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15 March 2006

Every imagined threat now real

What has become clear is that the world changed irrevocably on the morning of 11 September. What is less clear is what shape the new world will take. We have left the transition time of the post-Cold War inter-war years, a time like so many before it when Americans attempted to turn swords to ploughshares and seek peace in our time.

It was not to be.

What we are left with is the legacy of ten years of military cut-backs, the history of a ten-fold increase in expeditionary operations and military deployments in support of various flavors of interventions. What we have inherited is a cumbersome and peacetime bureaucratic structure that is increasingly shown as unsuited for the wars we are to wage now, even as the warriors who are at the sharp end of the spear fight on brilliantly despite seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Yet in the wake of this radical, soul-wrenching paradigm shift imposed upon us in the blaze of aviation fuel and fundamentalist fervor, we struggle to comprehend the nature of this new world. Despite endless chattering commentary from media talking heads, despite reams of paper generated seemingly overnight by countless policy pundits, and despite all of the dire predictions and even more strident hand wringing, we are further away from a real understanding than ever before.

Al Qaeda is now a household word. Madrassas are now longer cocktails, or foreign dresses on the runways of last year’s spring fashion show. And almost everyone has an opinion on the state of the US intelligence community, even if they have never even met a single person so employed. But none of this addresses what will happen the day after tomorrow. When the smoke clears, the threats will remain, merely wearing different faces.

In this, we can still see no more than twelve hours ahead, perhaps at best a day. These indicators are clear, and for the most part as unambiguous as predictive analysis ever gets. No crystal ball, electronic or otherwise, will allow us to peer further through the fog of war. The layers of complexity are too great, and we are overtaken by events at such a speed, that it is difficult even to predict the timing of the next lateral change - let alone the direction. Military tribunals. Civil rights objections are raised to federal law enforcement actions by city officials. The security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is questioned. Strategic arms limitation treaty objections are raised to block transfers of UAV’s to long-standing allies, and lawyers are standing behind shooters already committed to engagements.

From the present moment, the progression of events to this end is at the very least knowable, even if the full details remain obscured. To find one person that could have predicted the course of that progression even a year ago is an impossible task. A few one-eyed visionaries, howling alone in the wilderness, foresaw certain elements. In the distance, baying is still audible, although it is hard to distinguish from the cacophony.

Those nightmares are now the factors with which we grapple daily.

Superterror has emerged, long-anticipated though it was. Whether one argues that this was foretold in Aum Shrinkyo’s Tokyo attacks, or Oklahoma City, no terrorist actor has ever inflicted such damage in a single day. Weapons of mass destruction have been used by non-state actors against a civilian population – and not for the first time, though it’s hard to find many that are aware of this. And a superpower has gone to war against a non-state actor and its sponsors – also not for the first time. (Although the US was not even a great power when a tiny fleet mounted the first expeditionary operation against the Barbary pirates.)

For years, though, these nightmares have been projected, posited, and professional dissected. They have been written about, briefed, and even scripted (no matter that the film options are worth but a fraction of their former value in the current box office climate.) We have discussed, in committee and in closed session, the ramifications of child soldiers, fundamentalist propaganda, drug wars, death cults, and proliferation in all of its various forms. We have argued policy, debated sanctions, and disregarded analysis in favor of media fads and dot-com solutions. Argumentation has replaced academic rigor, and multiculturalism ended the ability to produce objective cultural intelligence.

It is not now enough to merely acknowledge that we no longer face imagined chimeras. We struggle to even adequately describe today’s threats, even despite the body of literature accumulated about them. And while we will prevail against today’s enemy, which has shown itself, there remain the unseen host that have not. A tactic is merely knowledge, and history has proven that tactics will be quickly adopted beyond those that spawned them. The feared Encyclopedia of the Jihad is no more sophisticated than any of a dozen clandestine manuals from the past three or four decades of worldwide insurgency and anarchism. We are but lucky that the current opposition force has fared no better at distinguishing the relevant from the inane, and internet hoaxes from weapons design notes. Tomorrow’s OPFOR will be better. We do not have the luxury of discovering this after the fact.

