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31 January 2008

Antecedent to the Chief Intelligence Officer

Given the apparent interest in the historical examples of the roles played by the most senior intelligence professionals now carrying the title of Chief Intelligence Officer, we thought it appropriate to mention one of the designations which preceded the more common “modern” appellation.

Sir Francis Drake’s English fleet, constituted to resist the Spanish Armada in 1588, did not lack for its own intelligence. The fleet sailed with an intelligence department under an individual who carried the title “Master of the Discoveries”, which an 1898 reference (repeated by another source in 1902) likened to modern post of the Chief Intelligence Officer. This individual was given command as “Lieutenant-Colonel of the pinnaces”, these being a sort of light boat used for communications and scouting duties – a quite logical platform from which to build out an intelligence capability.

The title itself may have originated from the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, of Portugal, and passed into naval tradition by way of his school founded at Sagres in 1419. However, this is uncertain due to contemporary dispute as to the true nature of that gathering of cartographers and sailing masters. There is also some reference to the title in such use which may support this hypothesis, found a 1938 volume, but this may well be built upon the foundation of later local legends rather than true history.

The concepts underlying the idea of discovery were at the time a critical national security concern – offering grand strategic advantage to any government which could maintain such secret knowledge. The major fleets of the day were in fact nearly the entirety of a country’s military force projection, and thus the senior commanders the de facto heads of the defense establishment. The intelligence leadership of the day may have thus stood as one of the more influential figures in all of the profession’s history. One can also easily see how the post migrated from the fleet, to the Company, to the Admiralty (and in the US, the Office of Naval Intelligence - at least until 1911), and thence to the national intelligence establishment and its privatized counterparts.

While we do not think we shall see the more archaic form of address come back into fashion any time soon, it does extend the timeline for the formalized role back quite a bit. Throughout history, the position may have existed in informal practice for generations, but the dawn of the profession itself can be traced to the recognition of these functions in a manner distinct from other specialties.

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30 January 2008

Early intelligence in support of rail transportation security

During WWI, the threat of German sabotage operations was very real. Over fifty attacks were documented, primarily in the New York and New Jersey area. The most damaging of these was the destruction of the Black Tom munitions handling pier in 1916. While overall the attacks were only marginally effective in the military sense, they created the first serious homeland security problem of the modern era.

Among the many responses attempting to prevent further attacks against critical infrastructure assets and the defense industrial base were programs which sought to involve the public in what could be considered the predecessors of the tip hotlines and industry information sharing programs of today.

One of the surviving notices published in support of this program was carried in Railway Age in 1918. It read:

Attempts at Train Wrecking – The Military Intelligence Branch of the War Department requests that all employees along the lines of the carriers shall be instructed in case they notice any preparation for or intentional attempts at train wrecking or derailment, to at once notify Colonel M. Churchill, General Staff, Chief, Military Intelligence Branch, Executive Division, 1330 F Street Northwest, Washington, DC.”

One shudders to imagine the effort required to manage such a program by postal mail – and the delays that this communication would impose. One would presume that telegraph transmission – the Victorian Internet - would however be available to railway operators, which no doubt would have made any such effort far more effective. A study of such early message traffic management would no doubt be interesting – though it would likely mirror existing correspondence practices of the day, complete with registers, logs, and card files.

We have not found any other records of this program’s activities. Marlborough Churchill is a well documented figure in WWI and interwar military intelligence. A Harvard man, he was also involved in the investigation of the Chicago area publishers of propaganda materials, at the time violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, but reportedly recommended that the investigation be terminated. The good Colonel (eventually Brigadier General) was also the originator of the telegram which summoned the psychologist John Dewey to his captaincy in propaganda department of the Intelligence Bureau. He was also key player in early communications intelligence programs of the Cipher Bureau, alongside Herbert Yardley. Churchill would remain head of the MI Branch (later Division) until September 1920, and would pass away in 1942.

For those interested in other World War I era homeland defense efforts, we must recommend the excellent Studies in Intelligence article by the exceptional historian Michael Warner, examining how the “Kaiser Sows Destruction”. It is a well documented work with an excellent selection of otherwise quite rare photographs from the period.

We do wonder what other fragments of contemporary “early” homeland security in the Long War will survive into unknown futurity. While the volume of documentation itself is far greater, and the associated commentary more extensive, all spread widely through the wonders of digital distribution, so must have it seemed to those grappling with the first world spanning war.

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29 January 2008

The expanding intelligence studies web

We note today a few excellent resources for the intelligence professional newly brought to the online environment. The public internet presence of the community continues to expand apace as the value of Metcalf’s law is realized, and the protocols for an appropriate public discussion of the field slowly continue to evolve.

The National Defense Intelligence College (pronounced JMIC by those seeking to avoid confusion with the ill-starred Drug Intelligence Center by the same acronym) has dramatically expanded its public presence. Most importantly for the intelligence scholar, they are releasing in electronic form a whole selection of works from their press, with the promise of more to come. Many of the files are large, so the usual admonition regarding server courtesy is in order. However, we are exceptionally pleased to see these materials being made available more widely for use in other academic programs. This will do much to combat the problem of seeing the better recent unclassified intelligence literature circulating only as 5th generation samizdat photocopy from hand to hand, due to a limited print run. We hope to see at least a selection of their voluminous collection of theses likewise circulated. We also sincerely wish that the civilian academic programs around the country will take an example from the College and cease attempting to reinvent their own wheels, but rather pursue unique studies of lasting value to the field.

We also note, thanks to our friend Michael Tanji, the venerable and respected OSS Society has also expanded its online presence into something akin to a blog. We look forward to their contributions and stories, which have already gotten off to a good start with discussion regarding the potential rebirth of the Office of Strategic Services in the Long War. Regardless of the relative merits of the proposal itself, the idea does capture the imagination. We would love to see a modern version of the kind of stories told in the classic You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger for our new era.

The imperative of Sherman Kent’s original vision of an intelligence literature continues to call to professionals. We are grateful to see the benefits to the history and the appreciation of the field that have already resulted, and we look forward to future developments.

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28 January 2008

Commodities and early commercial intelligence

Our research into the early roles and function of privatized intelligence functions continues to surface more than a few interesting gems. These shed much light on hitherto unexamined complexity and variety in the entities involved in early incarnations of the profession's service to the private sector, particularly for commercial applications.

The British Cotton Growing Association apparently employed individuals in the position of Market Intelligence Officer as early as 1938. One of the duties assigned to this officer was also the "administration of the Trade Mark", suggesting an early emphasis on brand integrity and intellectual capital protection – likely an important consideration for what was the very definition of a commodity product in a time of global economic instability.

