How Spies Think: 10 Lessons in Intelligence

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An online presentation by Sir David Omand GCB, Distinguished Fellow, RUSI and former UK Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, on how the methodology used by the British intelligence agencies to reach judgements, establish the right level of confidence and act decisively can be applied to everyday life.  

Members can watch the event by logging in and returning to this page. 

Intelligence officers discern the truth. They gather information - often contradictory or incomplete - and, with it, they build the most accurate possible image of the world. With the stakes at their absolute highest, they must then decide what to do.

In everyday life, you are faced with contradictory, incomplete information, too. Reading the news on social media, figuring out the next step in your career, or trying to discover if gossip about a friend is legitimate, you are building an image of the world and making decisions about it.

Sir David Omand discussed how the big decisions in your life will be easier to make when you apply the same frameworks used by British intelligence. Drawing on material from his latest book, How Spies Think, and revealing examples from his distinguished career, including key briefings with Prime Ministers from Thatcher to Blair, and conflicts from the Falklands to Afghanistan, Sir David demonstrated how to sort fact from fiction and how to use real intelligence every day.

Sir David Omand GCB is a Visiting Professor in the War Studies Department, King's College London and at PSIA Sciences-Po in Paris where he teaches intelligence studies. He has been a Vice-President of RUSI and is now a Distinguished Fellow. His posts in government service included UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator, Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and Director of GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence and cyber-security organisation. In the Ministry of Defence he served as Deputy Under Secretary of State for Policy and as Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State. He is the Senior Independent Director of Babcock International Group plc and is on the senior advisory board of Paladin Capital Group investing in the cybersecurity sector. He is the author of Securing the State (Hurst 2010) and Principled Spying: The Ethics of Secret Intelligence (OUP 2018). His next book, How Spies Think: 10 Lessons in Intelligence, is being published by Penguin Viking on 29 October 2020.

The webinar was moderated by Lord Evans of Weardale KCB DL, Distinguished Fellow, RUSI and former Director General of the British Security Service (MI5).

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