“Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t After You.”
                                             -Joseph Heller

War Gaming – Red Cell

Red cell, the U.S. military does it, elements of the federal and state government do it, and so should you.  What is it?  War-gaming to assess where you stand in the market with competitors.  Red Team-Blue Team exercises take their name from their military antecedents. The idea is simple: One group of professionals, a red cell, attacks an opposing group, a blue team, to assess their security posture.  Originally, the exercises were used by the military to test force-readiness. They have also been used to test the physical security of sensitive sites like nuclear facilities and the Department of Energy’s Laboratories and Technology Centers.

The Rand Corporation has been partnering with Israel Democracy Institute for over two decades looking at the modern state of war and the militant guerrilla fighter.  Their conclusions are very eye-opening.  Asymmetric warfare has dominated the U.S. and Israeli experience for several decades and that is unlikely to change.

Strategies for combating an asymmetric enemy must simultaneously address military, diplomatic, public media, and legal fronts.  Due to its nature and non-repetitive patterns it is difficult to properly identify war aims, the definition of victory, and how to terminate a asymmetric war.  Asymmetric wars are inherently protracted and often open-ended and pose military challenges that often threaten the core values of a democratic country as it seeks to protect its citizens from a terrorist attack.  There is no simple legal regime for asymmetric warfare and the laws of war and international humanitarian protection apply in different circumstances with different effects.


The attacks on September 11th 2001 were the personification of asymmetrical warfare, where unconventional strategies and tactics were adopted because the military capabilities of the belligerents were unequal.  Because the weaker force is unable to mount a conventional attack with little assurance of success, the tactics and targets evolve to identify soft targets or to employee unconventional methods of attack.

In 2001, the day after the 9-11 attacks, senior leaders within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) met with the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) to discuss the “next attack.”  The overall assessment by the Intelligence Community was that future attacks were imminent.  The CIA needed to ascertain the full range of these potential threats and to then prepare for those types of attacks. This type of thinking needed to be way “outside of the box” and far more paranoid in scope and detail regarding use of high-tech weaponry.

To battle, this different style of terror attack,  the DCI needed a new form of analysis and a new type of thinking.  He put together a group of trailblazing polarizing visionaries who were called crazy as often as they were brilliant.  Much like the ancient Oracle of Delphi, they would foresee the opportunities that Al-Qaeda might use to attack the United States again.  This group of contrarian thinkers challenged conventional wisdom within the intelligence community and brought a unique way of conducting threat assessments to the table.  The DCI’s orders were simple, “Tell us things we don’t want to hear, the things that others don’t want to tell us and make this government uncomfortable.”

Red Cell

Out of that was born the CIA’s “Red Cell”.  It serves one purpose and one purpose alone, to generate “alternative analysis.”  This almost stand-alone element focused on “what if scenarios,” Blue Team vs. Red Team exercises, and pre-mortem analysis of all operations.  The Red Cell uses analytical teams to envision failed projects or disintegrating organizations.  They work backwards to determine what it takes to make something fail.  They identify gaps in planning, assess weaknesses, and consider every conceivable way a plan can fail.

The initial goal of the Red Cell was to get a fresh set of eyes on every plan and to turn loose aggressive minds to reconsider every angle of a new terror attack.  These creative people would look at existing reports, take them apart and reassemble them for uses in a variety of different ways.  A senior member of the DCI’s advisory board said “The DCI wanted to tick off the Agency’s senior analysts. If the Red Cell wasn’t doing that, then it wasn’t doing its job.” In the beginning, the Red Cell had no terrorism subject matter experts and only a few Middle East specialists. The people chosen for the Red Cell were picked for their individual creativity, analytical quirks, an out of the box thinking style and proven capabilities to re-imagine creative planning in new and different ways.  They were a hodgepodge of analytical naysayers, eavesdroppers and covert action operators who refused to be squeezed into a traditional mold.

