One of the writers on big think began a series on “Lessons from Sherlock Holmes” that explains a bit about the decision making process and the value of things that are missing when analyzing a situation, which also happens to be a very important part of intelligence analysis. Quoted from the post…
When Inspector Gregory asks, “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” Holmes responds, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” But, protests the inspector, “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” To which Holmes delivers the punch line: “That was the curious incident.”
This reminded me of a homicide case I once worked on where it was the lack of actions that really pointed the biggest finger at the suspect. In this particular case a woman killed her husband but claimed they had a fight and he stormed off so she just picked up the pieces and moved on without even one phone call after he left. As the case came together there was a lot of circumstantial evidence that pointed to her but what really stuck out was the absence of phone calls to her husband after he allegedly left the house. Phone traffic between spouses who don’t have a fight is generally pretty high nowadays and when one of them leaves the house after an argument and doesn’t come back you better believe there will be a barrage of calls to follow. In the end she was found guilty and is serving a very long sentence at one of our fine correctional facilities where she still professes her innocence.
A more recent case that didn’t have the same outcome and had a huge outpouring of public dissatisfaction (due at least in part to the Nancy Grace factor) so much so that I won’t bother mentioning it by name, all centered around the absence of a missing child report for some 30 days. While the evidence presented in the case didn’t amount to enough for a jury to come back with a guilty verdict it was this lack of action by the defendant that sparked all the rancor and is probably what caused much of the discontent with the verdict.
As analysts, and in every type of investigation, it’s important to point out the things that are missing since they often prove to be the most important yet the easiest to overlook.