Conventional wisdom agrees that 11 September represented an unprecedented catalyst for change. Certainly, it will forever be a reminder of the dangers of complacency. But then again, so is Pearl Harbor. So the outstanding question that remains – where is this transformation? When will the cycle of incremental evolution be broken? When will the old, oft-mentioned futures be shattered in favor of a long look into the void of the unknown?

It is not assured how much longer we can afford to wait. We have been welcomed, as the line from the movie goes, to the desert of the real – an information sphere inundated with countless grains of worthless dross, devoid of knowledge. We are dying for meaning, for relevance, for foresight. Unfortunately, this transformation will not come through reorganizations, or through the creation of new task forces and the commissioning of new panels. It is not going to be achieved in a budget meeting, or a congressional hearing.

Transformation awaits in the unconventional, the untested, and the unanticipated. The keys are hidden in the minds of the next-generation, those who have been born into a world never having known life without a computer, or the Internet. It lives in the implicit understanding of those that have navigated the complex web of affinity groups and trust networks since they learned how to type, have made friends they have never met and have become accustomed to a world of disposable identities and nested layers of duality. Change will be driven by those that have never known a static world, let alone a static threat environment, to whom access to the five thousand channel universe is not marketing hype but is as essential as breathing. They are the generation that expects no federal assistance upon retirement, and cannot even conceive of lifetime employment.

Transformation lurks in those that haven’t ever stopped moving, that are too busy doing to manage, teach, or even take the time to record their lessons learned. These are the people who call themselves Americans but haven’t set foot on US soil for years if not decades, who speak a half-dozen languages but are ignored because none are the language of today’s crisis. They are the ones that have first hand foreign experience, have traveled and met those whom others have only read about. They are the ones that have been given no incentive to be a part of the intelligence community, and have never received even embassy support when they needed it. They have crossed borders in places where paperwork is as unnecessary and foreign as indoor plumbing, found business opportunities in the bars of hotels no government worker could ever afford to stay – and all the while learning countless things that would be of great benefit to their homeland’s intelligence and national security apparatus. The transformation they offer is not the fuzzy academic “multiculturalism”, but it is the hard-learned lessons of those who have had to adapt or die in a foreign place.

Transformation is also hidden in those that today have become marginalized, the ones that didn’t buckle under a decade of political correctness. These are the ones whose careers didn’t advance because they weren’t looking to get into management, because they were obsessed with their work. They are the ones whose most important contributions have always been in the footnotes, or scrawled on Post-It notes stuck to the walls of the corner cubicle. Transformation lies in the answers to all of their frustrations at the short-sighted, budget and vision limited failures of the past decade. And they do have answers, despite many assertions that they are but pessimists. It is that worldview that has allowed them to survive, driving them onward because negative morale is the only kind they could find. They have endured forced confinement in a box, which they never even learned to recognize as part of their thinking, only through proving quietly time and again that they were right when everyone doubted, even if after the fact no one remembered. They are the few that have never sought a rice bowl of their own, let alone demanded protection for an iron one.

This is not merely a change in counter-terrorism strategy, or in homeland security organization. It cannot be a re-allocation of warfighting resources, or a tactical shift to a new weapons system or force protection policy. It must start with intelligence, because it is intelligence that will lead it and drive it forward. But it cannot just stop there. It must translate into policy, and more importantly, the perspective to guide our defense, national security, and foreign engagement decisions in the future.

This transformation is not something that will occur overnight. It’s not something that will happen by itself. It must be sought out, encouraged, even purchased at a great human and institutional cost. But these costs must be weighed against the inevitable consequences should transformation fail, consequences no amount of planning or management will be sufficient to mitigate.

The paradigm shift has not yet happened. Its potential has only been imagined.

God speed the day.

