Israel: Leveraging Foresight Techniques to Warn Against Surprise Attack

The recent conflict involving Israel and Hamas has garnered global attention. Due to the unexpected nature of the attack, questions have arisen regarding the effectiveness of intelligence agencies, both in Israel and in the United States. A case can be made that with the application of Foresight Analysis, it might have been possible to anticipate and potentially avoid such an attack.
I was struck by how the Hamas attack shared similarities with the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. For example, in a Foresight workshop that focused on the Mumbai attack, one of the scenarios predicted an unanticipated attack launched from the sea which had not been previously considered, the taking of hostages, and detailed planning to attack multiple targets—all of which occurred with the Hamas invasion.
When reflecting on the situation, three Foresight techniques come to mind that could have potentially provided strategic warning of a Hamas attack: Multiple Scenarios Generation, Quadrant Crunching™, and the Cone of Plausibility. In this month’s Analytic Insider, I will describe these techniques, explain how they have been used successfully, and suggest how they could be used to assist decisionmakers in Israel.



In counterterrorism analysis, this technique is used to identify new vulnerabilities and assess, anticipate, and prioritize possible attacks and attack methods. It provides a useful framework for developing indicators and formulating field collection requirements.

The Process:

  • Produce a set of 4-5 key drivers that will determine how a situation will evolve over several years.
  • Array the key drivers in 2×2 matrices to generate two dozen or more candidate scenarios.
  • Select scenarios that illustrate the greatest downside risks, opportunities for enhancing national security, emerging unnoticed trends, and/or a main line scenario.

In Israel, employing Multiple Scenarios Generation could serve as a valuable approach for exploring innovative attack strategies and reconsidering the revitalization of a Middle East peace plan or the invigoration of other regional diplomatic efforts.


In a workshop facilitated by Pherson in London, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) developed the Quadrant Crunching™ technique to anticipate how to protect UK water systems from terrorist attack. Quadrant Crunching™ generates scores of potential attack scenarios—many of which are unanticipated or counterintuitive.

The Process:

  • Begin with a lead attack scenario.
  • Brainstorm alternatives to the key elements of that scenario.
  • Assess which permutations pose the greatest threats to national security.

In Israel, the technique could be deployed to answer the question: What are other potential attack modes Hamas or other groups might employ that are not anticipated now?


Used widely by Canadian and UK analysts, this technique allows analysts to generate a range of plausible scenarios or “futures” that describe the plausible ways a situation may evolve looking out over a given timeframe.

The Process:

  • Identify key drivers (or forces) that shape current events and will remain relevant over the timeframe under examination.
  • Make assumptions about how each driver will behave.
  • Define a baseline scenario that is usually an extrapolation of the present-day situation.
  • Generate alternative scenarios by altering one or more of the assumptions and working through the impact of the changes in the baseline.

In Israel, the technique can be used to optimize the effectiveness of future operational courses of action.



  • When the US Marine Corps was preparing to depart Iraq in 2011, it sponsored a Foresight workshop applying Multiple Scenarios Generation and Quadrant Crunching™. The objective was to anticipate how Anbar Province would evolve after the Marines departed and what proactive mechanisms could be implemented to minimize instability. Several distinctive scenarios were developed with accompanying Indicators. The indicators were operationalized to provide the foundation needed to capitalize on the US investment in the province.


  • The Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the US Forest Service (USFS) have developed strategic Foresight programs using the Cone of Plausibility to help plan and operate in an environment of growing complexity, uncertainty, and rapid change. The USFS has engaged in Foresight Analysis since 2010, and the CFS’s foresight team is using Foresight techniques to provide advice to policymakers to build capacity for forward thinking within their organization. The two organizations have partnered to share their findings and approaches. In the study “2035: Canada’s Forests in the Future,” the technique helped forest decisionmakers identify strategic surprises, especially those arising in domains outside of forestry. They learned that anticipating potential wild card scenarios facilitates the development of proactive management strategies and minimizes the risks of being blindsided by unforeseen change. The ultimate gain is to strengthen resilience within forestry communities.

