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29 August 2008

Intellectual property claims as denial & deception measures in medical intelligence

Following yesterday’s clear demonstration of the official embrace of open source intelligence comes a sharp reminder of that discipline’s limitations. The field of medical intelligence – and in particular, epidemiological intelligence – has been one of the areas in which OSINT has seen great successes. These successes are all the more important as they have involved the integration of specific scientific and technical expertise into collection, analysis, and visualization of extremely hard problems across very large scale geographies and populations. However, much of the underlying open source information and reference materials have only been made available due to the predominate ethic of free information exchange which prevails in scientific sharing and peer review. A recent Washington Post article (via Futurismic and Open the Future) highlights a new concept that may threaten the fundamental availability of those underlying materials.

This concept - viral sovereignty – immediately brings to mind the worst days of the Cold War, in which the Soviets sought to conceal information regarding large scale disease outbreaks to preserve the illusion of a superior socialized medical system, and in some cases such as the 1979 Sverdlovsk outbreak, prevent revelation of their clandestine biological warfare programs. The newest iteration of these ideas couple the same statist impulse towards censorship with a distorted view of the intellectual property market, resulting in a truly poisonous brew. One might consider such paranoia- and profiteering- driven claims a unique type of denial & deception measure aimed directly at the OSINT mechanisms of governments, pharmaceutical firms, and international organizations.

We would not wish to see a future where fundamental medical information regarding new disease outbreaks is simply not available in certain high risk countries. The potential higher order effects of such short-sighted decisions are readily considered – including the “surprise” global emergence of highly virulent new infection strains from unreported lower level outbreaks. Such a state of affairs could simply not be permitted to exist unchallenged, and as a result it is likely that a number of nations (particularly regional neighbors most likely to be impacted by such outbreaks) might then turn to clandestine collection means to acquire what previously was the open domain of science itself. This raises serious proliferation concerns, if new disease variants are obtained by BW aspirant countries (or non state actors) but are not otherwise widely known among nations which have abandoned biowarfare programs. One could also anticipate a surging demand for such clandestine collection measures for industrial espionage purposes, especially in countries where the legalities and ethics of an open competitive intelligence profession simply does not exist.

Such frictions would not only distort legitimate markets for pharmaceutical advances, but also would fundamentally impact the iterative and collaborative nature of modern medical research. And the first victims of these negative effects would likely be the unfortunate citizens of the country seeking to employ spurious intellectual property claims in this manner.

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28 August 2008

DNI Open Source Innovation Challenge 2008

We are unabashed believers in the unique contributions offered by open source intelligence as a discipline, and have been greatly pleased to see the increased prominence of such efforts within the Intelligence Community over the past decade. Today’s OSINT is a far cry more advanced from the early days of the 1990’s, when the first glimpses of the potential offered by the information revolution were visible in the newly opened media markets of the Soviet Union.

One of the most dramatic shifts since that time has been the development of OSINT as more than a mere data gathering function, increasingly focused on providing insight through rigorous analysis and imaginative exploration. Analytic outreach naturally goes hand in hand with open sources. And while the intelligence community is still grappling with the best manner to encourage and develop such efforts, this evolution is a fascinating space to observe and participate in.

Thus we are immensely interested to see the results of the DNI’s Open Source Innovation Challenge for 2008. This is a frankly unprecedented effort - and long overdue. Announced via email and on their public blog, the invitation speaks for itself:

Special Announcement

The Open Source Innovation Challenge

We are pleased to announce an exciting opportunity in conjunction with the DNI Open Source Conference 2008: "The Open Source Innovation Challenge." This is a unique occasion for representatives from academia; think tanks; industry; the media; federal, state, local, and tribal government; and other diverse sectors to use open source information to address real intelligence challenges. Subject matter experts from any field can apply innovative research techniques, thus giving new insight to the Intelligence Community.

Can you provide the most innovative and relevant answer to the Challenge questions?

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has provided two Challenge questions (below) and instructions to all conference registrants. Those who choose to accept the Challenge can submit a answer for one of the two challenge questions posed. Entries will be reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of senior IC representatives. The three entries judged to be the best answers to Challenge questions will be announced during the opening plenary session of the DNI Open Source Conference on September 11th and the answers will be presented at the concluding conference plenary on September 12th. The Challenge is open to all conference registrants, including those who are not able to attend due to overwhelming registration demand.

Challenge Questions

1. Using the best open sources to inform your answer, is Al Qaeda a cohesive organization with strong and centralized control, intent and direction?

2. According to open sources, who will be the global leader in alternative fuels and why?

Challenge Guidelines

1. Challenge Participants and Entries: Entries can be submitted either by individuals or teams, with no limit to the number of individuals on a team. Teams can consist of individuals from any number of organizations, rather than representatives exclusively from a single university, company or organization; multidisciplinary teams are encouraged. Each person, however, can only enter the Challenge once—as an individual or part of a team, not both. At least one member of each team must be a registered conference attendee and entries from individuals must be submitted by a registered (not necessarily a confirmed) attendee. Entries should address one of the two Challenge questions proposed; entries attempting to address both questions will be disqualified.

The remainder of the full guidelines may be found here.

This seems to us an excellent opportunity for a number of academic and private sector shops to demonstrate their mettle in front of a very serious – and no doubt quite attentive – audience. The timing – and timelines – reminds us more than somewhat of the Burundi exercise of years past. This is certainly no coincidence, and we have long felt it was time to update the original work performed for the 1995 Aspin-Brown Commission on Intelligence in a modern context.

To all those participating, bonne chance.

