Stories about Stories

This first story harks back to the era of the Iran-Iraq war. As recounted by sociologist Gary Klein in his Decision Making in Complex Military Environments,[1] it goes like this:

In an incident in which Iranian F-4s had taken off and were circling near an AEGIS cruiser, the CO [commanding officer] of the cruiser used their flight paths, radar activities, and so forth to build a plausible story of how they were just harassing him. The different observations fit this story well. Another possible story was that they were preparing to attack him, which was also plausible since they had turned on their fire control radar to lock on to his ship. However, the CO did not believe this second story, since the behavior of the F-4s was so brazen, so attention-gathering, that he could not imagine a serious pilot preparing an attack in this way. The CO needed to prepare for an attack, and did so, but he held his fire, despite provocation, since he did not believe that the attack story was plausible.

So, here we’ve got a seasoned naval officer, in command of several hundred million dollars worth of missile cruiser, and responsible for Lord knows how many lives, steaming straight into a powder-keg confrontation, and what does he do? He makes up stories!

So … What’s going on here?


[1] Gary Klein, Final Report: Decision Making in Complex Military Environments, (Contract N66001-90-C-6023 for the Naval Command, Control and Ocean Surveillance Center, San Diego CA), Klein Associates Inc., Fairborn OH: 1992. (See also: