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15 October 2008

Once and future intelligence challenges: labor

As we contemplate the prospect of a sustained global downturn – be it recession or even depression – there are a number of issues which will raise their ugly heads in an environment where the forward press of globalization may no longer obscure underlying tensions of instability. These are by no means new issues – although they will play out in new ways among the changed technologies and altered relationships of this new century. In the best tradition of unevenly distributed futures, many are already here with us, although they often go unremarked or unrecognized.

Among the issues that may re-emerge as profoundly important to senior decisionmakers – be they in Cabinets or boardrooms – is the age old question of control between those that work within the enterprise, and those that manage the industry and its capital. The end of history was thought to have changed this with the rise of the creative class, the global middle class, the universal investor class… or whichever other descriptor one would apply to a post-Marxist analytic framework that recognizes the fundamental irrelevancy of old rhetoric in an age of unprecedented opportunity. However, the old lies still seem to have their appeal, as one might now witness in the offshore financial centers of the world, or the major infotech hubs of the emerging markets as Marxists and Maoists and other charlatans of all stripes begin to gain ground.

Even the United States itself is not immune from the renewed tensions between the workers and the structure which provides them their employment. It would have been hard if not impossible to predict, even a few short years ago, that the question of whether or not to eliminate the secret ballot for unionization votes could ever be taken seriously in a free and democratic society. And that such a question is now a linchpin of a Presidential election – albeit one of many, and a poorly understood linchpin at that, even among the chattering salons who routinely comment on such matters – is in its own way almost as baffling.

Unfortunately, this also a subject which has been taboo for generations, at least so far as the intelligence field has been concerned. In the domestic context, from the perspective of national intelligence, this is certainly proper. From the perspective of law enforcement and homeland security agencies that must grappling with the kind of convulsive protest and sustained low level kinetic conflict that marks the most severe of union difficulties (to say nothing of their radical anti-globalization counterparts further to the left along that single issue spectrum), this is perhaps something that might require revisiting in an atmosphere of informed debate. (Regrettably, we fear that such issues may be too rapidly politicized, particularly given the current tenor of the times, for an objective and cool headed debate to flourish before a major crisis might erupt). From the perspective of the corporate entity, it is certainly a topic that ought never have been forgotten – but history seems very long when one’s future is measured in quarterly earnings reports. We note anecdotally that the unions themselves have certainly not forgotten these lessons, as one of the best intel gigs we have ever been aware of was once bankrolled by a particular union’s leadership in order to attract the best and the brightest it might find for its own research and analysis.

For those that have forgotten, a small dose of history to refresh the institutional memory, this time drawn from the writings of the International Labour Office in 1922 (itself certainly no bastion of the bias of industrialists’ privilege): “The attention of the Industrial Intelligence Officer during the last 18 months has been occupied almost entirely with the widespread unrest in the labour.” So too may we as a profession find demands on our collective attention in the coming months of this newly uncertain time, in support of a wide range of clients.

Be it the labor violence of the developing world, the politically convenient rhetoric of entitlement, or the industry destroying burdens of legacy pension obligations, labor issues are a once and future intelligence challenge.

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13 October 2008

Actual environmental intelligence in history and practice

Given the escalating emphasis on various forms of weather intelligence that continue to occupy parts of the intelligence community, and the robust debates over the proper role intelligence should play in tracking environmental issues, we think it appropriate to remind those now entering the field of the actual rigors of “doing intelligence” as an activity concerned with matters in the real world itself.

While we remain skeptical regarding the utility of applying modern intelligence resources against the account, particularly in light of far greater and more immediate challenges within the transnational issue space, we have noted with interest new experiments that may identify future value for other long range analysis tasks.

However, we remain convinced that a great deal of interest among the younger analysts we interact with has much to do with the comparatively different lifestyles enjoyed by professionals that current address weather intelligence versus those on more traditional accounts. While serving in the Long War, a young entrant into the field has nothing but austerity and violence to look forward to. Those entering the field with the intent of pursuing environmental issues seem to think they will enjoy the European jet set lifestyle in Rio, Davos, Rome, Bali, and the other classic venues of the green political scene. We seriously doubt that this will be the case for a good many of the junior staffers, who are inevitably destined to be buried in the bowels of major agencies.

