Lang’s rules for intelligence analysis

George Sharpe


1-Duck Rule: If it walks like a duck, squawks like a duck and has feathers, it probably is a duck.

2 – Sherlock’s Rule: When considering a problem, remove everything from consideration which seems untrue. What is left is probably the truth.

3-Occam’s Razor: In considering a complex phenomenon with many factors and a variety of explanations, remember that the simplest explanation that accounts for the factors is probably correct.

4- The KISS principal” “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” (Army Rule)

Comment: From time to time I re-post these principles in a probably futile attempt to educate newcomers. If you don’t want to learn, to hell with you. pl

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28 Responses to Lang’s rules for intelligence analysis

  1. tedrichard says:

    in addition to your excellent 4 i would lke to add rule #5 which has served me well for over 70 years.

    be deeply skeptical of a pathological well documented liar (individual, organization or government) even if they might be telling the truth …..this time…….the odds against that are high

    • Pat Lang says:


      If you are not skeptical of people, then you are a fool.

      • tedrichard says:

        you do make a virtuous point!

        long experience has taught me to trust my instincts. they have served me well in every situation life has tossed at me. of course we all ”pay” for the knowledge we get, trusting one’s gut feeling seldom has done me damage.

        • Pat Lang says:


          I have known many who wanted to have some other, mathematical method of analysis. They all failed.

          • Barbara Ann says:


            Alastair Crooke made some observations on this topic in his piece for SCF last week. Are you by chance the “insightful American professor” he refers to?

            “The moral of this episode was encapsulated by an insightful American professor who told me some years ago that the U.S. leadership had almost entirely lost the capacity for empathy. ‘Otherness’ had become ‘a closed book’. Russia, China and Iran were incomprehensible absent any empathy, but America’s élites had come to believe that simply if they collected enough mass-data points, they could compensate for this lack of empathy, and would be able to predict and forecast Russian or Iranian intentions”


    • rho says:


      Well, that implies you should not trust any party in this whole conflict.

      Remember “2 weeks to flatten the curve”, for example?

    • Pat Lang says:


      Remember. Consider sources and content separately. You may get confirming material from a poor source.

  2. jim ticehurst says:

    Pat : ..

    I Appreciate This Post..and the Civil War Photo..from Your Files

    My Choice on The List..would Be #.3..Occams Razor..
    If I were Running A Site Like Yours..With So Many Posts
    I Would Limit How Much Content Could Be Posted..And A Lot Less
    For You To Have To Screen..Eaasing Your Burden and Mine..

    That Applys The KISS RULE…….This Generation Has NEVER LEARNED..

  3. Kevin Daley says:

    I learnt KISS when I first went to work some 45 years ago ( it works ) may I suggest colonel another PPPPPP-proper preparation prevents Piss poor performance ( this worked to )

  4. Sam says:

    Col. Lang,

    These rules should apply not just to national intelligence analysis. They are golden rules in any information analysis where the source information has high degrees of ambiguity.

    Since we’re on the Ukraine topic here’s an example of a single information data point.

    Meanwhile fighting in most major cities right now, a tractor driver steals Russian military equipment in Ukraine. Things are so unorganized on the Russian side.

    We have no idea when the video image was taken, the context or even the parties involved. But the tweeter makes the above claim. Should this claim be believed let alone the inference?

    Then take a look at this video taken in Israel repurposed for the heroic Ukrainian story.

    “Go back to your country”: brave little girl confronts invading Putin’s Army

    Now take a look at this video. What kind of whitewashing are we seeing here? Just a few days ago she was using extra-constitutional measures with no due process to seize the bank accounts of Canadian citizens who had the temerity to protest Canadian covidian authoritarianism.

    Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Toronto Mayor John Tory participate in an event in solidarity with Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

    It was applying these golden rules that enabled me to question the covidian authoritarianism. I’ve never seen any randomized double-blind study that demonstrated that lockdown and mask mandates were demonstrably effective. On the contrary there were larger control populations where there were no lockdown or mask mandates and their all-cause excess mortality was less than some regions that had both implemented. Now like in a Penn & Teller show the covidian emergency has disappeared from the front pages.

    We live in an environment of massive propaganda and misinformation, disinformation that are easily disseminated and even made viral to give it even more credibility. What is also something to consider is the level of collusion among Big Government and Big Business to create and disseminate propaganda and simultaneously slander & discredit anyone who questions the groupthink orthodoxy. We’ve had massive state-sponsored hoaxes from Iraq WMD to Russia Collusion with huge consequences not only for national interests but also on the freedoms and economic costs to the bottom 80% of our population.