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27 August 2008

Considering a research agenda for intelligence

One of the consistent problems that has bedeviled the academic exploration of the intelligence profession is the constant attempt to re-invent what has already come before, rather than refining accepted tradecraft or exploring new ground. Too many in the field seek to create their own buzzwords and diagrams, and elevate citation over substance. We have long disagreed with this approach. First, we believe that we simply do not need a second incarnation of a Sherman Kent to define the field itself for further study, this already having been accomplished over fifty years ago. Nor do we need to endlessly rehash old arguments over the definition of the fundamental activities which we pursue in the profession. There is a body of best practice out there, and while the profession may indeed be under-theorized it is not for a lack of first principles, but rather for the lack of reflective practice.

We have long argued that a wider discussion of the means to assist academia in focusing on subjects responsive to the intelligence community’s needs would go a long way to breaking the barriers between theory and application. For this we were politely taken to task in March by a learned doctor who disagreed with our insistence that practitioners remain involved in teaching intelligence. (To which we owe a long overdue reply, we should add with contrition. We have not been the best of correspondents as of late). Needless to say, we feel there is ample room for disagreement on this point, as purely academic efforts divorced from practical concerns have thus far in our opinion led the field too far astray at a time when it can ill afford the yet another endless series of definitional arguments, reform studies, or attempts to impose a single arbitrary finished intelligence product format.

We would however agree with another of the good professor’s points: “Academic teaching must be closely linked to research. The huge challenge is to develop a research agenda that is relevant to [intelligence] - this has hardly been done to date. The unique contribution of academia is the development of theories that are generalizable and teach us more than the occasional case.” It is in the hope of such contributions that Sherman Kent first declared the imperative for an intelligence literature, envisioning a robust discussion between both academics and professionals (and in many cases, with both roles embodied in the same persons, given the kind of scholar-spooks which inhabited to community of the day.)

Thus we were greatly encouraged to hear of the modest proposal put forward by another gentleman of great insight and energy at a recent conference of the International Association of Intelligence Education. This gentleman had already proven himself to be well worth listening to, given previous efforts to explore forgotten intelligence history and its implications for the emerging missions of the one of the IC’s newest members, and his proposal likewise deserves further attention. Simply put, he offered the National Intelligence Priorities Framework as a model for exactly the kind of research agenda that had been lacking. The proposal seemed to us a great step forward in satisfying both sides of this argument, and a means of integrating practical considerations in a means of directing the academics efforts in directions offering clear utility to the intelligence community, but sufficiently defined in a broad brush that would encourage the pursuit of individual academic interests and creative options.

Unfortunately, the NIPF is not readily available in a form that encourages dissemination to academics due to classification and handling restrictions. Selected programs which routinely work with government data may already have a means of reviewing these requirements, and there is quite a body of writings discussing the older requirements of Presidential Decision Directive 35, but this leaves quite a number of other educational institutions out in the cold. This is not entirely conducive to good research.

And while we firmly believe that the NIPF is a good baseline for building out a more comprehensive research agenda, it does not address a number of the pressing “meta-“ questions of the field, which naturally draw inquiry into the means and methodologies by which we conduct the practice of the profession, organize its affairs, and develop its new members. This is a key shortcoming in the theorization of the field, and a robust research agenda must also reflect these requirements.

There are institutions within the khaki tower of military academia that have sought to pursue the question of these requirements from time to time, in a manner adapted to their mission. The most notable of these is the US Army’s War College, which publishes its annual Key Strategic Issues List to direct its students, faculty, and outside researchers. A similar research theme is set each year at the National Defense Intelligence College, although these have traditionally been published only for circulation within the intelligence community. The DNI’s IC Postdoctoral Research Fellow Program has issued its own research agenda, but this covers only a small subset of substantive scientific and technical questions. Likewise, the National Geospatial Agency has issued a rather weighty volume on its own priorities for GEOINT research.

All of these ought to be incorporated into the wider IC research agenda. There is a clear gap here that could be easily filled by the National Intelligence University, or another similar effort within other academic focused organizations such as the National Defense Intelligence College Foundation, given that it is a topic that body has already taken up. There is also ample room for contributions from the private sector, including perhaps the august publishing institutions of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence and the Small Wars Journal. (We might have also mentioned the Journal of Competitive Intelligence and Management as well, had its recent untimely demise not robbed that segment of the field of its own academic literature).

The project also seems ideal for collaboration through one of the newer technology platforms such as a wiki. Perhaps one of the newer but growing intelligence studies academic program might find themselves to be the ideal home for such an effort.

We look forward to an expanded debate of this topic, and sincerely hope that the discussion will lead to a more productive harnessing of intellectual energies for the advancement of the profession, and the growth of its literature.

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26 August 2008

Requirements management for the new generation

We frequently revisit the question of how the generation after next will change the activity of intelligence. It is ground that others have also slowly begun to come around to as the realities of the J-shaped workforce dawn across the community. As in many other areas of the workplace, generational changes tend to manifest themselves most visibly through technology. Thus it is the wiki and the blog which has more readily captured the imagination, while the less visible growth new models of ongoing production through informal networking brought about by the lists or the subtle changes in dissemination models driven by the Wire go largely un-remarked.

However, occasionally some changes are entirely striking not merely because of the realized technologies which have crept into the business of doing intelligence, but due to the aspirations of how a consumer would wish to see the activity done better (or at least, in a manner that better serves their particular cognitive and working style). These often frustrated desires for change are quite often poorly expressed, and rarely conveyed to the intelligence producers in any event.

