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27 January 2011

Weather intelligence – snowfall edition

Reaction to snowfall in the greater DC metropolitan area has always been legendarily poor, like many other matters related to transportation investments, traffic conditions, and driving behaviors. Some insightful commentators have linked these persistent problems to clashing cultural expectations in a city where most hail from other parts, a hypothesis that seems particularly consistent when considering drivers in winter conditions. The mix of general inexperience clashing with a smaller number of more aggressive “snow ego” drivers whose assumptions based on road conditions in harsher but less congested climes rapidly prove seriously flawed.

However, the effects of recent weather events on regional movement have been particularly amplified by poor timing – and arguably worse decisionmaking – regarding government operating status. This key announcement also drives many of the private sector closures in the area, due not least to the predominance of government contracting activities in the local economy. The latter also tends to display a noticeable lag effect – accepting closure announcements, but typically also facing commitments to meetings and other deliverable deadlines that force many individuals to push boundaries of transit windows based on clock schedules rather than weather conditions.

The question for many students of the art and science of intelligence then becomes whether the clearly suboptimal to outright catastrophic consequences of such decisions is influenced by the decisonmakers information environment, and in what fashion do any such influences play out. In short, the selection of appropriate operating status changes - open / unscheduled leave, early release or delayed start, or closure – is in many ways a classic warning problem. Like many intelligence issues, however, the information and analysis provided to the decisionmaker regarding “threat” action is only one aspect of the decision problem. The forecast of an event hostile to friendly assets must be weighed against both operational information, operational objectives, and environmental factors. These are potentially very costly decisions in either direction – cost if closure or delay is unwarranted, and time / morale / safety if individuals are forced into travel during dangerous weather conditions. While the most prominent of these decisions during any weather event is that made by the Office of Personnel Management, the challenge is replicated hundreds of times in school districts, community centers, and smaller businesses. In fact, OPM is so influential precisely because of the number of other decisionmakers – both organizational and individual – who follow the “official” lead, out of deliberate reaction to signaling, litigation considerations, or herd effects.

It is generally far easier to reconstruct the substantive content and timeline of information available to the decisionmaker regarding weather events than other types of intelligence challenges, which make these cases more amenable to further study. Further, at least in the context of Washington DC area forecasts, weather reporting is also often communicated with explicit analytic confidence, and updates framed in terms of changes from last forecast. However, the political issues involved in after-action review of any specific decision may greatly complicate the discovery of what specific information, or even what general information sources, were actually consulted by a decisionmaker prior to operating status determination. Moreso the challenge of understand what considerations drove these decisions in the calculus of cost and face, although we see hints in public statements.

While the specifics of yesterday’s incident might indeed make for a good case study, given the intense dislocation and exceptional cost it is more likely that after action review may occur before a Congressional committee rather than a more academic forum. And to give Dr. Agrell his due, while not every weather event and associated decision requirement is an intelligence event, the impact of these events in the National Capital Region certainly seems to cross that threshold, particularly for those carrying homeland security “all hazard” accounts – and likely also for adversaries seeking to advance denial and deception or other operational actions which count on increased friction within friendly intelligence machinery. If nothing else, however, these remain useful examples for consideration in the abstract of intelligence theory.

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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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30 September 2008

Vacant intelligence posts at the start of the financial crisis

One of the benefits of having become a strange attractor in the highly networked world of privatized intelligence is that our little skunkworks is frequently passed notice of vacancies and tenders. For us, this is largely an academic exercise, and we eventually soon to publish our thoughts regarding the trends that we see from this perspective. However, this does offer other additional benefits. Knowing the landscape helps our students, both those entering the profession and those changing shops (especially since most of the major intel studies academic programs have simply not done well in this area – but that is a discussion for another day.)

But occasionally the items that cross our desks are also more directly of interest to ongoing questions of intelligence import than merely the problem of allocating scarce human capital more efficiently across a complex privatized intelligence market. In this case, it is a vacancy notice from late August 2008 for a competitive intelligence professional to serve the senior management at the now failed Washington Mutual bank. We had asked yesterday what kind of intelligence support was provided to the executives of the institution, and have at least a glimpse into their aspirations – if not their reality.

The position appears to have been offered as part of the card services division, which while at first blush seems separated from the questions of real estate solvency that plagued the house, may indeed have been impacted by higher order effects created by the complex instruments through which the institution’s various debts were packaged.

