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[FOUNTAIN]How not to use a mirror

Jan 15,2003
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)"

This biblical phrase is carved on the portal of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters located in Langley, Virginia, in the United States. The Book of John contains the story of Jesus Christ performing a miracle by bringing a dead man back to life. The CIA seems to be telling its members to treat intelligence like the truth, because intelligence protects the life of the United States.

A nation's intelligence activities consist of four branches: intelligence gathering, information analysis, undercover operation and anti-espionage. Researchers say being seduced by one's own "mirror image" is a key cause of intelligence failure. This refers to a phenomenon in which intelligence analysts are captured by their own way of thinking and fail to see the enemy as it is.

The analyst's mentality is compared with that of Narcissus, a handsome youth in Greek mythology who was fascinated by his own appearance reflected on the surface of a pool of water. He drowns himself to gain freedom from self worship. In psychoanalysis, the infantile ego-forming period, from 6 months to 18 months after birth, is called the "mirror stage."

Intelligence experts cite the 1973 surprise attack by Egypt-Syria forces on Israel as a prime example of intelligence failure, resulting from the mirror image phenomenon. At that time Israel concluded that Arab nations would not bring on a war they could not win. Right before the surprise attack, General Moshe Dyan was assured that "since Israel has the advantage in armed forces and Arab nations know this, they will not take hostile action." Actually Egypt's president, Anwar al Sadat, shared General Dyan's assessment. But the Egyptian leader concluded that a war was needed to correct the imbalance. The intelligence failure by Israel was due to the naive assumption that Mr. Sadat would be rational like Israel.

Analyses are rife on North Korea's intention to announce its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The majority of them seem to construe the North's intention as a ploy toward the United States for a guarantee of the North's security. Is this the mirror image effect, judging Pyeongyang on the basis of our own rationality? That one day North Korea may announce, "We have nuclear weapons" is horrible to contemplate.


by Chun Young-gi

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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