Despite this, every once in a while there is something that a consumer may bring to the table from another life experience – typically outside of the intelligence domain entirely – that convincingly encapsulates both the shortcomings of the current approach and a possible model for examination of a new innovation. We enjoyed such a conversation the other day, the result of a highly technology savvy consumer’s attempt to grapple with a restricting “classic” intelligence structure that simply did not conform to the manner in which they had come to rely upon to satisfy other content needs.

We speak of course of the now standard approach to requirements management wherein a new consumer is asked to define collaboratively their Key Intelligence Topics (popularized in the private sector by the notable work of Jan Herring, having been drawn from the gentleman’s experiences as a National Intelligence Officer at a time when similar approaches drove national intelligence priorities). This is a valuable exercise, both for its role in drawing out a consumer’s concerns, pre-existing baseline knowledge, and assumptions as well as in helping set expectations regarding capabilities and deliverables. (There is a reason it first came into use and subsequently thrived after all).

The consumer in this particular case simply did not wish for the exercise to be a one time affair, or even something periodically revisited in accordance with some calendar schedule. Rather, having been taught by other information delivery environments that such a thing was possible, this decision-maker asked for a queue to which he could add, delete, and re-prioritize his own requirements as he chose. The model he cited for this was the Netflix video rental service, which offered this kind of flexibility.

This model is actually quite insightful. While one must overlook the key difference that good intelligence is not simply a pre-packaged mass market product sitting in some warehouse waiting to be sent out upon demand, and that intelligence questions should always be accompanied by scoping discussions, it is actually quite easy to modify and present such an interface for validated requirements that have been accepted by the intel staff (and to capture the additional conversations regarding objectives and terms of reference). The model also provided an unexpected benefit, in that the consumer already was willing to take into account the delay between request and production, having been trained to expect a few days turn around time for the postal mail delivery of the familiar red envelope. (For our British friends, the parallel to the equally classic red box presented to senior ministers is inescapable.)

Unfortunately such requests are infrequently captured by those in a position to implement the requisite changes even when a consumer does at last find a way to articulate what they are seeking. And while national requirements management exercises are far more involved things under the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, the back and forth of production on a smaller and more situated scale is entirely within the realm of the possible. Answering the inevitable next demand of delivering such an interface over their Blackberry – classified or otherwise – may however be entirely harder, at least in government service (commercial intelligence counterparts will likely be less constrained).

For those consumers that do not wish to actually use such an interface themselves, a periodic copy of the queue can be provided for discussion, and changes made by a briefer, unit manager, or other consumer outcomes oriented professional. In this it is little different than the classic requirements model, but it does offer additional opportunities for more dynamic engagement with the ongoing concerns of the policymaker. And we strongly believe that as the generational shifts also take hold within the ranks of key intelligence consumers, so too will the willingness to embrace already familiar processes in new contexts.

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25 August 2008

Additional layers in the forgotten history of commercial intelligence

As part of our continuing interest in the privatization of intelligence, we have sought to surface a number of long forgotten antecedents to the modern incarnation of professional intelligence activities that were conducted in both the early government contracting environment and the purely commercial world. Through this research we have come to believe strongly that the prevalent conception underlying many of the current controversies over privatization is based an inaccurate perception; namely that intelligence is historically (and some argue, only the proper) province of the state monopolies which emerged from World WWII until the immediate post Cold War era.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. History in this case has been written by the official agencies, and as a result the wider community beyond the wheel has largely been downplayed or entirely left out. While this may have helped to build the necessary mythology to cement organizational culture in the early years of many a new government agency, it is unhelpful from the perspective of professionalization - and even moreso when attempting to understand the dynamics of resurgent privatized intelligence activities. This has also led to a number of significant fallacies in recent discussions regarding the current state and future trends of the field, most notably in academia.

We continue to find indicators in support of our case. We have identified commercial intelligence units with histories dating back as far the contemporary literature of “official” intelligence itself, and have traced the evolution of terminology and duties throughout the decades. Some of this research has previously appeared in these pages.

To this evidence we would add the following commercial intelligence activities which also ought not to be lost to time, identified in brief references throughout a number of texts buried in the forgotten archives.

  • An intelligence office of the National Insurance Convention of the United States, proposed in 1871 to track fraud and risk from New York offices, as a fee based service for the industry as a whole. This effort no doubt was intended to provide an American alternative to the famous and longstanding intelligence service operated by Lloyd’s of London.
  • The Commercial Intelligence Department of the Associated Trade and Industrial Press in Washington DC, established in 1885 and referenced in multiple publications from 1896 to 1899 advertising its intelligence products for sale. These included a “neatly type-written” list of the “leading hardware dealers in Mexico, Central and South American countries” that had been “compiled from first sources”, available at a cost of 5s.
  • An Intelligence Department of the English Fisheries Board, referenced in 1886, whose services included “weekly statistics of the fishing-industry, the appearance and disappearance of certain fish at particular spots, the number of fishing-boats employed, the methods of fishing employed, and the meteorological condition”
  • A “Special Intelligence Report” on the “Progress of the Work on the Panama Canal during 1885”, published in 1887. Among this product’s consumers were the American Geographical Society of New York and the Institution of Civil Engineers in Great Britain
  • The biography of the Managing Editor for a publication entitled “Commercial Intelligence” from 1898 to 1903
  • The Commercial Intelligence Section of the Canadian Manufacturer’s Association, referenced in 1904
  • An Intelligence Department of the American Electric Railway Association, referenced in 1915 as part of the claims organization
  • An unnamed “commercial intelligence firm in the Netherlands” identified in an advertisement published in 1920, seeking information regarding mahogany and oak lumber exporters.
  • The Chicago Intelligence Bureau Inc., advertised in 1922 after having been founded by three former “newspapermen”
  • An otherwise unidentified Market Intelligence Service at Montreal, referenced in 1925
  • The Intelligence Department of Midlands Bank in the United Kingdom, first identified in the obituary of its founder in 1926 and subsequently referenced in multiple publications from 1951 to 1956
  • The Commercial Intelligence Department of the Imperial Bank of Canada, referenced in 1947
  • The appointment of a Market Intelligence Officer at the Gas Council in the United Kingdom, announced in 1968
  • The appointment of a Market Intelligence Manager at International Janitor, Ltd. announced in 1968
  • The Economic Intelligence Department of Bank of London and South Africa, referenced in 1967, 1971 and 1972
  • Economic Intelligence Department of Norges Bank, referenced in 1981
  • A “Market Intelligence Center” in Taiwan, referenced in 1988
  • An Intelligence Department at the Salvage Association in the United Kingdom, referenced in 1989