A more accurate picture of the life of an intelligence professional covering environmental accounts more closely resembles that of the academic’s research assistant – a particularly challenging fate for those who often lack the fundamental scientific education required to parse complex documents and reams of sensor data. We have already found supporting evidence for this proposition in the historical record. The 1978 NFAC paper we previously discussed very much represents a task typical of the field – interacting with contractor subject matter expert specialists in order to produce dense tomes of questionable value when viewed across the time scale these papers purport to address.

Yet there are a number of accounts addressing issues linked to the environment that remain of current relevance to the intelligence community, and offer the potential for a far more interesting career pathway for those inclined toward such deployments. These include examination of the illicit markets for fish and wildlife, as well as assessment of environmental damage from illicit drug cultivation and production, illegal logging, and foreign industrial activities. Like many other aspects of the intelligence profession, these are not the kinds of products that are always in high demand. But they are certainly fitting projects for an analyst’s own private war, especially if given discretionary time to pursue the kind of intel one would wish to do, vice that which one must immediately answer for.

These intelligence activities - particularly involving forestry, fisheries, and wildlife – nonetheless have a long and often overlooked history of their own, albeit one outside of the traditional boundaries of the IC. Early environmental intelligence was for the most part less concerned with potential damage from human action as much as the effective exploitation of natural resources, and understanding the economic aspects of industries in these areas.

Among the earliest environmental intelligence identified in Canada involved supporting settlement efforts on the frontier as early as 1888, and registration of land use for the government’s records. A contemporaneous text reports that “The office at Winnipeg of the Chief Intelligence Officer, Mr. J. H. Metcalfe, has proved of material assistance in protecting and advancing the interests of newly arrived immigrants, directing them to localities where they may find suitable homesteads, or, if not at once prepared to take up lands, to employers who require their services. The scope of the information in this office accessible to persons intending to make homestead entry will, in a short time, be very largely extended. It is proposed to keep there an accurate record of the position of every quarter section in Manitoba and the North West, so that with the least possible labor and delay, intending settlers may be advised upon arrival at Winnipeg where suitable homesteads may be secured.”

In Newfoundland environmental intelligence supported commercial fisheries, offering at least as early as 1892 a “Bait Intelligence Service”, which was “established for the purpose of informing the captains of vessels engaged in the Bunk Fishery, on touching at any port, where bait was to be obtained, thus saving much time which would otherwise have been spent in searching for bait.”

Intelligence was likewise concerned with the fishing fleets which came to call in such ports. In 1914, it was reported that the existing Fisheries Intelligence Service would be extended to the Pacific coast of the United States. “The Bureau has for many years maintained at Boston and Gloucester, Mass., the two principal fishing ports on the northern Atlantic coast, a service for collecting and diffusing information regarding the extent and condition of the vessel fisheries centering there. In compliance with the recommendations of the Bureau, Congress has authorized a similar service for Seattle, the principal fishing port on the Pacific seaboard, by providing for a local agent. Steps hate been taken to institute this service, but difficulty in securing a properly qualified man has delayed the inauguration of the work.”

By 1917, the Fisheries Intelligence Service was extended to Alaska. However, its mission had changed to a fundamentally commercial intelligence mission, with contemporaneous reporting stating “The Bureau has continued to carry out the wishes of the Legislature of Alaska, as set forth in a memorial asking that the Bureau of Fisheries, in conjunction with the Washington- Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System, arrange to have the prices of fresh fish at Seattle and Ketchikan bulletined every day at the cable office of every town on the Alaska coast where fishing vessels call for the purpose of shipping fish southward and to have once a week the prices of salt fish of the varieties caught in Alaska waters bulletined at the cable offices of the Alaska coast. The War Department, which operates the Washington- Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System, expressed its willingness to receive, transmit, and post bulletins furnished by the Bureau of Fisheries, and early in July, 1917, the service was initiated, the information thus furnished including (1) the forwarding each day, Sundays and holidays excepted, to Juneau, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Valdez, Seward, Cordova, and Skagway the noon Seattle prices for fresh halibut, sablefish, and red rockfish: (2) inclusion with the Seattle quotations on Monday of each week the prices of pickled sablefish, salmon, and herring; and (3) the furnishing from Ketchikan of local information, corresponding to that furnished from Seattle, to the other Alaska towns supplied with the Seattle quotations. The purpose of this service is to keep the fishermen of this remote coast in touch with market conditions, so that they may dispose of their catches more profitably, and thereby be induced to increase the production of fish. The service has met with general favor.”