11 March 2006

Technical expertise and leveraged accounts

It is interesting to note the continued closing of the gap between the US’s acknowledged technical primacy in a number of fields from engineering to pharmaceuticals, and the developing capabilities of a range of emerging powerhouses such as India, PRC, and others. This post at Corante discussing the implications for the pharmaceutical research field is an excellent example outlining this changing dynamic.

These trends will have profound implications for how the community leverages specific subject matter expertise, especially in a number of technical areas in which increasingly, new knowledge and new developments critical to understanding major accounts will reside with persons who are not US citizens and may be outside the community’s traditional reach.

While for a long time the intelligence community has been a bastion of for US only approaches, even this hard wall is starting to erode. While one major software developer performing a significant amount of work for the US government once recruited programmers on the basis that their classified jobs could never be outsourced, even those seeming absolutes are being called into question with the ever growing reliance on commercial off the shelf (COTS) and open source software solutions. Your authors have also in recent months run into at least one major contractor shop seriously exploring the complex issues involved in offshoring (to selected allied nations) basic high volume open source research tasks for less sensitive requirements. While these are early steps, they are the first signs of a sea change about to overtake the community as a whole.

Nowhere is this perhaps more obvious than in the area of biological defense. The growing need for highly trained medical and biological research personnel to ensure preparedness and to staff new bio-safety facilities has brought with it a host of questions regarding security as what once was a uniquely governmental effort is introduced into university and other private sector labs. These labs offer unequaled, and often entirely singular, capabilities – but have never had to address the questions of access and of background which are routine within the community. The talent pool which these labs draw from is increasingly not of US origin, and the closely knit nature of many of these facilities makes such distinctions increasingly difficult to impose on already robust organizations and cultures.

There have been no answers to the questions of globalization in other industries. From an economic perspective, it is a net good. From a geo-political perspective, increased connectivity with other nations creates stronger alliances. From an individual perspective, it raises questions of job security and competitiveness. Thus far, technical knowledge in selected fields has become increasingly specialized in response. So too might the community’s in the next generations, which while creating more complex and multi-layered structures with a number of dependencies which must be carefully examined, might free our technical experts, analysts, and even collectors to pursue new and innovative approaches to hard target problems.

10 March 2006

Failed states and failed legal approaches in counterterrorism

This item, at Counterterror Blog, outlines the increasing absurdity of using the legal system as a weapon in the Long War. In this case, it is the polite fiction that the deportation of terrorist suspects (a tactic used in the absence of other enforceable criminal sanctions against these individual) is at all effective in addressing the dangers these individuals pose.

One has only to look at the example of Khalid Sheik Mohammed to understand that a terrorist actor will later leverage experiences gained while in the United States just as readily, and rely upon others yet unknown to carry to fruition plans and operations relying on insight gained from those experiences. This dynamic has long been one of the factors leading to the fundamental failure of applying criminal geographic profiling techniques to terrorist threat actors. While lack of access to the United States of course imposes a greater barrier to potential terrorist attack, it is not insurmountable.

The underlying failures in this incident are not only evidenced in the lack of effective prosecution of terrorist suspects for criminal offenses, but also in the clear failures of the immigration system to prevent wide-scale and long-term abuse of short term visa programs such as offered to students.

This problem will continue as long as our legal system continues to treat failed states as if they were functioning members of the international system. From Somalia to Palestine… from Algeria to Yemen… the lack of effective means of ensuring long term neutralization of the threat posed by terrorist conspirators in overseas jurisdiction with weak or non-existent incarceration mechanisms makes a mockery of US investigative and enforcement mechanisms.

Our legal system cannot continue to create new categories of protections for persons from failed states who conspire to commit acts of terrorism. These persons are essentially stateless international threats, and based on the precedents set to deal with other stateless threats as organized piracy should be dealt with as such.

08 March 2006

There is no spoon…

In offline discussion regarding the earlier post (Beyond the wheel) regarding the emerging structures of the new intelligence community, a provocative and frankly stunning idea was raised: that there may be no actual intelligence community any longer. The wheel can be said to have so fragmented that it has been scattered.