None of the activities of these groups are entirely unfamiliar to the modern eye. While many primarily involved the collection and dissemination of basic and current intelligence often without any further analysis, one must remember that so too did most contemporaneous government intelligence activities of the day – a style of production that persisted largely unchanged until the 1950’s (and continues even to this day in a number of shops in both government and corporate practice).

The fundamental business models of privatized intelligence are also visible in this history, whether in the form of pay for product, subscription, industry association, or corporate department. The success – or failure – of certain variants over others (as clearly indicated by prevalence and longevity) points towards some of the core determinants which shaped the contemporary market for intelligence . One can argue that the same dynamics impacted even the (comparatively) distorted market within the state level monopolies, but that is a discussion for another day.

There are no doubt reams of documentation as yet uncovered, particularly within the larger of these institutions which remain extant, and within the archives that may have passed into the hands of libraries and university collections. This is a mine for fundamental research in the intelligence field that has yet to be fully tapped. There is no doubt that it will be the future source of much value in the literature of intelligence.

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21 August 2008

Unintended learning objectives

We have recently had several occasions to ponder the unintended higher order effects that seem to be cascading from academic intelligence studies programs. These chances have come as a new cohort of students inevitably begins to join the workforce from the ’08 classes (at least at those institutions where a graduating class is still measured primarily by spring year group), and as a number of the previous years’ students begin to emerge from the initially overwhelming stages of integration into the community, during which time they were typically near invisible amongst the press of current matters far more serious.

It is usually a good thing to meet a newly minted graduate from any of the intelligence studies programs across the country – and particularly from one’s own institution - as they tend towards an enthusiasm that inevitably and infectiously refreshes one’s own commitment to the mission at hand. In a small but distinct way, it is easy to see in many of these recently graduated students the echo of one’s own early entry into the profession. This is indeed a transferable thing, no matter how one came to the field, for we have seen the dynamic at work even in those for whom intelligence was (as it historically has been) the furthest from the first thing an individual considered as a career path. But intelligence as an activity and a profession has always tended to enmesh those suited for its demands, especially those that spent time as a square peg in other environments – and those individuals are often the first to recognize the same qualities in others. Upon such a dynamic is the entire mentorship structure built, and indeed, as is the nearly feudal system of career progression that marks the professional guilds of the community.

However, we have been disturbed by a marked trend observed in such recent encounters – observations which are reinforced by similar reporting from others of great insight and independent accomplishment in the field. A far too high percentage of these students seem now to be emerging from the sheltered cloister of their institutions bereft of key competencies that one would expect from an entry level intelligence professional, yet implacably infected with a degree of arrogance that is simply breathtaking in its scope and ignorance. And in a profession whose practitioners are not often noted for their humility, this is surely something indeed.

We thus take well Megan McArdle’s recent comments on the perils of graduate education. To her scope we would also add undergraduate education focused intensely on the same subjects. (For unfortunately, the great shame of too many intelligence studies graduate programs is that they offer little different from the same courses taught to undergraduates, compressed into a far shorter dwell time. And while graduate students may in some cases come to the task armed with better core skills – among them ordinary research and basic writing – as well as a presumed level of experience and maturity, the decline of the university system does not always assure this is true.)

The new graduate student, bolstered by the opinions of their professors, tends to become extraordinarily indignant at the notion that anyone would challenge them. Since no one without a graduate degree could possibly have mastered the requisite knowledge, disagreement becomes a sign of willful malice. They stride forth confidently into arguments with professionals armed with the three books they have read on the topic, the opinions of their professors, and enough arrogance to power a high speed monorail between Moscow and Vladivostok. That's when they get their asses handed to them. Even worse, they are often too dumb to recognize this has happened; at the nadir of the disease, they are simply constitutionally incapable of recognizing that a slot at a good school is not the same thing as omniscience.”

We have struggled to characterize the conceits which plague more than a few particular members of these newer generations, in the hope of diagnosing the source. This has proven remarkably difficult to do, not least for the sheer variety of ways in which their hubris seems to manifest. Given that we are perhaps among the most non-denominational of participants in a number of the ongoing debates over current controversies in the community, it is nonetheless disturbing to see so many points in which new professionals deviate from the most basic principles of the craft, while at the same time proclaiming their genius loudly in a most unseemly and self aggrandizing fashion. Unfortunately, we suspect that this is in many cases largely the result of many of these students never having truly learned first principles. In a subset of these cases, the blame may not even lie entirely with the student, given that there is more than anecdotal evidence that many of the foundations of intelligence as a professional activity are simply not now being taught (although blame for lack of humility can certainly be fairly apportioned, even if it is to some degree an inherited trait).

