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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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