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19 December 2007

Strange meat in the cooking pot

When instructing intelligence professionals, it is often difficult to find cases which can be used for exercises designed to improve political, military and transnational issues assessments in short sessions – particularly those conducted at the unclassified level - without touching upon accounts in which one or more of the students may have previous experience. While expertise in intelligence is never usually a bad thing, it does introduce distorting effects to the instructor’s attempts to evaluate a student’s mastery of core competencies and learning objectives. We will not go so far as to say it is an unfair advantage for the knowledgeable student – after all, they did invest the time and energy to understand often complex subjects, and this will serve them well in other aspects of their professional life. Nor can we expect students to come to our classroom tabula rasa – in fact, a good organization’s selection process should ensure that even entry level professionals (or academic students) bring something unique to the table; and we by no means are solely responsible for teaching only new candidates in the field.

Further, when finding the teaching cases and other examples to be used in the classroom, we emphasize the need to select the kind of edge incidents which exist at the intersections between a number of accounts. Nothing turns a student off more quickly than thinking a case does not apply to their assignment and needs –particularly so if that student has rarely rotated between organizations and billets, and has a narrowly constructed view of what it means to be engaged in the activity of intelligence. For this reason, we constantly quest for new material which may feed into the kinds of innovative and unconventional cases and exercises that will challenge students to get out of their existing mindset and truly begin to master their craft.

We are thus grateful to tdaxp for pointing out recent media coverage of the tribulations of the pygmies of the Congo (DRC). Amongst the other savagery of the continuing conflict in the troubled country – already an excellent teaching example for a variety of counterinsurgency, counter-smuggling, and other transnational issues problems – recent reporting now adds the problems of human trafficking and cannibalism. This is not the first time such stories have surfaced, but UN investigations are another thing entirely.

We have previously written about earlier, effective teaching exercises involving organ smuggling and corpse trafficking conspiracies. Such teaching cases have been greatly enhanced by the recent media coverage of the bone trade from India, which serve to illustrate well the complex relationships between black markets and legitimate industries in these spaces. We have no doubt that a case built upon the Congo incidents will also be effective in introducing a new set of problems and perspectives for the analyst and manager alike – especially as it more deeply reaches into the challenges of understanding events amongst “people of whom we know nothing”.

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