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29 June 2007

New trends in intelligence privatization

We have long held that the privatization of intelligence in its ultimate form will be driven not only by intelligence as a government function, but by non-state actors which require information and analysis about matters previously reserved only for the Westphalian powers. As corporate interests continue to expand beyond the relatively “normal” nature of competition to the issues of operations in hostile environments, and in the face of hostile actors intent on subverting their systems, privatized intelligence will continue to grow in importance and formalization, covering not only marketplace positioning and future business strategy, but to encompass classic political / military concerns of policy, corruption, security, and the whole gamut of transnational issues.

Arms Control Wonk brings us yet another interesting tidbit supporting this belief, from a quite unexpected angle, in which he describes the unit established by Germany’s Oerlikon in order to counter attempts at proliferation related acquisitions.

In many ways, this is a natural outgrowth of similar policies which led to the establishment of anti-money laundering units at major financial institutions, and the assignment of corporate funded analyst billets to homeland security operations centers. In 5th generation warfare of the 21st century, the side with the most networks wins. We are watching the first tentative steps in the development of these networks, in which players at the edge will likely prove equally important if not more vital than the traditional centralized and hierarchical entities which have driven the intelligence profession for generations.

We can anticipate today the clash of cultures that will result from these trends, and the very different kind of interdisciplinary and liaison skillets which will be required to make these new privatized functions work. We also eagerly await the unique contributions to the body of analytic and operational tradecraft that such new units may offer, and hope that their members will some day contribute to the intelligence literature their case studies, TTPs, and lessons learned. We hope too that the academic intelligence studies community will begin to consider how to prepare the next generation of analysts who may take assignments in such units, and their government and contractor counterparts who may wind up sitting across from them at the conference table or VTC screen.


28 June 2007

Politicization and the leak culture

We have recently had reason to revisit the old historical materials on Service I of the First Chief Directorate of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, which was responsible for analysis of foreign political and military intelligence - such as it was within the confines of a culture focused nearly exclusively on collection operations, and in which decision-makers from Stalin onward nearly always chose to act as their own analysts.

In short, it was the epitome of a dysfunctional intelligence-policy relationship. In his second volume reviewing the incredible Mitrokin Archives – a secret collection of handwritten notes copied from the internal files of the FCD by a patient archivist, who spent 20 years accumulating the most sensitive files before fleeing the Soviet Union as one of the most amazing defectors ever to emerge from the Cold War – the noted intelligence historian Christopher Andrew put it best: “Though the politicization of intelligence sometimes degrades assessment even in democratic systems; it is actually built into the structure of all authoritarian regimes.”

We fear greatly that politicization is well on its way to becoming ingrained in the next generation of analysts entering the profession. Too many times recently we have seen instructors attempting to insist on degrees of political correctness that would make a commissar blush, and to outright excise materials that conflict with their favoured line of thinking from student work. There is an increasing emphasis on process, and the fig leaf numerics, to hide what otherwise might be transparent biases under the pretense of rigour. And unfortunately, the Millennial generation is exceptionally receptive to being shaped into this mold, having spent a lifetime growing up under increasingly indoctrination oriented education systems which fail to instill critical thinking skills yet insist on ever more dogmatic judgments.

We have said before that the wrong lessons have been drawn from the intelligence lead-in prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we are increasingly concerned by the number of academics that would rely on partially declassified materials (and damnable leaks) in an attempt to teach their own concept of intelligence “reform” to an eager audience which has nothing else against which to compare.

This is normalizing a degree of conformity in judgment, and excusing away the unacceptable behaviors of those who would break their sacred oaths. This is an institutionalization of a new culture, hitherto alien to the intelligence community, in which individuals claiming to “speak truth to power” place their own assessments, typically made in lockstep with the unexamined assumptions of an inherently political philosophy, above the requirements of professional tradecraft or even the needs of the mission. And when these individual perceive that their viewpoints do not carry the day – no matter what evidence may be assembled in favour of an alternative hypothesis (or against their preferred theory) – they choose to voice their displeasure to the press.

We view this with the gravest of concern, and heed well the related points made by Former Spook regarding the impact of such dysfunctional cultures in the origins of cascading failures. The warning signs are always apparent, and in hindsight may be castigated easily. It takes a far different effort, however, to change them before disaster befalls the unwary.

We see constantly in recent analytic debates the pressures to find false certainties, and a profound lack of respect for the “unknown unknowns” – at a time when the means of collection are ever more challenged, and the range of targets growing ever wider. Substantive expertise has become scarce, and is often a millstone in the face of a radically changed environment which offers no precedent upon which to rely – although few anointed experts are yet willing admit this when it occurs, and to face Smoking Mirror).

We wonder if somewhere in this increasingly damaging culture there is a patient Vasili borne of these failures, squirreling away the latest assembly of damaging leaks - not out of righteous conviction in the face of an evil system (as was the case for Mitrokin), but out of base ego and the desire political profit.

Without strong leadership, not merely at the highest levels but down to the line functions themselves, it is only a matter of time before these leaks destroy the community. We have insisted before that defeating politicization requires an individual commitment on the part of every intelligence professional – whether analyst or operator, administrator or briefer. But we fear that the current intel studies academia is not doing nearly enough to instill such a commitment, but rather reinforcing the damnable drivers which have brought us to such a dangerous point in the history of the community.

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26 June 2007

Denial and deception for beginners

In the wake of recent discussions over the future of imagery constellations, we note the following item of interest over at Arms Control Wonk. While we often disagree with the learned Herr Doktorprofesor on matters of interpretation and intent, we respect the analytic rigor with which he approaches problem sets.