The effective use of these Foresight techniques in addressing the Israeli conflict should involve a group of 20 to 50 participants from various sectors, including policy, intelligence, academia, and industry communities. Historically, such workshops have typically required a duration of three days of intensive interaction or a more extended process spanning over three months.

Our team at Pherson possesses extensive experience in conducting
Foresight Analysis workshops for a diverse range of government and commercial clients worldwide. 
For more information about our capabilities, please refer to our website.

Read more about 

Multiple Scenarios Generation and Quadrant Crunching™

 in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques, 5th edition (2019).

Explore the concept of the Cone of Plausibility in Structured Analytic Techniques in Intelligence Analysis, 3rd edition (2021).

The Battle of Contrasting Narratives

I recently had the opportunity to teach courses and present at the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers (AIPIO) conference in Adelaide, Australia. The question everyone asked is “What is going on in America? Are you all going crazy?” As the sole conference attendee from the United States, I felt obliged to respond. After reflection, I concluded that America is experiencing a clash of competing narratives: several mostly false and the others firmly rooted in reality.

Narratives are stories that are compelling and coherent in their structure. Key drivers that enhance the power and adoption of narratives are the growing impact of social media, Confirmation Bias, and the phenomenon of echo chambers.


PAST: The Republican Party has been increasingly radicalized to the point it has been transformed from a political party to a cult of personality. Former President Donald Trump refuses to accept the fact that he lost the election and has convinced his followers to adopt the false narrative that massive fraud occurred and Trump actually won the election. The radicalization of the movement is certain to intensify, cementing the false narrative in the minds of Trump followers.

PRESENT: The current false narrative is that President Biden and various Attorneys General/Prosecutors are weaponizing the halls of justice to illegally “bring down” the former president. The former President claims President Biden is using the criminal justice system to deny Trump time to campaign for reelection. Trump supporters regard his indictments as proof of his victim status which he can leverage to his advantage. Such false confidence explains why Trump supporters are not protesting the indictments. The jailing of 6 January protestors has also made many Trump supporters less inclined to protest, fearing that they will suffer a similar fate.

FUTURE: Most Trump supporters believe the former President will easily win a contest against a barely competent incumbent. Once back in power, Trump will arrange to have all his indictments and convictions overturned. This will free him to retaliate against those he deems disloyal. He will use the Justice System to lock up his opponents and bring retribution against the Deep State and anyone who has proved disloyal in the past. His transformation of the United States to an authoritarian/ undemocratic state will be justified on two grounds: the need for retribution against the disloyal and the push from his supporters to return America to an operating culture they are “comfortable with.” 

These narratives are likely to remain unquestioned unless Trump loses the presidential election. An election loss denies Trump the ability to issue pardons, impose an authoritarian form of government, and probably avoid imprisonment.


PAST: President Biden won the 2020 election and has shown strong leadership in international affairs, rallying NATO to support Ukraine and almost bringing Putin to his knees. His primary focus was to enact laws and executive orders that improved the lives of middle-class Americans. He has managed to get several major bipartisan legislative packages passed that lower health care and drug costs, fight climate change, expand mental health care, and invest in American manufacturing and infrastructure.

PRESENT: Biden’s strategy is to avoid any appearance of trying to influence the judicial process that surrounds Trump. As part of his campaign strategy, he will soon showcase his list of middle-class policy initiatives to be enacted if he is elected and contrast it with Trump’s agenda. Emphasis will be given to substantial progress in creating jobs and bringing down inflation. A key theme will be the institution of Bidenomics which involves building the economy from the “middle out and the bottom up.” 

FUTURE: Looking to the future, the primary narrative likely to be promoted by President Biden is the need to preserve democratic institutions. A key subcomponent of this narrative will be the commitment to pass two voting rights laws: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Other issues likely to receive attention will be wrapped around the theme of freedom: freedom of women to seek an abortion, of minorities to vote, for LGBTQ community to live without restrictions, for students to read books of their choice, and ultimately for all citizens to continue to be governed by democratic institutions.  