Fish-finding was likewise a key function of these early intelligence activities. Overhead collection missions were first explored following World War I, no doubt leveraging the military reconnaissance experience gained in that conflict. The experiment does not appear initially to have caught on. As reported to the Secretary of Commerce in 1922, “The daily patrols by seaplanes of the Naval Aviation Service of the menhaden fishing areas in Chesapeake Bay and along the coast between Assateague and Bodie Island Lights begun in June, 1920, were continued until October, when the Navy Department abandoned them on the ground that the experiment had fully demonstrated the commercial value of planes in this fishery. This service was very beneficial to the menhaden industry and was the first thorough test of the value of seaplanes in spotting schools of fish. Under the present unsettled conditions in the fish oil and fertilizer industries it is not to be expected that a service of this kind will be established by the fishery interests.”

However, additional experiments were conducted to leverage other, presumably less expensive assets, for similar collection tasks. “The Bureau has obtained the cooperation of the Director of Naval Communications and the Commissioner of Lighthouses whereby reports of the presence of schooling fish are transmitted daily by radio by the keepers of certain New England lightships to shore stations from which they are forwarded to the Bureau's local agent in Boston. This service was begun about November 1, 1920. Reports of schooling fish are forwarded to the Bureau's local agents in Gloucester, Mass., and Portland, Me., by the Boston agent. Lightkeepers have reported the presence of such fish as mackerel, menhaden, and pollock. The subject has not received a sufficient trial to determine its practical value to the industry or the desirability of extending it to include a number of advantageously located lighthouses.”

For those not acquainted with modern maritime industries, the search for productive fishing grounds through overhead imagery continues to this day. Such fish finding intelligence was (and remains) a key product of the commercial satellite imagery industry. Arguably, the success of the current generation of high resolution systems would not have been possible without earlier commercial revenues from these products. The recently operational Geoeye-1, for example, is a descendent of Orbimage’s earlier SeaStar service, which provided imagery products to some 300 commercial fishing clients. The mission was also inextricably linked to current environmental science, as the platform’s sensor take was also sold to NASA and supported an estimated 2200 oceanographers and other researchers.

Fisheries were not the only environmental intelligence of the period. The forestry service likewise required its own intelligence function to support its firefighting mission. A 1920 text describes the position of the intelligence officer, “His duties are to secure information in regard to the behaviour of fires and the progress of control work”. Forestry intelligence positions could also be found overseas, including a position identified in India in 1924.

The geographic scope and field conditions of the forestry service demanded a particular focus on robust communications architectures in order to convey intelligence information in a timely fashion. These architectures included semaphore, code, and telegraph signals. One 1920 author also proposed the use of carrier pigeons, citing their extensively employment in military and naval operations.

The large areas of interest and limited staffing of environmental intelligence also demanded the recruitment of volunteers to augment official efforts. From 1919 to 1921, fish and game enforcement reported that “It has become possible to build up a very considerable volunteer
intelligence service which is steadily extending over the country, and proving of the very greatest value in putting a practical point to patrol work by focusing attention upon centers of violation. In a territory so comprehensive as southern California, and one whose fishing waters and game-fields are so widely separated, something of this sort is an essential preliminary to effective accomplishment.” However, legal issues apparently prevented the more effective employment of the volunteers in a direct role, proving that even in the earliest days of public-private partnerships, no good effort was safe from meddling by ambitious lawyers. “There was a time when deserving volunteers, desirous of aiding directly the enforcement of fish and game conservation laws, could be specially deputized; but all such unsalaried help has now become impossible owing to the Employers' Liability acts which are construed as placing a fair charge against the conservation funds for any injury that might befall even an unsalaried officer, if operating under authority conferred by this Commission. Since no man can waive the rights of enlisted, so far as possible, as informants and cooperators in such other lines as were possible…”

