Saturday, October 8, 2011

Red Team - Not Popular in 2001

The idea of Red Teaming in military and intelligence planning teams gained popularity in the wake of perceived intelligence failures over the past decade. In essence red teaming is about challenging in-house conventional wisdom on the one hand, and getting strategic planners to thinking like (and thus anticipate) an adversary on the other. Readers might ask - "don't military planners already do that?"

The walk in the MIL INT archive provoked by the Afghan anniversary story above dislodged this related suggestion for a renewed emphasis on alternative thinking in strategic planning following the 911 attacks. Needless to say the suggestion was not adopted at the time but has since been adopted in the US in a variety of forms. It was also incorporated in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (for background see below). 

Back on October 25, 2001 MIL INT advocated a Red Cell approach in strategic planning.  Ignore the parochial lead-up and read the last few paragraphs from "The Government might like to consider an alternative planing model...." needless to say, until the US enthusiastically adopted red cell planning, it remained heretical thinking down under.

Red Teaming defined by LtGen Paul Van Riper USMC (Ret):

Red teaming [is] the capability to conduct independent explorations and assessments of plans, operational concepts, and organizational designs. Red teams carry out such explorations and assessments from various perspectives and within the context of an identified operational environment. Red teams conduct these activities for the express purpose of offering improved or alternative plans, concepts, and designs.

Red teaming includes role-playing or emulating a potential enemy knowledgeably, arguing against a position or an idea to determine its validity or practicality, and challenging conventional thinking within an organization. In a sense, members of red teams conduct peer reviews of operational and institutional planning processes as well as the products of those processes.
Red team members provide their commands with an independent capability to explore more fully alternatives to concepts, plans, organizational structures, as well as existing or proposed approaches to any number of intuitional and operational challenges.
(LtGen Paul Van Riper USMC (Ret), "Red Teaming" Course Description, Command and Staff College, USMC, Quantico, 2010).

On the impact of Red Teaming on Intelligence specifically, see this following comment from the Robb-Silberman Report:
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act mandates the establishment of such mechanisms to ensure that analysts conduct alternative analysis. The Community should institute formal system for competitive—and even explicitly contrarian—analysis. Such groups must be licensed to be troublesome. Further, they must take contrarian positions, not just ones that take a harder line…
(Report to the President of the United States, 31 March 2005, The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, page 170).


  1. Unfortunately, most people confuse "Red Team" analysis--which traditionally was called "Team B" alternative analysis--with "Red Cell" support to analysis. "Red Cell" support to analysis is essential to "Red Teaming," but "Red Teaming" isn't "Red Cell." To quote the Joint Pub definition of a Red Team: "An organizational element comprised of trained and educated members that provide an independent capability to fully explore alternatives in plans and operations in the context of the operational environment and from the perspective of adversaries and others." (JP 2-0) Felt that deserved some emphasis, since so many people mix this up.

  2. The concept of red teaming one would argue, is an indication that something is fundamentally wrong with either the people involved in military or intelligence planning processes (ie., people deliver what is expected to 'the boss') or that the processes we use - such as the variety of essentially the same western military planning processes is wrong. A closer inspection of the intent of military planning processes, be they, MCPP, MDMP or MAP shows that challenging different approaches or views to plans is in-built to these. The question from experience and observing HQ undertake planning is why the continuance for 'group think', 'weak analysis' in planning and lack of detailed thought? Many military courses and intelligence training programs have taught a range of 'red teaming' like-concepts (including differing analysis techniques such as De Bono's theories, competing hypotheses, alternate view points and others) since 1999 that challenge these paradigms. Is red teaming then a 'patch' for bad work processes and a lack of deep thinking?