/* */

31 October 2007

Reverberations of Yamamoto

The fine folks over at the Volokh Conspiracy have provided the intelligence studies field with yet another interesting angle for consideration when discussing decision-making in the SIGINT environment.

The case study of the interception and shoot down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s transport flight, based on successful cryptanalysis of Japanese coded communications traffic, has long been one of the most clear cut examples of the difficult calculus which must be weighed between using a unique intelligence source to immediate operational benefit, and risking the long term consequences of losing that source based on the higher order effects of the enemy’s possible reactions.

Generations of students have grappled with this case, but rarely is it mentioned that a serving Supreme Court Justice is among those who were decorated for their role in the operation. Nor, until now, has it been disclosed that the Justice has chosen a rather unique perspective from which to view the deed – seeing it as a questionable action, and evaluating future state sanctioned killings (such as judicial execution) through the prism of that experience.

Now, of all the ethical questions to be raised in the intelligence field, we rarely consider the morality of warfare itself. Just war theory and generations of thinkers before us have rendered this well trod ground. An intelligence officer is no less of a moral actor in supporting through analysis or action the ethical conduct of military action, in accordance with the civilized norms of warfare and customary international law. It is very much true that the intelligence professional is, through the chain of events he sets in motion, in a way responsible for the deaths of those who are killed on the kinetic end of the military deed. Yet these casualties are measured against the potential loss of friendly forces, and the potential effects of defeat in the conflict. In a just war, those casualties are almost always deemed necessary to prevent further, greater harm to those the intelligence professional is charged to protect. And if justified, the Western way of war dictates that the operational and tactical means by which the mission is carried out should imperil one’s own side to the least degree possible, and introduce effects as soon as is practical. Intelligence enables this – and targeted killing, especially through interception and engagement of fighter aircraft far from any civilian area, accomplishes this with the least possible harm to uninvolved bystanders.

This is not an abstract question of historical interest. Every day in the Long War, intelligence professionals seek to find and identify enemies which in their own way are no less cleverly dangerous than Yamamoto. In many cases, the dangers in attempting to apprehend those enemies on the battlefield – or even to attempt to engage them directly through infantry action in what is typically dense urban terrain, is to risk the death of friendly forces, the failure of the mission, or potential unintended collateral damage and civilian causalities. If the potential intelligence value to be gained by the capture of the individual does not outweigh the risk of the operation, and the operation does not imperil the intelligence sources and methods which allowed for the identification and location for the target, targeted killing through engagement standoff weapons may be the most ethical and moral choice. The Western way of war is to expend materiel, not our people, to obtain victory. While some have disingenuously attempted to declare such actions “state terrorism”, they are part and parcel of the legal and ethical framework by which the Western World has waged warfare for generations.

The introduction of Justice Steven’s comments in the ethical debate over targeted killing is most troubling. There are good men who grappled with damnably hard decisions regarding such matters daily, and who frankly display far better arguments - on both sides of the issue – backed by more solid reasoning and analytical judgment. Perhaps those engaged in the fight may choose to put forth a paper regarding such discussions. The
well regarded International Symposium for Military Ethics / Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics would seem to be the perfect venue for addressing such issues. And of course, this is excellent fodder for the intelligence studies academic classroom, for both the ethics of intelligence and SIGINT operations courses.

See also Ace of Spades for further uncensored commentary, and the excellent fictional treatment of the engagement (from Cryptonomicon) reproduced today at Volokh.

Labels: , , , ,

30 October 2007

Epidemiological intelligence reconsidered

Some time ago, persistent virtual worlds made news for an unusual incident in which a plague spread widely through a massively multi-player fantasy game in an unanticipated fashion, due to the complexity of the system’s design. There was a great deal of speculation as the ramification of this event – some of it mirroring the longstanding discussions around self-replicating “gray goo” and other nanotechnological questions, some of it quite unique in its own right. The event even spawned serious scientific papers, and responses by other researchers.

The question of the potential utility of virtual worlds for examining epidemiological effects in simulation remains a fascinating area of study. It is a natural extension of other research attempting to track in a similar fashion the effects of viral ideas – memes – within simulated virtual populations for information operations / psychological operations studies. This is the sort of analysis which may dramatically alter the manner in which medical intelligence professionals approach their craft in the future. The watch desks of tomorrow, rather than being tied to a series of open source intelligence portals and medical information database feeds, might well also be linked to a shared situational awareness simulation, with the ability to rapidly generate scenario projections based on new reporting or analytical inference. Certainly, there has been enough cross-boundary interest in the problem that we expect to see surprising innovation in the near future. It is certainly long overdue given the need, especially in the face of recent exercises attempting to examine the impact of pandemic scenarios which were certainly less than robustly designed and executed.

In its own way, this is by no means a new problem. Among the most interesting books we ever had the pleasure to peruse on related subjects was Plagues, Poisons And Potions: Plague Spreading Conspiracies in the Western Alps c.1530-1640. We discovered this work once upon a time buried in the back shelves of the bookstore of the British Museum, and discovered it had a striking relevance for those interested in non-state actors’ motivations in biological terrorism / biological warfare incidents. The book is based largely on primary source records from Swiss city governments throughout the Savoy which were suffering through major disease outbreaks. A recurring series of cases are documented in which individuals deliberately attempted to spread disease to uninfected populations – motivated by cult conspiracy, simple hatred, and criminal profit. Given the evidence of other recent cases involving deliberate biological infection, it appears human nature remains little changed in nearly five hundred years.

We also note in a related vein the Swedes’ take on the potential dual use implications of some medical intelligence programs. While we differ with their analysis in that we are confident in the benign nature of US and allied programs, we would definitely see reason for concern in investments in such activities by some states (or their non-governmental organization counterparts) with proliferation interests.

Epidemiological intelligence remains a fascinating discipline in which the contributions of a number of different professions converge in a manner that is very rare in the community. There remains much ground for formal study to advance both the analytic tradecraft and the literature of the discipline, and perhaps to inspire similar interdisciplinary approaches in other areas of the profession.

Labels: , , , ,

29 October 2007

Critiquing Myers Briggs for the (new) intelligence workforce

Not so very long ago, it seemed that the Myers Briggs Type Indicator was all the rage within a certain segment of the intelligence community. It was imagined that one’s personality could be pinned neatly to cardboard, and used as a proxy for judging individual reactions by managers essentially uncomfortable with the messy realities of actual humans. What started as an interesting thought exercise, intended for new analysts to learn about themselves in the spirit of reflective practice (much like Johari’s Window and similar concepts) soon was extended far beyond its initial use into a whole range of areas that it should never have been attempted in.

