With fewer cases, monitoring and contact tracing strategies have proven viable and effective. Officials are concerned, however, about the potential for a resurgence sparked by foreign travelers or a local spike.

The Fear Strategy in Quadrant III is starting to emerge as the best description of the current situation in the United States. Social discipline is lacking in many parts of the country, testing remains inadequate and outbreaks appear out of control in many states as the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are spiraling up. The fear is that it could get a lot worse than it already is.

With the Fear Strategy looming larger and the Hope Strategy no longer a realistic option, state and local officials—supported by health care professionals—have begun to adapt the Plan Strategy as shown in Quadrant II. They believe officials need to start closing down society again to get deaths under control. This will have serious economic repercussions. Models based on this scenario do not project full economic recovery until 2027 to 2029. Lives are saved but with serious damage to many local economies.

Many consider The Deal in Quadrant IV the nightmare scenario. If frustration mounts considerably, increasing numbers of people could argue that some deaths of the elderly and those with medical problems must die to get the economy back on its feet and avoid Quadrant III.

The bottom line is that none of these scenarios is optimal; each has pros and cons. The core issue is where does society believe  the country should be in terms of the two key drivers. A Constructionist Strategy (see “Destructionists vs. Constructionists: America’s New Political Divide,” The Analytic Insider June 2020) would focus the public debate on how far up or down each spectrum society wants to go in dealing with this unprecedented threat.

Once those preferences are known, then the task for public and health officials is to fashion a strategy that reflects popular expectations. A good place to start this process would be to inject this structuring of the problem into the school re-opening decision. As it becomes increasingly evident that we will need to find a new normal, it is critical to hone our ability to engage honestly as a society about what we value and what tradeoffs we are prepared to make.

Destructionists versus Constructionists: America’s New Political Divide?

COVID-19 and the tragic death of George Floyd have had a major—and we hope to some degree an irreversible—impact on how Americans will be dealing with race, social justice, education, workplace dynamics, and even how we dine. The last few weeks could also be a turning point for how Americans think about politics.

Labels such as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, socialist or nationalist have dominated the political dialogue for many years. But in today’s world, such labels are more likely to divide and obfuscate than define and illuminate. When protests and rioting erupted across the United States, many wondered who on the streets were valid protesters and who were provocateurs seeking to exploit the unrest to enrich themselves or promote their creed. Labels abounded. We were told they were anti-fascists/antifa, white nationalists, boogalooers, white supremacists, anarchists, looters, criminals, or just thugs.

In the coming weeks and months, we probably will learn a lot more about who was on the streets, how many people were involved in legitimate protest activity, who was responsible for the fires and looting, and whether any were involved in both. There is always value in acquiring such data, but we must not overlook a much more important reality.

Applying labels in an effort to place blame on the far left or the far right misses the point. It makes it easy to fall into the pernicious trap of Confirmation Bias. The boogalooers, for example, are described as supporters of “civil revolutionary war.” Some members are avid supporters of President Trump, and others want to bring his government down. But when Confirmation Bias sets in, you only notice which side of the argument supports your view.

We Need a New Lexicon
The real distinction may be more than just ideological. A better lens for understanding people’s intentions and a more useful framework for projecting what now needs to be done in America is to throw away the overused labels. Instead, we should divide whom we saw on the streets and in our society in general into two groups:  Destructionists and Constructionists.

  • Destructionists want to tear down institutions, erode norms, and increase their own power or personal standing by making their competitors weaker. They are quick to act on feelings and beliefs, point fingers and  blame others, and tear down without offering alternatives. They tend to be exclusive, preferring to expel from their midst those not pure enough. They talk but often don’t bother to listen.
  • Constructionists want to build a better society. They want to learn, they want to reform and transform, and advocate for change that builds a stronger, more just, and democratic society. They support a civic culture and tend to be inclusive, They talk but will stop first to listen.

When we try to make sense of individual or group behavior in America—and even in the world—a useful first question to ask is: “When I observe protesters and others making arguments, are they at their core seeking to strengthen or erode institutions, preserve or diminish norms and standards, and preserve or challenge discrimination?” Traditional labels to describe where an individual or group stands on a particular political or social issue may not be the appropriate distinguisher. It is time to stop blaming others and focus on fixing problems and reforming institutions.

