How Israeli intelligence failures led to a ‘devil's advocate’ role (2023)

How Israeli intelligence failures led to a ‘devil's advocate’ role (1)

How Israeli intelligence failures led to a ‘devil's advocate’ role (2)

Israel’s inability to perceive enemies’ plans before 1973 Yom Kippur War led to creation of the Tenth Man, a way to ensure contrary assessments at least get a hearing.

By Excerpt from Why Dissent Matters

Sun., May 21, 2017timer8 min. read

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The October 1973 Yom Kippur War, known in the Arab World as the Ramadan War, showed the risks to Israel of underestimating dangers to national security, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. It is the classic intelligence failure in Israeli history and it happened because the military establishment was captivated and captured by what they called The Concept of Arab Intentions — a preset world view that did not contemplate the possibility of an all-out assault. In an excerpt from Why Dissent Matters, William Kaplan looks at a key idea that came out of the post-war inquiry, The Tenth Man.

The Tenth Man is a devil’s advocate. If there are 10 people in a room and nine agree, the role of the tenth is to disagree and point out flaws in whatever decision the group has reached.

Killing the messenger is self-defeating. AMAN, the Israeli forces’ directorate of military intelligence, had to change the way it did business, and in the aftermath of the Agranat Commission it created two new tools: the position of the Tenth Man, also referred to as the Revision Department, and the option of writing “different opinion” memos.

“The task was to generate intelligence estimates that ran contrary to Research Department assessments … This approach was important because it allowed for the consideration of a number of possible intentions of the enemy, including those deemed less probable than others.”

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After all, the opposite might be true. If this system had been in place in October 1973, AMAN would have produced two assessments: the first indicating on the basis of the overwhelming evidence that the Concept was defunct and that war would begin, and the second that the Concept continued. Faced with these alternative assessments, Israel’s political leadership would have almost certainly called up the reserves even if it decided, for political reasons, to let Egypt and Syria launch their attacks.

The Tenth Man’s job is to challenge conventional and received wisdom. The aim is to look at things creatively, independently, and from a fresh perspective, to engage actively with and to reconsider the status quo. Tenth Man “analysts search for information and arguments that contradict theses constructed by the intelligence community’s various production and analysis departments. One anomaly is sufficient to refute a thesis, or at least to warrant a re-examination.”

The Tenth Man also looks at subjects that have not, but perhaps should, receive attention, and it provides a sounding board for lower-level analysts who wish to raise issues that might not otherwise be considered at senior levels in the chain of command.

The task of the Tenth Man is to explore alternative assumptions and worst-case scenarios, and they can do so without fear of damage to their careers. Can the same data used to support one conclusion also be used to support another? Applying that simple test to the evaluation of the intelligence accumulated in September and October 1973 would immediately have led to competing intelligence assessments.

The Tenth Man has high status within AMAN: it is free to obtain any intelligence data it needs and to criticize existing views. Its reports cannot be ignored; they must be considered. Tenth Man reports go directly to the director of military intelligence — the position Eliyahu Zeira held — as well as to all the major decision makers, including the prime minister and the minister of defence.

The idea of the Tenth Man is not a panacea. Many seasoned intelligence professionals think it is ridiculous; more importantly, it is seen as unproductive because it doesn’t work. That’s what the eminent historian Walter Laqueur concluded. The Tenth Man was without “conspicuous success.”

In the intelligence world, the detractors criticize it as pseudo-intelligence, beginning with a preordained conclusion that the contrary of something is correct, instead of following the evidence no matter where it goes. There is also some reason to believe that “the routine use of this mechanism ritualizes it and results in it being ignored. Benny Gantz, the IDF chief of staff, observed: “We need an organizational structure that encourages all ranks to be critical, to cast doubt, to re-examine basic assumptions, to get outside the framework.”

There are those who claim that these contrary opinions “have never changed the intelligence assessment,” while proponents insist that such opinions are an “extremely important educational tool.” Persuading professionals to assume the role of permanent critic also presents certain practical difficulties in recruitment and retention as team players advance and unhappy campers are isolated and ostracized.