It is somewhat distressing to see this same rigor applied towards determining optimal activity scheduling windows for counter-IMINT denial and deception. (We will not comment whether we believe he is right or not in his tables, but we do note there are other variables in these equations.) But, as he notes, adversaries are very much capable of accomplishing the same thing using the efforts of Western hobbyists, commonly available open source software, and myriad open source publications both online and in the gray literature.

D&D is insufficiently appreciated nor considered, especially by policymakers who, no matter how often they may be briefed, confuse “The adversary is concealing critical information” with “I don’t know” - two branches of the same tree, but with very different fruit. It is too rarely taught in the academic environment, nor introduced into exercises and simulation. It can challenge the best planned effects based operations, and frustrate every attempt at operational net assessment.

But it is never perfect, and it can be defeated by aggressive collectors and good analysis. There is quite a body of deception and counter-deception literature in the public domain, which is well worth the reader’s time.

But most importantly, it is vital that the next generation of collection programs be accelerated in order to ensure that the adversary is never able to consistently defeat US technologies and approaches. It is the intelligence version of the age of race between armor and bullet, and in this case our bullets must always be capable of piercing any shield. Too often this is forgotten in the day to day fights over acquisitions and policies, when the realities of limited capabilities and high demand / low density assets still loom large in our thinking.

h/t: Image above is from Analytical Graphic’s excellent STK product, which we highly recommend for those that have a need to do real space operations and GEOINT analysis on a more than occasional basis.)

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Strange maps for these territories

Here be dragons, and demons, and every other manner of vision that has ever haunted the mind of man, expressed in the vast emptiness of the blank page that is the edge of the known world.

We lost something, perhaps, when the form of the world was so easily known through remote sensing and other instruments of precision. Not to say one would long for a world of ignorance, but in seeking to craft the stories to fill that void, mankind’s frequent sketches of his fears and hopes found to a certain degree an ultimate and universal expression.

Perhaps this is why maps of the online environment have so taken our fancy. In the place where there is no there, there the human mind is free once again to form the shadows to its dreams.

We note the whimsy, and the rigor, applied to these endeavors. We are amazed by the number of ways in which the shape may be sought, and the patient efforts of those who would catalog the results of those quests.

Perhaps most of all, we find ourselves caught by the recursive nature of the process, by which the vanished maps of earlier ages in the real world are caught up in this consensual hallucination that we share. It is the final resting place of every line drawn to represent the endless hours of a negotiation, or the hard won fruits of the military surveyor or spy in a foreign land. It reminds us of the constant challenge of fixing the battlespace through operational art, and the difficulties of opportunity analysis when what lies over the hill may never be known with any certainty in the endless fog of war. It also reminds us of the constant vigil of indications and warning intelligence, and the ways in which the picture in our mind’s eye may differ from what transpires out of our sight, for the map is never the territory.

Those bitten by the same bug appear now to congregate at Strange Maps, to which we strongly recommend our readers. Students of intelligence, military art, geospatial and remote sensing sciences, and history alike will find much to captivate.

In the end, it may even be that those futile attempts at mapping the virtual may also only ever reside here as the metaphor of cyberspace runs its natural course, and the medium becomes as implicitly assumed as paper.

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25 June 2007

Imaginary interfaces

One of the pervasive commonalities in the intel business is the constant desire for the often entirely mundane realities of the daily grind to somehow be made to match their more popular, and far more attractive, Hollywood counterparts. Thus the famous set design of one major new Center, and the subtle influence in a million other ways in countless offices around the community.

Whatever we might feel about the practical utility of such efforts, there is an undeniable political and morale benefit to being able to show of cool looking toys to the newcomers and the oversight people.

So for our money, if this trend is to continue, the next time we have to commission the design of a human computer interface, we would like very much to include Mark Coleran in the process. His work has graced numerous sci-fi and high tech film scenes over the years, and is well worth the price of admission.

Now if only visualization tools can catch up….

h/t Information Aesthetics


Thinking in the dark

You’d figure after having been expeditionary so often in the Long War, the intelligence community would have figured out how to avoid sitting around with Tikkas and Surefires in a blacked-out vault. Because grease pencil sure beats geospatial visualization displays....

And physical discomfort should be nothing, given that there are fighting men and women suffering in the heat, freezing in the mountains, or rotting in the jungles elsewhere. Why, the austerity campaign is really about solidarity – not about a failing infrastructure that cannot even keep a consistent environment for the machinery (people, as always being barely an afterthought.)

This is not the first time the issue has been raised, along with all of the other problems caused by the excessive push to build more, right here, right now, and fast that have come to light. If our scorn comes through, it is because of the absolute lack of vision displayed at so many levels of senior management within the community. For a culture in which warning is enshrined as such a key mission, we seem to do very badly at forecasting our own internal I&W problem sets – and even worse at heeding those that might have been concerned.

Well, there are a whole lot of civil affairs and reconstruction staff which would no doubt be very happy to come back and spend a little time adding capacity to a nice wooded location in Maryland. It sure beats yet another well, power line, or generator out in the Gap. That is, unless something else catches fire….

If nothing else, information assurance is made easier under such conditions. A box that is turned off entirely cannot be compromised…

Update: New link for the new Haft of the Spear site. Also, more at Former Spook.

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Understanding analytic productivity

We have been increasingly interested in the radical changes to analytical functions, and the glimmers of what could be serious new changes in analytic tradecraft best practices that might result, caused by the increasing emphasis on new fusion centers, watch desks, and other operations-focused environments.