    My question is broader and more general: What is the purpose of all these emergencies that we have seen here at home seamlessly move from one to another? What is the nature of the information operations to create and sustain each emergency? Why don’t the majority of Americans not see that with each emergency we lose more liberty, that we borrow even more from our children & grandchildren and that the Top 0.1% not only increase their wealth but also more control over all levers of power?

    • rho says:


      “What is the purpose of all these emergencies that we have seen here at home seamlessly move from one to another?”

      One thing that all the emergencies since 2008 have in common is that they were used to justify zero interest rates and ever-increasing amounts of “quantitative easing” (i.e. money printing) by the US and the European Central Bank.

    • jim ticehurst says:


      I think You are an Example Here..Right Now..of What we are talk about Here..

      Your Lengthy List Of Comments and YOUR TWITTER Links To Posts..All
      That Make Russia Look Week..I Question Your Motives…???

      • Sam says:


        I’m neither pro nor anti Russia. That’s not my fight.

        This is. Growing authoritarianism here at home.

        We have to make sure that within our own country, we are calling out people giving aid and comfort to Putin and siding with autocrats against the global cause of democracy.

        On the global stage I’m for the Westphalian model. Sanctity of borders and the non-interference in the internal affairs of others. I also believe that people should be allowed to shape their own destiny. If some prefer a culture with tradition and the supremacy of their Creator they should have at it. It is not our cause to “civilize” those we consider uncivilized.

        Our cause should be to perfect our Union to be the most free, open, competitive and tolerant society here at home. To prevent the consolidation of power both economic and political in few hands. To allow our people the canvas to express their ingenuity across all spheres of human endeavor. To have the capability and strength to defend our borders and interests.

        • Pat Lang says:


          Once again “perfect our Union to be the most free, open, competitive and tolerant society here at home.” meant in the preamble to form a better functioning government than had existed under the Article of Confederation. It had nothing to do with creating an earthly paradise.

    • Muralidhar Rao says:

      Sir you are so right about how we move from one narrative to the next. We don’t hear a word about the Covid DISASTER that we were facing not too long ago. It suddenly disappeared and a new Avatar of Putin the Devil replaced it. However there is not a single word about the Nuclear Armageddon he promissed (sort of) as if Covid made us all of us resistant to the heat and radiation generated by those blasts. Wonderful world we live in.

  5. Deap says:

    I like the rule I learned here:
    First time is happenstance
    Second time is coincidence
    Third time is enemy action

    Agree, trust but verify. Including verification sources. And thus shall we live in this “Age of Information”.

  6. Tidewater says:

    One of the most enlightening documents I have ever read is to be found in the Public Library of US Diplomacy, which is the formal name for WikiLeaks.

    This is: Cable:08MOSCOW265_a-WikiLeaks

    ‘ NYET MEANS NYET: Russia’s NATO enlargement redlines.’

    Because I have had in past trouble in posting links, I will elaborate a little bit further about what this is, should the interested reader finds he is willing to Google it. Again, it is there under the cable designation that I have given– Cable:08MOSCOW265_a.
    It was sent from the US Embassy in Moscow under the authority of Ambassador William J. Burns, dated February 1, 2008.

    Let me emphasize this: This is 14 years ago!

    I had thought in 2008 with Iran being threatened with aerial bombardment and invasion that the critical focus was appropriately fixed on the Persian Gulf, about which there were a number of alarming diplomatic reports emphasizing American weakness there. At that time I thought Ukraine was rocking along and going through an inevitable adjustment. No, not so, not at all. Wrong.

    Item 5. (c) states: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face. ”

    Then, there is Item 7 (c): “Another issue driving Russian opposition to Ukrainian membership is the significant defense industry cooperation the two countries share, including a number of plants where Russian weapons are made. While efforts are underway to shut down or move most of these plants to Russia, and to move the Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk earlier than the 2017 deadline, the GOR has made clear that Ukraine’s joining NATO would require Russia to make major (costly) changes to its defense industrial cooperation. ”

    There is a good deal more, including the opinion of the director of the NATO Information Office in Moscow that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join NATO!