(Video) 10th man theory, the God of devils advocate

Pluralism in decision making is no guarantee against getting it wrong, but it’s the right approach and it transcends any particular time and place. Israel is not alone in facing threats to its national security: the challenges are international.

The enemy will launch a ground war, an air war, a nuclear war; it will use chemical weapons; it will engage in a single act of terrorism or multiple acts; it will hit at home or hit abroad. We actually cannot rule anything out, at least not without evidence of capability and an understanding of intentions.

Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister, did not stand up to the military when she instinctively knew better and understood she should do so. AMAN was an arm of the military. A case can be made that, in a country like Israel, intelligence gathering and assessment are opposite sides of the same coin.

But, in general, the military, where hierarchy, discipline and obedience govern, is probably not the best institution to assess intelligence. Soldiers see threats and want to destroy them. Fair enough — that is their job. But public-policy decisions are more complicated and nuanced, and need to consider all possible angles. In October 1973 the information was good, but it was poorly evaluated. Chaim Bar Lev — the person after whom the [fortification] line was named — summed up the situation in these words: “The mistake lay in the evaluation of the intelligence data and not in the absence of accurate and reliable information.”

Obviously, hindsight is perfect. And it would be beyond naive to believe that there will always be time to consider carefully every option in the midst of a true crisis. In general, people really do try hard to get their decisions right, and they deserve some understanding when they get them wrong. Still, what could be worse than getting them very badly wrong by not even considering actual available evidence?

Ultimately, the Israelis deceived themselves: their adherence to the Concept, their belief in their military superiority, their inability to consider a limited military campaign with a political objective, their racism, and many other factors led them down the path to disaster and the very real possibility of national collapse. They did not put themselves in the shoes of their enemies when they should have examined everything from the perspective of the other guy.

“The ‘Concept’ was not,” Moshe Dayan, Israel’s minister of defence during the Yom Kippur War, later recalled, “the invention of a mad-genius … but it emerged from very critical information which we thought was the best one could have acquired.”{+ }That may have been true once, but the Concept should have never been chiselled in granite.

Forty years after The Blunder, which is how Israelis immediately began to refer to the failure to anticipate and properly prepare for the “surprise attack,’ Zeira was asked what went wrong. He had a number of explanations, some self-serving, others not, and two that would have been wise if they had not been so predictable: “The first mistake was that we did not understand that the Egyptians’ main problem was shame … If I had understood this point, I would have understood that they desperately wanted a victory, even a small one.”

(Video) The Devil, The Tenth Man and The Divine Council

His second mistake was related to the first: “We did not have a mechanism for probing the soul of the Egyptian people.” But just like the amassing enemy forces, both explanations were sitting in plain sight.

Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion, had identified the real threat to Israel’s security years earlier. Referring to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the Arab defeat in 1948, Ben Gurion said: “Nasser is suffering from a psychological injury; he is humiliated, and he will not make peace before he has healed his injury, in other words before scoring a victory over Israel.”{+ }A Tenth Man could have pointed this out.

The day before the Egyptians and Syrians attacked, Zeira advised the prime minister not to worry about the evacuation of Russian personnel from Egypt and Syria. If the Soviets were leaving because they feared war, “they do not know the Arabs very well,” he told Meir.

In fact, it was Zeira who knew nothing. The Israelis suffered a mental blackout that completely impaired their intelligence assessments and decision making. Not only did they not see what they were seeing, their governing assumptions about their enemies were just wrong, whether based on racism, myth, fantasy, or plain wishful thinking.

When Israel rejected Egypt’s realistic peace initiatives, when Egypt acquired advanced jet fighters, Scuds and Surface-to-air-missiles, when Sadat out-thought his enemies and came up with a good plan, he caught Israel and its military and political leadership by surprise even though every action he took was in plain view in broad daylight.

