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24 May 2007

Paper cuts

We note well, and with thanks, Coming Anarchy's point regarding the nature of good intelligence operations. It is merely the routine and (entirely understandable) reaction of our knuckle-dragger contingent – whose allergy to anything resembling desk work is well known - that prompted our earlier caveat regarding the multiple origins of our thought.

It is also for us somewhat ironic, though, and prompts us to a longer digression on related matters. For a number of years, not too long ago, we found ourselves often called upon to brief newly baptized young analysts (of exceedingly tender years and excitable sensibilities) on the expectations and realities of their newly chosen professional path – which was by all historical trends going to end buried in a small cubicle somewhere in the depths of a sub-basement vault. Our emphasis during these lectures was indeed very similar to the point raised by Younghusband, and for good reason (although regrettably not as well phrased due to the inelegance of the bureaucratic principles we also served.)

We often think of those lectures, however, now that we are several years into the Long War – and now that the usual mode of transportation for some of those “youngsters” may involve something armored (or at least very fast); and now that they may find themselves carrying their personal weapon far more often than their courier bag, or wearing 5.11’s more than they might their dinner jackets. We do not think they were wasted – nor the emphasis misplaced – but the culture is changing as more and more the roles between worlds blur.

We love the quote nonetheless, and think its message is well conveyed. Which brings us back around to what is perhaps the essential point of the entire debate - it is first and foremost a matter of perceptions. In the old days, one was either a boffin or at the sharp end, and the boffins were the boys which mattered most for eventual victory. We now seek to employ (for not all, but increasingly many positions) the warrior/scholar - a mixture of sage and adventurer, of the thinker and man of action. He must be capable in one day of shifting between the hallowed debates at the highest levels of academia to the most decisive of deeds in the streets of some foreign city. He must be comfortable with the diplomats as much as the mercenaries, and master not only the arcane technologies of information production and knowledge management but also a wide range of foreign and US small arms and other weapons systems. (In fact, the astounding variety of the latter requirement is in itself a fascinating microcosm of experience - perhaps something for comment later, with any luck including the photographic input of the gentleman at The Donovan.)

Some of the debate here at Kent’s Imperative is the playing out of tensions between those two realms. The old moulds of the Cold War and the False Peace have been irretrievably shattered – and in their stead the community is remaking itself. Perhaps the most visible signs of this transformation will be in the mystique and the manner in which it is cultivated and conveyed. We are not sure what the new ideal for a culture, and a shared sense of self, should be – especially in a community fast privatizing and scattering to the winds. But we know that it is the work of our days to shape it as best as possible, into what will serve most closely the needs of tomorrow.

To this end, we also note Verification’s recent comments regarding youth outreach by the community. We agree that most of the day to day business of the profession is far from glamorous – and indeed, even that which would be the stuff of fiction otherwise is fraught with the kinds of details that render the concept of glamour quite far from mind (dysentery tends to do that, likewise a lack of showers, or even the cramped confined of the typical windowless office stuffed with rapidly obsolete computing hardware.)

But this is not the manner in which we choose to remember such days and deeds – rather, it is a choice, in much the same manner as the dispatches of the British Empire, to gloss over the baser considerations (in such narrow contexts alone), in pursuit of a better expression to give meaning and merit to the lives spent in the service of that which will never be known to the outside world. This is equally important for the children of those who serve, as it is for those deciding whether or not to enter the field.

Their disillusionment will come in time, one way or the other – but perhaps in all of this, the seed of belief in a higher purpose can be planted firmly, to sustain them through the dark nights. Thus our lectures have changed, on the rare opportunity we give them these days, and our emphasis is on the rare and fleeting moments of individual exceptionalism and near legendary impact. For we have other means of cultivating intelligence professionals to excel in the day to day business of normal activities – but we must inspire them against the day when they will be called to perform above and beyond.

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