Sometime over the course of the past few years we saw a brief respite in the recycling of the MBTI “discovery”, and thought the fad over. After all, there is a war on, and there were quite a few other new attempts at understanding the intelligence community’s workforce in a more sophisticated manner that had been discussed since. We had hoped never again to see other individuals wearing their type code as badge around the vault…

Clearly, we relaxed too soon. There is rumour of an as yet unpublished work now circulating within academic circles, which examined the MBTI of a cohort of intelligence studies students. It claims to draw some sort of generational lessons in how the Millennial will differ from their older counterparts in the community.

Now, we are among the first to point to the radical impact of the oil and water mixture of the newest members of the community with practitioners of a certain age and kind of experience. This is not in our opinion a bad thing by any means, and in fact we have seen it result in some fascinating and innovative outcomes that no one could have predicted in advance, least of all the participants involved. We also hold the greatest hope for the students yet to enter the profession, for they will be the true drivers of a kind of transformation never before seen in the community as the Long War comes to full term.

But in addition to our critique of the uses to which the MBTI has been bent, we would strongly question the utility of using a student population at a civilian institution as the benchmark for the cohort. After all, most of those students will never have spent a day within the IC (or even in a full time private contracting shop.) The behaviors and activities of a millennial college student are a far cry from their employed professional counterpart of the same age – particularly given variables such as military service. Having shepherded more than our fair share of new cohorts into the community, we are acutely aware of the changes that are quickly wrought in individuals as the weight of their new responsibilities settles full upon their shoulders.

We are also greatly aware of the changes in behavior and expressed personality characteristics created by the unique pressures of the Long War, which can vary greatly depending on the roles these individuals are assigned. Such changes demonstrate the highly situational nature of the indicator, as an individual assigned to highly collaborative collection tasks will express as far more outgoing and concrete on a particular day than he or she might when tasked to intensely cerebral, isolated research on another.

The student population also likely contains a high percentage of candidates that will never actually enter the intelligence community, whether because they are seduced by the higher salaries of the business / competitive intelligence sector, or when they find they fall into that percentage that cannot obtain a security clearance. The distortion caused by the inclusion of these individuals within the benchmark study renders any conclusions highly suspect.

It is long past time to return the MBTI to its place as a teaching tool to cultivate introspection, rather than the clumsy lever of management others have sought to make of it. We also hope that the intelligence studies academia will perhaps focus on those newer tools of workforce assessment and evaluation – such as the competencies model, or performance assessments based on the universal joint task list – which could yield viable results using a model student population.

We would also hope to see this research published in the community’s literature, or through the academy’s own press, in order that a more substantive debate might occur as to its merits, design and outcomes than speculation upon rumour would allow.

Labels: , , ,

28 October 2007

False prophets abound

Our good friend Monsieur Tanji over at Haft of the Spear, has apparently had recent reason to bemoan the sad state of intelligence studies academia – and specifically, the increasing number of frauds that attempt to pass themselves off as instructors in a burgeoning marketplace. We take his points well, and in our own experiences have regrettably seen many parallels.

We have written before about such false prophets, having known more than our share over the past decade. One notable civilian institution even employed such a worthless and contemptible individual for several academic years before his fraud was uncovered – and he removed back to his country of (allied) origin. The damage done by that incident still lingers with the wronged institution.

Unfortunately, we fear such cases will only continue to surface as the new academic discipline expands. The tension between the academy and the intelligence community over the past several decades has led to a distinct disconnect between the qualifications recognized within the house of deed versus those recognized by the schoolhouse. This is a regrettable state of affairs indeed, and one in which the academy is not without substantial blame. In fact, we recently spoke with one of the leading members of the professoriate in a new program established this year, who insisted that his new curriculum and related instructional design was entirely revolutionary and far superior to any existing program. Yet this individual refused to publish any details for peer review and commentary in the common community literature, claiming that even longstanding publications such as Studies “didn’t count” for his purposes as they were not mainstream academic volumes. No amount of discussion could dissuade him otherwise, to our great sorrow – and no doubt, to the detriment of his students, who will now suffer instruction which has never been tested by those in the intelligence community.

Unfortunately, we see this disconnect more and more frequently, however, and in a variety of other contexts. In part it comes from the ignorance of many which have managed to find themselves positions in the intelligence studies academy, despite in some cases unconscionably short terms of actual service in the real world of the intelligence practitioner. It is also driven by a kind of arrogance displayed by many in the intelligence studies academy, which claim to forge a new path but refuse to listen to feedback of those who walk the harder roads on a daily basis.

On some days, we despair of ever correcting this disconnect. For despite a number of efforts to reach out and bridge that gap, it seems there are those in the academy which are insistent on hurtling headlong into an irrelevance of their own making – reigning in a hell of their own design, in which their accomplishments may be lauded without fear of the bruising encounters with harsh realities of the practice of the profession.

We do not wish to see a bifurcation of intelligence education, between those institutions which retain connectivity to the community and those which would ignore the real world. But we fear it is occurring, and will proliferate unchecked unless the academy is willing to face the same test of the Smoking Mirror that those in the real community must endure on a daily basis.

Labels: ,

26 October 2007

On the 500…

It’s not quite the epic of Spartan battles – nor even the parody which declares, “Tonight we dine in Virginia.” But the DNI’s newly released 500 day plan has something akin to martial feel to it – albeit buried somewhere in the glossy public relations image management slick. One can sense the fights to come over its execution, quietly brewing somewhere in the administrative offices.

We understand the need for strategic planning, particularly to move large bureaucracies in new directions. This is especially apparent when there are multiple such bureaucracies involved – all of which who have previous shown hostility of varying degrees towards the commander’s intent on transformation.

Yet we cannot help but note Zenpundit’s accurate calling out of the Soviet flavor to the exercise. The core and enabling initiatives most surely do have a certain ideological element to them – the kind of deeply abstract ideal one expects to see scrawled in meter high characters on some Chinese banner outside the People’s Party Congress. And some offer little more than slogan – such as the continued insistence on a kind of diversity most likely to be interpreted by skin color or gender metrics rather than the measures which are truly needed, such as language capabilities, personal travel and regional experiences, unique skills and backgrounds, or other forms of real thought diversity.

Most critically, though much of the philosophy within the document tracks with what we here at Kent’s Imperative have long emphasized, we remain somewhat skeptical of the implementation of true steps towards the revolution in intelligence affairs. Too often we have seen major programs begun with high hopes, only to see the usual bureaucratic inertia and poisons corrupt the efforts into a pale imitation of what could have been.

But in fact, those efforts which we have seen to be successful were the ones built around a shared vision and dream. These are the concepts and ideas which were successfully branded – often in a manner that provoked multiple competing interpretations (and therefore growth and innovation.) They were the programs which drove imitation and expansion in new contexts and new environments – often by those who may not have even seen the originals, but rather merely re-created them whole from the cloth of rumour. Such efforts were themselves often more useful and innovative than the programs they sought to copy, even though they too often suffered from the poor cousins’ syndrome, with a sort of cargo cult sadness about them. But as a wise man once said, you have to want a frontier.