These are environments starkly different from the typical analyst-in-a-cube model of previous generations. While they are a departure from the conventional, they are not entirely unique. One can look to many WWII and Vietnam era intelligence operations centers and analytical cells as prior examples – also focused on (then) current and contingency operations. We are even jaded enough to recall the once vogue idea of the “war room” for every crisis, taken to its highest pinnacle by the political campaign types and the competitive intelligence folks. (We recall Fuld even had a virtual training package by the same name for the corporate types).

Fads come and go. However, there are elements of enduring value to the fusion center model, else it would continually be re-discovered. Some of these may simply be administrative – reducing the friction of security coordination requirements for meetings, co-locating agencies and networks which might otherwise hide behind their insularity, or simply creating an entity with enough bureaucratic throw weight to fight for and hold its own independent analytical judgments. Others we suspect have more to do with the productivity of the fusion center environment – the energies of such places, and the pressures of the mission, are felt much more keenly throughout. Ops tempo is always higher – occasionally even approaching the speed at which crisis events or major accounts are actually moving - no mean feat, this, when most of the workforce is wedded to a 9 to 5 or shorter mentality.

In light of these considerations, we have been keenly curious as to why such greater productivity might result. We have our own theories regarding the insights created by connectivity and the effects of stimulus on analyst performance, but we also know this is only part of the answer. Other elements lie in culture, and still more in the field of cognitive psychology.

Web Worker Daily has an interesting piece on the implications of the latter for knowledge workers of all types, in reaction to an increasing media backlash against newer production models. We don’t know that we buy into these theories, yet, but it is interesting to see them surfaced and to play with them in the context of our profession. In many ways, the community is quite a bit further behind the curve in this area, as the unique demands of security and exclusivity have kept many of the mobility and multi-function innovations from rapid introduction. However, things are proceeding apace (especially in light of new demands created by homeland security and military support to tactical operations), and we expect in the coming years to grapple with the same kinds of issues.

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24 June 2007

Pursuing the 28%

Issues of recruiting and retention of the next generation of intelligence professionals have been much on our minds as of late. We grapple with the endless difficulties created by bureaucracy, culture, and rent-seeking behaviors on the part of government and contractors throughout the community. We are witness to the effects of the demographic shifts within so many agencies, and the often confused responses to the changes that those shifts have created. We are also keenly aware of the unparalleled dysfunction of the clearance process and security system – acknowledged by all, remedied by none.

We are not alone in writing about these issues. Haft of the Spear & Mountain Runner highlight a classic case of a candidate caught between worlds and hamstrung by a system he cannot understand nor maneuver in. (While his attitude early in the process was unhelpful, and likely led him in part to his current straights, we view this as much a failure of the recruiting process as anything else. We should not expect candidates to want to come to the three letter world anymore – rather we must sell them on why they would want to, else we will lose them to other places more compatible with their lifestyles and desires.)

The pool of candidates is simply too small to keep losing the good ones. As Former Spook notes, we are looking at somewhere less than 28% of the population of 17-24 year olds as new entrants into the community (and of those, the ones we need most perhaps make up an even more distressingly small percentage). The ones that are interested in our community are perhaps only a fraction of that total…

Every day, opportunities are slipping away to find, inspire, and keep the best and the brightest. Time and again, shops devolve as their linchpin performers leave for greener pastures; and those that remain are the ones who dictate policies and products which are mired firmly in the worst sort of mediocrity.

It is not enough to say “the system” is too large and complex for effective change. It is not enough to call for reform of the organization chart without looking at transformation on the line, and at mission management level.

Another graduating class has just left the intelligence studies academy, and the stories of their travails in navigating the hiring process will no doubt continue to surface over the course of the summer. And for every story that is told, there are a dozen others in which the candidate quietly slipped off the a high paying position in the civilian world, looking at competitive intelligence (or management consulting) – using the very same skillsets so much in demand in the community.

Each one of those is a failure by the administrative and functional nightmare that is the IC’s hiring processes, and in each of those individual failures lies the roots of the next major national intelligence failure.

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22 June 2007

Imaginary constellations

America’s warfighting strategies (and much of the assumptions underlying its diplomacy, although this is rarely admitted) relies heavily upon the belief that we have, and will retain, information superiority through aggressive intelligence collection using unique national technical means that will provide such a decisive advantage as to render enemy actions (and even in some aggrandized versions, their intentions) transparent to our watchful eyes.

But we are entering a time period wherein we are not the only kids on the block with cool toys. (For evidence of this, one can look to the recent profile of a new Israeli system, written by Former Spook. Other such capabilities are not entirely dissimilar.) Commercial capabilities have also proliferated, from their humble outsider status in the 1990’s (when no major intelligence organization would accept their potential utility – until the Long War came, when every second of on orbit time was desperately needed and purchased at a high premium.)

Despite all the discussions of smallsats to launch on demand for combatant commanders, and the grand visions of the Future Imagery Architecture, the community apparently continues to fail to design, acquire, and orbit new overhead systems. Haft of the Spear points to the most recent (via Mountainrunner), and this news comes fast on the heels of a recent serious launch anomaly which left a new National Reconnaissance Office payload allegedly struggling to stay within its mission parameters.

Getting birds aloft is a damn hard business – the very definition of rocket science, and the engineers and specialists (almost always contractors, as the USG simply cannot keep such expertise in house with so few active programs) who carry out the task must contend with multi-decade procurement cycles, constant budgetary uncertainties, and reams of bureaucratic and auditing drag. It is therefore no wonder that we have seen such a revolution in the development of air-breathing platforms and sensors during the Long War, yet almost no real progress in other critical areas of the collection architecture.

