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28 November 2006

Mastering the short form

One of the great bits of wisdom passed down to us in our earliest good writing classes (as opposed to those other early classes taught by frauds and false prophets who had somehow emerged during the winnowing chaos of the close of the Cold War) was the line: “We write long because it’s easier than writing tightly.”

The short form is a unique art. We have spent much time on it, stripping the redundant and the superfluous. We find often however that our audiences, unused to the essence of the thing, find themselves grasping in the blank spaces rather than seeing the figure against the ground.

But in this age of ever shortening attention spans, and ever more numerous competing voices, the short form has never been more important. We have found that among the community’s best masters of the form are the cable writers in operational realms, as opposed to the academic traditions dominating the analytical side with lengthy and unread tomes. Something about immediacy, and purpose, which so focuses the mind.

Thus, when we are struggling to coalesce the clouds of thought which accrete around the stranger attractors which have captured our interest, we often find that we have in hand the short form but fight for the length and weight that lends a patina of perceived legitimacy. It is interesting to observe other professions, wherein credibility in the short form is rapidly becoming the only currency which matters in the new environment.

One of the benefits of the short form is the preservation of the driving passions, and the original voice ripped straight from the fire in the belly of the author. The term once used to describe the visceral experience of the reader’s connection with that original intent was “eyeball kick”.

What drives us here can only be a passion – or perhaps a madness of the most classically eccentric sort. We are not lent to manifestos – but we are driven to help build the next generation, and through our service and our example perhaps to provide the foundation upon which their successes will be built.

27 November 2006

Calling for the enclosure of virtual walls

We admit to a fascination in the abstract with the developments taking place in virtual immersive environments within the Parallel World, as corporate entities and knowledge workers come to terms with the capabilities of these new tools for collaboration and communication. Given that more than half of our working lives are mediated by networks, interacting with those we never see (and may never even be able to name due to cloaks of professional anonymity of group voice and official paranoia); anything that assists in managing distributed collaborative analysis and production (particularly given the importance of virtual simulations for training applications in other fields), is something we are eager to explore.

Regrettably, it is also impossible for a variety of reasons to replicate these experiments within the walls, even if a team of practitioners could be found which would be interested. The protocols and boundaries of the community’s strange intellectual spaces conspire against it.

It need not always be so, however. There are developments on the horizon, beyond the ever ready suggestion of a massive multi-agency or DNI funded GOTS effort doomed like most other attempts to replicate commercial innovations within the damned reaches of the bureaucracies. We shall see where such open source development tools lead.

We are not really asking for much, we think. Just a small, virtual environment for immersive collaboration with a limited number of peers, with appropriate security and certifications. Make it portable, and remote hosted with little to no IT intervention in any given location (the burden carried by the network service provider and host / sponsoring agency.) See where it takes us…

Call this a lazyweb post, for some bright young contractor team to come to the table with something already in proof of concept. Maybe hosted at the university level, to let the academics write their papers and push the idea at some conferences. Dig up some engineers to team with, to import CAD models and imagery of some cool and useful things. Spawn copies and competition and grow the space.

Call us once you have something to play with - we'd love to join you in the sandbox. Until then, we have our wine and our dreams, as the poet once said.

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25 November 2006

Technologies of deception advancing

Deception remains one of the enduring hard problems of the community, and its ever varying forms are testament to the creativity of the human mind, and the capacity of the human soul to lie.

This item at Defense Tech caught our eye. The concept of using holograms for tactical deception in the urban environment is an interesting one, and quite familiar to readers of science fiction (and their movie-going counterparts). The potential instantiation of such technology could be quite useful if executed properly. A more comfortable sniper hide, if nothing else, could make our lives much nicer….

Outside of the cutting edge and onto the more prosaic realities, we note the proliferation of deception tactics into the ordinary, for purposes of beautification. We note the following item on urban architecture, and the spread of buildings more integrated into the surrounding landscapes.