Like many aspects of the intelligence profession over the years, a number of these historical roles are simply no longer the domain of the intelligence community, but rather have been normalized within the civil agencies and privatized in the commercial world. While they may no longer carry the explicit titles of our profession, and no doubt have been changed as significantly by the introduction of new technologies and new organizational forms as any other activity, the core foundations of intelligence tasks no doubt remain present. For this reason, many of these modern functions may merit closer study, with a particular focus on areas of parallel evolution which may offer benefit to the intelligence community as a whole. These functions may also offer potential gainful employment to those students wishing to pursue the environmental account for its own sake.

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10 October 2008

Initial operational capability, GeoEye-1

Congratulations to the GeoEye team for a successful flight and successful first light. We hope their bird will fly for years to come, and peer deep into the shadow which surrounds our enemies.

We recall waiting anxiously for news of earlier payloads carried aloft for the old Orbview constellation, and the bitter shock of the failures which only contributed to the phantoms of the imaginary constellations. We are glad to see that this time around there appear to have been no mishaps.

We do find the initial target selection amusing, and we are sure that there is a backstory there somewhere waiting to be told. There is something about small, out of the way Pennsylvania colleges and the intelligence community, isn't there?

We also continue to be impressed by the rate at which spatial resolution capabilities continue to advance within privatized capabilities, which at 16 inches is certainly nothing to disregard. (By way of comparison, this is roughly the equivalent of published resolution figures for the KH-8 GAMBIT series, active in the early 1980’s).

We are pleased to note that far from arguing that commercial capabilities have nothing to offer the intelligence community, a substantial part of the mere $502 million price tag – including satellite, launch, insurance, financing and four ground stations – was paid by the National Geospatial Agency. The fact that additional funding was provided by Google – no doubt to improve the future of its Earth application series and the advertising revenue stream provided thereof – merely reinforces the fact that the commercial satellite imagery industry has certainly come a long way in the past decade. Much of this progress is due to the impact of the Long War, but equal credit is due to the fundamental changes in the way the average consumer now uses overhead imagery derived geospatial products.

Imagine what kind of constellation could have been orbiting, however, had even half of the $18 billion or so publicly reported to have been wasted on the disastrous Future Imagery Architecture instead been allocated towards a common architecture populated by Space Imaging, Orbimage, and Earthwatch / DigitalGlobe in the late 1990’s. It is the ghosts of these constellations which might have been that will most haunt us in the coming decades, we should think.

So as the engineers, mission specialists, and managers of the GeoEye program continue their celebrations in the coming days, we hope they will also lift a glass to the the birds who didn't make it, and those that never were. We certainly shall.

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09 October 2008

Intelligence and financial crisis, historical edition

It is our contention that troubled times demand increased investment in intelligence activities by private firms, who cannot rely upon the agencies of government or the media to adequately address their interests. This is by no means a new phenomenon – rather, it is a rediscovery of much older principles that were in common practice prior to the 20th century.

The debate over intelligence failures in the current financial crisis thus continues to attract our attention. There are those serving, or having served, in a variety of institutions which claim that intelligence may have indeed staved off the worst of the impact to a specific firm or another. We shall see what to make of these claims once the business schools begin to compile their histories.

It is clear, however, that good intelligence served financial institutions well in earlier times. We find quite early reference to this in a text on the Theory and Practice of Joint-stock Banking, dated from 1836.

“The system of mutual espionage and rivalry which exists amongst joint-stock banks is another source of security to the public. That a system of espionage exists upon every joint-stock bank, at least in Scotland. by their sister banks, who exchange notes and checks with them, must be admitted, after what took place with regard to a joint-stock bank establishment in the west of Scotland. The agents of the joint-stock banks, both in London and Edinburgh, being in constant communication with each other, have early intimation of any departure, by any joint-stock bank, from the true and safe principles of banking. In fact, so long as a joint-stock bank can maintain its credit and good opinion with its sister banks, the public are tolerably safe; and so satisfied are the public in Scotland of this circumstance, that no run took place during the severest period of the panic, in 1825, on a single Scotch bank — the public being well assured that the other banks would give (by a refusal to accept the notes and obligations at the exchange) a clear and distinct notice, that danger was to be apprehended.”

