Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis

Title:                      Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis

Author:                  Richards J. Heuer Jr.

Richards J. Heuer Jr. (2011) and Randolph H. Pherson. Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis . Washington, DC: CQ Press,

LCCN:    2009033571

JK468.I6 H478 2011

Date Updated:  November 30, 2016

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

This review is based on one written by James J. Wirtz.[2]

Intelligence analysts possess scores of analytic techniques and tools for use in devising their estimates and projections. Some involve little more than a pencil and the back of an envelope, while others require millions of dollars of computer time and exotic collection efforts. Long lists of cognitive weaknesses and biases are to be avoided, and an equally long list of case studies illustrates what happens when these cognitive weaknesses produce pathologies and intelligence failure. Only the most naive analysts underestimate the organizational and political pressures that have to be sidestepped lest controversial studies become buried deep within the bureaucracy. What analysts lack, however, is a basic doctrine, a shared canon, so to speak, that can inform and guide the selection of intelligence techniques and the analytic process itself. Analysts do not have to march in lockstep, but as analysis becomes highly collaborative and complex, enabled by increasingly sophisticated information systems and shared virtual workspaces, standards, or at least common definitions of shared analytic techniques, have to be devised to facilitate the production of “collective intelligence.”


Richards Heuer and Randolph Pherson have taken a giant step toward devising this common doctrine. Structured Analytic Techniques provides a description of the many different forms of analytic methodology that are often simply described as “tradecraft.” From network analysis, to morphological studies, to argument mapping, Heuer and Pherson describe scores of techniques, when to use them, the value of each technique, potential pitfalls, the fundamental methodology involved in applying the technique, and the relationship of the technique to other analytic methods. They also map out how each of the methods they survey is related .to the others and to eight functional domains: decomposition and visualization, decision support, conflict management, challenge analysis, assessment of cause and effect, hypothesis generation and testing, development of scenarios and indicators, and idea generation. Tabbed for quick reference, Structured Analytic Techniques is nothing less than an analytic handbook for the Intelligence Community (IC).

The Heuer and Pherson volume would be of immediate use in a workplace characterized by virtual collaboration in cyberspace. As long as all concerned possessed a handbook, analysts could select one of the techniques described by Heuer and Pherson, saving valuable time by not having to describe first principles, explaining basic methodology, or having to justify the appropriateness of the technique selected. If a debate did occur over whether or not a specific technique was optimal, analysts could even refer to the section on conflict management to make sure the debate focused on productive discourse that advanced the collective toward a useful resolution of the disagreement.


Structured Analytic Techniques is not exhaustive, in the sense that it contains all known methodologies, or aesthetically refined, in the sense that it might be possible to improve upon the way various techniques are characterized. Nevertheless, it offers a way for analysts to quickly flag the methodology that is actually being employed in a given piece of work, reducing the possibility that shared workspaces would become bogged down in methodological confusion and cacophony.

Heuer and Pherson recognize that their handbook is no panacea. They begin by noting that it does not offer a substitute to intellect, insight, or instinct when it comes to the art of intelligence. It also reflects an effort to train, not necessarily educate, intelligence analysts. In that sense, it addresses a first order, albeit critical, task faced by the Intelligence Community. It offers a way for IC analysts to organize the collective workspace and hold at bay many of the cognitive biases and sloppy logic that can impede accurate analysis. Yet, it fails to address what happens after analysts complete their estimates. As the recent wave of scholarship on the intelligence and policy failures related to the 11 September 2001 (9/11) tragedy and intelligence estimates preceding the Second Gulf War have suggested, when analysis is highly political, politicized, or highlights unpleasant facts, accurate analysis and warning can produce unintended consequences or little positive effect at all.


Structured Analytic Techniques thus offers insight in to the field of Intelligence Studies itself. Richards Heuer continues his long-standing and well-recognized efforts to advance the development of practical techniques to improve the quality of intelligence analysis. The Intelligence Community does indeed appear to be embracing the new analytic opportunities created by the information revolution. Needed now to further this progress, however, is a more sophisticated understanding of how officials’ perception of the political and strategic constraints they face shapes their ability to make best use of available intelligence. Better theory is required to explain how intelligence shapes politics and is in turn constrained in its impact by the political setting of the day. Recent events suggest that politicians and intelligence officials alike might also benefit from some training in utilizing the estimates produced by the best practices outlined by Heuer and Randolph Pherson.

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[3]

Former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin also served as Deputy Director for Intelligence and in a number of key positions elsewhere in the Intelligence Community. When he takes the time to comment on a book, readers should pay attention. One of the important points he makes in his foreword to this new edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis is that “all analysts should do something to test the conclusions they advance.” He doesn’t minimize the role of “expert judgment and intuition”—he just wants analysts to “rigorously test their own conclusions” and he views this book as a means for “doing precisely that.” (xvi)

Heuer and Pherson developed structured techniques to reduce the inherent risks of analytical error. Besides explaining the techniques themselves, they discuss how to choose the right one for both individual use and for collaborative team analysis. In all cases they consider methods for validating results.

This new edition of the book adds five new techniques, plus a discussion of “intuitive versus analytic approaches to thinking.” (p. xviii) There are also stimulating inputs on dealing with cognitive bias, idea generation, and challenge analysis to name just a few. While the emphasis is on intelligence analysis, they point out that the structured techniques described are generic in applicability and can be used in any situation—police, security, corporate conflict management—where one is tasked with sorting out often conflicting and incomplete data.

In order to get an idea of how these techniques work in practice, the authors recommend consulting the revised edition of a companion volume, Cases in Intelligence Analysis: Structured Analytic Techniques in Action.[4]

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis is a positive contribution to the literature on analytic techniques. It recognizes the value of the expert while giving sound guidance on how to become one.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] James J. Wirtz, “The Science of Artful Analysis,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (25,2, Summer 2012, pp. 418-420. Dr. James J. Wirtz is Dean of the School of International Graduate Studies and former Chairman of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. A former Chairman of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association, he was President of the International Security and Arms Control Section of the American Political Science Association. A graduate of the University of Delaware, with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, New York City, Dr. Wirtz is the author and co-editor of several hooks on intelligence and arms control.

[3] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, pp. 115-116). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[4] Beebe, Sarah Mill (2015) and Randolph H. Pherson. Cases in Intelligence Analysis: Structured Analytic Techniques in Action, 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Sage


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