These challenges present serious questions for future intelligence problems. However, it is an excellent chance to begin integrating these types of problems from the very start into new analyst training programs, using such publicly available examples in the modern arena; and something outside of the hoary old World War II examples so often re-used. (As brilliant as they were for their day, such cases were highly situated examples which occurred in a technological and social context, and in a conflict environment, we are likely never to see again and thus of more limited utility to the instructor and student.)

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23 November 2006

So there is a little there, there

William Gibson’s famous metaphor has long been most appropriate when discussing the nature of the Parallel World.

It seems however that a set of rough calculations have measured the weight of the non-existent there. Not a very useful thing, perhaps, but the idea is as evocative as the original author’s vision. A few grams of the purest stuff, indeed – in plasma screens rather than lightbulbs.

It used to be we measured that world by the Library of Congress equivalency. This having fallen long out of favour, it has been the practice to attempt to quote however many petabytes per day, or growth over a period of time, but these are clumsy instruments without the same imaginative utility.

We still wonder, however, what is the shape, not having an aleph handy, and the old Bell Labs maps growing older by the day.

22 November 2006

Mokrie Dela

Our former enemies have not forgotten their old tricks. It’s such an elegant solution for political problems, especially to the simple minded kombinat apparatchik cursing in frustration at those damn journalists and their friends, over the day’s second bottle of vodka….

Note to ourselves: never go to a sushi restaurant with someone who has angered the former Soviet Bloc’s special services…

This, if nothing else, illustrates the importance of teaching intelligence history to the spooks and the political science and international relations types that would grow up into politicians. It also illustrates the difficulties (if not outright futility) in using the hammer of kinetic means for certain IO problems, particularly in ostensibly neutral European countries.

UPDATE: Lest the reader think this merely an exercise in nostalgia for the bygone Cold War and the immediate post-Soviet party of the 90’s, with its wonderful times with all the gangsters and their molls in clubs on Tverskaya, chateaus in Geneva, and casinos in Monaco; the following is a rather interesting political analysis of the current Russian scene that very much has greater implications for the future character of a particular type of great power politics: the politics of a state’s interests entirely divorced from it’s populations needs or desires, and behold to the rotten core of the kombinat.

20 November 2006

Centipede crawling

Science fiction author and futurist Bruce Sterling has been following the details of a fascinating variety of political / sexual scandals in a diverse range of countries – India, Israel, United Kingdom, and now the latest in PRC.

The most interesting aspects of these scandals are that what once would have required national level efforts to identify and exploit, and would have been subject to serious debate in the highest echelons of other nations, now is essentially being achieved by the independent activity of private interests within these countries themselves, and debated in the public forum. These are the modern variants of political warfare – but they are fratricidal and self-defeating.

While no doubt an offhanded comment, the idea of an opposition research wiki for the sharing of tactics, techniques and procedures is probably not that far off the mark. It is the open source exchange in the marketplace of political disgrace at work - war by other means. It is not a matter of formal conspiracies among those engaged in similar activities – it is a function of strong innovations in the market being picked up by competitors and applied in new markets.

Of course, the United States has had its share of scandal. But our democracy, at least, has proven that it is certainly resilient enough to endure. Less free regimes, or less robust government structures, face a far harder time of it. And frankly, at the end of the day, a domestic scandal here in America is just politics as usual. Overseas, it’s something interesting and worthy of study… whether considered part of the dynamic of super-empowered individuals, the smartmobby future, or the inevitable disruptions created by the sidewise application of technology….

19 November 2006

Wrong model, wrong outcomes – another lesson

If this is the state of current educational reform, we as a profession will be sorely pressed for new intellectuals in the next generation.

Aside from the Hipster PDA and the training of analysts to work inside the hermetic vault without their electronic toys, I can think of few things less relevant to the future learning environment than penmanship.

This is the height of the state monopolies of the 19th century model grasping at the very essence of objectives counter to need. It is ample proof of the theories by John Gatto describing modern educational organizations and their perverse development.