The position vacancy announcement is very typical of its kind in a number of ways. The level for which the billet was positioned is clearly more senior than the typical competitive intelligence role, but very much in line with the recommendations of most consulting professionals who advocate that internal units have direct access to senior management. (Of course, one must weigh the fact that at many banks, nearly every executive is a vice president of some flavour or another, but we have known a few where intelligence is relegated almost entirely to a support function, removed from the executive level entirely). The candidate requirements are accordingly scoped to a somewhat more senior individual than the run of the mill applicant, although one might question the actual effectiveness of an individual with only two years’ management experience in a ten year career in such a role.

The position’s focus on the regulatory and competitive environment would certainly have lent itself to addressing the underpinnings of the current financial crisis, had the shop’s strategic responsibilities been met. However, it is unclear whether such a shop, structured to meet consumer demand from a variety of internal clients and external business partners, could indeed get beyond the inevitable tactical level demands. Much would depend on senior management, and many at these levels are rarely interested in the views of a “strategic partner” but rather a staffer who can compress complexity and provide insight in support of difficult decisions. One also notes that warning is never explicitly identified as a responsibility for the position or its direct reports.

The full text of the vacancy announcement is reproduced below.

Manager I, Market Research, Vice President. Competitive Intelligence Team

At WMCS, the Competitive Intelligence team works collaboratively with the senior leaders across the organization to support their research needs, monitor changes in the regulatory environment, and determine competitive best practices. This key position will develop, create, and communicate the strategy for the Competitive Intelligence team in key areas of interest to WMCS. This role will partner with senior leadership to identify key competitive intelligence requirements, analyze information from different sources, assess the value of these sources, and merge with insight related to WMCS.

RESPONSIBLITIES: The Manager I is responsible for providing regular updates on the changes in the competitive environment and working closely with other functional areas (e.g., Acquisitions, Customer Marketing, Portfolio Management) to meet their research needs. This person will leverage competitive data to identify industry trends and implications to WMCS’s pricing, product constructs, and creative treatments. This person will be responsible for integrating external data and internal business expertise to determine market trends and their implication on WMCS’s strategy and offers. More specifically, this role will assume the following responsibilities:

* Act as a key contributor to the ongoing monthly investment decision process for both New Accounts Acquisitions and Customer Marketing campaigns by providing information on competitive pricing, mail pressure, and offer constructs across our target customer segments
* Build out the vision for the Competitive Intelligence team and oversee all relevant competitive intelligence activities
* Act as a strategic partner to senior management by fulfilling research requests and by proactively identifying key changes in the regulatory and competitive environment and their implications to WMCS
* Provide regular updates on the changes in competitive strategies, mail pressure, offers, and pricing and identify relevant insights for WMCS’s business practices and marketing strategies
* Partner with the Portfolio Management and Customer Marketing teams to benchmark WaMu’s portfolio performance vs. other leading issuers and identify opportunities for improvement
* Serve as the key source for competitive intelligence information for specific products/lines of business at WMCS
* Partner with the senior management team to create reporting infrastructure and executive level dashboards
* Provide regular updates to senior management and/or business partners on the meaning and application of research findings

The successful candidate will possess the following attributes:

* Candidates must have a minimum of 7 to 10 years professional experience in a marketing, analytical or consultative role at a major Credit Card issuer, or at a major consulting firm supporting a major credit card issuer
* Must have demonstrated ability to insightfully set the vision for projects that require the proper mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods
* Must have 2 or more years experience guiding research – market or competitive -- for a significant business line
* Must be able to thrive in a team environment, by contributing expertise as well as soliciting/integrating input from subject matter experts throughout the company.
* Proven ability to simultaneously manage multiple teams of researchers/analysts
* Proven competency with sharing research results at the Sr. Manager and Executive level
* Must have creativity, tenacity and enthusiasm
* Must possess an analytical mind, strong written and oral communication, the ability to work with individuals at all levels, the ability to manage multiple projects
* Excellent project management, leadership, teamwork, communication, and organizational skills
* A Masters degree or higher is preferred, ideally in a social science or a business field
* Proficiency in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

In short, this billet well represented the current state of thinking in the competitive intelligence field. Such a shop could easily have been part of a distributed warning responsibility, which might have had an impact even at such a late date in the crisis had the billet (and its supporting analytic teams) been fully staffed earlier. The question here appears to be at least in part one of execution. We shall leave it to our counterparts in the business, economics, and history academia for the case study of how intelligence flows actually occurred.

