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17 December 2006

All creatures weird and wonderful

Goblins and Hobbits and Devildogs, oh my....

The ivory tower model of the detached analyst in splendid academic isolation is dying, day by day, in the Long War and in numerous meeting rooms. If you are not integrated from the start, invested to the hilt as much as your consumer, and right there with him when it matters, you simply aren’t relevant in the mix of competing voices. No amount of mystique will save you and your function, whatever the history or the weight of the logo.

That’s why items such as the following, playing out in the popular press the constant back and forth struggle of “intelligence community reform” achieved by re-drawing organization charts and playing political perceptions, are essentially and entirely meaningless to the real business of re-inventing intelligence for victory in the War.

Real reinvention is being done, every day in every theatre, by those 22 year old kids. They don’t have the preconceptions, and they don’t have the time to care about anybody’s hurt feelings. They maybe were blessed and given a name when they were given the job, but mostly they are evolving under incredible pressures into strange forms never before anticipated. And they will return soon to the wider community, especially given the loud sucking sound of the talent vacuum engendered by bad HR policies, bad management, and the lack of a coherent vision for contracting.

They will not be content to leave their experiences, and the lessons learned on how to accomplish unique missions under new and never before imagined circumstances, out in the desert or the mountains where they were born. They already have robust networks, with the same kinds of creatures formed under the same pressures, and tested by the necessity of hard use. Tens of thousands of young Americans have seen the elephant, and they return to a desk bound, calcifying intelligence community in which the discussions over the finer distinctions of definition and organogram have more of an element of fantasy than the very real and very hard things that they have been doing for the past few years. The reverberations from this clash of mindsets will be felt sooner rather than later, and there are a lot of existing castles that will be stormed.

h/t Defense Tech

Haft of the Spear has related thoughts on the questions of reorg.

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16 December 2006

Your lying eyes

So the public discussion of advanced deception technologies proceeds apace, led of course by those on the cutting edge of technology and its sidewise applications.

While we love the discussions of the next generation of wunderkind techno-toys that continually float to the surface in our field, we must say that for all the speculation regarding the impact of holograms, lasers, lights, and magic bubbles the simplest of tools such as SMS, photoshop, and blogs continually bedevil practicing information operations professionals and the creaking 1950’s structures of national PSYOP organizations. The latest gadgets, whether they be iPods or streaming social networked self-aware recommendation based reputation ranked Web 2.0 viral whatevers, are just another set of shelfware unless you have the right people, with the right minds, engaged in the activity.


09 December 2006

Chinese characteristics versus the aether

From Smartmobs, a note that the valuation of Chinese currency may be affected by the popularity of the virtual QQ currency.

Since virtual worlds exchange rates can match real world currencies ranging from the yen to the Iraqi dinar, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. However, this is not how anyone pictured digital currency to evolve. It was supposed to be in either the typical evil self serving corporate world domination master narrative, or the untraceable money laundering of organized crime syndicates in obscure third world data havens. The idea that it would all start from chat and games is simply mind boggling.

It also speaks to the vast and untapped realms of human expertise and activities that have not been monetized yet, but will be changed by the introduction of new enabling technologies and new social mechanisms that will liberate the flow these goods and services in the traditional economic spectrum. Then it all becomes a question of competition among forms of wealth, for intelligence officers and investment bankers.

There are other such currencies lurking on the horizon, some glimpsed in Proteus, some in the writings of the many court jesters, and others as yet unimagined but vital to the next generation.

06 December 2006

Jesters at the futurist court’s table

This post’s title refers to a statement once made by the author Bruce Sterling regarding the role of science fiction and other speculative writers in the larger business of futures analysis. However, those fools have several advantages that have caused them to be increasingly sought out by the “professional” prognosticators.

Firstly, they are unafraid to experiment and to push the boundaries. A good speculative writer has imagination and innovation at the heart of the work, something that naturally trends against the grain of the conservatism often found in other types of futures analysis. Commercial authors who write for entertainment value do not risk ridicule for odd ideas, but rather find their successes in the obsessive and fractal complexity of the subcultures out of which spawn the very drivers of futurity.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, despite the odd bells and inappropriate comments that interrupt the supposed gravitas of an official proceeding, these are first and foremost writers and storytellers. Both are something of a lost art in many shops - destroyed by neglect of poor hiring and training processes which do not value those skills, and deliberate suppression through the seven levels of editing and coordination hell whose only purpose is to produce the blandest of common denominator products with no remnant of voice.