Not coincidentally, the same dynamics were described by futurist and author Bruce Sterling when examining the future potential for students destined to become knowledge workers in an economy in which their jobs had not even yet been conceived, much less standardized to fit into an education system.

Few things matter more to national survival over the course of generations, and particularly in generations at war, than the development of a society’s children.

What’s next – issuing buggy whips to driver’s ed classes?

17 November 2006

Our former enemies, not forgotten

We have no tolerance for traitors, and that enmity we will hold no matter how much time passes or how the conflict is recorded by history.

We however must have a grudging professional respect for those intelligence officers among our enemies which recruited them. While we would just as readily see them all hanged when caught by our services, we recognize the difficulty of the common challenges of this most ancient of professions. It is easier, of course, to proffer such recognition to our defeated former enemies, and examine their actions from an academic point of view when their particular war is the stuff of museums.

Thus, we mark the passing of Markus Wolf, whose achievements - while damaging to the interests of our country and our allies - are well worth the study of any professional officer or analyst who must deal in the currencies of betrayal.

Let us learn from his successes, that we pursue opportunities among our targets more effectively and deny our enemies any advantage. Let us examine his failures, so that we can cost future enemies likewise, and avoid such pitfalls ourselves.

Of course, in this new age it is uncertain that we shall face such a kind of enemy again as we struggle against sub-state actors far more diffuse. However, as they say, espionage is a game played even between friends. We do not think those lessons would be lost.

16 November 2006

The lure of the Parallel World

IBM is investing heavily in the early stages of the technologies and communities which are driving the evolution of the Parallel World.

First, it bought an island of its own.

Now, it is sending its CEO as a representative, coincidentally making history - of a sort,

All too soon this will be old news, as more and more the traditional world will begin to play with the persistent instantiation of its virtual mirror in much the same manner the classic hyperlinked text environments evolved.

But for the moment, it is a fascinating thing to watch the giant of old iron transform itself into the newest webstate. In the virtual world, affiliations such as IBM is creating around itself will likely have more meaning than most other tribal variants, not only because the bigger guns bring more resources to play, but because that scale of commitment offers the potential for a very wide range of strange interests to accrete around a core attractor.

Against this backdrop, we take note of the social, political, and economic upheaval in the world in question, which not coincidentally mirrors a range of real world legal issues that increasingly define the rulesets for the Parallel World in ways other than the technologists’ traditional law of the code.

15 November 2006

Military webstates in the Balkanized network

Everyone wants to build and own their own network. It’s easy to justify on the grounds of security, service specific needs, operational necessities, and a host of other reasons set forth by every IT manager and technician ever to pick up a keyboard.

Of course, this defeats the purpose of the network, in which its utility is predicated on the number of users and the range of available applications. The network exists merely to enable that connectivity. The impulse towards Balkanization – driven in the commercial world most often by greed and shortsightedness – defeats this purpose entirely.

In the ever-divided house of the “joint” military, Balkanization of the Parallel World is driven equally by shortsightedness. It seems however that a small victory against this mindset may be on the horizon, predicated on the successful model of that least networked of services, the Army.

A joint AKO type environment is long overdue. Scaling a DOD wide common web accessible collaboration environment should not have taken five years into the Long War. The lack of this capability has not promoted security – instead is has no doubt spurred dozens of work-arounds and hacks that are less secure and less useful. After all, when some government users were forced to use commercial webmail just for reasons of space and reliability, it demonstrates this is a bad thing.

Here are a few suggestions for this new effort:

  • Include other government agencies beyond DOD with key common interests, such as the other members of the community
  • Incorporate contractors not as individuals tied to a specific contract and KO approval, but as individuals tied to their (verified) employer. Given the mobility of most contractors between client assignments, this will solve a lot of connectivity headaches and result in better tracking and verification.
  • Tie in seamless connectivity to Open Source Information System (OSIS) hosted resources, including OSC (without yet another login….)
  • Incorporate better hosted services for collaboration and lightweight publishing. Yes, this means blogs. It also means Web 2.0 type services such Flikr, and Writely. And make sure that Google drives the search applications. Plus tag support for clouds and folksonomies. In short, support the full range of network IT services as they are developed out in the commercial world.
  • Incorporate an unclassified version of Intellipedia to encourage wider contributions for DOD and IC specific subject matter expertise
  • Integrate a decent online reader that can accept i2 and other link analysis visualization without needing a local install
If this is beginning to sound a lot like an unclassified “lite” version of what Intelink was supposed to be, there’s a reason…

14 November 2006

Political science witchery

The medicine man believes in the effectiveness of his dance no less fervently than the modern methodologist in his techniques.