Thus we sincerely hope that the 500 day plan will drive more professionals within the community towards the kinds of shared vision that can propel forward transformation. From its sterile and glossy pages there are the hints of far more radical ideas and deeper changes spoken of in the dissident literature, and in the back halls and vaults. The first intimations of real change are on the wind…. but will this be merely another wisp of smoke from distant shores?

Labels: , ,

25 October 2007

The forgotten art of descriptive analysis

Descriptive intelligence analysis is not typically considered real analysis by many academics, who usually represent the work as the bottom rung of a pyramid in which their attention remains focused on the supposed “higher echelon” tasks. These same academics tend to ignore current intelligence of all sorts, and all too often also intelligence activities conducted at the tactical level – their interest being limited largely by their lack of understanding of any products other than the most famous national and strategic FINTEL such as the PDB or NIEs.

But stop and think for a moment about how many times one encounters in the practice of the profession complex, multifaceted situations with literally decades worth of reporting that must be summarized – and in a few pages or a few minutes' briefing, convey the essence of the thing in order to even begin to understand events that transpire in the world. This is by no means an easy task, and typically may be as difficult as the kind of push for predictive intel that we see for the larger and better understood issues. That descriptive analysis seems mundane in much of recent literature is very much a product of those who work from unconscious bias and stereotypes of situations, without real depth on an account. One could even say that most of the real intelligence challenges in Iraq, since the start of OIF to the current Awakening, have been in first understanding and describing complex dynamics and personalities in order to more positively leverage the multinational capabilities to good effect. (There is a reason efforts like the Human Terrain System have been created in order to aid in better description of complex targets within the cultural environment.)

The lack of respect accorded to some of the most common and critical tasks within the community has also led to the dismissal of a whole range of environments and tradecraft which have grown more common even as they are less discussed. The proliferation of new watch centers and the growth of the fusion center concept has created new demands for real time, 24/7 intelligence support – often relying on new sources of information not previously considered by the intelligence community. After all, the needs of homeland security are far different than foreign intelligence in many cases, particularly when one examines all hazard issues and matters of greater state / local / tribal concern than the traditional CT focus. There has been simply no real effort within the intelligence studies academia to understand these environments, and to examine the changes in tradecraft wrought by new collaborative technologies, organizational structures, and functional processes that have come to be considered best practice in that world. Despite the dozens of centers, and the thousands of analysts, operators, and watchstanders employed in this segment of the community, it remains virtually unknown in the literature of the profession – not least of which because it would involve examining issues perceived to rank at the low end of some notional representation culled from decades past. And it is not just a homeland security thing - there has been an equally important growth in joint intelligence operations centers and fusion task forces within the national intelligence side of the house.

We sincerely hope that some bright young thing in one of the new academic programs will soon take an interest, and focus some much needed attention on this area.

Labels: , ,

24 October 2007

The sun rises on Japanese intelligence

Further to the study of comparative intelligence traditions, we note the recent increased discussion of the role and activities of the intelligence profession in Japan.

The country’s WWII legacy has long made discussion of such matters extremely controversial within the context of the domestic political scene. Recent publications have however shed new light on otherwise neglected aspects of the country’s own intelligence community.

The National Bureau of Asian Research has recently reviewed two Japanese language books on the subject. The first, Nihon No Intelligence Kikan, was written by the former Chief of the Cabinet Secretariat Information Research Bureau – a position which seems very roughly analogous to a US counterpart of the NIC or even the old Office of National Estimates. The book describes the organization of the agency, its activities, and the role of OSINT in Japanese intelligence.

The second volume, Strategy on Intelligence Activity by the State, was authored as a dialogue between a former intelligence officer in the Japanese Foreign Ministry and a former intelligence officer from the South Korean Navy.

For those wishing to peruse more official sources as background before diving into such works, there is also a short briefing paper available from the Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies, which provides a concise overview of the country’s intelligence structure.

We are pleased to see the internationalization of intelligence studies amongst our allies, and hope to see additional similar works in the near future (as well as English language printings…)

(With our humble thanks to the reader who kindly brought this to our attention).

Labels: , ,

23 October 2007

Revisiting the case method

We have long been proponents of the Intelligence Community case method for teaching the art and science of intelligence. This is hardly a controversial position – though it seems to be one little implemented in many academic institutions, where it could do a great deal of good. Even those schools engaged in writing cases for the community do so rarely practice what they preach (or at least contract to promulgate).

It is thus with interest we note a new paper examining the use of various case study approaches within the legal profession. While the various scholars in the intelligence studies field would have the teaching of intelligence emulate that of other professions, such as law and medicine, these models might have a profound impact on what are currently successful methods. We have been on record as objecting to the too close commingling of the behaviors and thinking used in the practice of law with the tradecraft of the community. In this study, we might also have found reasons to sustain an objection to the adoption of legal teaching methods in the form that currently dominates the institutions before the bar.

It should be noted that the original IC case method program as developed within OTE began out of the model of the Harvard Business School, rather than the law school side. Other institutions seeking to emulate their success would be well served to consider this.

We also agree with the Barton paper’s focus on the importance of exercise and simulation in going beyond the theoretical discussion of cases and into the practical applications of that learning. There is no substitute for experience, but exercise environments can provide the first shadow of such experience for the green intelligence professional.

Labels: ,

18 October 2007

Pondering anonymous wiki usage

We note with great interest the research findings of the Dartmouth team that examined the role of anonymous contributions to Wikipedia. This work confirms what many have long suspected – the role of many individual experts contributing in a small area can be as vital as the long term “gardening” and other high commitment roles of high frequency wiki users.

This tracks interestingly with an alternative analysis first provided by Aaron Schwartz on the true distribution of authorship in Wikipedia. His work challenges conventional wisdom that only a few hundred individuals have been responsible for the majority of the production, showing that the contributions of these otherwise limited participants that actually provide the bulk of new content. The high participation individuals provided most of the structure, formatting, and debate.

None of this is terribly surprising when one considers the dynamics of expertise and contribution in other endeavors. But it has profound implications for those seeking to use the dynamics of participatory production models to create things of enduring value within the intelligence community. There is an inherent distrust of anonymity in the IC, and in a professional environment one’s reputation is not just at stake for a hobby but for the weight of one’s “real” work. How much has the intelligence community denied itself potential contributions of value (and reliability) through some of the choices made regarding anonymity in its wikis (or blogs)?

We come down strongly on the side of appropriate veils for the online environment, of course. Not that we wish to be the man behind the curtain (although professionally, some of us not in the more active side of the house are always more comfortable on the dark side of the one way glass), but rather so that ideas stand alone and can be discussed independently of the agencies and cultures which produce them. We have been accused of ill will on more than one occasion for our anonymity and group voice, but it is simply a desire to extend the debate on professionalization free of the conflicts of personality and organization. (It is also a function of the unique terms under which we are able to continue this venture, but in this it is a happy convergence with our intended outcomes for the blog.)