President Biden’s narrative has had trouble gaining traction and would collapse if Trump became President. In order for the narrative to gain footing, the Democrats would have to obtain control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Democrats could further the narrative if they retook control of several state legislatures. 

You can learn more about methods for evaluating contrasting narratives in Chapter 9, “Analysis by Contrasting Narratives,” in

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd edition.

Predicting the Outcome of the 2024 Presidential Election

America faces a confusing and politically volatile presidential election campaign with multiple variables in play. Key questions are whether the two leading candidates (President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump) will remain in the race and should they drop out, who will emerge to gain each party’s nomination and the presidency.

Numerous factors are in play, including the impact of the Trump indictments, the timing and pace of any trials, whether other Republican candidates choose to oppose Trump’s candidacy more aggressively, whether Biden faces a credible primary challenge or drops out, the impact of events overseas, and the potential that either lead candidate could fall ill or die.

Political news broadcasters and commentators are actively covering current events but appear less focused on fundamental drivers that will determine the final outcome. In 2016, most pundits called the election wrong, failing to factor in the popularity of the Trump message and the impact of globalization, social disruption, and technological change.

In this Analytic Insider, I propose that three fundamental drivers will determine who is selected as America’s next president: oxygen, constructivism, and existential threats. Using Strategic Foresight Analysis, the identification of these key drivers is one of the most powerful tools in an analyst’s toolkit.


He who commands the stage is likely to remain on the stage. In 2016, Trump emerged as a credible candidate in large part because the media gave him a disproportionate amount of coverage, sucking up all the oxygen in the system. Ironically, MSNBC was one of the first networks to give him substantial air time which bolstered its ratings. Trump was adept at dominating the air waves with his provocative statements and willingness to ignore norms and standards. The campaign soon evolved into asking what Trump would do next. In 2022, when Trump was not running for office, he had a lower public profile; this may explain in part why the Republican Party did less well than expected.

Looking to the current race, Trump has the “advantage” of being the subject of as many as five indictments, of which two or three could go to trial prior to the election. The key question is whether the media will continue to focus its attention on these legal processes or find that their viewers have tired of the drama. Polls in mid-June show that 59 percent of Republicans believe Trump should end his campaign. The challenge for Trump is that most of his strategies for obtaining free press coverage are not applicable to a court process; it is getting harder for him to control the narrative. So as the months play out, pay attention to whether Biden and the other Republican candidates start gaining air time, squeezing out the oxygen given to Trump.


Recent polls and much anecdotal evidence suggest that a large proportion of the population has simply stopped watching the news. I attribute this phenomenon largely to cognitive dissonance. Citizens do not see the country moving forward as they would prefer and resent the continual bombardment of negative news, ad hominem attacks, and destructionist rhetoric. Too many politicians are obsessed with tearing things down instead of working in a bipartisan way to make things better.

The Biden administration and some Republicans such as New Hampshire Governor Sununu have adopted a more positive, Constructionist strategy, focusing on what has been—and needs to be—done to improve the quality of life for Americans. This small but growing group of politicians believes the people will be more receptive to a positive message focusing on what can be accomplished—shifting the rhetoric from bemoaning American Carnage to promoting Hope and Opportunity. If this approach has legs, it is likely to become more apparent as election campaigns get into full swing and politicians focus on what their constituents are demanding. As the months play out, keep track of how much press attention is given to examples of Constructionist problem solving versus Destructionist political blaming.


Will the focus of the 2024 campaign season shift from personalities to policy issues? If so, five issues that many view as existential threats could play a major role in determining who shows up to vote: abortion, way of life, gun safety, voting rights, and the environment.