A community requires shared experiences, values, and history. It requires continuing interactions to reinforce its norms. It requires, most importantly, a sense of itself and a sense of unity.

We find these things lacking, especially as new players come to the table and old agencies continue to retreat into bureaucratic isolation and near irrelevance.

Perhaps the easy comforting abstraction of the “community” has for too long substituted for what we should have been focusing on: the profession and its practice.

It is a matter worth considering at further length. We are not sure we entirely support this line of reasoning, but it has a certain resonance.

07 March 2006

Publishing examined

Those who essentially write for a living will often find that their troubles and travails are not unique, no matter the nature of their resulting works. The author and truly old-school (in the best of ways) newspaperman James Lileks has summed up the process of birthing new products in such a manner as deserves full quotation.

Publishing is such a stupid, stupid business. Not the people in publishing; they’re smart and funny and a pleasure to be around. But the business itself – it’s like designing elephants that give birth to small cars. No one knows quite how to go about it, but when they go to the zoo and see elephants and walk down the street and see small cars, they figure they must be doing something right.

Something to consider as one descends daily through the seven levels of editing and coordination hell….

Beyond the boundaries of the wheel

The complex amalgamation of structures, territories, domains, and boundaries that has evolved over time into the aggregation that we refer to as the Intelligence Community - in capitals always writ large with the abbreviation “IC” often preferred in works of length - is more familiar to most practitioners and certainly their managers than their own personal family tree. It has been debated, hashed over, refined and polished throughout budget sessions, training commentaries, and even within the venerated pages of our professional journals (albeit usually when a particular author is setting forth his viewpoint on how such and such a function should be subsumed within his agency.) It has been presented in more powerpoint slides than the Holy Trinity, and remains a remarkably stable part of our mental conception of what it is to “do intelligence” – even as virtually every other aspect has been supplanted or at least challenged. Even the radical and historic changes imposed by the creation of the National Intelligence Director have done little to impact the classic presentation except to change the acronym used at its hub.

The traditionally presented wheel of the intelligence community is long outdated. The carefully wrought bureaucratic vision of compatible segments fusing at a common center of reporting and direction is as meaningless as the patterns drawn in the sky by ancient astrologers. The community has grown beyond the wheel. Its shape is no longer symmetrical. Its lines are no longer clear-cut. It is in so many ways now a cloud, or at least a complex network of multiple associations and implicit relationships. The change has occurred in numerous ways, as subtly as moss accretes on a river stone worn smooth by the passage of countless snows. It has changed because the overlap of accounts and interests have blurred the lines scribed on the wheel, because working groups and interagency task forces have begun to demand multidisciplinary paradigms, and because intelligence is increasingly becoming privatized. Understanding the nature and impact of these changes will be critical for the effective management of the community as an enterprise, and the examination of hitherto unexplored aspects of community dynamics will be essential in order to develop a robust community management function. The classic Intelligence Community wheel has long been an abstraction, and all too often an intellectual crutch, by which the discussion of community management is subsumed. A basic understanding of the nature, roles, and relationships of the actual players within the community, rather than the idealized diagrammatic abstraction used to represent them, is the first step in providing for effective leadership and direction.

However, while it is easy to sketch the formal structures reached through agreed upon memoranda of understanding (as revised on a date always prominently mentioned as reference), it is far more difficult to quantify the informal relationships reached over long lunches and between cubicle partitions, or in the classrooms of the service schools. The increasing prevalence of co-located workspaces but contributes to this intertwining of interests. Unfortunately these are not relationships that are formally encouraged enough – largely due to the fact that they are essentially human affairs, not something easily passed from individual to successor on a given account. To be sure, it does work out occasionally, but how often have we lost near irreplaceable contacts simply because someone was transferred or an email account changed and their successor did not share the same interest in a particular problem? Can we accurately gauge the impact of these informal contacts? Can we measure the subtle influences in approach, doctrine, and training “borrowed” by one agency from another – or one working group from the next?