The parallels of Wikipedia assume however that the IC intends to create an encyclopedic work of its own. It is far from clear that this is what Intellipedia will be, let alone any of the other smaller and more focused wiki production environments. There are several other distinct roles evolving for wikis as the technology is bent to new situated uses within small groups – from watchstanding to warning, from dynamic production processes to shelfware reference replacement. The experimentation is really only just beginning – and for this reason, further real research is needed from the intelligence studies academia on both the open and dark side versions of these tools.

Labels: , , , ,

16 October 2007

No maps – but perhaps guides – for these territories

One of the under-examined aspects in the adaptation of new web n.0 technologies to the intelligence community has been the potential utility of social bookmarking (in the model of del.icio.us and other related sites.) This has been in part remedied in the most recent Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, in an interesting article on the “The Application of Social Bookmarking Technology to the National Intelligence Domain”. The authors come out of the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, a fascinating group that has done good work assisting characterization of the trends in global terrorism from an outsider and OSINT perspective. (We continue to be fascinated at what role these sorts of projects have in exploring and validating analytical tradecraft in new contexts, and against new problem sets. We can think of no better example of this within the community itself than NCTC/Worldwide Incidents of Terrorism.)

What is interesting is that the concept of shared pointers to interesting and useful information sources is by no means a new thing within the intelligence community. Methods of such sharing – from the humble file card to the group email list – have had a long and successful history. Most, however, occur below the surface of recognition under the general rubric of mentorship. But it is clear who has such connectivity and sharing, and who doesn’t, when one compares analysts’ knowledge and situational awareness. It is not clear that a social bookmarking technology is the real answer – although the tool may help ease the formation of the kinds of emergent behaviors that drive the real successes of this sort of collaboration – the highly connected interdisciplinary individuals who routinely cross multiple cultural and organizational boundaries.

It is those rare individuals who essentially act as guides within the unexplored territories of information sharing. They do so, often at great personal risk, as the volume of material they typically pass between large numbers of individuals – often on the order of dozens of items a day to hundreds of folks in informal networks – can result in numerous administrative or political problems given even the smallest of mistakes by any individual in the chain. Despite this, they are vital to the work of the community. And while some hold official positions as liaison officers, most simply happen to enjoy an unusual mixture of independence, immunity from pressure, and a very large personal social network built over time through friend-of-a friend referrals. And in most cases, their organizations do not even understand the value these individuals bring to the table – sometimes even far in excess of anything else that particular shop might be doing.

Encouragement of these guides – be they mentors, gardeners or the near autistic savant – is more than technology, and demands as much focus as the tools and toys. Guided information consumption is critical to the cultivation of the analyst, both for its informative and situational awareness value but also for its inspirational effects. These are hard to measure, and difficult therefore to justify investment in. Nonetheless, without them, there would be far fewer exceptional intelligence practitioners today; and likewise those gaps will grow in tomorrow’s workforce if there is insufficient focus on such efforts – formally or informally.

Labels: , , , ,

15 October 2007

Intel 3.14159265

A lot has been said recently about the application of Web 2.0 technologies to the intelligence community. The debate has also attracted new bloggers to the field – some academic / student, some more professional.

But this debate occurs at a time when many are seeking to identify the next generation of technologies beyond the current crop of lightweight / social / rich experience / web as platform entrants that have defined the generation. Some commentators have even gone so far as to declare the Web 2.0 meme dead – ironically at around the same time as the intelligence community has just begun to manage to wrap its collective head around the possibilities of the technology, with things like Intelink blogs, Intellipedia, and now the new A-Space.

We remain uncertain what the next new wave of technologies might bring to the community. However, certain tantalizing possibilities do present themselves. The Web 2.0 revolution is fundamentally a change to the way information is shared and internalized by those tasked with production – in short, the way analysis is done. (And contrary to the self-aggrandizing claims of certain university types, real distributed collaborative analytical work is being done in the environment of the community’s wikis and blogs, not merely just descriptive summation.) New analytic tradecraft is developing, enabled by these new technologies, in ways that it is frankly impossible to fully predict. We have only begun to observe the first outlines, hinting at what might eventually be the native competence of these environments.

Given that Intel 2.0 is all about exchange and analysis, the next iteration of revolutionary transformation will likely change forever the dynamics of intelligence collection. The systems and processes which dominate collection as a problem set remain firmly mired in industrial age models, part of the long legacy of the cultures which gave them birth. The new generation entering these fields will bring with them changes which cannot be forestalled for long.

Exactly what the nature of these changes might be is another question entirely, however. The community has not fully grasped the implications of iteration 2.0, and peering forward to what will come after is less an exercise in forecasting as it is in fortune-telling. In this, however, we unapologetically look to the jesters at the futurists court’s table – the speculative fiction authors, who may fearlessly explore these new spaces unbound by the constraints of the mundane.

It is from one such writer we recently observed the fascinating potential for emergence at the intersection of several technologies and social changes. Charles Stross is no stranger to writing about intelligence in fiction – quite enjoyably crossed with elements of the fantastic in an elaborate Cold War allegory (which he has also sought to explain in an essay on "The Golden Age of Spying", well worth reading even for those professionals which otherwise eschew the genre). His latest novel, Halting State, touches again upon the work, this time presenting a series of intriguing suggestions regarding future trajectories of the field. Among his concepts (one of which led to the title of this post) are that alternative reality games might be adapted to training a pool of unwitting subjects for future intelligence and related support tasks, that an age of nearly ubiquitous networks will lead to new emphasis on classic HUMINT operations, and potential radical changes in field operations will be enabled by the introduction and common adoption of augmented reality vision displays. He further highlights the nature of the potential future adversary – the “blacknet” of highly networked transaction driven hostile connectivity which enables a market of illicit goods and services (including those things of economic value in persistent virtual worlds) exchanged on behalf of criminal and other adversarial interests.

Like all good speculative storytelling, it is based on elements of the future which are already here, but not evenly distributed (in the words of Gibson). A fascinating menu of potential, to say the least, the implications of which are well worth exploring in a more formal manner within the community. Again, if ever there were a role for the intel studies academia…

Labels: , , , , ,

11 October 2007

Counting the minutes

Those with even a passing interest in counterproliferation issues will no doubt be well aware of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist’s infamous Doomsday Clock. Tao Security examines the implications of using a clock to convey threat information, and in particular the implications of shifting what was originally designed as a publication art into a watch and warning mechanism.

Many of these lessons, we think, could be taken to heart by those seeking to implement an ever wider array of threat level displays for almost every new issue that arises in a multi-agency or cross-account context. Too many of these efforts seek to differentiate themselves by creating their own standards, hoping to be cited with the same frequency as the more recognized measures of warning.