We do not normally comment on matters political or domestic, however one item emerging in the wake of the election is speculation over the possible impact of flawed analysis on party decision-making processes.

Of course, we know full well the difficulties in assembling accurate metrics for effects assessment tasks, particularly when the effects involve the subtleties of opinion and affinity. However, we have never made any pretense to an authoritative illusion about the manner and means by which we reach our conclusions. It is certainly always more of an art than any science.

But it can be so addictive, the siren call of certainty. It comes draped in the trappings of the obscure cult and flanked by the initiated acolytes echoing its praises. At some point, it all comes back to the heart of the matter - you want to believe

Of course, among our political science comrades we are routinely hounded out of the discussion for even daring to raise the idea that all their cherished theories amount to little more than the rattle of the bones.

As the train says, the market for something to believe in is infinite.

Some marketing merely takes a political form.

There are actually a lot of lessons for the intelligence community to be found in the ongoing Cluetrain / gapingvoid heresy against the entrenched marketing and media worlds. These lessons apply equally to the theoreticians, the methodologists, and the serving line analysts. Too few understand or appreciate the weight that comes with the appellation “advisor.” Fewer still are willing or able to handle the kind of direct, in your face criticism in its purest and least PC fashion that characterize that style. A little more of that might get us somewhere beyond the usual tripe of the stale back and forth of unread papers attempting to re-invent the intelligence cycle wheel, or cram the genie back in the bottle through yet another reorganization designed to restore the illusion of centrality and the fiction of control.

Hell, it might even lead to a good old fashioned auto-de-fe, where we can use the light of the burning witch doctors to mark out a new path.

13 November 2006

No better friend, no worse enemy

Render honors.

His deeds are recounted here, and here, and here. Let them be known to all.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Realities of proliferation catching up with the potential

One of the greatest analytical challenges posed by proliferation issues is when the capability – be it a delivery system, a CBRNE payload, or a toolset for manufacturing the same – exists in an unfinished form. These sub-capability components are often dual use commodity type objects, available widely throughout the world through the advances of globalization. Describing them and their use outside the specialized realm of the expert is a difficult if not impossible task that continues to challenge public diplomacy and strategic communications. Detecting their presence when they are scattered throughout a distributed production system is an enduring hard problem, and defeating adversary efforts at denial and deception built around interlocking layers of less than individually damning components harder yet. Entire strategic concepts of virtual arsenals and breakout programs have evolved which center on the development of unfinished or partially completed capabilities which can be rapidly assembled into a final weapons system.

Defense Tech explores the terrible and fascinating potential that new technologies will worsen those challenges to non-proliferation efforts through the ever evolving ability to utilize commodity manufacturing processes for dual use purposes, given the right expertise (itself expected to be increasingly available in pre-packaged form, or through the globalized movement of individuals and education.) This is a part of the dynamic John Robb has sought to describe as “dangerous knowledge”.

These developments were also predicted during the Proteus study. Some key quotes from its conceptualization of the problems posed by “Small Stuff”:

“It was clear that instruments of power and sources of threat in the future would come in smaller and smaller packages-but with no lessening in lethality…

…For the Intelligence Community, Small Stuff- nanotechnology plus biotechnology plus cybertechnology - is a double-edged sword that will create both opportunities and threats. At once, it will be the key to exploring all of the venues of Starlight, and it is the key to both sides of Sanctuary -- penetrating denied areas and sustaining covertness….

