by Randolph H. Pherson and Alysa Gander
In 2002, the United States Intelligence Community (IC) published a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) asserting that Iraq was continuing to develop nuclear weapons. Moreover, it judged that the aluminum tubes that Iraq was procuring from China were destined for a gas centrifuge assembly that would produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. In the aftermath of the Gulf War a few years later, IC analysts—and several major post-mortem studies—concluded that the foundation for the key findings in the NIE was solely analytic with no evidentiary underpinning, evidence that was inconsistent with their key finding was ignored, and consideration should have been given to adding a null hypotheses as a credible alternative explanation of Saddam’s behavior. This case study applies the Key Assumptions Check, Premortem Analysis, Structured Self-Critique, and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses structured techniques to explore how better analysis could have been generated that would have helped the Intelligence Community avoid the cognitive traps and incorrect mindsets that led to this intelligence failure.