It seems that our neighbors to the north, in an effort to explore their own pathways to transformation and the reinvention of a martial traditional into the post-modern hydra of peacekeeping and human security, also chose to seek the service of such a storyteller. Theirs was Karl Schroeder, and the work, Crisis at Zefra, can be found along with a host of other interesting material in their National Defense Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts.

It should be noted that no less an authority than Shakespeare recognized the crucial contributions of the jester, clown, and fool to the courts of power in many of his works. Given that entire industries have been spawned as men chase the visions of their youth’s idle stories, the role of those who can conceptualize such futures will be ever more critical. Unfortunately, like most truly good analysis, this is a difficult and often non-reproducible art outside of the few unique minds which have mastered it. But the cultivation of this human capital is possible with a little effort and investment, if the right breathing space for such creativity could be carved from the darker reaches of the stifling bureaucracies that would naturally crush such heresy.

In a related matter, we note and second the call by Zenpundit for the inclusion of others outside of engineering in the development of new tools for visual analysis: “Sometimes concepts or scenarios are alinear and are best conveyed by ambiguity and paradox and the input of actual artists whose processing may be more intuitive and actively visual might give the data an entirely different, possibly better, spin.” Undoubtedly true, and well worth exploring.

We hasten to add, however, that we do not wish to see further examples of the “Hollywood factor”, where set designers and other species of professional illusionist are called upon to craft the foundations of new efforts. While the results make for good visuals and press conferences, we should not be in the business of fooling ourselves. There is enough of the aura of the mystique wreathing these matters as things now stand. After all, when even the simplest of small plastic tools can take on totemic importance, we need no artificially constructed cultures. Those which are allowed to grow organically from within serve the purpose far better.

So between the boundaries of the absurd and the insight of the sublime, the jesters may help the community walk the troubled path of prediction. Some early efforts have been made to incorporate new types of individuals into analytical efforts, primarily dealing in alternative analysis and Red Cell efforts. Perhaps the increasing use of boundary spanning information sharing and communication environments for production, enabled by new technologies, will allow experimentation beyond the normal Delphic focus group approach and into new methodologies more closely integrated with the storyteller’s art.

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05 December 2006

The politicization of intelligence history

There are fewer accusations which carry more weight within the community than claims that the analysis and reporting of intelligence have been influenced by political considerations. The process and pressures by which political influence has been exerted in the great analytical debates of the past are well documented and well understood. These pressures have impacted assessments of adversary capabilities, such as during the debates over Soviet military capacity and the Bomber Gap and later Missile Gap. The dynamic has also affected the judgment of adversary intentions, such as during the earliest days of the post-World War II confrontation with the Soviets when the national estimates in both the US and the UK were constantly under competing pressures to reflect political positions favored by the powerful or the dissenting. (One excellent treatment examining the later can be found in Know Your Enemy: How the How the Joint Intelligence Committee Saw the World, written by no less of an authority than the UK JIC’s former chairman Sir Percy Craddock.)

To say that politicization of intelligence is a cardinal sin is to understate the standards by which the community judges itself. The accepted norms of the profession drive analytical tradecraft and entire organizational structures, and have been subject to continual and justified debate since nearly the inception of what we now consider the literature of intelligence.

However, recent events have transpired which raise the spectre of an entirely different sort of collective sin: the politicization of intelligence history.

These are unprecedented times for those who practice and those who study the profession of intelligence. In an earlier era, one would never have expected the release of after action reports regarding major intelligence issues into the public domain while those issues and their kin remain current concerns. It was expected that a lifetime at least would pass before the lens of history could be turned to the deeds, thoughts, and words of those responsible for the most sensitive and secretive of decisions within the halls of the community.

This new transparency, in the form of committee reports, vetted dossiers, and even the release of raw, unevaluated documents has been simply stunning; even moreso the public acknowledgement of programs previously classified at the highest levels by a range of senior officials, including several statements of nearly world-changing import by the President himself. But this transparency is a matter of executive and policy-maker prerogative, the deliberate decision to muster support for current policy actions through the release of supporting information which was considered key to current judgments regarding the selected national course of action.

There has long been precedent for this prerogative, though never before has it been employed in such volume or kind. One has but to examine the use of overhead imagery during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the disclosure of COMINT intercepts in the aftermath of the Soviet shoot-down of Korean Air Flight 007. These techniques would be reprised during the United Nations Security Council debates in early 2003, as the United States attempted to garner support for international action against Saddam Hussein’s regime with the support of selected imagery and intercepts.

