Richards Heuer

Richards Heuer
Richards J. Heuer Jr.
Nationality American

Richards (Dick) J. Heuer, Jr. is a former CIA veteran of forty-five years and most known for his work on Analysis of Competing Hypotheses and his book, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis.[1] The former provides a methodology for overcoming intelligence biases while the latter outlines how mental models and natural biases impede clear thinking and analysis. He has spoken at International Association for Intelligence Education conferences.[2] He currently works as a consultant for the Defense Personnel Security Research Center in Monterey, California.[3] His forthcoming book on Structured Analytic Techniques, which he is coauthoring with Randy Pherson, should be published sometime in the latter half of 2009.[4]



Richards Heuer graduated in 1950 from Williams College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. One year later, while a graduate student at the University of California in Berkeley, future CIA Director Richard Helms recruited Heuer to work at the Central Intelligence Agency.[1] Helms, also a graduate of Williams College, was looking for recent graduates to hire at CIA.[1] Heuer spent the next 24 years working with the Directorate of Operations before switching to the Directorate of Intelligence in 1975. His interest in intelligence analysis and "how we know" was rekindled by the case of Yuri Nosenko and his studies in social science methodology while a master's student at the University of Southern California.[1] Heuer worked within the DI for four years, eventually retiring in 1979 as the head of the methodology unit for the political analysis office. (Though retired from the DI in 1979, Heuer continued to work as a contractor on various projects until 1995.)[1]

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis and Key Concepts

Heuer's seminal work Psychology of Intelligence Analysis details his three fundamental points. First, human minds are ill equipped ("poorly wired") to cope effectively with both inherent and induced uncertainty.[5] Second, increased knowledge of our inherent biases tends to be of little assistance to the analyst. And lastly, tools and techniques that apply higher levels of critical thinking can substantially improve analysis on complex problems.[5]

Mental Models and Perceptions

Mental models, or mind sets, are essentially the screens or lenses that people perceive information through.[5] Even though every analyst sees the same piece of information, it is interpreted differently due to a variety of factors (past experience, education, and cultural values to name merely a few).[5] In essence, one's perceptions are morphed by a variety of factors that are completely out of the control of the analyst. Heuer sees mental models as potentially good and bad for the analyst. On the positive side, they tend to simplify information for the sake of comprehension but they also obscure genuine clarity of interpretation.[5]

Therefore, since all people observe the same information with inherent and different biases, Heuer believes an effective analysis system needs a few safeguards. It should: encourage products that clearly show their assumptions and chains of inferences; and it should emphasize procedures that expose alternative points of view.[5] What is required of analysts is "a commitment to challenge, refine, and challenge again their own working mental models."[5] This is a key component of his Analysis of Competing Hypotheses; by delineating all available hypotheses and refuting the least likely ones, the most likely hypothesis becomes clearer.


Heuer offers several recommendations to the intelligence community for improving intelligence analysis and avoiding consistent pitfalls. First, an environment that not only promotes but rewards critical thinking is essential.[1] Failure to challenge the first possible hypothesis simply because it sounds logical is unacceptable. Secondly, Heuer suggests that agencies expand funding for research on the role that cognitive processes play in decision making.[1] With so much hanging on the failure of success of analytical judgments, he reasons, intelligence agencies need to stay abreast of new discoveries in this field. Thirdly, agencies should promote the continued development of new tools for assessing information.[1]

Contributions in Personnel Security

As a consultant for Defense Personnel Security Research, Richards Heuer has developed two encyclopedic websites and one program: the Adjudicative Desk Reference and Customizable Security Guide; and the Automated Briefing System, respectively.[6][7] All are free to use and available in the public domain for download.

Adjudicative Desk Reference

This database is intended primarily for determining an individual's suitability for a security clearance. It contains a collection of 13 categories of behavior that ought to be considered before granting a security clearance.[7] Though this background information is not official government use, the reference has been approved by the interagency Personnel Security Working Group as a tool for assisting security investigators and managers.[7] Appeals panels and lawyers have used it to deal with security clearance decisions, and it has also been proven useful to Employee Assistance Counselors.

Customizable Security Guide

This tool provides an all-in-one source for introducing new personnel to all the various intricacies of security. Additionally, it provides a wealth of information for security professionals seeking to prepare awareness articles or briefings. The software covers a variety of topics including (but not limited to): protecting classified information, foreign espionage threats and methods, and computer vulnerabilities.[7] In hard copy format, there are over 500 pages of material.

Automated Briefing System (ABS)

This program enables managers to send out automatic briefings to employees with relative ease. Briefing or training links are sent out, along with questions to demonstrate comprehension and understanding. It is primarily intended for distributing readings that can be accessed online and read.[7]


- (1987) Agency Seal Medallion: "For developing and teaching an innovative methodology for addressing complex and challenging problems facing the intelligence community."[5]

External links


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h [1] Improving Intelligence Analysis at CIA: Dick Heuer's Contribution to Intelligence Analysis
  2. ^ [2] IAFIE News, Summer 2008[dead link]
  3. ^ [3] Pherson Associates, LLC
  4. ^ See [4] Pherson Associates LLC for more information.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Heuer, Richards, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis,1999
  6. ^ [5] RHJ Research
  7. ^ a b c d e [6] PERSEREC - Defense Security Personnel Research

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