If the CIA had a crystal ball, then they would probably not be routinely blindsided by world events. Lacking such a device, the agency has endured notable analytical failures. During the early 1990s, sudden collapses of Somalia, Zaire, Rwanda and the Soviet Union seemingly appeared without warning.
Strategic surprises have always been a problem for intelligence agencies. The material impossibility of having eyes everywhere requires making judgments without seeing a complete picture, let alone the future. Assessing the likeliness of future rare political events has had dubious reliability.
Thus, in 1994, the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence commissioned the Political Instability Task Force (PITF), formerly known as the State Failure Task Force, a clairvoyant-esque squad of social-scientist brainiacs charged with churning global political data into global instability forecasts.
The creation of the PITF began at end of the Cold War. The PITF’s mission is straightforward — make intelligence analysis as holistic as possible, and locate where the next crisis might be, and why.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union completely caught the government off guard. Their models didn’t capture that at all. [Their models] didn’t even accept it,” Monty Marshall, a senior consultant for the PITF and director of the Center for Systemic Peace told War Is Boring.
“The intelligence community was looking for alternative explanations,” he added. “The old way of thinking, wasn’t catching the new dynamics, trends, that don’t fit into the way they understand things.”
To meet this task, the team recruited from American academia and included leading political scientists, sociologists and methodologists. In the beginning, they focused on variables as broad as environmental degradation and social conflict. The focus later shifted to cover four main topics — revolutionary and ethnic civil war onset, adverse regime change, state collapse and genocide.
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