06 March 2006

The latent university

Ms. Rantingprof has once again raised a key and unconsidered issue in public risk communications regarding terrorist events. In this case, it is the unique dynamics within the university campus environment. These are a special sort of Herd: easily radicalized, quickly polarized, and with a latent energy and capacity for unexpected and sometimes violent actions derived from the youth and fervor of newly formed intellectual beliefs. When addressing such audiences, these considerations begin to weigh quite heavily. Key among them is selecting credible and effective communicators. (Campus security type organizations are clearly not among these.)

Interestingly enough, these Herd characteristics have been the historical guarantee of the university’s autonomy from local governance and other forms of political interference, especially in the early days of university formation in Europe. It was the quasi-military power represented in the latent capacity for violence by the student body, kept in check by the university scholars, which originally suffered no interference in university affairs. Political autonomy has been enshrined now (thankfully) through more robust and enduring traditions of free speech and free inquiry, however the underlying demographic and social dynamics that enabled ancient campuses to wield the mob remain.

From an IO perspective, our enemies understand this well. The university has formed the centerpiece of radical Islamist activities, from Al Azhar to Qom; and many of the key enemy leadership figures have personal, visceral experiences with the power of the mob in the Islamic street. Their reach into Western institutions has been deliberately crafted, and seeks to appeal to exactly the sort of disaffected individual that offers the potential for violent action.

The enemy’s actions in these areas leave the Western world facing a very difficult problem set. The intellectual tradition of the university has been declining in the face of political correctness and moral equivalence; and absent a strong set of unifying core values many students are lost in what have become diploma mills offering little more than a rubber stamp and empty platitudes in the post-modernist style. We as a free society depend on a free marketplace of ideas in which inaccurate, irrational and harmful concepts will be displaced through consideration and debate. If this does not occur, and if the very centers of such debate become refuges for ideas that cannot survive elsewhere (such as happened with Communism’s economic theories, for example), how then can we as a society preserve our intellectual advantage?

For those unfamiliar with the concept of Herds (once again drawing from Proteus: Insights from 2020 as we are often wont to do), consider the following lightly edited extract from that study's text:

At length we came to recognize that the emerging power and influence of nontraditional organizations matters far less than the underlying movement of people and ideas - how people see themselves and their place in the world financially, socially, and spiritually. In each of the Protean worlds, the intersection of changes in such forces as demographics, economics, and technology led to the creation of influential transnational and sub-national groups that reshaped how people viewed their loyalties. In those futures, the loyalties and affinities that bind people to organizations and groups-corporations, religions, gated enclaves, factions or advocacy groups-are complex and dynamic.

In particular, across the worlds, we found three common themes:
  • That the sheer number of identities and loyalties an individual possessed increased, with a concurrent tendency toward confliction. Schizophrenia of a sort set in for many.
  • That in an open world of instantaneous information exchange where perception changes rapidly, skittishness among groups became apparent. Already torn by multiple loyalties, the presence of powerfully presented ideas was almost always persuasive.
  • That, for some, the reaction to complexity was not schizophrenia but deep entrenchment. For these people, continuity dictated extremely narrow and rigid loyalties that shifted only under extreme pressure.
For the Intelligence Community, there were three central implications of the phenomenon we call Herds. First, in three of the worlds, it became very clear that the Community's public reputation as a forthright arbiter of truth not only mattered; it became central to its effectiveness. Second, intelligence leaders will have to think a lot more about people and how people view themselves in the future than they do today. Power … arises from values. Finally, the conflicting loyalties of the Protean populations made it very difficult to retain high-quality, multidisciplinary talent. This difficulty… may become a central challenge to the Intelligence Community.

05 March 2006

Sovereignty in the Parallel World

Google presents a fascinating test case for those theorists attempting to understand what sovereignty means in the Parallel World of cyberspace. It is also, by virtue of its size and superior technical acumen, a major webstate unto itself. Increasingly, it has begun to negotiate with governments from that basis – be it in response to demands by the Department of Justice or by the PRC. Its actions have not always been considered and certainly not always popular with the public at large. However, the fact remains that increasingly it comes to the table as a player rather than a subject.