This forthright discussion of commercial espionage would not doubt send many of the current practitioners of competitive intelligence into hysterics. One must note that no distinction was made at the time between the collection of information by overt means versus that of illicit provenance. The legal status of such information, and its use, was also far less clear than in today’s environment. (We must remind our more genteel readership that the first case in law on such a matter – at least that we are aware of - for the first time conclusively draws the line between legitimately obtained information from public or private sources, versus unspecified illegitimate methods, only in 1916.)

Regardless of the means by which it might have been obtained in accordance with the standards of the day, the precedent of relying upon intelligence to avert financial crisis has long been a maxim within the financial industry. Given the perspective of time, one may look back on the recent troubles as much as a failure of institutional memory as a failure of the profession itself.

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08 October 2008

Plus ca change, edition naval

Recent coverage of the after-effects of the Russian military occupation and what one mightt call the “de-militarization with extreme prejudice” of the Georgia naval facility at Poti has been exceptionally thorough, not least of which due to the effects of the new media and the emerging class of citizen journalists who work within this media. Via Wired’s Danger Room, we note the exceptional detail offered by Gavin Sheridan, following onto earlier reporting and video via Georgian media channels and the incomparable Armchair Admiral.

The reporting brought to mind one of the early publicly disseminated products from the Office of Naval Intelligence. The piece was itself an early OSINT product, a translation of a German commander’s comments on a naval engagement which occurred at Santiago, Cuba during the Spanish – American War in 1898. The contemporaneous open source information environment had already seen American narratives of the action published, alongside detailed order of battle and combat effects. The German account circulated shortly thereafter, during the early months of 1899. With the concurrence of ONI’s Chief Intelligence Officer, a translation of the work was reprinted in the 25th volume of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings that March, providing extensive observations that were no doubt of significant intelligence value regarding the disposition of forces and TTP which featured in the engagement.

The following excerpt captures well the flavour of the account:

The three ships inspected had all their guns on board. The only ones that could not be found were the two 7-centimeter rapid-fire boat guns, but pivots had been provided on both sides of the stern, where these two guns were apparently intended to be installed for use against torpedo-boat attacks at night. From the slight losses which the American ships claim to have sustained, it may be judged that the training of the Spanish gun crews must have been very inadequate. This is not surprising, in view of the statement of one of the Spanish naval officers to the effect that no target practice is held in Spain in time of peace. Other circumstances also give evidence of very inefficient handling of the guns. The turrets and their guns, with the exception of the forward turret of the Almirante Oquendo, were found entirely intact. The loading apparatus for the 28-centimeter guns (Whitworth, Manchester, 1895) was of the hydraulic order, and the loading time was about two minutes. The 14-centimeter rapid-fire guns also were probably not used to their best advantage, owing to want of experience. There was evidently no lack of ammunition, for near some of the guns a number of cartridges were found, and some of the guns were still loaded, but had not been fired. To what circumstance it is due that the breech-blocks of two of the guns were found lying in the ear of the guns with their pivot bolts torn off, could not be explained. Perhaps this may also be attributed to inefficient handling of the projectiles. Only the port side of the ships was fired upon. The star-board side shows but a few holes, where shots have passed out. Where the course of projectiles could be traced, it was usually ranging from port aft to starboard forward. The destructive effect of the American projectiles is mainly due to the conflagrations caused by them. Aside from a shot through one of the turret roofs, no hits were observed in any of the armored turrets. Neither have any projectiles pierced the side armor, which shows no injuries. Only indentations are noticeable in places where projectiles have struck the armor. Projectiles of 15 centimeters and larger calibers that had hit the ship had in many instances gone out through the other side, making holes about 1 meter square, but without bursting. As the same observation has been made in the bombardments of Santiago and San Juan, it may be assumed that it is due to the uncertain functioning of the base fuse. It is not probable that the Americans used armor-piercing shell, as fragments of projectiles of different sizes found in the vicinity show that explosive shell and not nonexplosive shell were used. Projectiles which had hit smokestacks and masts had gone clear through, making only small, round or oblong shot holes. Hits of small-caliber projectiles (5.7-centimeter) could be noticed in large numbers, and this was corroborated by the statement of an American officer to the effect that they were used in great quantities. The question whether the Spanish had any intention of making use of the torpedo weapon may probably be answered in the negative. The torpedo armaments of the ships, although including a large number of tubes, were so defective that there could hardly be any chance of success as against the powerful American ships. The armaments consisted of two bow, four broadside, and two stern tubes, all above water and of antiquated design, with large cartridges, band-brakes, etc., all located above the armored deck and entirely unprotected. In a very primitive manner the tubes had been partly protected by grate bars lashed with chains. The projectiles were 35-centimeter Schwartzkopff torpedoes with large depth-regulating apparatus. No war-heads were to be found, with a single exception. According to the statement of an American petty officer, the warheads had been left at Santiago, where they were to be used in connection with the mine obstructions. It is true that this does not agree with the fact that a torpedo head exploded on board the Almirante Oquendo. It is possible, however, that the ships retained one or two war-heads to be used in case of necessity as against rams, since the broadside tubes were adapted to be turned in any direction, or perhaps it was the commander's wish to take a war-head along. The following points support the assumption that it was not the intention to make use of the torpedo weapon : a. Not one of the tubes still in existence was loaded, and all the tubes were closed. In the tubes destroyed by shots or otherwise no remnants of torpedoes were found. b. The remaining torpedoes, almost without exception, were lying in their places along the ship's side. No torpedoes were found lying back of the tubes, with the exception of the bow tubes of the Almirante Oquendo. c. There was no pressure in any of the flasks. This is shown by the fact that the flasks were entirely uninjured, although the heat had partly melted the tailpieces of the torpedoes. d. In several of the torpedoes lying on top, the protecting cap for the depth-regulating apparatus had not been taken off, while it is necessary to remove it in order to put on the war-heads. e. In a few of the torpedoes the sinking valves had been put in place, but in most of them they were still found soldered, with connecting links raised. The tubes for filling the launching cartridges were not connected and only on the Almirante Oquendo was the powder charge in readiness.”

Of course, there is little chance that an open source intelligence product of a similar nature would freely circulate today from ONI (or even OSC). ONI was somewhat unusual in this regard, and it is certain that a substantial percentage of the readership of its early products – available through the Government Printing Office – served the private sector as well, given the importance of maritime commerce and its shipping to the Republic. Consider it among the earliest public-private sector critical infrastructure protection partnerships. (We have already documented the interest from a variety of business entities in this kind of intelligence coverage, for which industry sectors had already established their own independent private intelligence functions. These shops were no doubt grateful for dissemination of related government production on matters on mutual interest.)

However, high quality direct access reporting from bloggers and privatized intelligence shops is far more readily accessible in this digital age than the laboriously copied and translated pages of one hundred and ten years ago. While there is a certain quality missing that marked the earlier accounts of professional naval officers, one must admit that raw data conveyed well carries its own sort of quality, particularly when handheld and motion imagery are available. No doubt translations of such reporting will circulate for some time to come among the various European naval forces concerned with potential future action on the Black Sea.

It is examples such as this which increasingly convince us that we are not undergoing a revolution in intelligence affairs, as some commentators might suggest, but rather the re-emergence of older intelligence forms in new contexts enabled by technological innovation.

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06 October 2008

Glimpses into agent psychology

We have long held the opinion that the British writers of the intelligence novel have offered the best examplars to be found of the psychological experiences of agents recruited for espionage. (That is, the classic intelligence definition of the term, and not the disastrous usurpation of the designation for the law enforcement community). Among the unique insights have been the often striking similarities between the subjects and those officers responsible for handling them, something particularly more visible in certain accounts and historical case studies than others.