We had initially thought this a much earlier reference, based on what appears to be inaccurate metadata in the Google Books database entry on the subject. Had this volume indeed been from 1839, as the transposed figure would suggest, it would have been something remarkable indeed – rivaling the earliest formalized concepts of military intelligence position as a distinct specialty. Yet both the cover and the text itself clearly demonstrate the volume’s true origin from over a century later.

Nonetheless, it remains an interesting piece of the historical puzzle of early competitive intelligence. Other commodities organizations, both individual firms and collective associations, maintained their own capabilities for various markets throughout a contemporaneous time period documented from the 1890’s to the 1940’s. These included coverage of grain, tobacco, fruits, honey, cattle, pigs, dairy, and other agricultural products, as well as shipping markets. Exporter commission houses – often associated with major shipping lines - also played a key role in these collection and reporting systems. The descendants of these entities exist today, including such firms as the Société Générale de Surveillance.

Among the other trades who also apparently enjoyed their own intelligence functions were the foundrymen, with a 1921 issue of The Foundry Trade Journal referencing the appointment of a Mr. M. Cameron as assistant manager, market intelligence and research. (One will note the item also plagued by the same damnable error of dyslexic metadata.) Such services appear to have been available from consultants as well, with a 1924 advertisement referencing a “Market Intelligence Tracking System” that promised to show “how big their budgets really are” - still a key intelligence topic for many competitive intelligence shops.

India again appeared to be a key locus of formalized developments in this area – no doubt to the continued influence of former British military officers engaged in commerce in the region and the Empire’s emphasis on trade advantage. Interestingly, term “private intelligence” appears in a commercial context in an 1863 Marathi / English dictionary. The word referred also to market intelligence, the market itself, and banker’s correspondence (including alternative remittance systems such as hundi) - suggesting a high degree of overlap between these functions in practice if not in English terminology.

While the kind of business information these early market intelligence officers focused on collecting is now far commonly available, at the time its acquisition required a great deal of investment of time, communications costs - and of course, the irreplaceable element of local presence. It also illustrates that the emphasis on collection at the expense of analysis has always been with the field. And in this case, one might speculate that it may have been a contributing factor in the demise of the formal positions as basic data became easier to obtain through other reporting circulated by the larger media bureaus in the post World War II world. Given that their product was largely indistinguishable from business news, and the terminology indistinct, it is little surprise that the functions were discontinued and eventually forgotten from the corporate memory. Modern commercial intelligence professionals would be well advised to heed this lesson.

Despite the too frequently apparent flaws of inaccurate dates (which would be rather less consequential but for the far too legalistic restrictions of limited text viewing imposed by a cumbersome copyright regime that governs even long abandoned texts), the scanning project undertaken by Google continues to demonstrate its value in opening up the archives to exploration in a manner that would frankly be impossible using manual research methods. It is by no means a complete scholarly resource – but it is excellent as a pointer towards materials long buried in the disused acres of the back shelves. This gives us great hope that we might see some of the lost intelligence history – in both its commercial and national incarnations – soon recovered, and by these means also see the literature of intelligence advanced.

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26 January 2008

Revisiting primary sources – the Allen Dulles collection at Princeton

We have been recently quite frustrated by the continued reliance of those in the intelligence studies field on secondary and other derivative works for academic purposes – particularly when so much primary source material has been recently declassified and digitized. We feel there simply is no substitute in many of the great matters of controversy to a student actually reading the original documents themselves, with derivative works used to provide commentary and illumination. It does require one begin to acquire the skills of piecing together fragments of documents – never a bad thing for a prospective intelligence professional. But the technique also illustrates sharply the true nature of one’s limited knowledge when discussing these matters in an unclassified forum, even decades after the events – a lesson many students (and a good number of their less humble professors) would be well advised to internalize at an early date. There will always be pieces of the profession which any particular individual will not see, and the sooner a scholar learns to work within these constraints, the better off that student will be – and the less likely to make a fool of themselves through wild assumptions or arrogant airs.

It is thus with great interest we note that Princeton University has opened a digital archive of the private papers belonging to former DCI Allen Dulles. The variety and volume of materials is simply extraordinary, and although it is organized by librarians (rather than intelligence professionals or modern search engine experts) it is well worth the time to explore these virtual stacks. Given that the gentleman’s 1963 text The Craft of Intelligence, is still reprinted for use as a basic text at many university level programs, these further materials are both substantively illuminating and historically invaluable. Of particular interest are the French and German language items, which may never have been previously referenced in depth during intelligence studies research on the matter.

We of course would be remiss if we did not mention one of the more valuable secondary texts which would provide a framework to the scholar seeking to interpret these materials. James Srode’s text, Allen Dulles : Master of Spies, is a modern and accessible work that covers Dulles’ career and legacy, and can prove a valuable guide to the nearly undifferentiated mass of the digitized documents.

The entire collection is over 1.5 gigabytes of data. One day very soon we will no doubt laugh at this as a trivially small volume in the age of the exaflood – but for now, please do be kind to the university’s servers and stagger your requests over time if you choose to download sections for your perusal. They do run a pretty fast pipe, but we would not wish to see a tragedy of the commons deny this resource to other researchers.

We would love to see these kind of digitization efforts other libraries holding such vital collections of import to the intelligence studies field – and hopefully in conjunction with a good OCR and search capability such as Google Books or its counterparts now offer. We can think of few greater wartime contributions that the intellectuals of this country may offer than to assist in the rebuilding and expansion of its intelligence capabilities for the Long War.

We also hope to see a commensurate response from the intelligence studies academia itself. There is easily enough material for countless numbers of good journal articles and even a thesis or two, plus a large selection of case studies focusing on aspects operational and analytic tradecraft. Let us hope that the investment of the field’s thinkers will equal that of the library’s digitization program.

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23 January 2008

Monuments out of shredded papers

The history of domestic intelligence has long been a sordid one. It is all too often the first tool authoritarian regimes turn to in order to oppress a captive populace – and as a result in such cases rapidly devolves into an activity which is both soul destroying and at the same time farcical. The German STASI apparat was the very exemplar of such evil.

Wired magazine this month profiles the activities of those seeking to reconstruct the records of the STASI's dark days.
The former Soviet bloc archives are of immense value in understanding the scope – and the banality – to which intelligence as an activity and organization became perverted under the Communist system. These same lessons will no doubt be seen repeated in the archives of totalitarian governments around the world in years to come, though few bureaucracies match the Teutonic obsession with documentation. Such obsession became the organization’s downfall, given the immense logistical challenges in destroying the voluminous files that are now fodder for historians and former victims alike. It is a document exploitation challenge of simply unprecedented scope and scale, and the reconstruction of partially destroyed documents has spawned new and innovative approaches in digitization and image matching that would no doubt make for fascinating academic discussion among other practitioners of similar arts.