We are reminded of one of the great debating exercises which were used earlier in our careers, to help new analysts understand the natural tensions and tradeoffs inherent in the collection management process. During these discussions, the bright young things would be given a series of competing missions and a limited resource pools, and have to fight amongst themselves to serve them, including options involving the introduction of new future capabilities. Some very innovative answers came out of these processes, and many of those were already being attempted – or would become program options in later years (good ideas are often re-discovered when minds of a similar bent are turned towards the same problems.)

But we are struck now at how many of these discussions which involved planned future systems simply may never come to pass. While the instructional value of the exercises was, and will always remain, something of value; from the perspective of hindsight it nonetheless reminds us of the European princelings that would march their illusionary armies across ever more elaborate war game boards as the waning years of Continental warfare relentless stripped away their options for actually employing their power in the real world.

This must change, and quickly, if all of the plans for near-perfect situational awareness and information dominance are to have any meaning at all. The fog of war is not easily overcome, and if we fail in the continual striving against it, we will once again face new and terrible intelligence surprises from entirely unexpected quarters. This cannot be allowed.

We do not seek to defend any specific program, and the new DNI's choices in the matter may well be the best possible step in right direction towards fixing the terrible mess that has developed after the chronic under-investment of the 90's and the inexorable surge demands of the Long War. But there will always be a set of stars in the night sky that will remind us of all that might have been, and hopefully to spur us (and our counterparts) onwards towards what is needed next.

In From the Cold has more, including a more detailed analysis of the reasons behind what once was considered a critical asset - and the reversals of fortune it suffered.

We also second most strongly his comments regarding the poison of the leak culture. It is the toxic byproduct of politicization, and the bane of every professional who has seen programs burned, and blood and treasure wasted to satisfy the vanity or the vitriol of those that would break their oath.

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21 June 2007

Emerald Cities of the Future

Much has been made over the rather clever re-naming of the Green Zone in Baghdad in the title of the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”

But the real cities which deserve that title are the vast, teeming slums of the developing world, in which tomorrow’s expeditionary fights will conducted. These will be 4th and 5th generation warfare at its fiercest, in an urban terrain that makes all the complexity of a Fallujah and Najaf seem relatively straightforward by comparison.

These are the hellholes of Africa’s urban cores, or the favelas of Latin America. And we have much to thank the USMC for, not only in demonstrating the manner in which MOUT will be conducted in the 21st century through the hard lessons of wartime experience, but offering a forward looking vision of tomorrow’s fights through the unique production of the khaki tower and its operational counterparts during exercises such as Emerald Express and Urban Warrior.

We are reminded of these earlier works in the new Forbes series on the urban environments of the future.

These are the core dynamics which will drive the intelligence challenges of the future. They will require different mindsets and perspectives, new collection techniques and analytical methodologies. The range of subject matter expertise that will be needed, from languages to civil engineering, urban planning, and sociology will defy aggregation in any single agency – if indeed it is possible to collect sufficient SME within the government (and its contractors) at all…

These futures are part of the reason for the radical changes in curriculum at the (new) NDIC – the National Defense Intelligence College. It is hoped that other elements of the intelligence studies academia will take close heed, whether they are part of the IC CAE program or otherwise.

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On virtualization

We are certainly great fans of virtual offices. Unfortunately, we have rarely been afforded the benefits of the new technologies (despite how widely they have been implemented even for secure channels, if only to reduce the number of bodies which have to fight cross town DC traffic for meetings). When we have, though, it has always been a most positive experience (even if it involved time in the field under otherwise less than pleasant circumstances.)

We have long believed that the federal side has been the most resistant to teleworking and the attending decentralization that it brings. We are therefore surprised to note the higher percentages of adoption reported recently (and covered here at Web Worker Daily.) Of course, we would think that large portions of the intel community would fall into the “not eligible” category, but we suppose things like the National Virtual Translation Center and the Joint Reserve Intelligence Center serves to even that effect out somewhat.

While we hope to see much more of this sort of thing in the future, at present there is simply too much embedded inertia, and too many complications with security and interoperability to fully realize the potential. After all, it is all that can be done to assure connectivity between various buildings, let alone a distributed workforce in a virtual office. (There is a reason why the fusion center concept has proven so popular in forcing everyone under the same roof, and to bring with them their networks…)

There is also much to be said for the kinds of informal hallway conversations which are the lifeblood of the unanticipated identification of linkages and emerging issues. Right now, the tools of the virtual office simple do not allow for such robust levels of interaction between analysts (especially the more introverted, technical, and task focused sort). As greater adoption of the wiki and the blog progresses, along with even more informal mechanisms such as an IC version of Twitter and fast VOIP enabled telepresence, perhaps this will change.

For now, we are happy to see any progress at all. We are aware of small teams which are effectively managing to do unusual and good things out in the world, relying heavily on virtual offices for both their own interactions and reachback. These models, if given a chance to compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas, will either prove themselves or fail. And from them, perhaps we will find the lessons learned to move to a better way of life than the vault.

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20 June 2007

The politics of the (old) NDIC

We are surprised to see that our post regarding the old National Drug Intelligence Center has apparently struck such a deep nerve in at least one of our readers. We knew it was a popular item in the Department of Justice – having been visited hundreds of times by quite a range of individuals there (as well as our usual wide range of readership). We did not realize it would provoke such venom – nor somehow create an assumption that our writing was for the political purposes of the Republican administration. (We are strictly and professionally apolitical, and amongst the various elements of our skunkworks you will find no greater variance than in personal political opinions… while this is likely hard to believe in the age where the personal is nearly always political, there you have it.)