This is perhaps a seasonal disorder, and we could merely wait in hope it shall soon pass. Certainly, it is a disorder in which seasonal changes highlight the observable impacts. But we fear that the symptoms worsen year after year in the nascent intelligence studies academia. There are undiagnosed tumors in the body, and the warning indicators are growing clearer. We do not yet despair, but fain would see the physicians soon attend to their own house.

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19 August 2008

The uncanny valley and the virtual briefer

We have long had a soft spot for the idea of virtual briefers – that is, interactive software agents which can deliver customized presentations to intelligence consumers. While nothing will ever likely beat the effectiveness of a real mind delivering insight regarding issues on which they have directly worked in a manner tailored the consumer’s interest, and being available for discussion and debate in real time, the virtual briefer could take the place of a large segment of the other briefing cases. Anyone who has spent time in the community knows these well – the interminably long, bullet point by bullet point monotone recital of someone else’s key judgments by a speaker who ought never have been placed in that position.

There have been multiple experiments along these lines, dating back ill-fated virtual newsreaders in the comparative dark ages of the Internet. Recently, lightweight video and audio production capabilities have seen a resurgence for delivery of prerecorded briefings and lectures (for which we are grateful, given the need to fill otherwise unproductive downtime in the friction of travel or commuting.) We are also aware of one relatively recent academic experiment at Mercyhurst’s intel studies program to create a new style of video briefing (or rather, a modernized lightweight version of the kinds of products frequently seen in the Reagan era White House, or even in visually dominant shops such as NGA) – although the results of that study have still regrettably not been made public. While these efforts all have their place, and have provided valuable lessons learned – especially when it comes to the gaps which must be overcome – the concepts are simply not sufficiently advanced to allow for effective widespread implementation.

However, the need for alternatives to the classic briefing continues to grow, especially as the range of consumers outside of the traditional spectrum served by the IC also grows. How many otherwise productive analysts have been sapped on a more or less fulltime basis by the need to support the multiple times daily briefings given in the many watch & warning oriented shops around the community? How many thinkers are burning themselves out at 3am to prepare for a consumer’s morning ritual? And how many of those briefings continue to be delivered to ever lower echelons of consumers merely interested in avoiding having to read a written product rather than in the true back and forth discussion and engagement of well executed briefing?

We thus continue to feel that there is a strong case for the further development and implementation of virtual briefers, at least in certain situated instances. We have been encouraged by advances in the key enabling technologies that would be required to make a robust implementation of this happen. Among the most critical are those that overcome the previous gaps in the cartoonish delivery offered by previous generations of avatars. However, most attempts at photorealistic avatars have thus far foundered in the uncanny valley – the response of the audience to appearance and behavior which is nearly, but not quite, entirely human.

Recent news out of the video gaming industry may however offer a potential solution to at least this part of the problem. At least of one firm has made exceptional progress – at least by evidence of the demonstration video – in bridging the uncanny valley.

Of course, conversational agents still have a long way to go. Without such agents, we would reiterate our previously expressed our concerns regarding the removal of the opportunity for human interaction between analysts and high value intelligence customers.

As a stopgap, one can however easily envision a hybrid structure evolving, in which basic briefings are delivered in a syndicated fashion by virtual talking heads, while a lightweight response interface captures any comments or questions from the consumer for routing to the appropriate analyst. It is certainly not real time, but for a wide variety of consumers such asynchronous but more tailored service may be exactly what they have been looking for when they cannot afford – or sustain – the level of analytic effort required for full time briefing support.

We have reason to believe that it will be the private sector intelligence shops that may adopt such virtual briefers first, as they have also been the early adopters of podcasts, webcasts, and other innovative delivery options. (We would not venture to lay odds on whether it will be a Stratfor, an iJet, an Economist Intelligence Unit, or some other entirely unknown shop - perhaps in the competitive intelligence arena - that takes this plunge first. And we would be even more foolish to predict which one might first succeed.) Yet one can easily see how a subscription based service could easily syndicate the dissemination of selected products – crafted by the usual suspects who lurk in the cubicle mazes or darkened basements – but delivered in a unique format tailored for the busy consumer. Likewise, one might envision a successful offering by a small competitive intelligence department located an otherwise large organization with extensive demands as yet unmet by traditional product formats. And with the new options for flash based video available from smartphones (including the increasingly ubiquitous iPhone), such a service - in whatever form it may emerge and evolve to thrive - is likely not too far off in the distant future.

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15 August 2008

Medical intelligence and the PRC Olympic gymnastic team

The controversy over the allegedly altered official age records for the PRC’s Olympic gymnastic team has provided an excellent teaching example for the benefits of medical intelligence. There are a number of indicators which have been surfaced through open source reporting, including missing baby teeth, biometric anomalies, and altered official records and state agency news stories. These are compelling evidence in their own right to support further inference.

Of course, more sophisticated techniques are available for intelligence professionals. Such techniques have long been a staple of leadership analysis, in which foreign figures are closely examined for potential medical anomalies. The importance of accurate assessments of the health of foreign leaders was driven home after the failure to understand the severity of the Shah of Iran’s illness, which directly led the United States to underestimate the revolutionary climate of the country in 1979.

The discipline has been covered repeatedly in the intelligence literature, first in a (now declassified) Studies in Intelligence article, Remote Medical Diagnosis. The history of the methodology and its use was also revisited in an article published in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, “CIA’s Medical and Psychological Analysis Center (MPAC) and the Health of Foreign Leaders”. There is a robust and well tested tradecraft available to help address these outstanding questions, even based solely on media recorded to date.