If you the reader ever happen to find yourself in Berlin, it is well worth stopping by the former Headquarters, now turned into a museum and archive. It is a monument to the waste and stupidity that comes from an intelligence system turned against its own people – and a constant reminder of the kind of evil that was wrought.

The STASI legacy has tainted subsequent generations of intelligence far removed from the same evils, but also serves as an instructive sort of anti-model of actions – and more importantly – an underlying intent, one that must be avoided by ethical professionals at all costs. Thankfully, the impulses that drove the STASI are quite alien to those which have developed in the American intelligence tradition – and we hope that this will remain so as long as the profession endures in an apolitical and accountable form.

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22 January 2008

The perils of arbitrary and false precision

We find quite unhelpful the recent academic obsessions over estimative language – largely an exercise in the introduction of a numerical system which offers a degree of apparently comforting but entirely arbitrary, and therefore utterly false, precision. It seems however that we are in one of those cycles which seem to come along in the intelligence community every few decades or so, in which the numerologists and other soothsayers attempt to reshape the profession into their own desires for a more “scientific” practice.

Let us be clear. There are times when quantitative analytic methodology is vital – but there are far more situations in which it is misapplied, misunderstood, and entirely out of place. The latter comprise the vast majority of scenarios in which analytic tradecraft is called upon – not the least of which may be attributed to the highly unbounded and indeterminate nature of the problems with which we must grapple. And any time in which a quantitative basis has not been established, the insertion of numerical percentages for predictive purposes is little more than a farcical exercise in arbitrary selection. Over time, you may attune a group sufficiently in order to calibrate its judgment of these percentages in such a way as to create a consistency within that shared hallucination. However, this does not alter the underlying fallacy upon which such a house of cards is built. This is clearly shown in the number of cases in which the naive predictor is a better estimate of potential than the much vaunted group of experts’ judgment. Thus even in finance, the most precise of arenas, built upon the foundation of values, you will find predictions expressed equally alongside hedges – and the market littered with those who have failed to impose arbitrary figures on a highly indeterminate problem.

One of the greatest challenges in intelligence analysis is to understand the limits of prediction when going about the hard business of estimation. That understanding should shape the analyst’s focus on what ought to be examined for predictive possibility. These are, properly: the scope and nature of trends, drivers, and future scenario outcomes – and not the capricious shadings of difference between mathematical expressions of probability.

Estimative language has not been expressed through probability percentages for the sixty plus years of the intelligence community’s modern incarnation for good and well contemplated reasons. While the abstraction of the clean and sterile realm of mathematics is often a welcome change from the messy and hard realities of intelligence, that abstraction too frequently is used as a shield and an intellectual refuge for those unable or unwilling to embrace the challenge of actually doing intel.

Scientisim in intelligence analysis is a particularly seductive heresy. It offers the false promise of greater insight, should only additional efforts be applied more systematically, more rigorously, or with more and better data. But it has not been given unto us to see the future – no matter how carefully we might craft our equations. We may simply chart the boundaries of its outlines, and discuss the implications within the uncertainty space so described.

We have no doubt that we will revisit this discussion in short order. For now, however, we would close with an excellent reminder of the vast gulf of differences that may be concealed with that change of a single degree of significance in numerical expression. Originally produced for IBM, this admittedly dated video still serves to explain the staggering concepts of scale in a world of large numbers. (h/t to Thoughts Illustrated for pointing out its online incarnation.)

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21 January 2008

Warning impact

It is fair to say that Google has had a tremendous impact in any technology area that it seeks to invest its time and resources. Even when those investments have failed to materialize viable commercialized outcomes, the underlying advances in theory – and the less heralded aspects of hands-on operational experiences – have no doubt been of immense import in many sectors which simply had never before seen attention of that kind or scale.

We thus note with great interest the Google.org charity wing’s decision to explore new early warning solutions. The initial applications for this warning capability are envisioned to be in the area of emerging infectious disease – making the search engine perhaps the largest player in the medical intelligence field outside of the US government itself.

The implications are potentially stunning – not the least among them a possibility for the evolution of an entirely distinct indications and warning doctrine from a major external source, one that is natively rooted in new technologies and the lessons of distributed, knowledge work era communication and collaboration structures. Re-inventing I&W for non-state and transnational issues – especially the abhuman factors of biological threats – promises to be the most significant contribution to the warning field since Cynthia Grabo’s foundational work.

We further note that this is the kind of leading edge outcomes that In-Q-Tel should be exploring, perhaps through a public-private sector partnership model.

Let us hope the project will bring to results the kind of potential we can now glimpse. Given the foundation’s focus on metrics of success – in a manner for more rigorous than any government program is ever held to account for – we have reason to be optimistic. Whether such results can translate effectively into the realm of intelligence is another matter – and one that future intelligence scholars will no doubt be positioned to explore.

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18 January 2008

Questions of legality of intelligence in the commercial world

We frequently encounter those in the academic and business world which have little grasp of the applications of intelligence to the commercial world. These problems have not been helped by the distractions of discussion regarding economic espionage, directed by nation-states against particular industries. While the latter crimes do occur, and frankly have since the days of the first corporate entities of the East India Companies (Honorable or Dutch, take your pick), modern competitive intelligence is however a far different animal. And while any corporate entity may itself also commit a crime, there is quite a gulf between the examples that detractors might point to, and the standards which a profession establishes for itself in order to inculcate in its practitioners. Herein lies the heart of the frequent disconnect between intelligence professionals and their counterparts on the other side of the boardroom table.

This is not a new phenomenon, by any means. It has been our contention that the entire practice of commercial intelligence has a long and storied history that has been given short shrift, largely due to the influences of consultants and others seeking to brand their names onto this “new” thing that the re-discovered. While this may be a good way to sell books, and to organize conferences, we feel that it has greatly hurt the profession’s development and legitimization. Like national intelligence in the interwar years, it is too easy to wrap up a “new” experimental function like a business intelligence / competitive intelligence unit, particularly when budget cuts come rolling around. The taint of controversy has too often provided convenient ammunition as cover in such situations. Unfortunately, the very defense against these largely manufactured controversies is the same history that has been so deliberately discarded in favour of the branding of novelty.