However, such a clear alignment with accepted best practices in the field we believe also points back to the failure of the current paradigm. It is not sufficient to relegate warning to a simply structured occasional effort timed to coincide with some window of management attention, or as a “lesser included” responsibility generally considered under the mandate to “provide update on changes” in areas of interest. Warning has to be baked into the intelligence shop’s most basic foundations, alongside opportunity / action analysis. The very nature of warning's tradecraft must also be re-assessed, to revisit once again the process by which scenarios are created and indicators modeled. This is not to cast aside warning as we know it - but rather to revisit warning's earliest implementations, and rebuild its function for a new era.

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29 September 2008

Financial crisis and changing paradigms of warning intelligence

The continually interesting competitive intelligence forum at Ning has surfaced a discussion which has been much on the minds of a variety of intelligence professionals in both the government and private sector given the cascading collapse of a number of major financial institutions: Was this financial crisis a warning failure? And if so, the natural corollary inquires into the cause and origin of the failure.

In our view, these recent events very much represent intelligence surprise. If nothing else, the unexamined higher order effects of complex financial relationships involving vast sums of cross-border capital flows is far outside the traditional realm of political and economic intelligence, at least as it is usually practiced in the government world. And the rapid contagion dynamics within the financial markets prove that the events are likewise beyond the traditional scope of competitive intelligence, where it is rare that analysis takes into account such sweeping changes across the landscape and its players. Whether this surprise truly rates elevation as a Black Swan, as some commentators have suggested, is itself also open to debate.

There is ample evidence that early indicators were visible, and even that many commentators had previously weighed in on the mounting risks and dangerous uncertainties inherent to the increasingly complex layers of traded instruments, derivatives, and debt that lurk at the center of the current crisis. However, warning is a process – not an event. It matters little that in hindsight one can call out the prescient among the punditry and politicians, and cast blame on those that assumed business would continue as normal against the backdrop of ever increasing housing prices. If warning did not reach, or impact, the right decision-makers – as there is mounting evidence that it clearly did not – then the process of warning failed.

But let us examine this more closely for a moment. Who exactly were the right decision-makers in this crisis? The primary lending institutions? The traders and market makers that were the primary players in moving these instruments? The investors, fund managers, and sovereign wealth entities which funneled so much capital into fundamentally unstable market positions? The risk managers at any of these firms, responsible for anticipating the potential downside of complex financial positions? The world’s various central bankers? The regulatory bodies or their political masters in the parliamentary and executive branches?

These are not questions easily answered. There will be anecdotes aplenty regarding the lack of warning communicated to a wide range of these decision-makers. The first that comes to mind is the ill-fated CEO of Washington Mutual, who was allegedly incommunicado aboard a flight while the most significant transactions in the firm’s collapse were being finalized. This mirrors the earlier circumstances of the CEO of Bear Stearns. While a certain level of plausible deniability may be key to these positions, one wonders what kind of intelligence support these executives enjoyed.

Likewise, if warning was to be issued to an identified group of executives, who would have been responsible for giving such warning? Only a scant handful of the firms involved in the recent waves of disruption could be considered to have a dedicated intelligence function. Of these, few were likely oriented towards a warning posture, as opposed to the many other intelligence functions that constitute the duties of privatized shops within modern enterprises. Among the commercial consulting intelligence providers, the problem can easily have been defined by the lack of articulated customer requirements, and the lack of access and expertise that clearly prevented a more sophisticated appreciation of ongoing events. And one can question whether a warning account focused on what was largely a domestic financial market – despite the dramatic international implications – is at all a proper role for the intelligence community (at least in the United States). Certainly, as it is currently structured, it is nearly impossible to address – and no homeland security function has ever envisioned market shocks as a component of critical infrastructure protection. More damningly, the insights which would have unlocked these mysteries were not secrets to be stolen, but lay in perspectives which were never cultivated.

Again, there are likely case studies to be found in the after action reviews of the wreckage. Lehman Brothers, among the first to fall, most famously hired a former Deputy Director for Intelligence out of CIA to head its Sovereign Risk shop. But the structure and focus that geopolitically focused shop appears not to have been relevant to the manner in which the current crisis developed. Given that Bear Stearns itself allegedly was a leader in providing analytical research and other intelligence products to its investors and clients, the dissemination of these products to the executive level is worth exploring from more than an academic perspective. One can likewise point to other intelligence functions on the Street and elsewhere, stovepiped for threat analysis or market research or technology investment.