However, all face the same questions of setting an initial baseline, and of calibrating the changing conditions to the consensus of expert judgment based on imperfect and often contradictory indicators. These by themselves are not intractable problems – in fact, they are quite familiar to those routinely engaged in the business of analysis. (Although many now pushing for new threat level measurements do not themselves come from the analytic tradition.)

What complicates these new efforts is the effective communication of these measurements – often done in color coded fashion (to mimic the DHS National Threat Advisory), or through some combination of alpha-numeric or word designators. These are displayed variously as bars, speedometers, and a variety of other graphical tricks pulled from simple spreadsheet charts so favoured by accountants. And we can think of few less productive ways to spend the valuable time of intelligence professionals than group debates over the exact shade of color, or font, of one of these new graphics.

Effective warning in intelligence is a difficult task that is as individual as the consumers that it serves. We think the clock model, and its counterparts of the speedometer and bar graph, deserves to be left to rest. In much the same way as the intelligence community has moved away from numeric designators for source reliability and accuracy and towards more descriptive paragraph summary formats, it is long past time to reconsider how warning conditions are conveyed to decision-makers in a more robust fashion which clearly brings across not only the underlying indicators but also the key changes which drive current judgments.

Labels: , , ,

10 October 2007

Stratfor blogging

George Friedman, Chief Intelligence Officer for the private intelligence firm Stratfor, is now blogging. We view this development, like much of Stratfor’s work, with mixed sentiments. On the one hand, Stratfor as an entity has done much to legitimize to concept of the privatization of intelligence – not merely in terms of government contracting, but also in terms of serving clients outside of the traditional community’s consumer list. Many multinational firms have much the same needs for robust geopolitical FINTEL as any government department, and Stratfor helps fill that niche.

Stratfor also one of the few private sector intelligence shops that has been in business long enough that it might perhaps be a profitable enterprise (although of this we are uncertain, as we have no inside information regarding its financial status). There are only a few other shops that may even attempt such a claim, however, many are affiliated with larger institutions – such as Oxford Analytica, or the Economist Intelligence Unit. The other major private sector intel concerns - the travel intelligence shops such as Control Risks, iJet, and International SOS - have faced quite varying balance sheets over the years, and much of their revenue comes from services outside of the core intelligence lines – K&R, due diligence, corporate overseas medical support, or continuous injection of new investor’s capital. In previous years (before their acquisition by Verisign) we might also have included the old iDefense shop in the list of profitable private sector intelligence efforts, but rumours of the shop’s troubles in its newest incarnation give us pause – including key indicators such as their recent loss of a number of key people, the complete loss of its branding into its parent corporate identity, and now the potential sale of the unit as part of Verisign’s divesture of its managed security services portfolio.

Stratfor thus stands somewhat apart from the rest, as an independent shop in continuous operation for over a decade. But in that decade, its track record has been exceptionally unsteady. It first made its bones during the Kosovo crisis, with unique new information sources (in an area where few shops had anything at all) and the occasional innovative but solid analytic line. Its attempt to act as a “global” shop in the mould – and even, boastfully, claiming competition with – CIA, did not fare so well over subsequent years. Occasionally, they have a good piece. But often their analysis reflects their hiring strategies, which Friedman himself proudly holds up as an ideal model – the selection of young students, fresh from university, with no prior intelligence experience. Stratfor claims this allows them to build new analysts with no “bad habits” that might have been learned in the intelligence community. However, it ensures that they have a workforce that will always lack substantive experience, creating a shallow bench on accounts. This can be quickly and professionally fatal on hard targets, or when they step into areas in which existing analysis is a career long affair for an entire analytical sub-specialty (such as oil market dynamics). While we are great believers in the value of the beginner’s mind, and of the importance of Smoking Mirror, we thinkStratfor’s approach goes a bit too far.

Their analysts also reportedly face a brutal gauntlet of forced predictions for quarterly and annual forecasts on their accounts, which are tracked and if found to be repeatedly inaccurate over time, results in their dismissal. While in theory an exercise in accountability, one of the enduring lessons one should learn when managing analysts is put forth by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In any given population of forecasters – NNT chooses Wall Street traders as an example, due to his experiences and interests – there are a certain percentage that will be accurate each year simply due to pure chance. Year over year, this will result in a small number of “successful” forecasters, who at the end of any given evaluation period will appear disproportionately better than their peers. Again, while we are strong believers in analytic accountability, and continuous improvement in analytic tradecraft and accuracy, we are acutely aware of the limitations of intelligence as an activity, and the impact of random chance.

We will be interested to observe the development of Stratfor’s enterprise blogging over time. We would be most glad also to see its line analysts surface from behind the curtain, and have their occasional chance in the limelight that is typically dominated by a few senior faces. And we hope to see more than just a reposting of its public products – though it is an interesting experiment in feedback on those products, and one that takes no small amount of courage (for which they should be rightfully commended).

But in the blogsphere, it is not enough to rest upon one’s reputation, and to treat shallowly across wide fields of inquiry. There are real subject matter experts that may emerge unexpectedly in this medium, and these can pose both a challenge to the unwary or arrogant, but a tremendous opportunity to those willing to change and adapt to the new environment. For example, their latest piece on Blackwater could well have been far better informed with the cooperation of established bloggers that have long discussed the impact of PMCs (first in our minds is of course Mountainrunner, but also the boys at Coming Anarchy, and Shloky). Let us hope that Stratfor learns from their example, and involves such SME’s in their future products.

All in all, we wish Stratfor the best in their new approach into the blogsphere. It is rare to see such a conversation begin with a private sector intel shop, and we would see it continue. Of course, we hope they will discuss their tradecraft and forecasting methodologies in more detail – perhaps even proving our impressions wrong. But either way, we hope they will further contribute to the literature of intelligence from the basis of their unique experiences.

Labels: , , ,

09 October 2007

Electronic attack and advanced denial and deception in new contexts

The technical boffins over at O’Reilly Radar have highlighted an interesting potential scenario, first put forth by Aviation Week, to explain the apparent failure of the Syrian air defense network during last month’s air strikes by Israel.

This is not the first time that public reporting has emerged discussing the potential applications of sophisticated EW techniques in suppressing adversary air defense networks. One can recall similar speculative stories coming out in the initial days of major combat operations of OIF in 2003.

What makes this interesting is the boffins’ discussion of engineering new public networks to defeat these kinds of attacks in the context of other, civil applications. One can easily understand the desire to do so in order to protect the integrity of wide-scale surveillance networks such as London’s ring of steel. There are less obvious applications in assuring the reliability of monitoring systems which do not rely on even such unambiguous elements as video feeds – perhaps large scale environmental monitoring programs? Given the research dollars flowing towards theories of climate change, one can easily see the potential motivations for manipulation of sensors and associated data streams at the source, in order to avoid the appearance of bias in later analysis.