Its latest move, (via search expert John Battelle) to relocate corporate data servers outside of the PRC’s territorial jurisdiction, on the surface becomes yet another of the endless salvo in the increasing tensions between PRC government and its people’s technology needs. But we expect nothing less than attempts at complete control over this and any other data by Chinese Communists, and need no reminder of that we must swear “upon the altar of God eternal hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of men”, in the words of Mr. Jefferson.

The physical location versus virtual interest debate is a very old one as these things are measured in the online world. In every aspect of law and in every jurisdiction, the Parallel World is redefining presence and has been for some time. Jurists and thinkers have not only sought to define borders in the wilds of cyberspace but crafted concepts of “hot pursuit” to grant them power beyond these borders. The law, however, is a very blunt instrument, and slow to be fashioned into the appropriate tool. In areas beyond the rule of law, or in the interstitial gaps which the law cannot fathom; the absence of such power calls into question which other tools that may be sought, and in what applications they may be used.

Herein lies additional challenges for the intelligence professional seeking to understand the development of the Parallel World. For if the approach of lawyers is failing to address situations of policy and operational realities, something new is called for. Yet if this has yet to be found, the challenge of supporting it through actionable, timely and accurate intelligence becomes all the more acute.

04 March 2006

The sound of our will breaking

The sound of our will breaking is an evil hiss.

Our enemies have multiplied, sensing weakness and seeking opportunity. Erstwhile allies seek to blunt our strength, and those within wail their endless distractions in pursuit of attention.

The hiss shall ring in our ears when our capabilities are at last stretched far beyond their breaking point, when we have no more assets to commit to the far shores of distant theatres because of bad procurement decisions or misplaced budgetary priorities or lack of industrial and personnel base. When we have once again managed to hamstring any effective measures to combat our enemies at home or abroad in the fears of worst-case scenarios in some far distant frame of mind. When we have given over the primary responsibility for defending our interests to the lawyers and lobbyists and other species of un-elected political creatures.

The hiss will be that of gas escaping in a crowded building or subway system, invisible and lethal; or the stunning silence after the explosion which has ruptured our eardrums. It will accompany the static blanketing our airwaves after the electromagnetic pulse has burned them out as the mushroom cloud rises in the background. It will signifying the relentless accumulation of deadly radiation in the wake of a primitive dispersal device. It will echo in the silent fall of ash accumulating in the streets, containing everything from concrete dust to human remains.

The most committed wins, as the old saying goes. In a time of politicization, in the days of confusion and noise, we cannot allow ourselves to forget or to suffer distraction. The enemy believes, and if we dare not confront those beliefs we will find ourselves upon a brink from which we cannot return. If we dare not act, we will be lost.

02 March 2006

Worst intel gig ever

Following yesterday’s sudden interest in the Mouse, our discussions with colleagues raised a number of very cynical but very interesting observations regarding the surveillance society, corporate control, and the webstate / online Balkanization debate.

(By the way, there is apparently now an informal design contest to photoshop the best set of Disney style “credentials” for interagency liaison meeting purposes making the rounds at least one shop… We were thinking something along the lines of a nice brass mouse head outline etched with perhaps the Epcot ball, but lack any artistic skills whatsoever. We shall simply have to watch from the sidelines to see what comes out of this.)

Those discussions of the potentially darker side of such a world, considered as an emerging indicator in a futures scenario projection, also brought to mind a very real example of perhaps the worst intelligence job we have ever become aware of.

Curt Herzstark was an Austrian inventor who was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp from 1943 to 1945. He survived the camp, and the war, based solely on his role in developing the Curta mechanical calculator, intended originally as a gift for Hitler after a Nazi victory. His title throughout this experience was “intelligence slave”. His invention would later go on to acquire nearly cult status among the digerati of the dot com era.