…Small Stuff almost certainly will lead to a wholesale redefinition of what sensors are, and it probably will point toward new venues for technical exploration….

.. At the same time, cyber-, bio- and nanotechnologies seem likely to create a whole new environment for deception and destruction….

… We also believe that "smaller" may not mean "cheaper."…."

At the time, this was controversial stuff. Now it has even been incorporated into the standard unclassified lecture slides at selected military institutions discussing future trends in chemical and biological threats.

We watch with interest the real world developments that validate these predictions.

On a side note, it is interesting to note the deliberate effort by an industry publication to advance Red Cell / Red Teaming analytical methodologies. It is commendable in all respects.

12 November 2006

War in the next generation

We have been following the emerging definitions of “new” conceptual generations of warfare with great interest. They build upon the earlier concepts not entirely yet accepted within military theory, but with great resonance at the operational levels to help explain the nature of what we see around us in this Long War.

There are a number of thinkers in the space whose work deserves attention. Each has chosen particular aspects of the problem space to dissect with some notable success in identifying that threshold of enduring insight: a unique, reproducible strategic concept (in the words of Dr. Barnett).

Zen Pundit
Dreaming 5GW

We enter slightly late to this debate, as usual, for we have spent some time pondering the questions raised by these gentlemen. In part, we also pause as most of these writers focus on issues of policy analysis (with a heavy dose of political punditry), a close cousin but nonetheless a different breed entirely from our professional and personal interests. The admittedly narrow focus of this blog is on the art and science of intelligence analysis (with the occasional minor digression into the abstract theory of operations). Our Ven diagram of interests thus primarily overlaps when examining the insights raised by this debate into the changed nature of the enemy and the strategic environment. We seek then to understand the implications for the next generation of analysts and collectors which must confront these challenges.

We as a community and as individual contributors see many aspects of the current fighting in which can be found the seeds of the next war. As the noted science fiction author and futurist William Gibson said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” Of course, our interest is almost in the novel and foreseen, for this is where the boundaries of our profession may be pursued in ways that may never have before been done. Call it the start-up mentality, so to speak, or the inclination towards the edge; but perhaps more accurately it is a honed variation of the academic’s instinct for specialization. The language of the debate is fast evolving, and the professional literature growing rapidly thanks in no small part to the “khaki tower” – the military service schools and the other unique academia which serve to educate our nation’s military, a fairly singular and fascinating set of structures in both comparative and historical terms.

From the viewpoint of those here at Kent’s Imperative, our greatest challenge on the intel side lies in weaponizing the insights of the strategic thinkers to maximize opportunities to collect against, and to understand these new enemies and their actions. While perhaps this too narrow of a focus for some people’s tastes, it is essentially the mandate for the operational and tactical levels involved in actually fighting this Long War.

(These differences have been touched upon by some of these new theorists, including the “disparity between observational capability” and the time constraints of analysis under operational pressures.)

Much of the body of this new theory of warfare relies not upon the things of technological innovation (although the toys are always easiest to point to when seeking out the novel), but rather the patterns of use and shifting of behaviors enabled by these introduced objects and capabilities. The skillsets required to piece together these behaviors and the exploitable weaknesses therein (particularly under the time and operational constraints found in the field), are often fundamentally different than those currently taught by the methodologists or the structured analysis proponents that currently dominate the community’s schoolhouses. We are seeking alternatives but thus far find few.

As the body of literature regarding 5GW and its conceptual descendents accretes, it provides its own pressures to our small cohort to wrap our heads around not only the output of the strategic thinkers exploring that space; but also drives us to grapple with the challenges for our profession not yet fully articulated. For this we are most grateful.

Lessons of growth and management

We take note of a fascinating comment on Google’s growing pains.

The problems of scaling an organization whose mission is innovation is definitely a challenge of interest. To some extent, the innovative elements of the community have avoided these problems simply by existing only as scattered disconnected clusters throughout multiple organizations, usually working more or less in a vacuum. To be sure, not an efficient nor even a good solution, but it avoids the big company problem when scaling. (And the chief problem for innovation in the community is not scaling, but simply to survive the crushing bureaucracies, clueless managers, and rice bowl politics.)