Thus it seems we are doomed to watch that fight replayed over and again in the gulf of ignorance that has been the result. Yet the legitimacy of these units has long been settled law, among the oldest questions in the profession of intelligence to come before the bar. We cite a 1916 publication by the United States Bureau of Corporations, Trust Laws & Unfair Competition. (courtesy of the Government Printing Office), which references the matter (for American law) thusly:

Before entering the final decree in United States r. American Tobacco Co. et al the Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York considered a request to enjoin the defendants "from espionage on the business of any competitor, from bribery of employees of such competitor, and from obtaining information from any United States revenue official." Lacombe, J., denied the request, saying: “Why any one Individual or corporation engaged in this business may not acquire such information as he or it can legitimately obtain from private or public sources as to the business of a competitor we fall to see. When illegitimate methods are proved, they may be dealt with.”

We would wish to see that opinion more widely promulgated and discussed, in order to defeat the pseudo-legalistic arguments that have lately come into fashion to justify short sighted decisions that managers are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. We think that such a changed calculus may actually alter those decisions in a marked way – or perhaps at least prove the unsuitability of certain ill informed individuals for the roles given to them in the complex decision-making environment of the modern corporation.

The loss of the history of the intelligence profession has had terrible consequences to its practice and evolution. It is long past time serious scholars begin to address these failings, in a manner that advances the literature of the field in areas of direct relevance to the practitioner.

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16 January 2008

New technologies for facilities characterization

We recall – and not all too fondly - the early days of attempts to create architectural CAD renderings of target facilities. This was a clumsy process, which almost always required an engineer of some description to be involved, and frankly created an end product that most consumers didn’t see as anything more than a low resolution graphic. To be sure, there was always the bragging rights of adapting a new system to a classic target, but on any given day we preferred a good graphics artist with a keen eye for perspective and proportion far better. Kind of like architects themselves, really, given their preference for covers showing artist’s concepts of buildings rather than displaying the old blueprint style plans. Newer generations of architectural software have apparently made this task easier, but have not been as enthusiastically explored.

But a new technology may change that, by bringing back a level of interaction with the system that the insulating layer of engineering specialization took from the CAD models. We are already on record as being fans of the concepts behind multitouch style screens – especially in their as on just fictional style incarnations (courtesy of the futures studies folks). There appears a lot more to be explored in the space, though, as new applications are continually popping up that offer to reconceptualize human computer interface for a variety of tasks across the intelligence profession.

The latest incarnation that has come to our attention promises a “virtual” view of factories – and in particular, aggregate views of systems data for reactions that cannot be seen directly. One can readily imagine the utility such a system would have for those engineers and analysts attempting to assemble a composite view of a competitor’s industrial processes – or an adversary’s chemical or biological weapons production facility. The key to the technology’s innovation in our view is not the S&T solution, although this could indeed be valuable, but rather the engagement with a high fidelity visualization that the multitouch screen (and its follow on evolution) could bring. We strongly believe that innovations like this are vital in opening up the more arcane collection and analytic disciplines to all source generalists – and more importantly, the intelligence end user – in ways that graphs and pictures of CAD renderings could not.

We look forward to the day – hopefully sometime very soon – when we might be able to host a briefing around such a table screen, discussing some hard target with a consumer that can literally get their hands (and heads) around the issue. We think, however, that in this our counterparts in the commercial sector might lead the way, but if nothing else the use of such visualization techniques in competitive technical intelligence might provide an excellent example to reference when building out an acquisition justification elsewhere in the community.

h / t Smart Mobs

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15 January 2008

Intelligence history in the Black Valley

We are quite fortunate to number among our readers a gentleman of expertise and innovation, who passed along an excellent video in which he can be seen here lecturing at Google's occasional talks series. The topic of conversation was what we would consider the early history of intelligence privatization – the development of the early partnerships to pursue new scientific and technical intelligence operations against Germany and the Soviet Union. For those generally unfamiliar with the importance of the Wizard’s War, the lecture also serves as an excellent introduction to basic electronic warfare concepts and the SIGINT / ELINT challenges required to effectively support EW during WWII and the Cold War era.

The lecture in particular resonates as it tracks the eventual higher order effects of the early Cold War surge in a way that is rarely done in intelligence history surveys. One can almost for a moment imagine a different lecturer, sitting in a room somewhere in a start-up turned world changing firm of not so distant futurity, exploring the impact of innovations in the early years of the Long War from a similar perspective and style. In our mind’s eye, we perhaps think that such a future lecture might focus on the IED Defeat fight, or perhaps the manhunting problem – but of course it has not been given to us to seen the future, only merely to glimpse the outlines of its potential.

For now, we are pleased to see this kind of history surfacing, and being spread in places where creative and imaginative young minds cluster, especially by such a gifted speaker and guide. Let us hope that it may inspire the next generation of intelligence developments and successes, even as it enlightens us to the pasts we share.

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14 January 2008

Further to the limited impact of university level intelligence scholarship

Our earlier comments decrying the essential irrelevance of much of the intelligence studies academy to the professional practitioner has provoked no small measure of reaction over the past month. Most comments have come from those still serving, with anecdotes – in truth, mostly horror stories – of the failure of numerous attempts to reach out to the scholars in the field. It seems there is a certain degree of stubbornness – one might even say a profound expression of anchoring bias – which ties the professoriat to lines of inquiry that contribute only marginally to the art and science, despite clear needs in other areas.

The esteemed Dr. Barton Whaley reflected upon this problem in a recent article, which in part examined the academic tendency to continually try to re-invent the wheel. (For those interested, it may be found in the Defense Intelligence Journal, Volume 15, Number 2, 2006.) His personal list of such wheels covered includes the “re-discovery” of the problems of strategic surprise. In this spirit, we might add our own list of those topics we think more than adequate attention has already been paid, given the other gaps in the literature. Among these are the continual attempt to revisit the foundational definition of intelligence, the endless rehashing of debates over words of estimative probability, and the needless attempts to impose a false and entirely arbitrary numeric precision in intelligence writing.

One of our colleagues put it best: the primary reason these sorts of academic wittering continue unabated has been the small number of professionals who have actually read such irrelevant stuff. And even fewer will have dwelt upon it long enough to respond, rather than laughing it off. Unfortunately, even those that have gone through the difficulties of finding time apart from the pressing business of current accounts, and fought through publication review in order to convey substantive examples from inside the vault, rarely make a dent in the external discussion, given how few pages emerge to compete with the growing corpus of distraction.

But we strongly suspect there are yet other intelligence studies academics that may indeed be well worth listening to, and we continue our discussions in the forlorn hope of surfacing their work more widely within the community. Thus we were most grateful for the insightful commentary regarding the same earlier post, provided by a learned individual whom we shall describe (with permission) only as a Western intelligence scholar, and full professor at a top tier university. The gentleman sought to enlighten your humble authors regarding the flipside of the equation of intelligence scholarship from the university’s perspective, and raised points well worth wider consideration. (Reproduced here with only minor editing to preserve the anonymity upon which all of our skunkworks relies). His response speaks to “two central factors which have inhibited not only the volume and quality of (ivory) tower scholarship on intelligence matters, but also the impact of scholarly work on the IC.

