Warning is a dangerous profession. The National Intelligence Council is the premier organization in the government (USG) responsible for bringing together intelligence and information from every source imaginable, integrating it into a single product, and then disseminating it to the senior leadership of the nation, such as the president, selected members of the cabinet, the NSC, the joint chiefs, and a few others. These products are normally delivered within the context of statements of strategic warning, although there are possible situations where tactical warning may also be provided. I had the privilege of serving on the National Intelligence Council as the representative of the Secretary of Defense. It was a great experience, and from there I went on an assignment with the CIA. It was while I was at the CIA that I went on retired status from the Army. Many interesting jobs followed, in and out of the government.
The danger that is inherent in this very important element of national security (warning) is two-fold. First, consider what happens when a warning is given of a particular event considered likely to occur, and then it doesn’t. Did the event not occur because the warning was issued and mitigation procedures were implemented sufficient to deter the action, or were the indicators improperly analyzed and the actual threat never existed in the first place? Typically, we will seldom know the answers to these questions. The second danger occurs when perceived threats occur too often, warnings are provided, and nothing happens. Hence, the warning community runs the risk of “crying wolf”, the decision makers begin to ignore the intelligence, and risk is thereby increased, not reduced. To further complicate this, target countries, friendly and hostile, are often very clever, are aware of this process and may employ deceptive measures to throw us off. The bottom line is that we want to deny our adversaries the ability to surprise, while at the same time they are working very hard to achieve surprise. Do you now begin to understand how complicated and dangerous is the warning profession?
Please take some time to think about this, both from a theoretical view as well as from an applied perspective. Put yourself in the position of one who is responsible for providing warning, whether at the national level, within a military unit, at county government, or in your job. Think about having to tolerate the reaction of some minor elected official who scoffs at your advice and counsel, takes no action whatsoever, and the tragic event that you warned about actually occurs costing loss of life and property. Or, the same official accepts your warning, takes action at significant financial and political risk, and the event does not occur. Are you now beginning to better understand how complex and difficult the world of warning can be?
Put all of this in the context of critical infrastructure. As with risk, discuss why warning is so important, and explain the consequences of warning, or the lack thereof. During this week, I want you to become as savvy about this topic as you are about the topic of risk. And if you think about it, at the end of the week reflect back on where you were at the beginning of the course and make some judgments about how much more knowledgeable you are becoming. Most of what you are learning is not going to be forgotten two weeks after the end of this course. Most of it is going to remain with you for your lifetime, and this is what learning should be all about.