And Everyone Now Needs to Get Engaged
An even more fundamental question to ask is: “is this person or group trying in their own way to make things better?” For example, George Floyd was described by his friends as an “adder” not a “subtractor.” If you don’t like what someone is saying, don’t dismiss them or start an argument. A more productive strategy for a Constructionist is to tell that person how what they said affected you and seek to understand what prompted them to say it. Once a non-confrontational dialogue is initiated, more productive actions are possible. And the time has come to be proactive in promoting such changes.

On the other hand, if the behavior of a person or group you observe seems intended mostly to divide people, abuse power, impose one’s views on others, and enhance one’s own pockets or standing, then the best response is probably to pay them less attention—and encourage others to do so as well. They have a right to speak but not to dominate the airwaves. Constructionists should take more initiative for setting the national agenda. Meanwhile, the destructionists can continue to live in their world, create their own comfortable narratives, many often spun from disinformation. Destructionists should not be allowed to command the spotlight if what they say does not contribute to a better America and a better world for ALL of us.

In a recent email my wife sent our company about the need to stand in solidarity against racism, inequality, and injustice, she noted how she had been inspired earlier in her career by the words of an ancient Egyptian named Ptah Hotep. He said: “If he who listens listens fully, then he who listens becomes he who understands.” A key component of being a constructionist is being able to listen and gain a deeper understanding of what is motivating those with whom we are seeking a new common ground. Now is the time to listen more, strive to understand, and seek a new common ground. We must take personal responsibility for building a better society and a more just world for everyone.

A key metric of success is whether in six months the national dialogue is dominated by reports of positive acts that are being done by eclectic groups of constructionists that never used to talk to each other. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear yourself saying: “Look at what we have accomplished. I am truly proud to be an American. I can stand tall, and I did my part!” As one of our colleagues suggested, our new mantra could be “Listen, Think, Do – Together.”

A New Way to Divide America?

In the coming months, Americans may find themselves divided into two new classes—the “munies” who have antibodies and immunity from the COVID-19 virus and the “no-vids” who have not contracted the COVID-19 virus and possess no antibodies.

  • The munies will not need to practice physical distancing, can go back to work, meet in groups, and even date.
  • The no-vids must continue to practice physical distancing when around other no-vids, wear masks, and work or study at home when possible.

The biggest social implication of the emergence of two new categories of people is that we may wake up in a couple months living in a hybrid society. For example, munie children and teachers can go back to school but their no-vid friends and colleagues must stay at home. Our teachers have worked hard to develop ways to continue teaching online. In a month or so, they may have to repeat this learning cycle again, developing new methods for teaching a hybrid classroom with half the class on the screen and the other half in their seats. Another concern is that minorities could be disproportionately represented in the no-vid population.

A similar dynamic is likely to play out in the business world. When you attend a meeting, a percentage of participants may still need to be online. What guarantees they have equal opportunity to participate in the discussion and equal influence? Can you allow the no-vids to come to work if they promise to stay in a room or a cubicle by themselves and not circulate?

A silver lining on this cloud is that most nuclear families will not face this problem. Everyone in their small group will probably fall into one or the other category.

This vision of the future is based on the following key assumptions:

  • A test becomes widely available with over 99% accuracy that can identify people with anti-bodies that make them immune from catching the virus.
  • Munies who have the antibodies will exert considerable pressure to open up businesses again so they can start earning a paycheck.
  • Demand for antibody testing will grow exponentially. Some scientists estimate that up to 30 percent of the population that had the virus may not have known they were infected. They could possess the antibodies and not know it. Why continue to stay at home if you can be tested for antibodies and found immune?
  • A vaccine for the COVID-19 virus will not be available until 2021.
  • The presence of antibodies makes it almost certain a person cannot contract the COVID-19 for a year—hopefully after a vaccine is available.

Looking Ahead. If this Foresight scenario proves prescient, four dynamics will quickly emerge:

  • Hybrid Models. Policies will soon proliferate at state and local levels on how to conduct our daily business using hybrid models as governments seek to leverage the availability of munies to help them open up the economy.
  • Personal Branding. Society will want to know if you are a munie or a no-vid when you go to the grocery, walk down the street or show up for a meeting. Munies will want or need to wear an arm band, bracelet, or badge to announce their status. No-vids should be easy to identify because they should still be wearing masks.
  • Covid Documentation. The munie/no-vid distinction could begin to dictate how we conduct every aspect of our life—going to school, work, church, shopping, and socializing. Once we have a vaccine, everyone can be a munie but, until then, no-vids may be afraid that other no-vids are misrepresenting themselves and putting other no-vids at risk. If this becomes a serious problem, then someone’s munie status may have to be validated by a doctor or a medical facility. People may even be asked to “show their papers” before entering a building.
  • Accurate testing. Both government and society will demand that antibody testing be as accurate as possible; every false negative could pose a serious health risk. Only FDA approved tests should be allowed on the market.