We are also fascinated to see the interpretation of our writing posed by the new “intelligencer”. Needless to say, we shall not quibble details of traffic, fight over the method of counting billets, nor discuss how and why our opinions of the place were formed. Our intent was not to add to the clamor of the budget fight over the earmarks that fund the place – as we note, this is very small beer indeed in the real intelligence community. (We have spent more in a fiscal quarter in some programs than their entire annual budget; and frankly even on the same sized programs elsewhere seen performance and quality to better effect - routinely exceeding their total annual production volume on a monthly basis on almost any account with a far smaller staffs. But editing hell does tends to kill a shop’s production…)

We do not wish to see the place closed entirely but rather reformed and revitalized to its as yet unfulfilled existing purpose and missions. Our primary motivation for critique is that we were, and remain, appalled at the suggestion that some of the most critical programs in the counterterrorism community might be shifted in the political winds, particularly to a shop with such a poor performance record when compared to the ground breaking work done at places such as National Counterterrorism Center.

Our reactions to the old NDIC are not driven by envy, as our newfound critic might suggest (such envy as we might harbor is reserved for those with nice European or island postings assigned to small, out of the way accounts), but rather by disappointment in its failure to live up to its potential. There are few times when intelligence functions move outside the Beltway, and we have long encouraged the process in order to start the sea change required to make that happen as a realistic career option rather than the exile that it most certainly is now.

And for the record, we think this sort of debate is exactly what Sherman Kent had in mind when he first called for a literature of intelligence. A profession which cannot reflect upon itself and its activities in a robust and spirited debate - be they good or ill - is no profession at all.

For this reason, we welcome our new virtual colleague, and hope to see him/her contribute more to the literature beyond the narrow discussion of a transient politicized fight. Perhaps he/she can use this opportunity as a better chance to illuminate the discussion of new methodologies in counter-drug analysis, highlight new analytical software (but please, something other than the Microsoft driven abortion that is RAID or the utterly unused Orion packages), or debate DOCEX processes. If nothing else, we always appreciate new perspectives on future transformation of the community – and even if we might disagree on where NDIC currently stands, we might find common ground as to where it, and other decentralized components of the larger community, should be headed.

So, to our new counterpart, we offer the traditional benediction handed down to us from the days of SOE - merde alors.

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18 June 2007

Combat stress and society’s (manufactured) reaction

Combat stress is a real thing. There are robust programs in place in DOD and elsewhere to help handle the effects of that stress on the human being, for war is a distinctly unnatural state of affairs and prolonged participation in it can do things to the health of one’s mind. Unconventional units, particularly those engaged in the delicate business of intelligence in support of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, suffer combat stress more than most. So we, like many in our profession, are greatly cognizant of the hazard – and to a great extent, much of the community’s culture evolved to help place such stress in a larger context, and share it among those whom one trusts – especially those parts of the culture which have been so roundly criticized by those seeking political correctness and sterility.

The most important lesson we ever learned was that combat stress is driven primarily by one’s own reaction to society’s reaction regarding the stress events. The lesson came from the law enforcement realm, where the exposure to serious trauma and emotional tension was far more routine, and far more frequent, over the course of careers often spanning decades. These lessons have been validated time and again in the wars we have seen. It is not merely that one saw terrible things, or carried out difficult deeds during a period of time in a bad place. It is the cultural, political, and interpersonal context of what those things mean back in the World that can settle the restless nightmares or spur the haunting demons that lurk in a man’s mind.

There are outlets for this kind of stress, and means by which it may be handled. There are avenues available that those who need help may turn to. There is no shame in it.

Every man reacts differently to the stress. Physiological symptoms, psychological conditions, and triggering factors all vary. But there is no more sure means to convince a man that he is suffering than a relentless media campaign that tells him he should be. The propaganda in this case creates a reality. And this is a direct and grievous wound to those who should be offered instead support, care, and a greater context into which they might place the burdens of their days and thus see them lightened.

It is for these reasons that we view the recent Washington Post (and other media outlets’) attempts to stir up the ghosts of conflicts past to destroy support for the Long War as contemptible beyond measure. The media manufactured Vietnam-era PTSD coverage has proven over the careful examination of history to be driven by frauds and liars, who sought to cover their inadequacies in the stolen glories of others, and in failing sought to discredit entirely the idea of heroism, and bravery, and valour. (One of the best works documenting these false claims, and the media profiteering on the backs of such lies, was written by B.G. Burkett.) It is with this firmly in mind that we note the troubling similarities with current media accounts.

We view this most damnable of frauds as arising from an impulse that the Bard identified long ago in one of his more stirring military scenes:

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

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15 June 2007

The difference between intelligence, covert action, and policy

If true, this story illustrates why the machinery of intelligence and covert action should always be kept separate from the other instruments of policy and national power.

It is also one of those times when one looks back at the decision to involve DCI George Tenet directly in negotiations in the Middle East (in his titular capacity, no less) as the height of folly. After all, there are plenty of Arab conspiracies which attribute everything wrong in the world to that particular organization… and bringing them to the table by name did nothing but add fuel to that fire for generations to come.

In the same light, we look at the old Department of Justice efforts to train and equip PA police… we wonder how many of those individuals may have been executed in the streets in the past few days – or who are doing the killing themselves?