First—and this holds true for a variety of areas, and not just the IC—most scholars simply have no sense of how bureaucratic and government processes, let alone the military and IC, operate. It is not anything taught in graduate school, where the emphasis is very much on mastering the theoretical masters of the field. The majority of academics have fairly predictable career paths from undergraduate degree through to MA and PhD, with little outside-academia work experience (the exceptions being "professional" schools of diplomacy and foreign service, which place more emphasis on recruiting staff with professional experience, and also many scholars working in the aid and development field). I would register a disagreement with your observation that: "Lacking in-depth target knowledge, substantive understanding of applied analytical tradecraft, and relying on a too short tour (if even that) at a three letter organization or two, the result becomes a sort of punditry entirely divorced from the profession itself." More specifically, while I don't disagree with the broader point that you are making, I would argue that the quality of academic literature on intelligence, war, and diplomacy would be substantially improved by even relatively periods spent inside an agency, or foreign or defence ministry.”

Second, the professional reward system within academia neither rewards policy-relevant output, nor does it place much value on material published outside the regular scholarly channels. Indeed, even the latter are carefully weighted (formally or informally) by their academic prestige within a disciplinary field, with leading university presses and peer-reviewed journals coming first, lesser presses and journals second, and everything else a very scant third. In other words, the benefit that accrues to a scholar is almost in inverse proportion to the actual policy impact (or, in this case, impact on the intelligence community).

Although most scholars don't think directly in these terms, it is possible to put some numbers on this. Let us take the hypothetical example of an excellent scholar who forgoes publication in a top-ranked journal (say APSR or World Politics), and instead produces a online piece or occasional paper in easily disseminated and digestible form with direct IC implications. Come annual salary increment time, the former might well be worth $750 (or more) in annual pay increase… the latter perhaps $150 (or less). Lets also make them 34, with a thirty year career ahead of them. The lifetime loss from writing the latter is (ignoring inflationary effects, etc) a minimum of $18,000. If they did it every year--well, quite apart from the tenure and promotion consequences, you can see that the implicit disincentive is substantial. Equally important are the validation messages that fields send to themselves, and the prestige and value one is accorded within academic networks and other peer groups.

This is quite apart from other inhibiting factors.”

We confess that we had not properly considered the economic incentives in the equation – thinking primarily of the thing as an unambiguous good in its own right. Of course, this is also a product of our own cognitive biases – rarely in the IC do contributions to the literature translate directly into one’s pay packet in the same manner (perhaps one reason why the literature advances so slowly.) Neither should the currency of the reputation market be lightly discounted.

If the community is to encourage the kind of the scholarship in the intelligence studies field that will actually serve the profession’s interest, these factors need to be taken into account. The learned gentleman does offer a few potential solution pathways, which merit further discussion.

“How can this be addressed? The recent proliferation of peer-reviewed academic journals on intelligence and security matters certainly helps, although it doesn't necessarily contribute to scholarly output with IC impacts. Sporadic efforts to get scholars inside government for a year or two, whether as scholars-in-residence or in an actual functioning capacity, ought to be expanded upon, and designed to have benefits (such as in-built research funds) that offset the apparent career liabilities of "wasting" (to quote a departmental colleague) one's sabbatical in this way. Finally, the intelligence community needs to reflect on whether its frequent aversion to providing "visiting" scholars with high-level security clearances needs to be rethought. There are certainly substantial security issues involved, given that scholars might well be lecturing on a country in class shortly after reading highly sensitive COMINT or HUMINT on the same. On the other hand, its not clear how they can understand what is going on--let alone contribute to the betterment of IC functions--if they are entirely kept out of the loop. At this point (and at the risk of paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld), most don't know what they don't know.

Money can be found, but its application towards productive ends has been problematic. Unfortunately, too often research funds have done little to redirect a faculty to more relevant pursuits, being simply contracts which were serviced using largely student labour. (Again, as in many cases of suboptimal contract performance, the fault may lie as much with the contracting agencies management of the project, but the history is what it is.) While cleared scholarship is an interesting concept, this is typically also done through a contracting vehicle – which tends to take the work product out of the academic realm and into the community itself, greatly limiting distribution elsewhere in the intelligence studies field. Many academics – with some justified reason – are also reluctant to accept the kind of future publication constraints that a term of cleared service will inevitably impose.

These are matters that deserve greater consideration, and we no doubt will return to in future discussions. We are grateful as always to our readership, and in particular to our commentator, for helping advance this discussion in ways we never could have anticipated when this small effort was begun.

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10 January 2008

Winter is the paper season

For those locked indoors in the cold (such as it may have been, or soon return, despite a brief and enjoyable moment of unseasonable warmth), winter is an excellent opportunity for research, reflection, and writing. It is especially appropriate at the start of a new year for all those professionals who have vowed that 2008 will be the year that they at last contribute the literature in their own right.

Thus, we note in passing a few of the more recent calls for papers that have been circulating in recent weeks. For further details beyond these brief summaries, please see the original announcement sources.

