Assessing “Reflections on Net Assessment” by Andrew W. Marshall, Edited by Jeffrey S. McKitrick and Robert G. Angevine

Phil Walter is the founder of Divergent Options.  Divergent Optionscontent does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing “Reflections on Net Assessment” by Andrew W. Marshall, Edited by Jeffrey S. McKitrick and Robert G. Angevine

Date Originally Written:  October 16, 2022.

Date Originally Published:  December 19, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a graduate of the American Academy for Strategic Education’s Net Assessment and Competitive Strategy course.  The author is fortunate to count members and alumni of the Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment as friends and mentors.  Mr. Marshall’s idea regarding the Office of Net Assessment being “diagnostic but not prescriptive” is what inspired the author to start the website Divergent Options.  The author was contacted by The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation[1], asked to review this book, and provided a free copy of it.

Summary:  U.S. national security is recovering from over twenty years of Instant Gratification Warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The threat posed by the People’s Republic of China requires the U.S. to think in decades instead of in deployment cycles, and develop strategies and plans in an integrated manner.  “Reflection on Net Assessment” is the perfect book for someone who needs to shake off organizationally-incentivized impatience and focus on long-term threats.

Text:  Andrew W. Marshall was born in 1921 and worked at the RAND Corporation in the 1950s and 1960s.  In the late 1960s, Henry Kissinger recruited Andy to apply his approaches in the National Security Council, where Andy worked for several years before becoming the first Director of Net Assessment, a post he held for the next 43 years.  Andy retired from government service in 2015 at the age of 94 and dedicated the remaining four years of his life to supporting all those who sought his counsel and writing his own short essays on the history and practice of defense analysis[2].     

The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation and the Institute for Defense Analyses[3] released “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall[4],” on October 4, 2022.  The book features twelve interviews with Mr. Marshall that were conducted between 1993 and 1999 by defense analyst Kurt Guthe and others.  These interviews discuss Mr. Marshall’s 25 years at the RAND Corporation, and over 40 years in the Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment.  The interviews were woven together by Jeffrey S. McKitrick and Robert G. Angevine and each interview is preceded by a description of world events happening at the time.  These descriptions help frame the reader’s mindset before the interview transcript begins.

For those who have not heard of the term Net Assessment, Department of Defense Directive 5111.11 defines it as “[T]he comparative analysis of military, technological, political, economic, and other factors governing the relative military capability of nations. Its purpose is to identify problems and opportunities that deserve the attention of senior defense officials.”  The Secretary of Defense assigned the Director of Net Assessment the responsibility to “Develop and coordinate independent net assessments of the standing trends, and future prospects of U.S. military capabilities and national potential in comparison with those of other countries or groups of countries so as to identify emerging or future threats or opportunities for the United States, consistent with the April 14, 2017 and October 1, 2019 Secretary of Defense Memorandums. Pursuant to Section 904(b) of Public Law 113-291, these net assessments may be communicated to the Secretary of Defense, without obtaining the approval or concurrence of any other DoD official.”  The net assessments include “current and projected U.S. and foreign military capabilities by theater, region, domain, function, or mission; and specific current and projected U.S. and foreign capabilities, operational concepts, doctrine, and weapon systems[5].”

We are all products of the time in which we live.  In my case, I grew up during the Cold War and participated in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The problem U.S. national security currently faces is that the intellectual underpinnings for the U.S. strategy that won the Cold War came from a generation that won a war.  The intellectual underpinnings for today’s strategies for the U.S. to compete with China and Russia come from a generation that lost two Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.  In the context of U.S. national security having to re-learn Cold War techniques and determine if they are applicable to our present national security situation, this book will help immensely.

The twelve interviews in this book are an absolute treasure.  These interviews illustrate Mr. Marshall’s mindset, and how this mindset evolved over time based on both external national security stimuli and internal bureaucratic friction.  Someone reading this book will close the cover on the last page having not only received a class from a master of strategic thought but will have also learned how to survive and make progress in a large bureaucracy taking into account that “There is only so much stupidity one man can prevent[6].”

Mr. Marshall was highly motivated to ask the right question.  He believed that “Poor, mediocre answers to good questions are more important than getting splendid answers to poor questions.  That means that getting the questions right is very, very important.  Most analysis spends far too little time on what the questions really are[7].”  Mr. Marshall also believed that getting the right people in the room to discuss a topic was a must, even if these people were outside of his organization.  He believed that “…the objective in any analysis is to do the best that this country can do, not just the best that RAND or whatever organization you’re talking about can do[8].”  Mr. Marshall disliked it when organizations would “…rather die than bring in anybody else[9],” and discusses his views on how the Central Intelligence Agency became more insular and therefore less impactful over time.   