On the bright side, let’s hope that celebrations will proliferate for those who attain and can formally document their munie status.

Learn more about key assumptions and Strategic Foresight analysisorder a copy of the just published 3rd edition of  Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

To explore how these techniques can be used to promote your own well-being, check out  How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System

Moving from Disagreement to Dialogue

As COVID-19 increasingly adds stress to our lives, it could either spur greater polarization in our society or become the stimulus for bringing us together. Our ability to come out of this crisis with minimal damage will depend in large part on learning how to better engage each other in a constructive, problem-solving dialogue. The best way to avoid conflict is to show more empathy, be a good listener, and strive to understand what motivates others.

Disagreements generally arise from one of three root causes.

  • Having different facts or perceptions
  • Conflicting interpretation of those facts
  • Dissimilar goals or objectives for the desired outcome

If we can learn to first ask ourselves what is causing us to disagree, our conversations will be more productive.

Different and Missing Facts. Having different information about a topic is the most obvious cause of disagreements. Most people start with the assumption that others around them are working with the same information but this often is not the case. A good way to avoid this to apply the ABCs of sharing information: First Ask the other person for their data. Find out if you are getting your data from different sources. Second, Brief the other person on your facts. Provide as much context as you can. Third, Continue cooperative communication which is always needed to maintain trust.

Conflicting Interpretations. You and your colleagues may interpret information differently because you: 1) hold different assumptions about the facts, 2) value the same data differently, 3) have different experiences working with similar facts or situations, or 4) bring varying skills to processing and interpreting the information. Resolving differences depends on identifying why you view or value information differently. Structured Analytic Techniques can be used to identify which data are driving the analytic conclusion or what assumptions are being made about the data or lack of data. The objective is to focus on the key differences, how they can best be resolved, and what strategies would be most effective in bringing the issue to closure.

Dissimilar Goals or Objectives. The most difficult situation occurs when parties have the same facts and evaluate them the same way, but each party wants a different outcome because of personal values or beliefs or personal defensiveness. Uncovering those psychological differences is hard and, even when they can be identified, the parties may not be able to overcome or circumvent them. This is often the norm with political discourse when the goals are conflicting, which partly explains the growing politicization of our society. Some conflicts of interest are real, and resolution can only come through negotiations.


If some friends tell you COVID-19 is no worse that the flu and you believe otherwise, you should ask them:

  • Where did they get their information? How informed are their sources?
  • What was the logic behind that conclusion?
  • Have they seen the World Health Organization report that says COVID-19 is more contagious, more lethal, has no current vaccine or cure, and will spread exponentially?
  • How would you relate these facts to your facts?
  • Do they believe a cure will soon be found mitigating the danger?
  • Do you see this as a problem affecting cities but not rural areas?
  • Do you think reducing the number of deaths should be the prime task?

Learn more about how to reduce conflict and promote collaboration, order a copy of the just published 3rd edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

To explore how structured techniques can be used in a much different way, check out How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System

Coronavirus: Facing Difficult Decisions

As the coronavirus continues its path from Wuhan, China, spreading infection rates and fear, senior policymakers face difficult political decisions. They must decide whether to:

  1. Take aggressive action to stem the propagation of the virus and potentially suffer serious criticism for overreacting even if they acted correctly.
  2. Opt not to take dramatic and unpopular actions that in hindsight people cite as being necessary to quickly contain the spread of the deadly virus.
  3. Downplay the seriousness of the threat to avoid unduly alarming their constituents.

A decision, for example, to prohibit all flights from China could prevent valuable medicines from being shipped to a country where they suddenly are desperately needed. Similarly, closing schools or businesses could unduly disrupt normal productive activity.

When faced with difficult choices, I advise taking an hour to employ a Structured Analytic Technique like Premortem Analysis or reviewing a previous Structured Self-Critique to prevent a potentially calamitous decision.