We speak of course of Len Deighton, whose works remain classics, and of John le Carre, whose early pieces well captured the tenor of his time (despite the increasing gap between his later fiction and the realities they allegedly represent). A more recent entrant is Charles Cumming, whose depiction of the post-Cold War British intelligence establishment from the perspective of a partially witting asset is striking in its tone, not least of which is the result of the author’s semi-biographical approach. (This has been true of most of the better intelligence fiction writers).

It takes a certain personality to write fiction of this sort. Some insights are only the result of lived experiences. We are unsurprised, then, to hear recently of Le Carre’s early intent to defect to the Soviet Union. One can easily see the life-long hints of such intentions throughout much of his work, and most notably in the characters which in fiction carried out that which the man himself never did. It also provides an underlying cause to explain the often excessive intricacies found in the novels’ plot lines, which a number of years ago caused a former Russian intelligence officer to remark in despair regarding the negative impact that such fictionalization had upon younger professionals in his service attempting their own approaches along such models, without regard for the inevitable imposition of Mr. Murphy’s Russian equivalent in the real world. After all, after spending so long considering what one does not act upon, it is only expected that the resulting planning takes a tangled and impractical shape.

For students of intelligence as an activity and a profession, it is a subject perhaps best handled through fictional characterization. In this form, certain features may be exaggerated for the purposes of the narrative – and over time, a composite constructed to reveal the whole. Consider this sort of fiction perhaps the intelligence community’s version of the morality play.

We do wonder where the next century shall find the literature to play the same role. In this, we are reminded of the most insightful essay by Charles Stross, The Golden Age of Spying, in which he quite neatly characterized the unique cultural pressures which brought such works to the published market. We do not see a modernized parallel anywhere on the horizon, and we think the profession poorer for it.

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03 October 2008

2009 IAFIE essay contest

We have long had mixed opinions regarding the International Association of Intelligence Education. While we are exceptionally glad an organization of this nature exists, and feel that it plays a valuable role in networking and ongoing conversation in the field, we have been quite discouraged regarding attempts to interpose the association as an arbiter of professional standards. The professional standards of the intelligence community cannot be governed by academics and outsiders – particularly when the organization itself has show that it has a long way to go towards understanding the full scope of the community’s tradecraft and many of its sub-disciplines.

However, we continue to believe that IAFIE can play a valuable role in spreading best practices identified by currently serving professionals throughout academia. We also see it as one of the organizations which could be fundamental in advancing the literature of intelligence, if it ever lives up to its true potential. There is much work to be done here, but expansion of the association out of Erie to a wider range of venues and institutions is an excellent start.

To this end, we are pleased to see the announcement of an essay competition for its 2009 conference. The full text is reproduced below:

The International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE) is pleased to announce its Essay Competition for 2009. This competition promotes IAFIE’s goal of providing a forum for the communication and exchange of ideas and information for those interested in and concerned with intelligence education.
Competition is open to everyone having an interest in furthering intelligence education. (IAFIE officers and staff are not eligible to compete.)

First place finishers in each category will receive a $1,000 cash award and be invited to speak at the Annual IAFIE Conference, May 27-28, 2009 at the University of Maryland. IAFIE will pay for travel, accommodations and conference registration costs.
Second place finishers in each category will each receive $500 in cash. First and second place finishers will have the opportunity to publish their essays on the IAFIE website.
First and second place finishers will also receive a one year free membership in IAFIE.

Professional – An individual who is working or who has worked as an intelligence analyst, or an individual who is or has been involved in teaching intelligence studies or providing intelligence training (teacher, trainer, consultant, private citizen).
Graduate Student – A full-time or part-time graduate student currently enrolled with a college or university.
Undergraduate Student - A full-time or part-time undergraduate student currently enrolled with a college or university.

Essay Questions
Please answer one of the following questions in your essay. Essays may be written from the perspective of national security, law enforcement, academia, business or private citizen.

1. What impact have major events of this decade had on the role of the intelligence professional in national security, law enforcement or competitive intelligence? (Select major events based upon your choice of field.)

2. Intelligence-led policing is in practice in several countries on several continents. Using real-world examples, what, in your opinion, are the strengths and weaknesses of intelligence-led policing?