Mr. Marshall believed that there were people who focused on reality and wanted to know how the world really functioned and those who focused on their models or hypotheses and barely looked at the world[10].  This reality drove him to observe that during the Cold War there was a tendency “…to treat the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance as a real alliance, rather than the situation of a major power and a bunch of protectorates[11].”  Office of Net Assessment research during the Cold War reflected realities such as the Soviet Navy having more weapons than sensors to find targets and Israel and Egypt having the same number of tanks during the 1973 war but Israel’s tanks were able to get into battle three times if damaged and Egypt’s only once[12].  

Imposing cost on a competitor is discussed throughout the book and Mr. Marshall even looks at health care and environmental pollution as factors that the Soviet Union may have to address ahead of military investment[13].  Regarding Soviet operations in Afghanistan, Mr. Marshall speaks to measuring costs from a Soviet perspective, and trying to determine what costs meant the most to them, instead of what costs would mean the most to the U.S. if it were in the same situation[14].

My biggest take away from this book is the idea that, if the U.S. competition with the Soviet Union began in 1947, the impacts of U.S. strategies began to be felt by the Soviets in 1977.  These impacts set the conditions for the 1980s Cost Imposition and Competitive Strategies approaches, neither of which would have worked in the 1950s or 1960s when the Soviet economy was strong.  U.S. national security personnel would do well to embrace this timeline when thinking about the People’s republic of China.  Overall, I found this book to be highly interesting, extremely motivating, and very applicable to current events.  While most of us never met Mr. Marshall, this book gives us the opportunity to learn an immense amount from him.   

“So I have come away, really for the rest of my life, with the belief that what should happen is, if you have a problem, you get the very best people to work on it, and it doesn’t matter if they’re in your organization or not[15].” 


[1] The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation can be found at:

[2] About Andrew W. Marshall, The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation,

[3] The Institute for Defense Analyses can be found at:

[4] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, can be found at:

[5] DoD Directive 5111,11, “Director of Net Assessment,” April 14, 2020, can be found at:

[6] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 14,

[7] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 16,

[8] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 18,

[9] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 18,

[10] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 63,

[11] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 61,

[12] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 199,

[13] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 198,

[14] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 229,

[15] “Reflections on Net Assessment: Interviews with Andrew W. Marshall,” ISBN-13: 9780578384221, Page 65-66,

Andrew W. Marshall Assessment Papers DoD Office of Net Assessment Jeffrey S. McKitrick Phil Walter Robert G. Angevine

Book Review: “Victor in the Jungle” by Alex Finley

Phil Walter is the founder of  All of his written works and podcasts, which do not contain information of an official nature, can be found at  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


With this opening paragraph I am very pleased to announce to the reader that Victor Caro is back! What? You have never heard of Victor Caro? Aah, well then I am duty bound to bring you up to speed. Victor Caro is a Case Officer with the CYA who hunted down the terrorist Omar al-Suqqit during his tour in West Africa. But, in the case of Victor, it wasn’t the capturing of al-Suqqit that was the victory. Instead, Victor’s victory was overcoming the bureaucracy of both the CYA and the Intelligence Über Director (IUD) who together worried more about receipts for expenditures than recruiting spies to steal secrets and capturing the baddies.

On a more serious note, Victor Caro is a fictional character invented by Alex Finley (, a former officer in the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Directorate of Operations. Victor made his debut in Alex’s first book, “Victor in the Rubble,” which was a joy to read and a true satire focused on CIA human intelligence (HUMINT) activities. As I had leaned on Alex in the past for writing advice with my own fictional pursuits, she was kind enough to send me an advance copy of her second book, “Victor in the Jungle,” and I am pleased to review it here as a one-time deviation from Divergent Options’ regular content.

“Victor in the Jungle” takes place seven or so years after the first book and finds Victor married with one child and assigned to Guyandes, a fictional country in South America. In this book the reader bears witness to the efforts of Victor and his colleagues to break up an alliance between one country’s charismatic autocrat and a narco-trafficking revolutionary group in the country next door. When Victor and his team aren’t enough, he enlists help from his wife who has just the connections needed to accomplish the mission.

“Victor in the Jungle” brought me joy and tears (of both laughter and sadness) in a similar manner to the first book. This time around we get to meet a cast of characters that I submit most people who have worked in or around HUMINT are well aware of. CYA Case Officer Mike pursues and achieves promotion despite his only operational experience being in a cubicle in Iraq where he occasionally recruited a walk-in source. Frank is a CYA Contractor who, when he is not loving on different women who all share the name Maria, provides security for Victor. Simon is a tech-guru from Des Moines, Iowa but insists that he be called See-mone, as is the local custom. Adam is a CYA Case Officer on his first tour, and not yet as experienced (read: jaded) as Victor. Sergio works on a floor of the Embassy that does not exist and, despite his unconventional appearance, provides Victor and his colleagues the additional intelligence information they need to succeed.