What few warning shops which may have existed to cover the sector likely followed the dominant paradigm of competitive early warning, focused on their competitors’ actions, positions, technologies and blind spots rather than the wider political and financial situation. The required optic was simply too large for most shops, whose production is typically serialized in daily or weekly form, no matter how strategic they might otherwise claim to be.

In sum, can one then consider this a failure of warning? There are no simple answers, and we certainly believe that this question will be revisited for years to come in future studies of intelligence surprise. The underlying causes are complex, but are clearly rooted – at least in part – in the lack of systematic warning intelligence coverage of the issues. Whether it was the role of warning intelligence shops to cover these issues is open to debate. However, this may be as much the result of the failure of a warning paradigm developed for a time and place now forever changed. One may liken this change to the decreasing relevance of the traditional state based indications and warning model, now replaced by the emerging strategic reconnaissance paradigm being explored at the cutting edge of the tradecraft.

There are also signs that this is far from over, as we move from the weekend into another turbulent week on the Street (and in financial centres around the globe.) While we may arguably have seen a strategic warning failure (or not), there is still ample need for operational and tactical level warning as the crisis continues. This need creates new opportunities for both the rare successes and failures that will make or break firms and fortunes. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult to surge warning assets to these kind of non-traditional accounts in short order – particularly given the scope of the political, regulatory, and other uncertainties which plague the markets. This is a unique time – and a unique problem set – that will task the professionalism of involved intelligence practitioners beyond measure, given the excessively politicized atmosphere surrounding the issues. There are many intelligence professionals now treading virgin ground, far past the last signpost reading “HC SVNT DRACONES”.

We are reminded of Joseph Nye’s comments about that terrible day seven years ago: “September 11, 2001, was like a flash of lightning on a summer evening that displayed an altered landscape, leaving U.S. policymakers and analysts still groping in the dark, still wondering how to understand and respond.” Lightning has struck once again in New York, and again without effective warning. We expect the impact to the intelligence community – particularly the community beyond the traditional wheel of the major agencies – will be in its own way as profound.

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26 September 2008

Commercializing clandestine insertion

The flight over the English Channel by personal jet wing was a sight to behold, and warms our futurist’s hearts. We cannot help but contemplate the uses to which such a technology might be put, especially given the historic resonance of the channel crossing for the earliest members of the community.

The night run into France from 1944 until Normandy carried 523 members of the Jedburgh, Operational Group, SO paramilitary and radio operator sections. In addition, some 5,000 containers of supplies and ammunition would be dropped each month to support these men. By the end of the operation, 18 would be dead, 17 missing or taken prisoner, and 51 wounded or injured.

The ten minute flight would no doubt have been far different if it required navigation by instrument alone in unknown weather, into the teeth of prepared defenses, which at the time consisted of up to 40 Fliegerabwehrkanone AA guns per battery, guided by searchlights and radar units. We have no doubt that a low level flight path and the limited radar cross section of the small personal unit would have helped to limit the enemy’s engagement window, but it certainly puts the concept in an entirely different light. Of course, the jet engine had yet to be perfected – and could never have been so miniaturized; making such thoughts nothing more than idle divergence (as opposed to the more respectable counterfactual analysis).

Today, the same insertion faces a far more robust threat environment. No doubt those four 200lb thrust engines generate quite the infrared signature. We would not wish to be on the receiving end of even a SA-7 MANPAD shot, let alone something more sophisticated than the Strela.

The Swiss exercise also reminds us that most of the significant innovation we have recently seen in these areas have emerged from the private sector. One has only to look to the supply drops being executed in Afghanistan by Blackwater, which happen to also offer significant cost savings over classic Air Force profiles.

We still eagerly await smartwheel equipped all terrain remote supply pods (first predicted by jester Bruce Sterling). But then again, we also have been waiting for cost effective cargo carrying cruise missile for quite some time longer, with little result – although the concept of UAV cargo drop payloads may at last bring that concept to reality. Again, these are commercial innovations from far outside of the classic defense and intelligence space, proof that the kind of creativity needed for these operations will rarely be found in career civil service.

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