The levels of evil and banality simultaneously compressed into this account are staggering. No matter how much we may criticize our community, or how dark our musings, there is simply no comparison even possible.

Never forget. Never again.

Coping with email overload

Those that actually have the "luxury" of email in the community (unlike certain federal agents of our acquaintance … cough, cough) know full well the issues of inbox saturation and attention overload. The following new blog attempts to examine ways to tackle the issue, using new technologies and new life hacks.

Our lives as always are more complicated by the addition of a number of incompatible and air-gapped networks, and the ofttimes total lack of control over our information environments and toolsets imposed by security, obsolesce, or bad policies within community organizations. These factors impose marginal costs on the performance of analysts and operators which only compound over time. As the design philosophies of the outside world begin to shift to accommodate ideas such as presented by the dedicated life hackers and their kind, it is going to be a struggle to keep up if these issues are not reconsidered.

01 March 2006

Best. Intel Gig. EVER….

Disney is hiring for intelligence roles.

Their focus appears to be on threat issues. If the position stays aligned with this intent, it could be quite probably be one of the best intel gigs your authors have ever heard of. As long as there is no mission creep into, say, Innocent Images type investigations or far worse, brand protection issues.

Especially brand protection. Your authors would be very reluctant to attempt to earn a living through the arbitrage of dying industries and the technologies which are killing them - or at least mutating them in unavoidably radical ways. This is the essential failure of the online industry’s brand protection and rights management providers and those that would seek them as solutions. It is easier to take a paycheck and do what reinforces the status quo than to build what is new. The difference though is one between a week’s pay and true equity.

This may also be why Disney’s Imagineers have reportedly been suffering in recent years. Once, they were very close to the ideal model for creativity and innovation unbounded by conventional constraints. (Those days still may have much to teach an intelligence community suffering, in former DCI Woolsey’s words, from the “failure of imagination.)

(Via BoingBoing, no doubt because of Cory Doctorow’s obsession with all things related to the Mouse; and Defense Tech…)

Evaluations conducted in the public eye…

Once this was a specialist’s game, as we have said before. Now increasingly every assessment may well be carried out almost in the public eye, and certainly under a harsh light of scrutiny the community is ill prepared to endure. One can argue, from an academic basis, the merits and the pitfalls of this new transparency, but it has been thrust upon us whether we like it or not. And it will only grow more obvious in time, as advances in commercial systems begin to offer those outside of government capabilities which increasingly mimic what once was the exclusive preserve of state entities.

One of the most fascinating areas to watch this evolve has been the ever more frequent revelations of what once were clandestine facilities in denied areas. From Chinese underground facilities to the Iranian nuclear program, the eye of the public falls again and again on that which once would have been hidden.

In the counterterrorism field, among the most famous examples have been the persistent reporting of Ba’athist era terrorist training efforts conducted in and around Salman Pak. Initially suspected based on defector and other human source reporting, the former regime’s activities there attracted the attention of the UN inspection teams and others. Statements from former instructors were even published by Mark Bowden (the author of Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo) in an Atlantic Monthly article, Tales of the Tyrant. Among the most interesting of indicators that emerged in the public eye was overhead imagery which captured a scene very close to that which was described publicly by human source accounts. This reporting was in many cases very publicly discounted by a number of officials responsible for evaluating the former Iraqi regime’s support to terrorist entities, and has subsequently faded from public discussion, despite documentary confirmation of an apparently organized training program carried out by the former regime in the build-up to the 2003 campaign.

It appears that this kind of discussion will now be revisited. A number of similar facilities may have been pinpointed in Iran, allegedly based on the statements of a defecting Pasadran member. In the past, the very knowledge of such a defection would have itself have been limited to a selected small circle of professionals within the diplomatic and intelligence communities of perhaps a few countries. It has however become the stuff of Internet news – further complicating evaluations, as one must be always mindful of deliberate propaganda. However, commercial imagery is sure to follow…

The community is no longer the only voice. The question remains if it is still capable of finding the “best truth”.

(With thanks to Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch.)