These approaches will rapidly scale beyond their original military context as widely implemented sensors systems come into more common civil use. One can easily picture such efforts directed against GPS based highway toll and use monitoring systems, for example, or against other RFID or cellular population density measurements. (Persistent virtual worlds have already proven the potential benefits to retail and other establishments from manipulating such “popularity” measurements based on presence related data. The real world would be no different.)

The Wizard’s War is always with us. It just grows more interesting over time.

Labels: , ,

08 October 2007

OXCARTs and ARCHANGELs in the night

With the installation of the new display up at the main campus, there has been a lot of interest and discussion of the old OXCART program. We think this comes about not only from the inherent technical coolness of the aircraft and its mission, but from the deep desire of the new generation to connect with their Cold War predecessors – and the more recognizable operations of the past. Today’s activities, even those conducted in the far flung corners of the globe, are more likely to involve commercial off the shelf items and kludged and duct-taped solutions than the things of precision and beauty that were the bespoke instruments of the community’s past.

To be sure, there is still – and always will be – a certain amount of specialized hardware, and a few new cutting edge platforms. But this new age is a very different one – dominated by Small Stuff, and dual use. The community as a whole has not yet figured out how to build monuments to those efforts. We do frequently wonder, for example, how the historians of tomorrow may look back to commemorate the major events of the present day, such as the detention and rendition program. But those are questions that can only be answered by another generation.

We have no doubt, however, that the historians – at least those inside the community - will do so to their usual standard of excellence. Thankfully, great efforts are being made to ensure the preservation of unique history regarding programs such as OXCART, including the recent release of an excellent study looking at the trials and successes of the unique aircraft, its designers, and its crews. In addition, we look forward to the eventual product of the oral history program that has been diligently recording the memories and observations of those that were there at the beginning.

There remains yet plenty of research for those in academic intelligence studies that would seek to assist the current generation in finding its roots in the community’s history. We hope to see more work soon emerge to serve this need – and particularly in the areas where there might not be a large or photogenic monument with which to start a story.

Labels: , ,

07 October 2007

Novel UFACs

The evolving sophistication of commercial construction techniques is increasingly popularizing elaborate underground structures for a variety of entirely novel applications. The latest of these – urban luxury homes in development restricted areas - are profiled by various British print media outlets.

London’s newest urban underground reminds us a great deal of author William Gibson’s fictional “stealth houses” – structures designed to conceal high value properties entirely within apparently abandoned industrial areas, providing security through obscurity.

However, these are very real examples of the growing complexity of urban geographies – and the increasing challenge to planners, operators, and intelligence professionals which will encounter these spaces in the cities of the tomorrow. Such future underground facilities will make the Hezbollah fortifications in urban Beirut encountered during the Harb al Tammuz in 2006 look insignificant in comparison.

While costly, these architectures do not require a great deal more sophistication than any other typical commercial construction project, especially any building that already requires building sub-basements for drainage, power, or HVAC systems. Of course, it is even easier to arrange for these features when fitted to new building sites.

Frankly, we are quite surprised we have not seen these yet in the high value property markets in Manhattan, San Francisco’s Bay area, or in particular the greater Washington DC metro area – there are plenty of row homes in Georgetown, Arlington or Alexandria that one would suspect might benefit from such modifications (though we suppose there is always the question of the water table to worry about in some of those areas). But give it time…

Of course, familiarization tours for new analysts to these types of underground facilities will be far more pleasant than the trips taken by their counterparts. We would certainly far rather enjoy a glass of wine next to a private pool than tramp through the damp tunnels of some Cold War era concrete structure.

UPDATE: Thanks to one of our readers who wrote in to recommend changing the choice of acronym from UFAC (underground facility) to HDBT (hard and deeply buried target). The specific meaning of the original wording within the IC apparently now creates some confusion based on its typical application to the analytic center responsible for study of these targets. (Our use was based on a more generalized, and perhaps older, naming convention - in the same manner that derived naming for chow halls and other structures. We shall have to update our style guide.) Text above corrected in accordance with that convention, with our humblest apologies to the fine folks over at the center, and sincere gratitude to those who raised the matter.

Labels: , ,

06 October 2007

New applications for patent analysis in competitive intelligence

The exploitation of patent databases for competitive intelligence has been a key staple of much of the private sector’s intelligence work. This has been particularly a feature in consultancies with strong scientific and technical accounts, as well as the major manufacturing and R&D houses in the pharmaceutical and materials engineering sectors.

The Economist profiles a new method of mining patent information as feedstock for genetic algorithms designed to rapidly develop problem solving approaches for those wishing to find a novel alternative free of patent encumbrance (and in the process, avoid legal difficulties that may be created by the re-use of existing solutions).

The wider adoption of this technique would likely drive additional interest in what has been a longstanding element of competitive intelligence tradecraft. This follows an increasing trend within the private sector’s evolving intelligence sophistication – the reliance of many firms on intelligence products and services not merely for the executive level (as had long been the insistence of those wishing to assure C- level buy in, or model their own efforts on common IC publications processes such as the PDB). Rather, many of the successful new applications of intelligence are tightly integrated at the working level in the corporation’s various business units, and directly support the line responsibilities of teams of industry experts through specialist contributions.

To a large extent, this shift in private sector CI also mirrors the evolution of many intelligence efforts in other environments, which trend now towards increasing numbers of analysts embedded with units of operations professionals, in a distinct break from the supposed ideal of the “ivory tower” analyst organization divided functionally and geographically from the consumers they are supposed to support.

We might add that the same genetic patent analysis approaches, may also certainly have applications beyond the private sector. One can easily envision counterproliferation purposes for the same genetic algorithm approaches, particularly given the starting point of known weapons systems designs and the existing stable of scientific expertise that may be present in a given proliferant state’s program. The genetic algorithm might suggest alternative materials or processes that an adversary may attempt to substitute for prohibited components in a military or dual use acquisition program.

h/t Slashdot

Labels: , , , ,

05 October 2007

State blogging – and not blogging

Mountainrunner has been providing excellent coverage and commentary regarding the new developments out of Department of State’s online diplomacy efforts, including DoS’s new blog. We are please to see the efforts of those at Foggy Bottom advancing into the new century. State’s efforts were often the kind one would damn with faint praise – let us hope that this new initiative does not travel the same path. They would do well to heed (and preferably, quickly hire the unique expertise of) the gentleman blogger on such matters, particularly as he explores subjects of key interest – unmanned systems, private military companies, and public diplomacy unfettered by incorrect interpretations of half a century old legislative arcania.