Nothing so blunts a nation’s capabilities than the use of those scarce resources for missions that other agencies and organizations should have done, but failed at. One can say the same risks lie in store for the “Department of Everything Else” long advocated by Tom Barnett.

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12 June 2007

The IED Fight

Given that the ongoing efforts to counter IED attacks is the primary tactical and technological level struggle of the Long War, we are continually amazed at the amount of misinformation, disinformation, and sheer ignorance which has been propagating in recent months. (If ever there were more clearly illustrated the failure of PAO and IO in this conflict, we have yet to see it.)

In terms of understanding individual experiences on the ground, this is the equivalent of airpower in the Battle of Britain, or amphibious operations in the Pacific theatre. And it is almost entirely unknown outside of the narrative of chaos that repeats endlessly in major media channels.

Thankfully, a few recent stories have begun to illuminate an otherwise clouded environment. We are not necessarily in favour of the level of detail which is being revealed about current operations and activities, but we do value the higher order effects of at last seeing parts of a much larger story told.

A global web of special operations and intelligence professionals are engaged in the fight, assisted by technical experts and veteran operational planners. In the air, there are the unseen flights “banging trons”. On the ground, there are innovations in armor and other protective designs. But other efforts have not been successful, mired in the legal and political morass which characterizes the ambiguity in which this war is prosecuted.

All the while, these tactics spread in new theatres, with serious geopolitical implications for those willing to confront them. For our enemies are clearly named, and acting in plain sight – if one but chooses to look.

But regrettably, all of the our vast capabilities available will avail us naught if we do not maintain the political will, and the moral certainty, to win this fight. This should be household knowledge - not the obscure domain of the professional. There are more stories to be told, and they should be told - in a way that protects those in harm's way from adverse disclosure but lets the truth be known. That is a task we leave to others, acting under appropriate command guidance and authorization - but it is a call that needs to be heeded.

To borrow the famous plea: Faster, please.

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11 June 2007

Conference season

Our thoughts lately turn towards the perennial summer institution of the intelligence community conference – the time to travel (perhaps if only across town, and even to that most rare of luxuries - the world outside of the vault, the one with windows...), sit lightly (if long), and reflect upon the art and science rather than on the press of day to day events.

Our business side / competitive intelligence colleagues kicked off the season in the late spring, but then again vendors are always hungry for Q3 leads during the long doldrums of executive vacations and budget uncertainties.

The educator’s annual conference is currently going on, with a most interesting collection of heavyweights displaying great interest in the generation to which the Long War will be given.

A few of the more established intel schools are also hosting a small function of their own, as usual out in the boondocks of the Great Lakes.

And of course, there is the event everyone is waiting for: the DNI OSINT conference, where we hope to see something new, interesting, and definitive emerging from the movements within the open source side of the community. (Standing room only, already, we note.)

Let’s hope the powerpoint rangers practice better OPSEC for the remainder of the summer, based on the recent news.

We would also love to see a bigger push for paper submissions at these events. While it is nice to have a good lunch, and (hopefully) engaging speakers; these functions represent a unique chance to spur contributions to the literature in a manner that the longer production cycle journals do not. There are few other fields where conferences do not routinely include papers, and it has been a long time since the 2005 analysis conference.

Alas, in the meantime those seeking further reading from the conference literature must content themselves with the (sometimes overly) academic offerings from the International Studies Association’s past meetings.

We also await the emergence into the public light of the various indicators - which will (no doubt) manifest the trends of the ever-shifting currents of politics within the IC. These are troubled days, and much more will out before the season ends, we should think.

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10 June 2007

Current intelligence and situational awareness

We have often been struck by the volume and scope of activities which are labeled intelligence which are simply descriptive, “current” processing and production (with the occasional value-added analysis if a senior enough professional is at hand, but otherwise the powerpoint bullets stick to the “facts”). This is a particularly pre-dominant function within watch desks and fusion centers – presumably due to the fact that their primary customer base are more senior analysts or SME’s with deeper target knowledge, no matter what many might claim otherwise.

This is not to say that such activities are not valuable in their own right. There is much to be had in the time, accurate presentation of material regarding complex, ambiguous, and rapidly changing events and actors. Once upon a time, this was regarded as the sine qua non of warfighter support – to the point that the intel function itself was supposed to atrophy, absorbed into the common operational picture as just one more source of information.

The reality has been much different, of course. Fusion (or horizontal integration, if you prefer the newer buzzword) rarely exceeds the most basic steps. Organizational, cultural, legal, and technological hurdles remain, preventing true automation. Most systems and programs, such as the much talked about HSIN, continue to fail to accomplish basic information sharing needs – let alone integration- due to design flaws, poor implementation, or agency politics. Meanwhile, the best programs tend to be bootstrapped affairs, where the emphasis is not on the software or engineering but on lightweight technologies to enable user contributions in the most open and accessible manner possible.

This does not mean that automation does not offer potential – it just has to be done right, a devilishly tricky detail. We fully support, and strongly advocate, the introduction of technology to free the human analyst to focus on implications, projection, and insight. The discipline of intelligence-driven situational awareness has emerged as a professional sub-specialty in its own right, fraught with all the difficulties of both technology and tradecraft applied to a unique convergence of intelligence and operational tasks and environments.

We continue to be fascinated by the many tools and techniques which are being developed in this area. One of the more interesting of such that crossed our desks in recent days is the iMOUT application, profiled here by Bruce Sterling. We do love new toys…

07 June 2007

Protective intelligence in the spotlight

Via several open media sources in the UK comes word of a the formation of a new protective intelligence unit, the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre, designed for the protection of high profile principals from potential stalkers and lone assassins. The unit, apparently operating within the Met, is comprised of a mix of psychology and psychiatry experts supporting sworn police and civilian research / intelligence specialists.

