On the eve of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, an intelligence overview was presented to the government, which included 37 articles describing the enemy's intensive preparations on all fronts. The pinnacle of the overview was "Article 40" -- which has since become synonymous with a severe intelligence failure. It stated that, "The probability that the Egyptians intend to go to war is low."
The problem was not with the information, rather with how it was interpreted and how the Israel Defense Forces prepared as a result. The gigantic discrepancy between the facts and their analysis can be explained in many ways, but the most striking and important of them all was the sense of exaggerated overconfidence and the lack of doubt about what the enemy was planning to do, and under what conditions. This overconfidence, among other factors, stemmed from a series of prior successes.
An organization that has won a number of successes, which alongside the pride in its accomplishments does not ask itself if those same successes could not have been achieved faster, more efficiently, or with greater accuracy -- inches closer to sliding down a slippery slope; an organization that is content and does not promote the constant presence of doubt and unease -- is paving its way toward failure.
Military Intelligence has known extraordinary accomplishments in recent years. The breadth of information is enormous, of a high quality, and the technology and operations that make it possible improves on a daily basis. The quality of analysis and assessment is good, and even if it is not devoid of mistakes the analysis is even-keeled and in-depth.
All these factors contribute to a sense of self-confidence but at the same time create dangers. There is nothing wrong with being self-confident, but with two caveats: that it does not become overconfidence; and that alongside this feeling of self-assurance, and in a balanced manner, doubt will be harvested and consistently maintained. Confidence is not the opposite of doubt. Confidence is required to act with free instead of cramped thought, and confidence is a precondition for flexibility and daring. However, true self-questioning is the profound understanding that the scope of knowledge is limited, that another interpretation is possible, that other operational, technological or intelligence options exist. Doubt creates an atmosphere of unease, which invites constant reclarification and the desire to learn and improve. Experience, though, has taught us that doubt is a cumbersome beast, sleepy and lazy and not easily stirred from its slumber.
The key to maintaining organizational sharpness is to cultivate self-questioning and positioning it at the forefront of the mind in any decision we make, particularly when it comes to important matters. We must make constant use of the tools and organizational systems at our disposal that highlight doubt and facilitate debate, questioning and looking at reality from different angles.
Simultaneously, doubt cannot be allowed to paralyze the system! It cannot foster ambiguity or lack of opinion. Military Intelligence must be a relevant and effective organization; it must be innovative and forge new paths.
Cultivating doubt will spur breakthroughs in new directions; self-confidence will foster decision making and action, and the risks that come with innovation will place our self-doubt, if we have the wisdom to develop it, as a safety barrier on both sides of the road.
Self-doubt and self-confidence need to be intertwined. They must both spark action and motivate, and doubt can also function as a safeguard.
Our scriptures teach, "Happy is the man who feareth always" (Proverbs 28:14). We should say, "Happy is the intelligence officer who worryeth always."