  • 2008 International Graduate Student Conference on the Cold War, to take place at the University of California at Santa Barbara on 4-5 April 2008. Submissions by graduate students working on any aspect of the Cold War, broadly defined. Of particular interest are papers that make use of newly available primary sources. A two-page proposal and a brief academic C.V. (in Word or PDF format), should be submitted to jchapman@history.ucsb.edu by 15 January 2008 to be considered. Notification of acceptance will be made by 5 February. Successful applicants will be expected to email their papers (no longer than 25 pages) by 21 March.
  • Doreen and Jim McElvany 2008 Nonproliferation Challenge Essay Contest: In an effort to spur new scholarship and policy initiatives to address today's vexing proliferation problems, CNS and its journal, The Nonproliferation Review, are launching an essay contest. The contest is designed to find and publish the most outstanding new papers in the nonproliferation field. Although we will not exclude essays with a historical orientation (if they provide guidance for current or future policy), our priority is to generate new insights and recommendations for resolving contemporary nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons challenges, including those involving both state and non-state actors. Entries should not exceed 10,000 words (including endnotes), or approximately 40 double-spaced pages. All entries must be the original, unpublished work of the author(s) and must not be under consideration for publication elsewhere. Deadline for submission is 31 March 2008. Grand Prize: $10,000* and Outstanding Student Essay Prize: $1,000
  • Computer Applications in Knowledge-Based Systems: A special issue of International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology: Knowledge-based systems provide intelligent assistance in solving any problem. They can be used not only as systems within engineering, but also within management, marketing, internet, communication, networking, psychology, education, etc. The research and development of these systems which exploit knowledge in the target domain is at the forefront of modern research. This special issue is intended to present applications of knowledge-based systems. Submitted papers are expected to postulate diverse problems, models and solutions for these applications. This special issue welcomes both academic and practical contributions in all aspects of knowledge-based systems. Relevant topics may include, but are not limited to, the following: Knowledge-based systems / Knowledge-based engineering / Knowledge discovery and data mining / Intelligent agents and multi-agent systems / Machine learning / Text mining and applications / Speech processing and synthesis / Signal processing / Business intelligence systems / Intelligence systems for e-business / Information agents on the internet / Genetic algorithms / Evolutionary computing / Hybrid intelligent systems / Knowledge acquisition / Communication assistance with knowledge / Natural language processing / Information retrieval / NLP application / Cross-language information retrieval. Important Dates: Submission of full paper before: 15 April 2008 / Notification of acceptance before: 15 June 2008 / Submission of final and revised manuscripts: 15 August 2008
  • POLICING FOR HOMELAND SECURITY, Criminal Justice Policy Review – Special Issue. Guest Editor: Willard M. Oliver, Ph.D., Sam Houston State University: Criminal Justice Policy Review is currently soliciting manuscripts for a special issue on policing for homeland security. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States have taken on new responsibilities, and the role of policing continues to evolve as a viable component of the overall national strategy for homeland security. Little research, however, identifies emerging policing strategies, their relationship and/or application to the national strategy for homeland security, and corresponding policy implications. Manuscripts considered for publication in this special issue could focus on a variety of topics, including (but not limited to): (1) adaptation of community policing and/or problem-oriented policing to homeland security; (2) law enforcement organizational transformation consistent with the overall national strategy for homeland security; (3) interagency cooperation for homeland security; (4) innovations in policing delivery of service models and policy consistent with the overall national strategy for homeland security; and, (5) policing for homeland security program evaluations. For style and submission guidelines for Criminal Justice Policy Review, please go to http://www.hhs.iup.edu/cr/CJPR. For additional information, contact Phil Stinson, Managing Editor, Criminal Justice Policy Review, at p.m.stinson@iup.edu or (724) 357-1247. Submission Deadline: May 1, 2008

And of course, interested parties are always welcome to submit papers or short pieces for publication in these pages, either for attribution or on anonymous / pseudonym basis. We remind our readers that we only accept unclassified material suitable for wide public distribution, which carries no potentially negative implications for operational security. For those individuals whose employment requires publication review, our policy remains the same as that of the Association for Intelligence Officers – it is entirely the responsibility of the prospective author to ensure compliance with all controlling policies and other security guidance; and we reserve the right to reject any material not meeting common community standards. Violations of law or policy will be reported to the appropriate agency authorities. However, with those limitations in mind, we have a broad range of eclectic interests in furtherance of our objective of advancing the literature and the profession, and contributions or notes are always welcome.

This is not to say our contemplated journal is yet dead, but much yet remains to be done in coordinating that project. There are also those who would be more comfortable seeing their work in the medium of the blog, which we would encourage – or simply have material which they do not feel would be appropriate for the peer reviewed journals, which we also understand. Students are particularly encouraged to contribute if they are not seeking publication elsewhere. Of course, there is also the wide range of other fine publications in the field, to which submissions may also be made to good effect.

We are greatly looking forward to what contributions to the literature that may be brewing on these long winter nights. After all, we do require a constant supply of good reading materials…

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08 January 2008

Further to the Google prediction market

We were surprised to note the widespread discussion throughout the blogsphere regarding the Google prediction market paper. Something there clearly captures the imagination in a way that the art and science of forecasting rarely otherwise can.

Today’s discussions have also surfaced a fascinating item not included in the original paper itself: an influence diagram of successful and unsuccessful forecasters. Surprisingly, represented as a heat map, one clearly sees an unprecedented proximity effect in clusters of both winners and losers. There is also a strong temporal correlation to these trades on the prediction market, further reinforcing the idea of action from a shared information base.

The representation also reminds us of other recent comments regarding geographic impact on social networks at the esteemed Network Weaving blog.

We have long been proponents of virtual distributed intelligence production – especially given the realities of life in the DC metro. And given the personalities of most intelligence analysts (stereotyped or otherwise), the prevalence of VTCs and telcons for interactions even within the national capital region, and the highly asynchronous schedules of so many professionals working in 24 / 7 environments such as watch desks or fusion centers, we had frankly thought little lost when virtual teams were properly organized and managed.

Now the ‘plex no doubt has a very different organizational culture than the IC, and we are uncertain that these findings may be applied more generally within our field. We would particularly question cross-domain validity given the number of critical interactions already mediated by networks even in the most physically cohesive of teams, such as the requirements and evaluation process, or almost every element of coordination and review.

Yet still we find our gaze retuning time and again to the heat map. There is clearly an aspect of information contagion at work – for both good and ill. Bad ideas seem to have the same stickiness and spread as did accurate analysis. And despite the high levels of reorganization and mobility within specific offices, the contagion seems to have persisted. While in the IC we might immediately recognize the office as a “sick shop” with poor management or destructive internal dynamics, we cannot so blithely make the same statements regarding a corporation with which we are nowhere near so familiar.

Overall, and irrespective of specific elements of the discussion, we find ourselves wondering at this glimpse of what production management and consumer outcomes could look like in a transformed IC. For those that have advocated tracking more closely metrics for assessing analytic performance, this is perhaps the best model of the potential utility of such efforts we have ever seen. One could imagine similar representational overlays charting production output, consumer feedback, citation, or even employee retention / satisfaction.

This is definitely something to ponder at length.

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07 January 2008

A hard look at prediction markets

Rarely does an analytical methodology garner attention in the manner that has marked the discussion of prediction markets. From controversial origins to increasingly widespread public adoption, we think more pixels have been spilled on this single approach than on perhaps any other methodology short of ACH.

We have written about such techniques before. Perhaps we might group them more generally under the moniker of arbitrary quantitative forecasting. Arbitrary, for the numbers themselves however derived have only relative meaning in the assessment of probabilities (including even financial data, which although it carries with it information about the state of a transaction series or commodity, responds as much to the complexities of interactions between financial entities as it does to those factors of relevance for intelligence forecasting.)