One particular analyst of our acquaintance leveraged practice honed in the far less rarified world of gossip magazines into an uncanny talent at spotting plastic surgery in handheld imagery. Needless to say, it is competency that one does not often find listed in human capital inventories – even in leadership analyst or medical intelligence vacancy postings - but yet one that has numerous uses in the intelligence profession. (Including, one might add, settling informal wagers taken over particular points of dispute that from time to time circulate through the vault.)

The application of these analytic methodologies is certainly not infallible, particularly when assessing the age of young females. A number of high profile mistakes have occurred in cases involving online pornography (albeit mistakes usually made by less well trained criminal investigators carrying with them a host of cognitive biases, rather than objective medical professionals focused on the art and science). However, the International Olympic Committee could certainly avail itself of far more robust diagnostic options than remote analysis alone might otherwise afford in order to reduce the potential error rate.

Regardless of the outcomes of further medical assessment, the controversy itself offers additional insight for political and leadership analysis. The insecurities of an authoritarian leadership - so desperate to prove itself on a world stage that it resorts to unsportsmanlike conduct and faked ceremony - demonstrate the impulses of the Communist government’s decision-making process as clearly as any other operational code yet documented. The reaction – or lack thereof - from a disconnected internationalist body mired in its own Utopian fantasy has also been instructive (and equally, could easily have been predicted by anyone who has spent any amount of time in the cloistered and anti-intellectual environment of Lausanne).

The truth will out. If nothing else, the case also demonstrates the value of intelligence to a wide variety of non-traditional consumers in this new millennium.

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14 August 2008

The Jesters tackle counterproliferation

We have several enduring interests that our longtime readers will have noted us discuss before. The first - consumption of interesting audio media - is based on the inevitable realities of the Beltway commute, frequent extended travel time, and long periods of enforced downtime at various airstrips, motor pools, and other transient spaces around the globe. The second is the conviction that better insight can often be generated by the jesters at the futurists' court than the professional prognosticators – or at the very least, the clowns utilized for illustration and the divergence analytic methodology.

It is not often these interests converge. However, there is apparently a growing and vibrant podcasting scene occupied by speculative fiction writers of all sorts, and it is from that space that we were given (by a more science fiction oriented colleague) a story which illustrates – as only a fictional vignette can – the potential difficulties of future counterproliferation activities in the expeditionary and post-conflict environment. Thus we also recommend highly to our readers the short piece “Clockwork Atom Bomb” produced over at the Escape Pod “podcast magazine” (an entity which we had not previously been familiar with, and do not otherwise attempt evaluate). We think the piece will also be of particular interest to those which routinely must argue the effects of perverse economic incentives in transnational issues, and those that handle accounts related to sub-Saharan Africa.

The piece is not recommended for those that take their analytic tasks too literately, or their futures intelligence within too narrowly constrained boundaries of simple linear projection. But it is perfect for a short diversion to recapture otherwise lost time.

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13 August 2008

What’s in an intelligence professional curriculum

In the wake of the summer conference season, and in particular the recent events hosted by the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE), we have been left to ponder one of the enduring challenges of the field’s ongoing professionalization: the widespread disagreement regarding what exactly prospective candidates and serving practitioners ought to be taught in an entry level and continuing education programs. (Note that we deliberately emphasize the need for an intelligence professional curriculum, vice entering into the debates over intelligence education versus intelligence studies. While such discussions have their place, we do not wish to address them here, and have chosen a third terminology as a proxy to encompass both the theory and application intended to serve the practitioners’ needs in order to address both training, education, and the meta- or comparative study of the field.)

One would think that this should be a largely uncontroversial matter. After all, there is widespread agreement regarding a number of the common skills and tasks required of intelligence professionals – particularly in the analytic side of the house (which admittedly has been better explored from the perspective of intelligence theory). There is even a growing consensus on the other qualities required by an intelligence professional, developed as part of a number of human capital competencies modeling efforts that are occurring both within the government and its private sector contractor and competitive intelligence counterparts.

This is not the first time the question has been raised. Several contemporary model curriculum efforts came out of the United Kingdom’s National Intelligence Model, translated in the United States under the Generic Intelligence Training Initiative to the law enforcement realm of the then dominant counterdrug mission circa 2000. Such efforts eventually culminated (through a fascinating pathway of memetic diffusion) in the now popular International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts’ Foundations of Intelligence Analysis Training standards. This has essentially displaced the previous standard curriculum model, at least in the criminal intelligence discipline, a defacto mix of the 1970’s era Anacapa training coupled with limited GEOINT and quantitative methodologies that grew out of the NYPD’s COMPSTAT. By default, this is also the dominant paradigm for the emerging discipline of homeland security intelligence, given the now overwhelming participation of state and local law enforcement in the new structures that have emerged in the strange evolutionary turns of the domestic mission and its capabilities.

Other models have been developed and presented from the academic perspective over the years since, involving separate deliberative efforts at four universities, the National Defense Intelligence College (formerly the Joint Military Intelligence College), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Yet none have been widely adopted, even in principle - and the debates over the topic remain exceptionally heated.

We should note that controversy is of course a matter of perspective. While the latest evolution of curriculum within one particular institution sparked such a degree of debate and dissent that upon the recent departure of one of the significant players involved in implementing these changes, it was joked that the traditional hail and farewell meal was held at an undisclosed offsite location in order to prevent a prominently vocal critic from arriving driving a VBIED. And although this little jest was made without the knowledge of any of the involved individuals that had participated in the debate, it would certainly not be the most contentious faculty meeting we had ever observed. For a real civil war level dispute, one must look to the tenured staff at in other disciplines.

