Intelligence failures and Vietnam

Marine gets his wounds treated during operations in Huế City, 1968. By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons . By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marine gets his wounds treated during operations in Huế City, 1968. By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons . By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Author Malcom Gladwell has a new podcast titled “Revisionist History,” which had a recent episode titled “Saigon: 1965.” The podcast tells the story of the Rand Corporation’s efforts to collect intelligence on North Vietnamese morale through interviews with captured soldiers and guerrillas. In particular, it examines the history of three people deeply involved in the program, who brought their own biases and beliefs to the data that they collected. Gladwell’s point in telling this story is that often the challenge is not to collect the information, but rather to interpret it accurately. Each of the three people had access to an overwhelming amount of information. Still, their vision of the war was shaped less by the the interviews themselves, than by their own biases. In an age of big data, NSA and cyber-espionage, the challenge of how to correctly interpret overwhelming amounts of data remains critical to global intelligence services.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

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