It has been difficult, however, to evaluate the effectiveness of the technique amidst all of the hype. Certainly, we know of no significant influence on ordinary analytic tradecraft. The real business of intelligence continues much as it always has. This does not necessarily invalidate a methodological experiment, for there is certain room for more specialized vehicles to address unique problems or support new product lines. This is the usual fate of a new and uncertain methodology, and is not a bad thing in and of itself. (Although we do not that adoption of new methodologies has been recently accelerated, which we can attribute in part at least to the more widespread discussion within a growing literature. A new technique or approach might have lingered for decades before seeing significant use, but now may find a home – even if in a specialized shop – within months or years.)

Validation has always been the bane of methodologists. However elegant their theories, they are doomed to academic irrelevance unless adoption occurs across a sufficiently representative section of the community. And absent validation, adoption – especially in cases where significant implementation effort is required - will always chancy. In the face of production pressures and surge requirements, analysts will in almost every case fall back upon processes with which they are familiar – structured or otherwise. Prediction markets by their very nature tend to require a substantial up-front effort for highly uncertain results.

We are thus grateful to the folks at Google, along with coauthors from NBER and Dartmouth, for publishing some of the first real results of their internal prediction market. The study covers nearly three years of the operation of an exchange which handled over 70,000 transactions – each conveying a degree of belief on one of almost 300 particular questions, on behalf of 1500 active employees (although nearly 6500 held accounts that were not used.) Interesting, they identify unexpected influences due to physical proximity, as well as the impact of cognitive bias towards optimism based on employee fiscal considerations created by Google’s rising share price. Also quite interesting was their observation that new employees were more influenced by this bias, and that staff with longer tenure within the firm tended towards more calibrated judgment – a not inconsistent phenomenon within any analytic activity.

As warrant to the authors’ point regarding proximate location influences on information sharing, it was also revealed that Google employees moved offices approximately every 90 days. If ever there was a indicator of a complex and unstable system… but of course, we are aware of quite a few community elements that would meet or even exceed this frequency.

At least a third of all market questions were purely “fun” topics, while nearly half did not have direct impact to Google. This begs the question of how much of the activity was merely socialized gambling using virtual currency vice the exercise of deliberate judgment regarding the potential future environment – something that will plague almost any prediction market collaboration. While fun helps drive adoption, and play can lead to divergent insights, it is easy to envision such a mechanism as becoming a drain on the hard questions of the real topics.

All in all, the paper is well worth reading and carries with it quite a bit of food for thought to sustain those debating the utility and applications of prediction markets within the intelligence community. We admit to a growing skepticism regarding the value of the methodology that this study has only served to reinforce. Given the total time, resources, and intellectual energies required to support such an endeavor, these kinds of outcome do not in our view necessarily justify the effort. However, we remain open to the potential that such mechanisms capture effort which might otherwise be entirely undirected, and therefore may create insight where other techniques would not. These remain in our minds open questions, and worthy of further research.

h/t Marginal Revolution and Midas Oracle

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05 January 2008

Rent seeking and digital media exploitation

We hear news of one of the more disturbing aspects of legal intrusion into the intelligence field – the tendency of lawmakers and regulators to craft protectionist legislation – enabling and encouraging rent seeking behaviors that would never survive in a more open marketplace.

This time around it is an area which at first blush might seem tangential to the profession of intelligence - but it is more closely associated with other issues in the field than we would like. South Carolina may force those private parties involved in digital forensics to hold a private investigation license – that hoary old document so beloved of fiction authors and scandal page writers.

The PI business has clearly been losing a lot of ground over the past few decades as business has become ever more global in nature – and not that it ever had much ground to begin with, in the more rarified professional atmospheres of major multinationals. The few top tier exceptions in the field have undergone some dramatic shifts – so much so that reporting on the industry’s turmoil became a staple of the Indigo Publication’s Intelligence Online newsletter. Major players from consulting firms and more specialized shops have emerged to carve away what might have been business opportunities, especially since most executives (and more critically, the lawyers who advise them) disdain the “hard-boiled” image that the term PI evokes. Even if in the modern business of investigations such an image is only a stereotype, it has a strong impact on business realities.

Digital forensics is a pretty wide field, even despite its relative youth. It encompasses activities as disparate as internal systems monitoring, to compliance auditing, to the full range of criminal search and seizure. What it means in a networked world is still very much being explored – particularly given the challenges posed by rapidly evolving hostile technology innovations. In its more advanced networked forms, it often begins to resemble more closely activities in the signals intelligence domain. While this is understandable from the perspective of intelligence studies theory, given that the native competencies of intelligence in the cyber domain have yet to be recognized, it is far to early to allow regulatory frameworks to disrupt the development of the discipline – especially a framework which imposes mechanisms better suited to the Industrial age of rail than the modern age of networks.

We oppose this line of thinking not only for the immediate harm it causes, but for the slippery slope it creates. With each new regulatory overreach, additional activities within the intelligence field become new marginal examples that could be brought under one’s favoured framework. From digital media exploitation it is not far to also seize upon the regulation of document exploitation, and from DOCEX it is easy to bring other aspects of OSINT under the sway of those seeking to profit from entrenched positions. How long then before simple searches within a database, or simple overt elicitation contacts, will require a licensing regime – and one ruled by a clique of established players with only the "right" kind of political connections?

This is among the reasons why we have also opposed the creation of arbitrary standards bodies seeking to define professionalism within the intelligence field – especially those composed of academics who cannot even properly conceptualize many of the key aspects of the profession as it is actually practiced, let alone standardize external measures by which practitioners might be judged. We hold no objection to bodies seeking to advance professionalization through a community of interest, a strong literature, and leadership by example. We also see no issue in individual standards being put into place in specific circumstances – such as the conditions under which a court will recognize sufficient expertise for testimony, or how a government agency will certify knowledge and experience ample for the performance of a contract it is to award, or how employees will be evaluated for promotion within a given shop. But these are far different things than the regulatory creature now rearing its ugly head.

We hope that some degree of sanity will return to these discussions, particularly should the lobbyist guns of the major consulting firm players be warmed up to play against the bush league minors that appear to be driving this process. While the South Carolina case is but one state, the precedent could create more widespread attempts at similar rent-seeking behaviors, both geographically and down that slippery slope of further overreach.

h/t Slashdot

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04 January 2008

The art of cartographic intelligence

The display of geospatial information has a long and storied history. Regrettably, as technology advanced, and the dissemination of mapping products was transformed by the radical new printing techniques of the industrial revolution, much of the unique art and frequent beauty of cartography fell by the wayside in favour of a brutal simplicity and single purpose mindset.

Strange Maps reminds us often of that lost art. Most recently, they cite the Economist on one of the more haunting representations of the complex statistical and geographic story of Napolean’s ill fated invasion of Russia, created by an inspector-general by the name of Minard.