All of the preceding characters work for the Chief of Station Patrón, a highly accomplished CYA Case Officer who, having angered the CYA Director, chose to be Chief of Station in Guyandes as a way to lay low until the political winds changed. I smiled widely when Victor once overhears Patrón on the phone saying “Of course I drank it! He was a murderous drug dealer, I didn’t want to offend him,” as, in HUMINT, rapport can be everything. I loved reading about Patron, not only because I know people who have needed to lay low for a while, but also how he expertly employed his personnel in accordance with their capabilities. Patrón directs one of this Case Officers to pursue things that don’t matter on the ground but matter to the CYA Director (we call these low-hanging fruit) so the rest of the team can be left alone to do real work.

While I enjoyed reading about each of these characters, my favorite part of the book was watching Victor’s wife, who I shall not name as maybe you are familiar with her from the first book, “Victor in the Rubble,” navigate the world of a CYA dependent. At one point Victor’s wife exclaims “It’s like fucking Real Housewives, U.S. Embassy Edition.” Victor’s wife adjusts to her new life amidst a fellow CYA dependent who addresses every Guyanden as “Jorge” despite what their real name may be and the music of Eminem blasting at maximum watts from the Marine House.

Alex Finley described writing “Victor in the Rubble” as a catharsis. She describes writing “Victor in the Jungle” as pure fun. In both cases, I can see why. For me, reading both books made me feel at home, motivated, disgusted, and laugh out loud. In chapter 12 of “Victor in the Jungle” I came across a word that is extremely obscure and only used by those in HUMINT (can you find it?). This word caused me to laugh so loud my daughter asked me what was so funny. Later, in chapter 27, I swallowed hard as prior to a high risk meeting Victor tells his team “I’ll see you at the site. If they try to kidnap me, don’t let them take me alive.” My hard swallow was based upon me delivering similar direction to my team in one of my previous lives.

The book ends with, well, I am not going to tell you how it ends. But I will say this, I look forward to Victor’s next posting, which might be his retirement tour. How will things go at this next posting? We don’t know. Will Victor be able to adjust to eventual retirement? Time will tell. Well, time won’t tell, but author Alex Finley will. Also, I hope to attend the “Victor in the Jungle” book launch party ( in Washington DC on June 7, 2019 — maybe Alex Finley will be able to explain to me exactly what Victor’s “Swedish Porn Vest” looked like.

Phil Walter

Divergent Options on The Loopcast


On June 11, 2017 the Divergent Options Team of Phil Walter, Steve Leonard, and Bob Hein joined Chelsea Damon and Sina Kashefipour of The Loopcast for a 62 minute discussion of the origin and intent behind Divergent Options.

You can access the podcast via the The Loopcast here, download the MP3 here, or access it via iTunes here.

If you enjoy The Loopcast please consider making a donation to support it via Patreon.

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70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act



On July 26, 1947, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 into law.  The National Security Act of 1947 mandated a major reorganization of the foreign policy and military establishments of the U.S. Government.  The act created many of the institutions that Presidents found useful when formulating and implementing foreign policy, including the National Security Council[1].  As July 26, 2017, marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of this historic document Divergent Options is holding a writing contest.


Using our Options Paper template or Assessment Paper template, in 1,000 words or less, provide your assessment or options for how the National Security Act of 1947, or portions thereof, could be re-written to address better the threats, challenges, and opportunities the U.S. faces in the ever-changing national security environment.


Divergent Options will accept entries for 70 days beginning on July 26 and ending on October 4th, 2017.


Divergent Options’ Strategic Advisory Board will review all entries and award First Place ($100), Second Place ($50) and Third Place (Divergent Options Coffee Mug) in each of the following award categories:

1.  Best Overall Option Paper

2.  Option Paper Most Able to be Implemented

3.  Most Disruptive Option Paper

All submissions, regardless of whether they win an award or not, will be published.

Submission Procedures:

A.  Review our templates.

B.  Send your 1,000 words or less to between July 26 and October 4th, 2017 and note which award category you wish to be considered for.


–  National Security Act of 1947

–  National Intelligence Council Global Trends Report


[1]  Milestones 1945-1952, National Security Act of 1947. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Contest (General) Option Papers Phil Walter United States

Divergent Options Social Event – Thursday, April 27, 2017 – 6pm to 8pm – Arlington, VA


Divergent Options will be hosting a social event on Thursday, April 27, 2017, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm in Arlington, Virginia.  The location of the event is somewhere along the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Orange Line.

How do you find out the specific location?

Send an e-mail to RSVP to:

We look forward to meeting many of you in person, sharing ideas, and discussing writing opportunities.


Phil Walter Social Event

Divergent Options on Blogs of War / Covert Contact Podcast


On February 12, 2017, Divergent Options’ Founder Phil Walter appeared on the Blogs of War / Covert Contact podcast where for 25 minutes he discussed the origins and intent behind Divergent Options.

You can listen to the podcast on the Covert Contact webpage or click here.

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