    One might recall what happened. In August 2008, Russia went into Georgia. Then,
    in February and March of 2014, Russia simplified the entire humiliating and ridiculous disgrace of a forced move out of an old, historic base, one that is the equivalent of the Norfolk NOB and Oceana, out of Sevastopol, and down to the Black Sea’s largest commercial port, which lies outside the Sea of Azov. They used force. They took it. It was and is, after all, THEIRS.

    Next to fall /
    Is Mariupol.

  7. Agee says:

    Having met Kalugin back when he was trying to make his fortune among the Westies I can definitely say that Russian Intel is not what we think. We should not read our own values into another’s culture. The Russkies have their strengths and weaknesses, and proper analysis should be as dispassionate as possible. For example, it was well known and discussed within Soviet sources that the Great Russians could produce good officers and tough enlisted men, but if NCOs were needed, but Tartars were the group to use. Nothing I have seen in the Russian sphere has ever made me doubt that wisdom. The attention to detail that is the hallmark of the NCO corps has and is still lacking in the Russian armed forces. Tough men, smart officers, but don’t expect 100% performance from the equipment, nor quick adaptations to changing conditions. That being said we should prove our assertions with hard data, and not assumptions. We should not expect mistakes on the Intel side from them, nor should we imagine that they will give up and go home should they take losses. And when it comes to Russian Humint, the phrase about enigmas wrapped in enigmas will always hold true.

  8. A. Pols says:

    Vis a vis Occam’s razor, this from Jim Kunstler today

    “The current CIA-approved narrative wants you to believe that Vlad Putin seeks to reassemble the old Soviet Union and will move next to capture the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. I doubt this since all those countries have their own cultures rather emphatically hostile to Russia and required onerous operating subsidies from Moscow back in the Soviet day. Ukraine will surely be enough of a burden for Russia going forward.

    An alternate narrative to the CIA’s scare story would follow the Occam’s Razor rule that the simplest explanation is probably the truth — namely, that there was no other way to stop Ukraine’s shelling and mortar attacks against the ethnic Russian population in the Donbas which, by the way, was carried out with US-gifted armaments. And there was no other way to disabuse the USA from the idea that Ukraine should join NATO and thereby become a missile launching base on Russia’s border.”

    If posting this is against the rules, I am sorry

    • Eric Newhill says:

      A. Pols,

      So on the one hand we have propaganda stories about an unmotivated, confused, drunken, incapable Russian military, led by a mentally deteriorating Putin, unable to defeat the Ukies and, then, on the other hand, Putin is going to keep on marching right into the Baltics like a hot knife through butter. Same people telling both stories (some even here).

      Which is it? That is just one of a myriad of examples of internally inconsistent rhetoric coming from the anti-Russian crowd.

      Replace “duck” with “BS” and “walks like” with “smells like” and Lang’s rules render western reporting and most “experts” et al as embarrassments, charlatans or bunglingly obvious psy-ops implementers.

    • Leith says:

      Jim Kunstler should know better.

      There has been no Ukraine shelling against the ethnic Russian population in the Donbas for the past seven years. They have retaliated against LDR/DNR shelling of the free areas in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, which by the way are also home to many ethnic Russians whose only crime in the eyes of Russia is that they are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

  9. fakebot says:

    Sir, your comment gave me a good, wholehearted chuckle. Hopefully some of us don’t keep disappointing you like oh so many do.

    Also, it came to my attention that American intel weren’t as badly caught with their pants down as the Germans on this Russian invasion business. The Wall St Journal had a report detailing how the head of the BND couldn’t catch a flight back to Berlin once the tanks began rolling in. He had to flee in hours of traffick from Kyiv to the border of Poland. It looks like some lessons were learnt from what happened in Kabul, but still not enough lessons to prevent the tragedy of this invasion.

  10. Shako says:

    During the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Union army intelligence officer Allan Pinkerton expertly informed General George McClellan that he faced 200,000 Confederate troops prior to the Battle of Seven Pines. The Union army was 6 miles from downtown Richmond. The Union army missed its best chance of the entire war to bring the whole mess to an early end. The Confederate army never has an intelligence officer that could equal Pinkerton’s expertise.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Absolute BS. Pinkerton’s “method” was to add all the reported numbers of Confederate troops together and present that as reality to McClellen who wanted believe that he was over-matched by the Johnnies. That gave him an excuse not to attack. Pinkerton was a loser. George Sharpe was the real father of Union Army intelligence.

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