The Minard map demonstrates most clearly the utility of both abstraction but also multiple element representation in geospatial intelligence products. The map is not the territory – and we are foolish to attempt to conflate them in an absolute and literal sense using technology, when the true purpose of our finished intelligence is intended to convey the vital element of analytical judgment. We do not merely seek illustrations for the sake of visual highlight but rather to provide additional insight into the subject under discussion.

This is among the more difficult aspects of the intelligence profession for an apprentice to master. Even among those experienced in the craft, the dominance of verbal and written production too often tends to overshadow its visual counterparts. This is something that we are reminded that we must always be mindful of in the excellent piece “Teaching Vision” by Mark G. Marshall, published in the Joint Military Intelligence College’s Occasional Paper A Flourishing Craft: Teaching Intelligence Studies , under the incomparable editorship of Dr. Russell Swenson.

For those wishing to explore this arcane aspect of the profession further, we highly recommend the works and instruction offered by Edward Tufte. W are rarely fans of most quantitative analysis techniques, given the all too frequent tendency to seek false certainties in numbers fabricated almost entirely from whole cloth. However, when numerical statements are properly called for there are few better ways by which they may be approached than those demonstrated in the The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

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03 January 2008

Hazards of blogging for intelligence professionals

August Jackson, most notably of the Washington DC chapter of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, reflects on the issues created by blogging with the same candor that one addresses intelligence assessments.

His comments raise interesting points from the perspective of professional ethics and the obligations of duty – perhaps something roughly equivalent to the concept of giri.

"In competitive intelligence you can't be a Kool-Aid drinker, and often you have to tell executives when they're on the wrong path. Companies make their moves in public, so it's only natural that management should expect to see criticism or praise in a public forum. I've had three different jobs and a number of different contracts since I have been blogging, and I have never disclosed proprietary information. Not once. Ever. I never will. Any time I've been involved in the formation of a business decision I've kept my opinions private whether I've agreed or disagreed. This, to me, is a more important measure of professionalism in blogging than never commenting on any company's policy."

It is interesting for us to see this discussion in a commercial intelligence perspective. Those in the public sector have a far more clear set of distinctions – and enforced by far more than mere civil tort – that bound words and deed. This by necessity limits to a much greater degree the range of topics we can address in public pages, and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety one’s opinions must be even more carefully circumscribed on any matter that might be seen as leading to politicization. Intelligence practitioners must be professionally apolitical, in all aspects of their public presence – something too often forgotten in the current Beltway atmosphere.

Most organizations simply do not permit an intelligence professional to blog in public at all. Some of those efforts which are allowed to exist may only do so under a high degree of restriction. (We suppose our humble effort falls into the latter category.) In government service, there are of course alternatives on other networks for those that wish to speak more freely about matters of more direct impact to their daily working lives. (As for us, we appreciate the chance to step away from the issues of the day and examine the craft in a more holistic fashion – but this is not for everyone.) But this is not the first time we have looked to this subject.

We have also previously discussed the implications of academic blogging. However, for the most part, our comments (and those of others) have reflected upon the professoriat. Intelligence studies student blogging is another question entirely. To date, student participation in the intelligence blogsphere has been very limited – largely because they are struggling to master a learning curve that has been compared to a brick wall, and recognize that they have little of interest of their own to say. There are a few quite notable exceptions, however, that are well worth the attention invested. It is for this reason that we feel student bloggers should indeed be cultivated, but carefully so. They will have to make hard choices – many which might impact their future career for years to come – especially if they are overt intelligence professionals from a young age (precluding other activities in later years.) It is also due to these pressures that we have witnessed a number of blogs simply drop off, as their authors come under new publication policies as they take professional jobs.

We further view with grave concern the current fashion among academics of assigning blog writing tasks as class requirements, as most have been authored under true name (or readily identifiable associations thereof), and explicitly link the student to an area of study that as a professional they would likely never acknowledge so publicly, even as overt practitioners.

Against this backdrop, why does intelligence studies blogging endure? We think it is because the benefits that accrue to an individual author’s mind far outweigh the potential downside, as long as one adheres to the strictest standards of professionalism (and security). That these benefits result in a public good which advances (to whatever small degree) the intellectual discussion of the intelligence studies field, and its literature, is a happy higher order result – and one that should be encouraged within the boundaries of propriety and discretion.

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02 January 2008

Chief Intelligence Officer, reporting

The recent resurgence in the use of the title of Chief Intelligence Officer has been hotly debated amongst many intelligence professionals. In properly elevated station, and applied narrowly to those of highest achievement and echelon, it is a dignified appellation that carries its proper weight without self-aggrandizement. However, like the term director, there is always the pressure of devolution which drives the title to ever lower ranks within the profession. It has also provoked a bit of a backlash by those that feel the title a modern influence from the CXO conventions that mark the corporate environment, and feel this to be improper in government. This is however a misperception – albeit a common one – as the title was given frequently in military organizations and other governmental structures in years past. The first reference which we are aware of originates when discussing the intelligence apparat in Malayia in 1811 – although it is caveatted by the potential that this may be a later appellation retroactively granted, given the publication’s date of 1907. A more explicit reference may be found in an 1871 volume, The soldiers pocket book for field service.

On the other hand, the commercial side of the house often rejects the title in order to keep intelligence away from a seat at the Board table along the other C-level officers. The private sector has long sought to free itself from the organizational structures of dead Germans, something the ever more baroque organograms of senior management posts amply attests. However, the role of a Chief Intelligence Officer dates back to the earliest successful commercial ventures, at the dawn of the first real trend of globalization. We are fortunate that a scholar of history at Florida State University, Dr. Marla Chancey, chose to examine the role of intelligence in the East India Company at the close of the 18th century for her thesis. The work - In The Company's Secret Service: Neil Benjamin Edmonstone and the First Indian Imperialists, 1780-1820 - conclusively documents a fascinating career and biography.

One can argue over the relative degree of actual privatization of the East India Company, given its role as an extension of British foreign policy. However, we can likewise point to any number of modern para-state entities which are perhaps even less “commercial” in nature, given a high degree of government involvement, but nonetheless merit consideration as privatized intelligence.

We should think Edmonstone’s example – assuming a seat on the board himself in later life - also speaks to the true potential of advancement after a long career in intelligence, despite many contemporary complaints regarding the supposed “dead-end” nature of the profession within the private sector. We think it far more likely that personality, and the nature of today’s employment environment – where a lifetime’s service to one institution is very likely something akin to a myth – will have greater impact the eventual summit of one’s career than in the discipline one pursues, especially for knowledge workers.

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