As predicted, there were senior members of the Directorate of Intelligence (the element at the Agency responsible for reports and analysis) who were seriously “ticked off.” How dare a bunch “cowboys” question their work, their years of experience or their proven product.  The freedom of thought within the Red Cell generated some very interesting memos and more than one credible hypothesis.  There were reports entitled “How Osama Might Try to Sink the US Economy”, “The View from Inside Osama’s Cave,” and “What if Foreigners See the United States as an ‘Exporter of Terrorism’?”

Every Red Cell report was and still is preceded by the following caveat: “This document was prepared by the CIA Red Cell, which has been charged by the Director of Intelligence with taking a pronounced ‘out-of-the-box’ approach that will provoke thought and offer an alternative viewpoint on the full range of analytic issues.”

Deep Understanding

As said, the first Red Cell team was selected for their originality, analytical genius, a knowledge of history, understanding global affairs and their unique ways of looking at the world. Today Red Cell analysts are tasked by upcoming events, mainstream news, social media and talks with eclectic experts from every fathomable discipline.  Today the Red Cell is one of the most respected elements within the intelligence community.  The Red Cell hosts an annual “Idea-Palooza” to generate even more creative thinking every year.

The ingenuity within the RED Cell has influenced the entire intelligence community and has built bridges with other elements in the intelligence world, especially the semi-independent “red teams” hosted by the Department of Defense.

Traditional intelligence and defense analysts do not have the luxury to use alternative analysis because they are focused on “mainline” or authoritative analysis, intended to interpret current reality for policymakers.  These “safe to fail” environments within a Red Cell allows unconventional analysis, eclectic planning and the ability to dissect and reassemble any potential threat.

Red Cell for Business

Business is not war, but, like war, business does operate in a constantly changing environment where the failure to innovate can see a company get left behind or dry up.  That’s where a Red Cell capability can enhance value to your business.  If you are the CEO of a company deciding whether or not to launch a new product, what analytical structure would you apply to anticipate challenges and why? How can your company avoid stagnation and future proof itself?

Generally, large organizations are tied to old ideas and one dominant mental model. Establishing a “free thinking” Red Cell team within your group will keep your company honest with itself, adaptable to change and far surer of its decisions in an uncomfortable business environment.

Business intelligence while somewhat more free-ranging still requires the analyst to create a measurable yardstick using authoritative analysis.  Like their colleagues in the intelligence community, business analysts use the tools they were taught and know, like SWOT or VRIO.

A business plan must assess both its corporate strategy and its competitive strategy.  The corporate strategy defines the markets and the businesses the company will pursue based on its VRIO assessment.   The company’s competitive strategy is defined by it’s our own uniqueness and its products based on the SWOT analysis of the company and its competitor’s.  Traditional business intelligence does not consider much less budget for alternative analysis, where is the profit!  Innovation is only useful if it increases profit or improves the R&D process.

Here is what the Red Cell analysis taught the CIA.  Innovative organizations who are secure with the uncomfortable will flourish, because it’s business as usual for them. They avoid stagnation by considering the “what ifs” and look at all the conceivable ways a plan can fail.  They take any plan completely apart and then reassemble it to be utilized in a different way.  A good Red Cell assessment is science fiction to stir the mind.


The majority of Trident Response Group’s staff come from the special operations community.  Special operation teams approach problems with a unique mindset, resolve the issue.  They are trained physically & mentally to respond to multiple emergencies at the same time.  They focus on the details and they see the possibilities, flaws, opportunities & mistakes in everything they do.  They apply the same attention to detail in everything their enemies do or have done.  They are designed to serve as special advisers to foreign militaries and indigenous government officials.

We have over 100 years of combined operational experience in 80 plus countries at Trident Response Group.  We would like to invite you down to talk about how Red Cell analysis and Red Cell Team Building Events can help your business and give you a tour of our unique facility, while introducing you to alternative analysis as well as our other services.


“Sometimes Paranoia’s Just Having All The Facts.”

                                                                     – William S. Burroughs