Words have meanings, right?
So if you’re briefing Intelligence you will want to be precise.
But how do you rate your assessment when it’s only an informed guess?
That’s where Kent comes in…
Introducing Mr. Sherman Kent (a guru of Intelligence)
It’s the 1960s and this Sherman Kent guy just wrote a classified article for the CIA titled “Words of Estimative Probability.”
In his article, Kent discusses the need for common words to provide similar meanings in intelligence assessments.
Now before your eyes glaze over and you scroll to the funny gifs, here’s why this matter –
Intelligence professionals deal in uncertainty, so we need a common language for shared understanding.
Because Intelligence requires us to make predictions
To do this, we need to be able to qualify what we mean.
We need a common language and a shared understanding.
Intelligence is NOT an exact science
So Intelligence assessments are predicated on your understanding of the situation, and the quality of the information available.
More quality information allows for a greater degree of certainty when making an assessment.
So what are the odds?
I was taught to use the following words to provide an intelligence assessment – Each of these words used a ‘percentage of probability
- Unlikely <15%,
- Possible >15%,
- Likely >50%,
- Probable >75%, and
- Certain >95%.
- Don’t Modify. Importantly, when using the terms above, we don’t add ‘modifiers’, such as; ‘very-possible’ or ‘highly likely, as these can change the meaning and confuse.
- Not all information is created equal. Just because there might be more reporting doesn’t automatically increase the probability. Quality beats quantity every time.
Everyone needs to speak the same language – what’s the point of me telling you something is ‘certain’ if you interpret it as ‘certainly possible?
Intelligence professionals deal in uncertainty, so we need a common language and shared understanding. Intelligence still needs shared terms to build collective understandings.
I’ve had a few people offer different various terms or percentages. Let me know what you think.
Do you use these words? are the percentages consistent with your assessments? Does this method accurately quantify a qualitative assessment?