Yet none of these differs markedly in content or kind from the first intelligence curriculum design attempt that we are aware of, a modest but nonetheless foundational study authored in 1965. Those unaware of the true history and impact of intelligence privatization might be scandalized to learn that this was a contractor led effort, explicitly designed to create the government curriculum for the then emerging Defense Intelligence College that resulted from a recommendation contained within the 1946 Gerow Report on officer’s education. The latter is widely considered to be the origin of current military professional education. We would like to see its role in establishing the concept of intelligence professional education likewise remembered, particularly given that it encompasses both education and training concepts.

To be sure, the profession has evolved since this time. Entire new disciplines within the field have emerged, and pedagogy likewise has come a long way. But somehow, practitioners are constantly confronted by those wishing to re-invent the wheel when it comes to implementing a new program. In no other field would it be possible to credibly ignore all antecedents when it came time to discuss program objectives and outcomes, especially when these are ignored in favour of long debates over first definitions. It should not be thus in the intelligence profession.

Likewise, we strongly object to the oft-heard statements that an intelligence curriculum ought to merely concern itself with teaching the basics of critical thinking, writing, and briefing. While these are indeed vital skills, and their mastery strongly correlated with success in the field, they are by no means the only things an entry level analyst needs. And despite the claims that the IC will provide all further necessary instruction on tradecraft topics, we would venture to guess that these claimants have not led a line unit for some time. Similarly, those that have never served outside of the cloistered confines of the most established of the big sixteen may not always appreciate how little training budget (and time) is available to those in other agencies and elements. Again, in few other professional endeavors does one anticipate that college educated entry level candidates are merely blank slates, waiting to be imprinted with the One True Way.

Lastly, we would offer one final consideration for those developing a new intelligence curriculum. Pay no heed to those that demand that the study of intelligence be the academic discipline that dare not speak its name, or that this name be somehow muted and altered to provide greater attraction for interdisciplinary students. Such programs are inevitably a confused pastiche, and fail in the most important function of the educational process: the cultivation of personal passion and the all consuming interest that drives the best professionals. A muted program under a politically sanctified name merely mutes its students, not critics. We cannot as a profession allow the prejudices of those critics to dictate the terms under which new generations come of into the field – particularly given the vital importance of the generation after next at this historic turning point in the community.

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12 August 2008

The literature of cryptologic intelligence, declassified

Whole volumes of the intelligence literature produced within one of the oldest of the nation’s organizations are too often ignored by academics and other practitioners outside of the narrow field of signals intelligence. The literature of the technical side of the house tends to be exceptionally arcane – even by the eccentric standards of the rest of the IC – littered with mathematics, circuit diagrams, and radio propagation sketches. Its historical materials assume a familiarity that many outsiders cannot broach. And above all, this literature remains exceptionally protected, often for decades longer than counterpart publications in other agencies.
But the reader would be remiss to ignore the recently declassified series of articles taken from the various in-house journals and historical studies of our friends at Fort Meade. While still a small collection, it is a remarkable aggregation of materials of great potential value for those engaged in the hard task of teaching intelligence to the next generation of budding young professionals.

We are particularly hopeful that this round of declassifications will also spark a new interest in the history and theory of this venerable discipline. The second wave of publications that result from such interest are often invaluable companions to the primary works authored by practitioners, as academics attempt to interpret and re-contextualize material which has often long ago passed into the domain of the unexamined assumptions of common knowledge.

So hie thee hence, dear readers, and we hope to see new life emerge in the commentary and discussion of these thoughts of those that came before, and who laid the foundation for the practice of the art and science as we now know it.

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11 August 2008

Intelligence and the 300 at 3 a.m.

Much has been made of the extended cadres of foreign policy advisors employed by the Obama campaign – purported to exceed some 300 subject matter experts and other assorted wonks, organized into a virtual think tank of sorts.

From a professional (and entirely apolitical) perspective of intelligence theory, the existence of the 300 is enough to give pause, especially since such innovations in political campaigns tend to be rapidly adopted in future election cycles. Shadow policy structures directly advising future candidates – perhaps even semi-permanently organized, as in the British model – may well become a recurring feature of the US party system. It is not our place to comment on the appropriateness of such a structure. However, these individuals are more or less entirely disconnected from the US intelligence system, and are relying on unknown information source of uncertain validity (presumably much if not all derived from the open source domain) to advise future leaders on matters in which there likely exists a substantial body of classified reporting. This classified view likely presents a far different picture than the open source would on a number of key issues. (One can look to the Mitrokin Archive’s revelations, for example, as but one hint of the re-evaluation that must necessarily occur in foreign policy relations when intelligence information is taken into account.)

This time around, it appears that the McCain campaign’s advisors are fewer in number, and being loosely organized likely play a lesser role in determining the candidate’s stance on any given issue. And the sitting Senator has long had access to classified intelligence (as does his opponent by virtue of the same office, albeit for a far shorter time period). This decision advantage is likely somewhat akin to that enjoyed by incumbent Presidents against outside challengers in previous elections. And while there are those who have been named as part of the 300 that were previously consumers of classified intelligence products, in most cases these individuals have been out of access for at least a decade. Again, from an apolitical intelligence theory perspective, this is quite sobering. To paraphrase CIA’s former Balkan Task Force - whose original comments came against the backdrop of the dispute between different factions arguing over the conflict in that troubled region - each campaign is entitled to its own policy, but not its own version of history.