It also prevents the network from becoming self-aware… because who knows what that could lead to?

11 November 2006

The spread of hostile memes

Radicalization is brought about by a set of hostile memes, spreading throughout a post-rational population via mechanisms simultaneously as ancient as humanity and as modern as the global communications revolution.

While we may often disagree with Mr. Robb on prescriptive matters and his view of policy options; we can rarely fault his analysis of the phenomena which he has sought to describe.

We thus also take his point regarding the limits of existing knowledge well.

“The dynamics of this model of warfare dictate that for every group identified … there are dozens more in formation or fully functional without direct connections to known sources of danger.”

After all, those responsible for the UK 7/7 attacks had been under surveillance but not investigated as a priority due to a lack of resources.

This is the stuff of the nightmares which drive us...

A little noted anniversary

We have been remiss in failing to note the anniversary of the first acquisition of overhead imagery using an orbital platform – an outgrowth of the US post World War II tests of materials seized from the German V-2 program.

(A side note regarding word choices in this new century. That phrase previously would have read merely “postwar”, not needing a qualifier. However, for us the time period for that appellation is yet to arrive, and can only be achieved through definitive victory that will close out the Long War. Amazing, however, how the smallest artifacts of hardened mindsets can pop up at the most unexpected of times from unexamined assumptions and the rote of recited history…. But we digress.)

Mounting an effective imagery system for the first time on a missile platform was truly an astounding achievement, which deserves mention. Those early visionaries could foresee the capabilities that would grow out of the idea. And who could imagine that a few short decades later the peer of such achievements would be in reach of private enterprise?

In retrospect, perhaps the amazement at the future’s wonders need not have been so great. After all, less than half that time ago the best overhead imagery system available to the intelligence officer came equipped with feathers

(h/t BoingBoing, and of course the authors and editors at that finest of American institutions , the Smithsonian).

10 November 2006

Stone Soup

Given our schedules, and our constraints, we often find ourselves taking up an issue but not pursuing it further – leaving it to those smarter, more available, or simply more engaged than we to finish the argument. We are content to advance the debate.

So it is with some chagrin we realize that our October post touching on the growing public discussion around Intellipedia sparked a response from one of the original participants that frankly went unnoticed in the press of other traffic.

This error on our part deserves remedy, especially given the thoughtful nature of the reply by the gentleman. In particular, we were struck by a specific formulation he used to describe the nature of the collaborative and outreach process which brought him and his fellows into the fold for those conversations.

"The end result was a facilitated conversation between the CIA and the outside world, a conversation that the CIA could not have easily had under normal circumstances due to real constraints (unlike the artificial constraints that many organizations impose on themselves). There was also an important secondary effect that resulted from the workshop process: StoneSoup?. This particular network inside the CIA became aware of itself. The champions within the organization were evident right from the start, and the conversation was as much between the analysts themselves as it was with us.

Second, bringing in outsiders can have a catalyzing effect on transforming an organization's culture, provided their role is framed correctly. We weren't there to fix anything. That would have been naive, because there was no way we could have fixed anything. We were there to tell stories and participate in discussion.

The path to shifting a dysfunctional culture within a homogeneous organization is to expand the network, to make the problem bigger. The CIA is not the only organization working on these issues, so by including other organizations in the conversation, you enrich your network and raise the collective intelligence of your group."

In this light, we can easily agree that the effort has more than enriched us. One of our enduring challenges as a profession lies in the difficulty of connecting between the insulated vaults scattered among the various and sundry component agencies and odd elements of our community. There are few venues, and fewer enduring spaces, where comment and interaction is appropriate or even possible. By opening these issues to the wider academic debate, particularly in the manner in which these bloggers have done, is indeed a valuable service.