3. What do you think are the most important challenges facing the intelligence community over the next 10 years?

4. What advantages do strategic analysis and futures thinking hold for the future of the intelligence professional and how can they be incorporated into the intelligence professional’s skill sets?

Submission Guidelines
Submissions must include a cover sheet with the author’s name, contact information, category (Professional, Graduate Student or Undergraduate Student), essay title and, for graduate or undergraduate students, the name of the college or university they are attending. Those submitting in the Professional category must submit a biography of 50 words or less. Do not include your name on the essay.
Essays must be no longer than 2,500 words, excluding endnotes and bibliography, double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font.
Essays must be submitted in English using Word or PDF format.
Essays must be original and not previously published. Submission constitutes permission to publish.

Deadline for Submission: January 9, 2009, midnight, EST. Email your submission to: submissions[at]iafie[dot]org

Notification: Award winners will be notified no later than April 2, 2009

Evaluation Criteria: A panel of intelligence professionals will judge all entries and select the winners for each category. Essays will be evaluated on their relevance to the question, creativity, strength of argument, and writing quality.

To those that will participate, bonne chance. We hope to see a robust response, and (hopefully) an edited collection can be circulated that will include both the winners and substantive runner-up entries.

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02 October 2008

Technical OSINT innovation contest: the 2008 Malware Challenge

While the worlds of most OSINT analysts do not typically overlap with those working in the more rarified fields of digital network intelligence, forensic analysis, and network warfare, there are a highly specialized subset that may be interested in testing their skills as part of a challenge of their own. While clearly not as high profile as the recent DNI OSINT contest, the 2008 Malware Challenge promises interesting responses of its own.

The winners of the malware challenge will be announced at the 2008 Ohio Information Security Summit on 31 October 2008. We had not previously seen this conference, but it appears to be a small regional conference that is unusually well attended by the usual round of ex-spooks and ex-cops that have moved into the cyber security industry as of late.

The challenge scenario is reproduced below:

"A system administrator within your organization has come to you because a user's PC was infected with malware. Unfortunately, anti-virus is unable to remove the malware. However, the administrator was able to recover the suspected malware executable. Your job is to analyze the malware.
Participants should download the malware sample and analyze it. The end result should be a document containing details on the analysis performed. The analysis document can be written in any form, but the questions and statements below should be answered within it. Participants should note what questions are being answered.
The questions...
* Describe your malware lab.
* What information can you gather about the malware without executing it?
* Is the malware packed? If so, how did you determine what it was?
* Describe the malware's behavior. What files does it drop? What registry keys does it create and/or modify? What network connections does it create? How does it auto-start, etc?
* What type of command and control server does the malware use? Describe the server and interface this malware uses as well as the domains and URLs accessed by the malware.
* What commands are present within the malware and what do they do? If possible, take control of the malware and run some of these commands, documenting how you did it.
* How would you classify this malware? Why?
* What do you think the purpose of this malware is?

Bonus questions: (These questions are not required to be answered but could be used to break a tie for prizes.)
* Is it possible to find the malware's source code? If so, how did you do it?
* How would you write a custom detection and removal tool to determine if the malware is present on the system and remove it?

Analysis documents should be submitted in PDF format to 2008challenge@malwarechallenge.info by 12:00 Midnight EST (5:00 AM GMT) on October 26, 2008."

Additional information, including other contest rules and FAQ, can be found at the challenge website.

Interestingly, we note that Steve Jackson Games is among the sponsors providing prizes for the winners. SJG was most famously the victim of a botched Secret Service raid in 1990, which seized files and texts that were part of one its published gaming lines. For those that are not familiar with this disastrous episode from the earliest days of the cyber intelligence account, it was best recounted in Bruce Sterling’s still timeless book, The Hacker Crackdown. (In our opinion, this is also a text which should be mandatory reading for those involved in SIGINT, MEDEX, or eCrime analysis. And while the USSS has indeed come a long way since then, we do from time to time encounter other shops still grappling to come to terms with the new threat environment with often equally absurd results.)

h/t Spy Logic

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