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15. Question What You Hear or Read

People are influenced by all sorts stimuli whether that is hearing and reading or seeing and smelling. These influences shape the way we think about the world and the way we approach what we do, daily, weekly and beyond.

My time spent in Marine Corps Intelligence and working intelligence at the FBI taught me well to question the sources of information that I ingest.

Why?

Information, is not the same thing as knowledge

Unless we remain vigilant, information that we see printed or heard unduly influences us to believe that something is true. Without having performed any work, we naturally want to take information and call it knowledge.

Yet, this is an assumption that has many layers of assumptions that work against you. Here is a small list of assumptions that can back fire:

  • The organization that provides the medium hasn’t modified or held back relevant information before making it available.
  • The writer or reporter does not have ulterior motives that benefit them by providing you with that information over others.
  • The writer or reporter actually has access to the information that they are providing.
  • The writer or reporter is consistent in keeping the facts straight.

The military is stringent about who’s information is trusted, should be too.

Trust forms the bed rock of our relationships. Military intelligence provides “source bylines” that, depending on your clearance, will provide you will insight into who or what is providing the information. In the world of human intelligence (humint), these source bylines are the life and blood of whether or not a source’s information is trusted.

These humint handlers, as they’re called, manage the source to make sure they are collecting what is needed for the people that need the information. It is their job, to provide accurate information about the source itself. These human intelligence professionals, even request the sources provide proof of access and information validity if they want to maintain their relationship. Here are a few questions they answer.

  • Has this person reported information before?
  • Does this person have first hand access to the information reported, or did they hear it?
  • Has the information this person provided been verified either now or in the past?
  • What are the reasons they are providing this information?

Intelligence goes to these great lengths because they know how bad information actually is.

Information, is just information. It doesn’t mean its true. It doesn’t mean its helpful. Just because its information doesn’t mean it helps you make decisions about how you ought to think of the world you actually occupy.

It’s just information.

Intelligence agencies guard certain information because the information is actually valuable, yet majority of information is not.

Upon arriving home from Afghanistan in late 2009 after spending nearly a year conducting intelligence (collection and analysis) on state and local government officials, tribal leaders, and local war lords it was a major wake up call to see how those back home accept the information they receive. Any information, is valuable information, and the information that caters to what is already believed, the more credible.

When information matters, this is a dangerous behavior.

A simple tip. Raise your standards of what you know, and value what you know over what you have read or heard.

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