At the same time, however, State has silenced a different interesting voice in the intelligence and foreign policy space. Arms Control Otaku will be ending formal blogging at official request that came out of an ongoing background investigation. We have mixed feelings on the matter – not least of which because this is an area that can ill afford the loss of thinkers and bloggers in the public space. However, we are the first to recognize the inherent tensions between the effective performance of one’s official duties, and the academic pursuit of advancing the literature. That conflict was likely far more pronounced the Otaku’s case, given the essential overlap between what one would presume about the demands of a Presidential Management Fellow’s assignment and the published record of that blog.

We are fortunate in the our humble endeavor suffers less from such potential conflicts due to a very deliberate series of choices to separate the stuff of our contributors’ professional accounts from the discussions on this blog. One can, given care and attention, find an acceptable way to further the academic conversation on larger issues of professionalization in a manner which does not come into conflict with one’s working responsibilities or one’s sacred oaths of secrecy. We are also fortunate to have had a favorable review which early on encouraged this effort (but of course, not as an endorsement), given entirely sensible and appropriate restrictions. Some of those peculiar features have drawn negative comment from others in the academic world - such as the lack of comment features - but overall it is a small tradeoff in return for the benefit of participating in the ongoing discussion regarding the future of intelligence. And since this blog generates no financial or other incentives, such intangibles are critical to our contributors.

Thus, we hope to see the Otaku’s writing some other time and place. We have enjoyed the work, even as we might disagree on occasion. And we were also pleasantly surprised to learn that once upon a lifetime, one amongst our number happened to be in the same movie theatre at the same time – despite being far from the usual stomping grounds - in one of those odd coincidences that marks life passing through the Beltway.

However, we also note that there are plenty of other outlets for creative energies in more professionally accepted fashion – though few so low-friction as lightweight online publishing. Perhaps an Intelink blog would be in order for the gentleman – and offer the Otaku the additional benefit of accruing professional respect within the community under true name, albeit within the more limited audience of the classified world.

This matter also provides a fascinating case study, one that we see as the leading edge of an issue that will increasingly come to define the role of the intelligence and foreign policy professionals of the next generation. Blogs and other online contributions will increasingly be a key part of their publication record – and increasingly will occur under true name (for good or ill). For some potential recruits to the community, the choice to accept the isolation of the vault, and abandon what may be their most significant professional contributions and activities to date, is one that they may be unwilling to accept in return for a low level GS position in some minor bureaucracy. This will be particularly an acute problem as other alternatives continue to become far more attractive than life as a blue badger as the privatization of intelligence continues apace. Better solutions have to be found.

Labels: , , , ,

04 October 2007

Filling those iPods, intelligence edition

The quest for a continual supply of good podcasts on topics relevant to the intelligence studies field is one of the markers of a truly engaged Beltway professional – and particularly notable in those who must spend a good deal of their lives trapped in traffic. (We can’t all be lucky enough to be handed our lectures in neat, pre-packaged form – but luckily enough, we don’t have to be.)

We have been fortunate enough to enjoy a recent flood of some of the more interesting sources of community relevant material. Many of the think tanks and academic environments are realizing the benefits to their reputation (and increased audience) by making available the archived recordings of their events – particularly involving prominent speakers. The podcast form, long believed to be re-inventing the otherwise dying art of the radio broadcast, is also starting to drive the revival of managed productions for specific commercial purposes. Many of these happen to cover items of interest to us as well.

Among the better sources of good podcasts for the busy young IC professional:

  • Office of Force Transformation / Johns Hopkins University Seminar Series – This is an innovative speaker series involving both DOD and the academic side of the house that has been running for a number of years now, in which serious SME’s discuss the future of warfare and the soft instruments of national power. The 2007 series just wrapped up, but archives are available of the many hours of previous years’ lectures, and funding for 2008 has been confirmed.
  • Council on Foreign Relations podcasts – The well known think tank not only offers recordings of its well respected events, but features in particular a series of short interviews and discussions with some very notable figures within the community: including DNI McConnell and DCI Hayden. Topics for other speakers range from diplomatic history to a wide range of current social, political, and strategic issues.
  • Stratfor – We have long held mixed opinions regarding the first firm to brand itself a “private CIA”. It is however one of the few shops willing to broadcast its analysis briefings in the form of podcasts open to all, and sometimes they are worth listening to. If nothing else, they are also an excellent case study in alternative dissemination for intelligence products – not to mention a fascinating example of the ongoing response by the market to the privatization of intelligence itself. Depending on how and when one accesses the site, registration may be required - but this seems to change quite frequently, especially for those using popular RSS readers and third party content aggregation services.
  • Pritzker Military Library podcasts – An excellent audio series which features presentations by prominent authors and historians, as well as oral histories recounted by Medal of Honor recipients. For those too busy to read as much as one might otherwise prefer, it is also an excellent way of keep abreast of the growing literature through the author’s own gisting and summaries, which can serve as an excellent filtering mechanism by which one can identify the truly interesting and high value works for the “must read” list.
  • Competitive Intelligence Podcast – A very much amateur production aimed at those in the commercial and business worlds, but nonetheless of potential interest to a broader audience of intelligence professionals. We have noted its evolving sophistication over recent episodes and hope to see it flourish in the future.

These should help keep the inevitable frustrations of traffic in the greater DC metro area at bay for quite a few hours. Now, if only more academic intelligence studies institutions would start their own podcast series….

Labels: , ,

03 October 2007

Intelligence for the sixth generation warfighter

We seem to having found ourselves, by virtue of the most excellent work being done over at 5GW Theory Timeline and elsewhere, enmeshed more deeply in the continuing debate over the ongoing revolution(s) in military affairs. We enjoy the intellectual exercise of considering the implications of changing technologies, social structures, political arrangements, and economic factors on war in the next generations. After all, the matters of intelligence are often deeply intertwined with war, and we strong believe that the transformation of intelligence - away from an industrial age bureaucracy dedicated to counting things to an agile, knowledge worker driven enterprise focused on understanding and forecasting the subtle dynamics of complex systems – will require engagement to the very boundaries of current n generation theory.

That being said, we do think that there is distinct limit to the current foreseeability of future GW. The radical changes that will be introduced in even the near future – let alone on the distant horizon – will challenge even the best of minds. In this, we would crib Nassim Nicholas’ Taleb’s analogy that in order to predict current events in Mesopotamia from the perspective of the Neanderthal, one has to understand the invention of the wheel first, and every subsequent technological and social change after – an impossible task, given that if one has the knowledge to predict an innovation one usually has the concept required to build it sooner rather than later.

This limitation is essentially defined by the Singularity – the event horizon beyond which we cannot predict future technological or social changes, due to the inherently radical nature of the intermediate changes – and the accelerating effects of those shifts - that will bring society to that point.

Purpleslog and Shloky note that this becomes a useful upper boundary for the unknown n in the generations of warfare. 6th generation warfare is therefore post-singularity warfare, and essentially and entirely unpredictable from the perspective where we now stand.

It thus follows as a corollary that intelligence in 6GW would be similarly as difficult to predict. This gives those of us engaged in the continuing study of (and participation in) the revolution in intelligence affairs a useful upper boundary for our speculations.