We also think that the stock preserved from their broth may be used fruitfully on other days when otherwise we might be facing a thin gruel indeed with none of these chefs around, and no one else with the required stones in sight.

09 November 2006


There is a small, tightly knit cohort within the community driven by Kent’s Imperative - the principal of the continuing pursuit of professionalization in the art and science of intelligence. (ed. - For which this blog is named). Many seek this goal without knowing or realizing this is what they are working towards.

But overall, it often seems these individuals are few and far between. And those that have the vision to see beyond the daily grind of product and politics, those that have a passion beyond the mere reckoning of a paycheck or promotion, are all too often spurned within their own organizations until they are ground down, undistinguishable from any other government drone or corporate wage slave.

One of the most serious challenges those that are driven by Kent’s Imperative face is one of communication. It is extremely difficult, to say nothing of frustrating, to convey the insights and experiences developed in the pursuit of professionalization in an environment bound tightly by the restrictions of security, political correctness, and rank. The first is a burden we have signed onto willingly, and most among us not only accept but actively support such protections given the full and terrible knowledge of the historical reasons they have evolved – and especially the consequences of failures of security during wartime. The other factors are among the walls against which we beat our heads until they are bloody and broken.

But we find ourselves often at a loss to describe even the elements of those basic factors, and a hundred others besides, which daily impact our life and work within and outside the walls and gardens. Many times, this is because we take for granted that the person on the other side of the table during that conversation has at least a passing acquaintance with the events, policies, or structures under discussion. All too often we are finding that this is not the case.

Your authors, and those like us, are part of a highly mobile cohort who have never had the luxury of the belief in the comforting lie of the company man. We change shops with an almost disconcerting regularity, and pursue new assignments and new missions in which the first priority is to accomplish that which has never been done before. It is almost entrepreneurial for our class, however almost universally we eschew the base concerns of the mere merchant in order to seek more rarified atmospheres in an almost Confucian ideal (often to our personal loss, and occasional regret….). If any among us were to articulate a possible end state goal, it would be to have the right ideas noticed at the right time in order to produce a lasting and needed change to better serve the mission.

In this, we are finding that we are different from our counterparts, who while they may still serve honorably, lack the ability to stand above the fight and see beyond the next thrust or parry. We are beginning to suspect that part of that difference may lie in the very nature of the skillset we have been forced to evolve, since our earliest days in this profession, in order to succeed in rapidly changing environments against dynamic backdrops of new targets, emerging accounts, organizational shifts, and the siesmic forces now wracking the community. For us, the ground is never certain, and the networking among our peers, the almost paranoid levels of situational awareness, and the constant scanning of horizons both geographic and professional is a byproduct.

This cohort has a high degree of shared experiences and reference points; but we find that they are not often even recognized by others in the community, let alone the outsiders of the academics or other support staff. Those newly initiated into the profession often fall quickly into a sorting – the highly connected and highly driven whose “fire in the belly” burns so bright you can see it in their eyes; or those that drift naturally and as quickly as possible into administrative functions, lives organized by rote and schedules dictated by lunchtime, quitting time, and vacation.

One of the key difficulties, we think, that this cohort has in the past had in communicating has been the lack of awareness of how limited the numbers of likeminded individuals really are within the community. Social network and virtual worlds researchers refer to the concept of “experiential epiphanies” – those insights which take many theses volumes to describe in academic contexts but are immediately apparent to those who live through them, to the point of that they quickly pass from articulated knowledge into the very mental outlook of the individual and the common cultural atmosphere of the group.

These experiential epiphanies help explain not only the communication gap, but the very real disconnect between the line and management, between the field and headquarters (no matter what the organization or agency), and between the working professionals and the academics. The latter simply lack the experiences – no matter what their previous backgrounds, no matter how smart they may be – to begin to understand the issues the former must tackle every day. It is in this gap that many of the misguided and universally hated decisions are found that drive the best from service

We set this realization forth for initial consideration, for now. The implications bear some deep reflection and further discussion.