It even turned out, though the information was suppressed for many years, that the IDF had actually obtained the battle plans for the Syrian offensive in April 1973 (with an update courtesy of the CIA at the end of September) but did not believe them. The intelligence was completely accurate, in terms of manpower, materiel, location, approach and strategy.

This type of self-inflicted blindness was not unique to Israel and its leaders (battle-hardened rugged individualists). “Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception,” celebrated historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived or fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

Why Dissent Matters: Because Some People See Things the Rest of Us Miss by William Kaplan (McGill-Queen’s University Press) Available at bookstores across Canada on May 27. This excerpt has been edited for clarity.

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What is the 10th man rule? ›

In a group of ten, everyone is given the same information. If nine group members come to the same conclusion, the tenth person becomes the devil's advocate. The tenth person is now responsible for disproving the others.

What is the name of Israel intelligence? ›

Mossad, Mossad also spelled Mosad, in full Mossad Merkazi le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim, (Hebrew: “Central Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”), one of the three major intelligence organizations of Israel, along with Aman (military intelligence) and Shin Bet (internal security).

What is Mossad in Hebrew? ›

Mossad (Hebrew: הַמוֹסָד,; Arabic: الموساد‎), short for HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim (Hebrew: המוסד למודיעין ולתפקידים מיוחדים, meaning "Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations"), is the national intelligence agency of Israel.

Is Mossad Special Forces? ›

Mossad – Israel's covert intelligence and special operations agency abroad.

What is devil advocacy? ›

Key Terms. Devil's Advocacy: when someone pretends, in a discussion or argument, to be against an idea or plan that has a lot of support in hopes of uncovering flaws or mistakes.

What does being devil's advocate mean? ›

someone who pretends, in an argument or discussion, to be against an idea or plan that a lot of people support, in order to make people discuss and consider it in more detail: I don't really believe all that - I was just playing devil's advocate.

Who is No 1 intelligence agency in the world? ›

One of the top intelligence agencies in the world is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It is the foreign intelligence agency of the US. It collects information from overseas, with minimal information collection within the country.

What is Mossad motto? ›

The Mossad has adopted the following verse as its motto. This verse should always pave the way, encourage initiative and creativity, but also act as a severe warning sign: "Where no wise direction is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 11,14).

Can a foreigner join Mossad? ›

"All are welcome, regardless of religion, nationality or occupation, to contact our organization -- Mossad -- to work for us or to be involved in activities which could bring great personal benefit," reads the new "Contact us" section of the Mossad website ( here ), also available in Arabic, Farsi, French or Russian.

How is Israel so powerful? ›

Israel's army has grown to become the powerful entity it represents today in part due to its weapons arsenal. In its early wars, the IDF learned from its mistakes and failures in combat and began enhancing available foreign tech to serve its missions. Israel's Spike missile is a perfect example.

What is Israel's equivalent to the FBI? ›

Mossad (UK: /ˈmɒsæd/ MOSS-ad, US: /moʊˈsɑːd/ moh-SAHD) is the national intelligence agency of Israel.

Is Mossad The best secret service in the world? ›

For decades, Israel's renowned security arm, the Mossad, has been widely recognized as the best intelligence service in the world.

How can I join Mossad? ›

To work for Mossad, agents must be quick and creative thinkers with excellent interpersonal skills. One of their main missions is to convince strangers to take actions that they would not consider otherwise. This set of abilities is also tested during the screening process.

How does Israel gather intelligence? ›

Israel has three main entities that collect intelligence on terrorist groups-- the External Service, the Mossad, the Internal Service, the Shin Bet, which also collects intelligence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and also Aman, military intelligence. And these are extremely skilled intelligence services.

What is the difference between Shabak and Mossad? ›

(Acronym for the Hebrew "Sherut haBitachon haKlali," which means General Security Services.) This agency conducts security intelligence work within Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as opposed to the Mossad, which deals with intelligence gathering on the international front.

What is the name of Chinese intelligence agency? ›

Overview. MSS functions as China's intelligence, security and secret police agency.


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