The Haqqani come to high Dunsinane

[ by Charles Cameron — why is non-actionable (useless) intelligence sometimes the most intelligent (useful)? – importance of multiple frames for complex vision ]



I have fun choosing my data points, I’ll admit, and I enjoy the art of juxtaposition for its own sake — but the particular juxtaposition above is frankly useless.

Readers of the Chuang-Tzu, however, will be familiar with the idea that the useless is not without its uses

Here, then, is the method to this madness.

What I want to establish in myself – and in others who choose to follow me – is a rich supply of frames, of analogies, of patterns that can be seen at a glance. And the ways to do this are (a) to read widely in those arts and sciences which make frequent use of symmetry, analogy, metaphor, and pattern, and (b) to practice, oneself, the techne of analogy-, metaphor-, symmetry-, and pattern-making.


In the two image-frames above, the lower image shows a still from a Haqqani network training video from SITE — which could be viewed as the fulfillment (albeit in Afghanistan, and waking reality) of a prophecy made earlier (about Scotland, a not-entirely-dissimilar country, mountainous, clannish, proud), in suitably oracular fashion, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth Act IV Scene 1 (shown in the upper frame, from the First Folio edition).

Here, you might say, the Taliban come to high Dunsinane Hill.


This is not actionable intelligence.

The injunction to “keep a lookout for people on the move pretending to be trees” is not a useful addition to tradecraft.

It is, however, vivid. And it’s an instance of “the leap” from one idea to another that’s at the heart of the process of insight and discovery. It is an example of a specific skill of considerable analytic importance.


Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe, in Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity, p. 42, [quoted in Fishbein and Treverton and Jeffrey Cooper ] define mindfulness thus:

By mindfulness we mean the combination of ongoing scrutiny of existing expectations, continuous refinement and differentiation of expectations based on new experiences, willingness and capability to invent new expectations that make sense of unprecedented events, a more nuanced appreciation of context and ways to deal with it, and identification of new dimensions of context that improve foresight and current functioning.

How’s that for a prose version of the basic OODA insight?


Obviously, I am not talking about the kind of tactical intelligence that is concerned with materiel and logistics here, but with mindset and morale.

This may get overlooked, since…

Emphasizing current intelligence for actionable exploitation may have created an unintended mind-set that undervalues the immense importance of knowing and understanding the adversary’s intentions throughout the course of the confrontation, even at cost of foregoing exploitation of these sources for temporary advantage on the battlefield or in the diplomatic conference room.

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