Selected examples of the latest deliberate disclosure events, however, are emerging very different in nature than any previous use of publicly released intelligence information. These include releases of previously classified documents and key information by the 9/11 Commission examining the events leading up to the attacks of five years ago, and most recently the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s examination of pre- and post-war intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and terrorism related activities. To this one might add the recent release of the unclassified report regarding Iranian nuclear capabilities and intentions, which although derived from open sources can be considered as part of this overall phenomena as its authors emphasized that it’s structure and conclusions were “informed” by classified materials.

These processes began as inherently political exercises, and it is therefore unsurprising to see the end results subject to the classic Beltway political football as each competing side seeks to assert advantage. What once was a specialists game carried out in the narrow confines of academic journals and think tank sessions has now been opened out across the global interweb, enabled by the rapid lightweight digital publishing tools and constant connectivity that formed the blogsphere. In this Parallel World the sound of the melee now dwarfs by orders of magnitude what were once usually measured debates. And while the emergent effects of this openness are incredibly interesting from the immediate standpoint of understanding specific issues, especially as new forms of outside subject matter expertise are brought to bear on previously closely held problems, they pose a serious dilemma for the overall pursuit of what has been termed intelligence studies.

The weight of this secondary literature, some of which now includes unique and otherwise virtually unobtainable analysis of primary source documents originally written in hard target languages, will pose staggering challenges to the prospective historian seeking to understand major events in our collective experience as an intelligence community, and the student seeking to learn the trade and traditions of the profession. Moreover, the inherently political process has imbued much of these writings with such serious cognitive biases that it will require the exercise of strong analytical tradecraft simply to avoid immediate mindset formation which may irrevocably influence the reader to expect such politicization in the future. It has the potential to be a self-perpetuating cycle, to the great detriment of the intelligence studies field if not broken.

In the end, preserving an accurate and objective intelligence history matters. Future analysts will be shaped, possibly irretrievably, through their early exposure to that history. The explosive growth of the new literature discussing key matters of the art and science of intelligence has certainly been a major boon to the field, but it carries with it the potential for serious higher order effects that have not yet been anticipated or explored.

Fortunately, prescriptive remedies are available to counteract potentially negative higher order effects. Core analytical tradecraft can be applied just as readily to historical examples as current issues of concern, and the constant reinforcement of the tradecraft through study and research can only strengthen and professionalize key intelligence competencies. The pool of examples by which methodologists may demonstrate the application and efficacy of specific technique must be expanded, and must encompass scenarios in which the modern taint of politicization has not reared its ugly head.

Most of all, each practitioner in the field of intelligence studies, whether operator or academic, must personally decide to eschew politicization and seek objective understanding and insight from an apolitical standpoint, come what may.

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04 December 2006

Backchannels, information sharing environments, and Wikified production

Haft of the Spear has been all over the current very public resurfacing of the debates involving the use of emerging collaboration technologies for intelligence analysis and production. We highly recommend the reader’s attention to his comments, particularly as they relate to the recruitment and retention impact caused by the sacrifice of human lifetimes.

The gentleman also makes a fascinating suggestion – to require wikified production as the primary means of developing new products. Now, we are not sure we can endorse such a radical move, but experimentation should certainly be interesting. Of course, if that production can occur across environments (as appropriate) in an AKO type portal, we would be even happier with such experimentation. That experimentation should also spend time focusing on how a wiki production process impacts dissemination and product revisits down the line.

The future of these tools will go to those who are the most productive, and able to carve out spaces away from the bureaucratic impulses to strangle them at birth. If the networks become self-sustaining, with or without official support, then they will continue to thrive. The smallest application spaces, with the fewest bells and whistles, may be the most likely to endure if they are simply opened up to as many of the right people (with strong authentication) and allowed to flourish. We have seen many examples of such emergent networks developing in the backchannels.

In social network theoretic terms, the community is only a few people deep in any given area. But the potential for the sidewise applications of expertise is always amazing, and given the right environment and the right collaborators, will no doubt prove as radically different as the first coordinated product.

01 December 2006

Seeing is believing

Somehow we have been remiss in not taking note of a fascinating effort on the R&D front that happens to be conducted for the most part in the public realm. A rare thing, this, especially given that it seems to be producing a series of new approaches to visualization tasks for intelligence analysis – and possibly even a new set of tools (and we like new toys….). Although it appears there are a number of the old vendors, and old thinkers, still haunting about hawking their wares; there is some genuine potential on the horizon.

And they even wrote a book as their manifesto and goal path. The last time we saw an effort like that came with the Network Centric Warfare folks under the late Adm. Cebrowski. (Although we are not too sure about the movie, but hey, this is the age of Gootube, right?)

Likewise, who knows what potential this new effort may spark down the road? We wish them the best of luck (and the discernment to sort the recycled repackaged chaff from the truly new and visionary.)

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