This boundary also helps place perhaps the most enigmatic and promising element in the debates regarding the future of intelligence: the potential for intelligence collection and processing to be radically altered by developments in quantum science. These are developments that will occur both in the immediate future and deep out-years timeline, and offer the potential to create new sensors and entire new intelligence disciplines. Quantum intelligence, or QINT, might thus take its place in the pantheon among the earlier forms of technologically derived intelligence such as IMINT, SIGINT and MASINT. And based on what we believe regarding the future Singularity, QINT will be a late stage 4GW and full course 5GW discipline. It may also be the discipline that is most important in carrying forward into the event horizon of 6GW and beyond.

But those post-Singularity futures lie far beyond our humble perspective, and we content ourselves with having seen described this upper boundary – and find our sense of the discussion renewed to focus on those elements within the reach of where we currently stand.

Labels: , , , , ,

02 October 2007

Good old fashioned military analysis

One of the persistent problems in most mainstream media coverage of ongoing matters of national security interest is the continual failure to understand even the most basic factors military analysis. Evaluating weapons system effectiveness, for example, requires parsing through the marketing hype of the manufacturing country (or company), and examining the hard details of design, employment, and logistics that are essential to understanding how that system will perform in the field.

The recent abysmal state of press coverage is demonstrated amply by case studies of Syrian and Iranian air defense network, the “new” re-manufactured Iranian tactical fighter aircraft, Russian fuel air explosive development, and any of the missile test dog and pony shows conducted by the Iranians, North Koreans, or non-state actors such as Hezbollah and HAMAS. Indeed, this was perhaps the dominant media game of the 90’s, in which pundits came to prominence speculating about campaigns which would never come to understand during Kosovo, East Timor, and even the Desert Fox air strikes against Iraq.

This is not a new phenomenon, and certainly not limited to the areas of military interest given the wide range of other areas in which modern journalism fails utterly to provide an accurate comprehension of difficult subject matter – such as medicine, economics, or law. It is in part the raison d’etre for a whole range of custom open source intelligence services – from the Economist Intelligence Unit to the venerable Jane’s Information Group. Indeed, it was in the Kosovo conflict in which the Stratfor notably (or infamously) first made its bones.

The blogsphere is changing these dynamics, however. Now, within a very short amount of time, substantive analysis is published by a number of individuals possessing real expertise and experience on the matters at hand. Whether it is to take down a fabulist or fauxtographer, or to dissect the propaganda claims of a potentially hostile regime – the distributed and self-organizing interests of milbloggers (and experts in a range of other fields) is producing a kind of open source analysis capability that one could only have dreamed about in earlier years.

And when one considers the old OSINT maxim that an author will only ever write less than 20% of what they actually know about a subject, one begins to glimpse the potential of this population - given a means to organize and direct their “hobby” level efforts in a larger architecture of participation.

At the same time as this is occurring in the open environment, the intelligence community has seen a dramatic decline in its bench and depth, of those products which are produced as “shelfware”. We use the term not in a pejorative sense, but in recognition of the very real need for a baseline reference set by which current issues and future estimates made be assessed. Perhaps the better term we may coin for this class of intelligence are “enabling products”. Many commentators within and outside of the IC have bemoaned the shift of emphasis and resources away from strategic and long term production to the ever-expanding needs of the tactical and immediate. And while we support a community which can and will run to the sound of the guns in order to support the warfighter’s ongoing operations, the length and demands of the Long War will have to force the community to examine how it can serve both ends effectively. To be sure, enabling products has true limitations: whole ranges of issues and concerns simply did not have the same priority – or even the same conceptualization – before developments in the field made them central concerns. After all, in 2001 it would have been quite hard to predict that the humble IED would be the primary weapon of strategic influence, or that the Katyusha would become the strategic equivalent to a stand-off bombardment capability of a type seen previously only in the War of the Cities.

It is in this environment that we look around with the growing realization that there may be an unprecedented opportunity to change the traditional model of analysis through new partnerships with those outside of the core community. There are a host of concerns – from dealing with statements intended to influence rather than inform, and some very valid counterintelligence / denial and deception issues, particularly if requirements and questions become too widely known or too narrowly specific. The logistics and coordination of such an engagement – even a in narrowly bounded iteration – would be far from trivial. Yet the potential for leveraging the contributions of the kind of capability that occasionally emerges in ad-hoc fashion at present into a more dedicated and systemic resource is frankly one that would be worth at least an exploratory effort by certain parties with natural interests in the area.

We look forward to a day when good old fashioned military analysis is easier to come by and of better quality, based on such efforts, than has regrettably been the case in recent years.

Labels: , , , , ,

01 October 2007

Marketing of the deed

StrategyPage has an interesting take on the prospects for the Russian defense industry in the wake of the apparently unopposed transit of the Israeli air force strike package to its target in Syria. Needless to say, the failure of the Syrian air defense network – centered around “advanced” Russian systems – does not inspire other buyers in quite the same manner that Rosoboronexport would undoubtedly prefer for its “premium” brands.

The point regarding the impact of perceived effectiveness in real world engagements on the value of selected weapons systems and doctrines is well founded. In part, this has been a driving force behind the bazaar of violence described by John Robb’s Global Guerrillas theory. Adoption of shared tactics, weapons choices, and targeting patterns among distributed independent threat actors is accelerated given unique, recognizable, and replicable branding.

In the same vein, the expansion of privatized military responses is also accelerated by the marketing of the deed. In comparison the corrupt and ineffective third country national forces which typically make up the bulk of peacekeeping deployments, PMCs are provable more effective and – despite all of the IO activity aimed at discrediting their activities – far more respectable in most cases. It is entirely unsurprising that recruiters seeking to attract talented young Iraqis for military service – even in specialized units – face brand competition as many Iraqi prospects desire very much to seek out service as PSDs, a position which they perceive to bring with it more respect.

This raises similar questions when discussing the privatization of intelligence. How much of the recent successes of contractor shops in attracting and retaining the best talent in a scarcity dominated market comes from the intangibles of being perceived as more effective in a heavily resource constrained and bureaucratic environment? It is clearly not just the money in many cases, as recent blue badging initiatives are demonstrating – but there has been little examination of the other market forces in play. A shop which offers its staff better integration into the intellectual life of the community, more accesses to events and networks, and better opportunities to develop intellectual capital, is going to demonstrate through its deeds the value of its effectiveness and philosophies. The body shops and salt mines will signal a far different picture to prospects. But are human resources groups (both within contractor shops and government agencies) paying attention to these perceptions, and working with other elements within their organizations to shape them in a favourable fashion? This is a community that is at most two people deep, and these intangibles can dictate the success or failure of a shop in very short order in these times of rapid mobility and high demand.

Labels: , , , ,