With Premortem Analysis, the decision maker should ask: “If a month or so has passed, could my policy—and the rationale for it—be described as a spectacular mistake?” The technique works best right after the decision maker and his or her team reach consensus on the best approach to address the problem. The decision maker should then gather his or her team and say:

“Ok, we now think we have the right answer on how to proceed, but we need to double-check this. Imagine that we have announced this policy and in a couple months we would all agree it was a big mistake. Let’s brainstorm why the policy turned out to be so spectacularly wrong and what needs to be done now to avoid that mistake. Let’s start by looking at the reasons we are listing to justify our decision.”

Participants should be encouraged to look at the situation from a variety of perspectives including the general population, hospitals, transportation disruptions, the impact on commerce, and even financial services.

Ideally, in previous months or years, some analysts would have already conducted a Structured Self Critique exercise—harvesting lessons learned from past outbreaks including the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak and the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus to identify past mistakes and discover near misses that decision makers should avoid making again.

Learn more about Premortem Analysis and the Structured Self-Critique, in the newly published 3rd edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis. It showcases 66 techniques—including 9 new ones—organized into six families that track with the analytic production process.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

Impeachment Indicators: Making a List and Checking it Thrice!

Two events will become the focus of our—and probably the world’s—attention early this year: Trump’s impeachment trial and the Democratic primary campaign. Expect to be overwhelmed with a cacophony of opinion, predictions, and rhetoric. How do busy people sort through the noise to determine what actually is going on and what it means for them?

The best strategy is to establish an objective set of baseline criteria—or indicators—for evaluating the dynamics and use them to track the discussion. By creating a pre-determined yardstick, you will be able to better understand—and better defend—the position you think makes the most sense. It also provides a valuable middle ground to stimulate constructive dialogue with those who come to different conclusions. And it makes it a lot easier to process what you read on the internet or see in the media because you will know what information matters the most to you.

In this article, we explore how to apply this process to the impeachment trial. In the next Analytic Insider we will explore how to use it—and the Decision Matrix—to decide which Democratic Party candidate for president best reflects your preferences no matter which party you might favor.

For tracking the impeachment trial, the first step is to establish a set of criteria for judging the President’s guilt or innocence. The criteria could include key factors such as:

  • Is there sufficient information to conclude that the President has committed a high crime or misdemeanor?
  • Does the President’s refusal to respond to Congressional requests for evidence and witnesses constitute an unconstitutional act?
  • Was a fair process established in the House and will a fair process be established in the Senate to allow Congress to make these judgments?

The second step is to identify a range of plausible responses relating to each criterion. For example, let’s begin with the second point. You can create your own list for the first and last criteria:

  1. The President is violating the constitution by ignoring legitimate Congressional requests for information needed to perform its oversight function and enforce the principle of checks and balances laid out in the Constitution.
  2. The President should comply with Congressional oversight requests unless the principle of Executive Privilege is violated. If a conflict arises over what is protected by Executive Privilege, the Courts should decide what information or conversations qualify for protection.
  3. The Executive is supreme and the President is not required to respond to any Congressional oversight requests. Moreover, the Courts should not become involved in any disputes between the Executive and Legislative branches.

The third step is to evaluate the quality of the data that you will use to determine which is the correct response. Does the information you are relying on to select or defend your position satisfy these three requirements? Is it:

  • Valid. Is the information I am receiving valid? Can the sources be trusted OR could I be a victim of intentional or unintentional digital disinformation?
  • Reliable. Would everyone rate this information the same way OR would people perceive it differently depending on their political affiliation?
  • Stable. Am I relying on a stable flow of information from a set of pre-selected sources or streams of information OR do I keep changing the mix of whom I listen to or whom I read?

Once you know the information you are relying on meets these tests, ask yourself if it supports or is inconsistent with each response. The response that is best supported by valid, reliable, and stable data is most likely to be true.


Over the years, Globalytica has established a set of standards for determining what constitutes a good indicator for constructing an objective yardstick. A good indicator should satisfy five criteria: it should be observable/collectible, valid, reliable, stable, and unique. When viewing the upcoming impeachment trial, we see the first and last criteria as less relevant. The observable/collectible requirement will be more than fulfilled by the news media and social media in our 24/7/365 world. The unique criterion is relevant when trying to decide which mutually exclusive scenario or hypothesis is the most likely. In this case, it is more a question of whether a threshold has been crossed, not which independent hypothesis is most likely to be true.

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