At first blush, this seems like a long overdue UK adoption of a similar model currently in use within the US Secret Service, the National Threat Assessment Center. The US unit is noted, in addition to its substantive operational activities and line intelligence production, for excellent contributions to the literature of intelligence on this specialized (but vital) function, drawn from a case study method program of their own creation. They even produced an excellent introductory text a few years back, well worth the time for any professional assigned to even occasional PSD missions.

However, it should be noted that Special Branch has long held the protective services mission, and has enjoyed considerable intelligence support over the years from the UK’s police intelligence and security services. The UK’s “new” unit is likely just a new task force model with greater participation by health services experts. Nonetheless, it is another example of joint interagency fusion bringing new players and traditional mission owners to the same table to tackle difficult and enduring problem sets – something we have, and continued to, strongly support.

As the disciplines within homeland security intelligence continue to emerge and become more defined, we firmly believe that principal-focused threats will make up a significant percentage of requirements, especially in departments and agencies which may not previously have been tasked to support these needs. With the explosion of publicly available information regarding individuals accessible through low cost (or free) online services, and the growth of the politics of personal destruction, the threats to prominent individuals (even at levels far below those traditionally considered “national” exposure) will only increase.

To this later point, we are reminded that robust online collection through large scale internet exploitation may be one of the better ways at identifying early indicators of such threats – but like all such efforts, requires serious analytical strategies to avoid information overload and irrelevance. Given the recent news that others are now paying serious attention to the Jesters at the Futurists’ Court Table (in the form of homeland security taskings for Sigma), we recall an different science fiction author, Neal Stephenson’s notional approach to solving this likely analytical bottleneck through the use of expert system software designed to identify paranoid schizophrenics – and the unexpected spin-off’s that result when such software is available on the market. While the reality may never be so dramatic, the story does serve to challenge with new concepts of future intelligence challenges.

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06 June 2007

Remembering D-Day

Given the occasion, we would pause to reflect on the critically important accomplishments of our predecessors in the past global conflict.

Specifically, we are reminded of the men of the ALSOS mission, who came ashore on D-Day in order to face not only the dangers of the conventional military ranks arrayed against them, but to confront the unknown threats of what was then an entirely new weapon.

ALSOS was concerned that the Nazi German nuclear program, too primitive to produce a viable fission weapon, could be diverted to the production of large scale radiological dispersal devices to contaminate large areas, either at the beachhead or blocking the advance of forces deeper into the countryside.

Radiological weapons were very poorly understood given the science of the day, and likewise detection systems were large, clumsy, and inefficient. The operational implications, and long term health effects of radiation threats were entirely unknown in the military environment. Thus, technical intelligence teams were absolutely critical to collecting initial information about this unknown threat – but essentially worked with limited (or no) weapons, and with little ability to communicate their concerns or missions to those around them.

ALSOS members would later go on to perform a role much like that of the latter-day Iraqi Survey Group – assessing German special weapons programs and capabilities. They faced many of the same controversies – but their mission was not revealed until decades later.

Their story is told far better, and in more detail, in Spying on the Bomb.

Spare a thought for the veterans – both of WWII and more recent service - on this day, once the Day of Days.

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05 June 2007

Gray and black markets for small arms

Global Guerrillas points us to a fascinating World Bank study examining pricing dynamics in illicit markets for weapons – particularly the venerable AK series rifle.

Of course, these are dynamics familiar to anyone who has spent any time operating in conflict zones. Acquiring and holding iron in a place where a working weapon is your constant companion – especially if you are ever required to outfit others in addition to yourself - tends to accumulate levels of knowledge about these marketplaces. It is nice, however, to see this from a formal academic perspective – even if the tone draws a bit too much from the small arms disarmament lobbyists that also tend to write on the issues of global weapons trade.

What is lost in the economic and statistic sets however are the narratives of these weapons. Robb correctly states that “there is a global pool of assault weapons that quickly flows to wherever there is demand” and very interestingly goes on to note “I suspect we are already seeing a similar globalization of supply for services like IED construction and emplacement.”

It is the stories of these transactions that matter to us as intelligence professionals – both at the individual level (for tactical purposes) and in the aggregate (for operational and strategic reasons.) The market for weapons (just as the marketplace of violence) does not exist simply for its own sake – the demand is created by consumer perceptions, intentions, and reactions.

We are reminded how much the narratives of such specific transactions are frequently lost, or glossed over, due to the complexity of the underlying details. Immediately after the end of initial major combat operations during OIF I in 2003, we noted a large volume of handheld imagery being distributed by the various embedded press services which focused on seized arms caches and other weapons stockpiles. There were a number of quite distinctive weapons recovered, many of which by the very fact of their existence said quite a lot about the nature of illicit Hussein-era acquisition programs.

In another case in a particular foreign country that has become a key battleground in the Long War, a particular variant of a common German manufactured submachine gun came into our possession for a time due to the necessities of self-protection in a dynamic environment. That particular weapon, when examined as it was being prepared for service, proved to have come out of the former Yugoslavian conflicts before somehow winding its way to very different shores. No doubt it too would have had quite a story to offer.