08 November 2006

Pixels versus ink

In the age of the interwebs, the old adage has been updated to read that one should never pick a fight with a man who buys pixels by the bushel.

Perhaps there needs to be a corollary to the axiom warning against doing so when it involves the man who invented the very means by which those pixels are delivered.

The old authorities are being broken down. In their place we have an emerging Parallel World….

07 November 2006

There is no cube

Spare us from one more compression. Admit no set designers to create the ultimate tour experience for those consumers who prefer intelligence pornography. Get us out of the fishbowl. Lock the door on the kennels and cut the wire on the cages. Forget entirely about hotdesking and hotelling; and make sure there’s a conference room available when we need one – not another set of “huddle rooms” or “convergence points” minus the cone of silence.

Instead, get some real designers and some real architects together and really spend some time thinking about how to make a better workplace for analysts and officers. Particularly for those who spend more than 12 hours a day in their vaults.

Here are some ideas to get them started… not that these are what we are looking for, just someplace to begin to think about the problem.

Oh, and no more imported ideas of faux grandeur stolen from a condemned dictators’ sycophantic toadies. One set of palaces in a lifetime is more than enough, at least for an American service.

02 November 2006

Profess to me no profession

A post by one of the luminaries behind Socialtext crystallizes well our objection to a growing line of thinking within the intelligence community.

The conceit that the profession of intelligence is not valid unless there is some overarching standards body or external source of validation is at best foolish, at worst an arrogant attempt to impose yet another collection of rice bowls to be fed from the labours of long suffering knowledge workers.

To be sure, it this makes for the stuff of excellent debate by the measure of academics. One can even build careers off the back of papers exploring models to be emulated, and proposals and minutes for the convening of such bodies.

The ideas that some body disconnected from the daily world of analysis and production has to pass judgment before we are deemed fit practitioners of our trade and craft; or that our hard won lessons learned and extensive body of literature do not constitute a discipline absent the blessing from some ivory tower, are absurd and frankly insulting.

So to sum up, we return to the words of those at Blue Oxen:

“It's interesting: while collaboration is often very much about the creation of shared artifacts that help a group do something; a self-conscious profession, a professional society, often exists or is created to be the artifact that lets a group know they are attempting to do something.

Especially when they aren't doing anything. The existence of the society defends against the existential dread of who are we and what do we do.

…If you find yourself enmeshed in the details of how your group should interact, you've missed a step.”

We who still serve do not suffer this existential dread. There is simply no time for such navel gazing while the Long War still rages; and a discipline and a profession forged in this conflict and the many contests that have come before needs no other validation. Warriors know who they are, and know the manner and import of the deeds they and their fellows have done.

All too often however we have noted the effects of such existential questioning among others. This is most unfortunate, as such energies would be better devoted towards the pursuit of new innovation, unique insight, and ultimately victory. In short, the pursuit of professionalization for its own sake, rather than the futile quest for control in the manner of the vanished eras of men defined by letters and gift watches.

We face our bar every day, and are judged more harshly for it than any mere academic examination.

01 November 2006

Google adds Wiki to the Blog

Google’s latest acquisition of JotSpot adds a premium hosted wiki service to its existing offerings for blogging services / integrated word processing and lightweight online publishing.

One of the more interesting comments observed in the blogsphere regarding this acquisition was first noted over at O’Reilly Radar:

"I have to wonder if there's some internal debate at Google about wikis. It always seems to me that Wikipedia's mission overlaps directly with Google's, "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," even though the technologies they use to get there are very different. I wonder if Google has the same discussion about Wikipedia that O'Reilly sometimes has about Google, that their real competition is from Wikipedia and not Yahoo or Microsoft."

We tend to pay very close attention when a publisher speaks about competition in the information business….

In this light, we wonder what the eventual effects of the once again cited Intellipedia will be for internal competition within the intelligence community. While this is by no means an open market, there are certainly market dynamics at work; and many traditional “leaders” among the various agencies and shops may find their voices no longer as dominant for the informed consumer as other decentralized options become available, offering more organic and more compelling support.