The question of what intelligence support a campaign ought to receive, and how far that support should extend (beyond the traditional briefings provided to the candidate himself), are not easy to objectively address – particularly in a hyper-politicized election season. It is perhaps among the thorniest of aspects of intelligence – policy relations that have yet arisen in the new millennium. But it is nonetheless a critical consideration, and especially so in cases of crisis situations. For while intelligence theory recognizes that the community is not the only voice advising decisionmakers, most theoretical discussions assume that intelligence is part of the process – something that is not assured in the campaign stage. Among the questions which should be examined include how such intelligence support can be delivered, how to avoid politicization of that intelligence in the atmosphere of a hotly contested campaign, and how arrangements can be constructed to prevent leaks in a temporary and highly transient environment of moving facilities, rotating staff, and constant media attention.
The manner in which these questions are answered may well set the pattern for a subsequent administration’s use of intelligence, and shape key relationships between decisionmakers and the community. And more importantly, the international impact of any candidate’s actions during the early stages of a crisis event – such as the now infamous 3 a.m. call - is magnified by the instant global media environment moreso now than at any time in previous history.

Such 3 a.m. moments particularly highlight the need for (and the potential problems of) providing warning intelligence support. The first reaction of a surprised campaign has international impact, and may well be a significant factor in foreign responses during the early hours of a crisis depending on how those abroad view any particular candidate’s prospects for electoral success. (For a historical example of such an assessment by foreign decisionmakers, one need only recall the covert overtures made by the KGB’s Washington residentura to the Kennedy campaign at Kruschev’s request, which occurred against the crisis backdrop of negotiations over the fate of two RB-47 reconnaissance pilots downed in Soviet territory in July 1960). The Georgia / Russia incident provides a more contemporary example, and future analysis will by necessity have to consider the influence of both the official US reactions and the candidates’ responses on the Russian view of achievable conflict objectives in the first days of the fighting.

US Presidential candidates have not lacked for those former intelligence officials now willing to offer policy advice - and even their own visions of intelligence community reform. However, true professional intelligence support has been far less consistent. This merits greater attention.

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10 August 2008

Taking stock of the blogged literature of intelligence

Since starting this little project in January 2006, we have seen a frankly explosive growth in the blogged literature of intelligence – that is, the online discussion of the profession, its theory and its practice through texts circulated using lightweight publishing tools.

It has been a tumultuous time within the intelligence community itself, and also within the wider profession outside the boundaries of the traditional wheel of the sixteen primary agencies. This has very much been reflected in the literature that has emerged during this time period.

We are most heartened by the continued emergence of the practitioners – both retired and those currently serving – that reflect upon their lived experiences through this new and most accessible medium (recognizing, of course, the inevitable limitations of discretion required in such an open forum).

In particular, we are fascinated by the rapid development in 2008 of a large number of increasingly active bloggers addressing the private aspects of competitive intelligence and business intelligence. This community has never suffered from the same restrictions placed upon those in the service of the national interest, and had the means and history of rapidly adopting technologies to new ends. Yet these practitioners remained for the most part strangely silent until this year. Much credit for surfacing this growing community’s online writings should be given to the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), who now makes the highlights of this literature a centerpiece of the organization’s own online presence. And while the theory of these aspects of the profession has a long way to go before it can equal the more robust corpus of other elements of the field, both in national intelligence and homeland security / law enforcement intelligence, we are pleased to see great strides being made. We have also found that the experiential epiphanies reported by these individuals as they struggle with problems common to the practice of the art and science have great value as accessible (and unclassified) examples when teaching any new practitioners.

We have also remained cautiously optimistic regarding the emergence of the classified blogsphere, written within the restricted realms of other networks. For those practitioners who cannot discuss the subjects of their passions in open literature, it is essential – and is the only way many have to capture insights into theory and application that might otherwise be lost. And while one might view this material as useless to the academics and those private sector professionals outside of the classified realm, one must remember that much of the foundation of our current day literature is built upon those materials which were properly declassified in the fullness of time. So too will this material one day surface through the normal mechanisms of release and review – providing a rich trove for future historians and educators.

As much as we are pleased to see the development of a robust community of interest within the intelligence blogsphere, we would also wish for a greater level of original research to appear in this medium. Unfortunately, the incentive structure does not appear to be present for many academics, and there are far too many other pursuits conferring greater legitimacy to practitioners that serve to divert energies elsewhere. This must change, both for the sake of the blogsphere but also we believe for the sake of the profession itself. We are the first to recognize that blogging is not a public utility – it is the outgrowth of a personal passion; and it frequently must give way to other operational demands when it is solely a labour of love. This is perhaps the intelligence profession’s version of the eternal debate within the media blogsphere over primary news reporting versus punditry. However, we hold out hope – particularly example set by original research among the legal bloggers, who tend also to publish in more traditional channels, thus also proving the symbiotic relationship of these activities. Good blogging encourages good literature.

We also realize that starting – and maintaining – a good blog requires a tremendous commitment of time and energies, despite the many barriers which the lightweight publishing technology itself has already overcome. It is for this reason we re-iterate our offer to circulate the thoughts of those professionals – both those in practice or in the academy - who would wish to occasionally offer items of interest to the wider audience (respecting, of course, the requirements of non-disclosure agreements and the other sacred oaths sworn by those who still serve. In this, we follow the well considered lead of the Association for Intelligence Officers, reminding any contributors that “authors are responsible for compliance with restrictions and regulations regarding the publication and clearance of materials dealing with present or past employment”.)

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