The origins and traces of these stories are often quite surprisingly still available in the marketplaces themselves. Just like the sales of the weapon, the explanations of their origins and lineage are preserved in a hand to hand oral tradition. Such traditions frequently impact values based on both the buyer’s and merchant’s perceptions, and as such are sometime subject to manipulation on either side in the bargaining process. But there are common levels of understanding throughout such markets which tend to moderate these effects for informed participants. One of the most striking examples of this are the transactions which involve locally manufactured clones of popular weapons designs – particularly cases involving those clones for which the original designer has not granted license. Uninformed participants may think they are buying (or selling) original major branded items, but knowledgeable traders understand the differences in reliability and tolerances caused by often quite radically different standards of quality assurance.

Perhaps the most fascinating arms market we are aware of is found in Darra, Pakistan. (See the interesting travel guide writeup here.) The stories of these weapons, many locally created designs adapted from a dozen different components of other major small arms systems, are quite fascinating indeed. We also like the bizarre and unusual small arms of the Philippines, which also has quite an interesting history of indigenous production dating as far back as WWII.

There are lessons in these stories for the intelligence professional – not only in the specifics of conflict and cooperation which characterize current issues, but also in the shifting trends in the players that make up these stories. Most 20th century weapons trade dynamics were dominated by state actors and state level production, with the private dealer and the indigenous manufacturer an interesting but essential anomalous side note. The increasingly privatized conflicts of the 21st century, from the Long War onward, will not be – in either their physical or virtual aspects.

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Exploring the vast reaches of the disconnected professionals

We often take for granted that intelligence professionals are part of a larger intelligence community, and often part of multiple overlapping communities of professional interest. It is thus with occasional surprise we are reminded of the vast legion of those who toil in the obscurity of offices entirely disconnected from their counterparts elsewhere in the field.

These may be the backwaters of the state and local law enforcement community, the culturally and organizationally distinct operational environments of watch offices (where intelligence officers are only one among many types of watch-standers), or the small and boutique level private sector consulting functions (who lack the staff-like access of their larger counterparts.) Then of course there is the entire business / competitive intelligence field, where one is as likely to encounter individuals whose cultural affinity and mindset ties them to the librarians as to the intelligence world.

In these quieter eddies of the currents in our profession we are sure there lurks unique value, perspectives, and insights into some of the most pressing problems of the day. We are convinced that the range of customers these less well known functions serve, and the variety of situated products and processes that these (often very innovative and quite successful) professionals have created among themselves can offer new options for the larger body of analytic tradecraft.

We are however often perplexed at how to reach these disconnected professionals. Most do not participate in the major intelligence professional associations, nor are they interested in many cases in the conferences that they (often all too rightly) perceive as marketing forums for other vendors, and small worlds political networks from which they are too often excluded based on their position or firm.

In the hierarchies of intelligence accomplishments, it is those that are on the front lines that interest us most – especially as it is those individuals that are best positioned to evaluate and critique existing theory and literature, and to contribute new works to the growing corpus from a perspective that may never have been considered.

It takes effort to build and sustain a community. It takes outreach to extend that community’s ideas to the boundaries of its members. But the contributions those at the edge of the profession have to offer will most certainly make such efforts worthwhile. The only question is how best can such a task be accomplished?

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04 June 2007

Existential fights in other agencies

We have previously examined the issues of Beltway politics, pork, and the impact on major intelligence programs. While near and dear to our hearts, that issue was indeed small beer compared to the programmatic fight currently underway regarding a key space intelligence mission.

Former Spook has been on the case for some time, and updates with an insightful look at the players and partisans.

This is the real essence of the interagency fight, and a large part of the reasons why no transformation effort, and no restructuring – whether at the DNI level or anywhere else – will have any meaningful effect as long as the IC is viewed as just another jobs creation pork trough for someones’ home district.

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01 June 2007

Yet again, Network Intelligence Example

There must be something in the air – that wonderful early summer sunshine, the fresh air, something… Analysts all over are publicly drawing a blank when required to apply core analytic tradecraft or even basic critical thinking. (Again, we are sure there are many in government and elsewhere grateful for the obscuring effects of classification policy which will cover their own myraid sins.)

Arbor Networks’ Chief Research Officer does a great job calling out Symantec’s muddied interpretation of a short term statistical change in observed cyber attack reporting – despite an acknowledged methodological adjustment in the manner in which such reporting is collected and characterized. Once again, it's in the numbers - tricky things, these are.

It must have given the Arbor folks no small degree of satisfaction to show up one of their competitors in the open source intelligence / cyber intelligence space. This is one of the great reasons why a competitive marketplace for privatized intelligence services can offer better value in the long term for the decision-maker: the best product line over time will win.

Now, to be fair, we have long liked Symantec’s bi-annual OSINT offerings, even despite their marketing slant. But we also appreciate a good coordination fight – and seeing one between two competitors, in an evaluation conducted in full public view, is most refreshing. We hope that it will result in improved rigour and depth for all players in the space.

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Also Not Intelligence, Economist edition

It seems that poor tradecraft and a lack of substantive depth do not only plague academic efforts at intelligence analysis. Even the most reputable of shops, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit, appear to be occasionally affected.

Unfortunately, it appears that this particular exercise was yet another in the long line of quantitative follies using methodologies borrowed from the international relations / political science tradition, where gross statistical formulations are used as a proxy for in depth analysis of issues.

The churning movement of data passing through the system does not equal relevance. The numbers do not lend greater credibility to a shallow effort. We understand that financial types have a bias towards hard figures, but stats are not always money.

This incident is frankly a damn shame. We have long held the EIU in high regard due to the quality of its work, and its longstanding contributions to the private intelligence field. Only Oxford Analytica has had a tenure as distinguished over such a long term of service. We hope that this is merely an aberration – after all, every shop has its bad calls some days.

h/t Instapundit

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