  • In the past year since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the abortion debate has emerged as a powerful stimulant for both the right and the left. The desire to tamp down or reverse the impact of restrictions placed on abortion by state legislatures has produced several signal and surprising electoral wins for the pro-choice community and may prove an even more powerful stimulant in the upcoming elections.
  • Many see societal change as posing a fundamental challenge to our national heritage, Christian values, long-established social norms and traditions, and even the “look” of the town where we were born and raised. They believe next year may be the last chance to save America.
  • The debate over gun safety could evolve into a campaign to keep our children safe in school. The number of mass killings and school shootings is unlikely to abate, and young people (supported by their parents) will be mounting major campaigns to elect legislators committed to taking concrete action to make our schools and streets safer.
  • Many people of color are deeply disappointed that the Biden administration failed to pass two foundational voting rights laws: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. According to the Brennan Center, as of January 2023, state lawmakers in at least 32 states pre-filed or introduced 150 bills restricting voting. For them, the 2024 election is likely to prove the last chance to reverse this trend at the ballot box.
  • Climate change is having an increasingly dramatic impact across the country with record flooding, drought, forest fires, hurricanes, and tornados. Our young people are concerned that the degradation of the climate (and number of severe weather events) is increasing at a much higher rate than predicted, significantly compressing the window of opportunity to take action to prevent irreversible change.

Many more than in the past on both sides of the political aisle see the 2024 elections as a “make it or break it” year for dramatic political change. The question is whether public sentiment to engage in a more Constructive dialogue will grow or, alternatively, America will become consumed with Destructionist rhetoric, plunging it inevitably into a civil war.

Learn more about key drivers and the use of Strategic Foresight Analysis to anticipate the potential for dramatic political change in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd edition.

How Active is the Insurrectionist Movement in the United States?

How Active is the Insurrectionist Movement in the United States?

For decades, I have tracked political instability and insurgencies around the globe, assuming that the indicators I developed would never have relevance for the United States. The events of January 6, 2021 led me to challenge that assumption, speculating that the same dynamic might now be occurring within our borders. I decided to apply the indicators developed for foreign countries in the past to our present circumstances in the United States.

Following the January 2021 attack on the Capitol, I surveyed a dozen colleagues, asking them to rate 19 indicators of incipient insurgency or insurrection (based on the definitions provided below) during the time period subsequent to the November 2020 presidential election. The matrix below organizes the indicators into five categories, and displays my colleagues’ responses over time. In January 2021, their informal, consensus view generated an overall rating of Medium as shown by the M in the chart.


In January 2021, insurgency—or, in today’s terms, insurrection—was defined as “a protracted political-military activity directed toward completely or partially controlling the resources of a country through the use of irregular military forces and illegal political organizations.” Such activity is designed to weaken government legitimacy and control while increasing insurgent power, legitimacy, and control over territory or government institutions.

Insurrectionist activity is distinguishable from terrorist activity because terrorists do not seek to create an alternate government capable of controlling a given area or the country. Insurrectionists also can be distinguished from members of a political movement so long as those members do not aspire to supplant our democratic institutions with a new form of government.

Three months later, we reevaluated the indicators to consider what new information had been revealed by Congress and the press relating to the activities surrounding insurrection. The overall rating moved from Medium to High because four indicators’ ratings changed (as shown in red), resulting in 10 of 19 indicators now rated as High:

  • Oath Keepers cached arms in Arlington, VA for a quick reaction force that could be employed before and after the 6 January attack.
  • Some attackers had radios, gas masks, zip ties, body armor, night vision goggles, and bear spray.
  • The 6 January Congressional investigation uncovered extensive planning involving the White House and at the Willard Hotel and several states for months prior to the attack.

Another indicator was raised from low to medium to reflect subsequent reports of five deaths and more than 140 injuries to police officers. We encourage you to review all 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—has emerged in the United States. The number of active proponents of insurrection may be limited to only hundreds or thousands of citizens, but scoping the size, motivations, and intentions of this movement is a critical challenge that merits further investigation by law enforcement and homeland security analysts.

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