Cyber CSS Blog

Bias and Misperception in Cyberspace

Image courtesy of DVIDS/Alexis Flores

This article was originally published by the Real Elcano Institute on 17 March 2020.


With cyber operations serving as an instrument of foreign policy, it is fair to posit that cognitive factors that account for behavior in the physical domain are equally applicable to cyberspace.

We Are All Cognitive Misers

Many experts jumped to early conclusions in Oslo, claiming that the attacks carried the “fingerprints” of al-Qaeda and “global jihad”. Photo: flickr/jcoterhals

In a blog I wrote for the other week I discussed the intelligence community’s preoccupation with Islamist political extremism. This preoccupation, I argued, is a manifestation of an obsession with global Jihad in academic discourse and open source intelligence (OSINT) gathering. I argued that, in the former case, this hampers academic progress and, in the latter, undermines security.

When intelligentsia and intelligence services speak of “terrorism,” it often carries the connotation of Islamist political extremism. However, as a couple of scholars with NUPI, an ISN partner, concluded in a report: although figures of speech contribute to the cognitive dimension of meaning by helping us to recognize the equivalence to which we are committed, cognitive shortcuts or ‘heuristics’, raise problems and do little to increase our understanding of terrorism as a phenomenon. In fact, cognitive shortcuts are counterproductive of why we study terrorism, namely, to enhance security.