Saturday, December 8, 2007

Pronunciation, Weird Files, Warnings And An Explorer (Link Roundup)

A number of interesting tools came to my attention today. Rather than try to list each as a separate post, I will do what all good bloggers do and resort to a link list. Here goes:

  • -- One of the easiest ways to lose credibility while making a presentation is to mispronounce words (I will not easily forget the officer in Bosnia with IFOR who consistently mispronounced the Bosnian river port, Brcko, as "Brick-o" instead of "Birch-ko" and the impact it had on his perceived credibility). This handy little site actually pronounces the word for you so you can hear the proper pronunciation. It only works with English words right now but hopefully they will expand the list.
  • -- Ever wonder what that weird file is on your computer? Can you safely delete it? Is it malware or worse? This site collects and catalogs these oddities. All you need to do it enter the file name and it spits out an answer concerning the file.
  • Digg Explorer 1.1 -- This is my new favorite mash-up (i.e. combination of two web based thingys to make a new web based thingy). I don't know about you but I don't find Digg very useful. I know Digg is enormously popular but it seems like you have to be on it all the time and I just can't do (don't want to do) that. The strong focus on tech issues also doesn't help (me, obviously). This little widget (which would be better if it were embeddable) helps cut through the Digg clutter very quickly and easily. Many thanks to Neoformix for putting it together!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Crimes Committed By Terrorist Groups (DOJ Study)

Published in 2005, this report has a number of interesting insights into criminal activity and terrorists. From the Summary (which is full of fascinating stuff):

"International jihad groups are statistically more likely than domestic right-wing groups to
commit aircraft and motor vehicle-related crimes; violations of explosive materials; and firearms
violations. Right-wing domestic groups are more likely to commit mail fraud; racketeering;
robbery/burglary; and violations involving machine guns and destructive devices."

"A clear pattern of precursor activity across diverse terrorist organizations is discovered. The study shows that all terrorist organizations require money, material, transportation, identity documents, communication systems, and safe havens to accomplish their aims. Crimes that finance these operations should be the top priority for investigators."

"The study indicates that bank robbery, credit card theft, document counterfeiting, motor vehicle violations, and money laundering are the types of crimes that those charged with combating terrorism should focus on."

"Jihad groups rely on low-level operatives to perform menial criminal acts necessary for a terrorist attack. They are recruited less for their criminal skills than for their connections to local
communities and attendant opportunities to exploit routine activities. Jihad leaders with
specialized training are responsible for successes in the areas of surveillance, financing,
communications, breaching airline security, smuggling explosives, and bomb-building."

"Unlike the jihadists, domestic right-wing groups recruit individuals specifically for their
criminal skills."

"The greatest failures of jihad groups involve cultural conflicts that manifest themselves
in such seemingly innocuous crimes as passport fraud, immigration infractions, and traffic

"Domestic terrorists fail in different ways. They are failures when it comes to
counterfeiting, theft, arson, constructing weapons of mass destruction, and maintaining internal
security. Yet their greatest failure has been the showcasing of imagery and style.'

"One of the most compelling findings of the research is the discovery of attempts
made by domestic terrorists to forge alliances with international jihad groups."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

AFRICOM's Dilemma (Strategic Studies Institute)

The US Army's Strategic Studies Institute has just published an interesting monograph on some of the challenges facing AFRICOM as it stands up. Robert Berschinski, the author of the piece, has spent a good bit of time in Africa and talks about the Global War On Terror, capacity building, humanitarianism and the future of US security policy in Africa.

Highlights extracted from the Summary:

"AFRICOM’s proponents claim that the
new command accurately reflects Africa’s growing
strategic importance and an enlightened U.S. foreign
policy focused on supporting “African solutions to
African problems.” Its critics allege that the command
demonstrates a self-serving American policy focused
on fighting terrorism, securing the Africa’s burgeoning
energy stocks, and countering Chinese influence."

"Indeed, much African distrust is justified. Since
September 11, 2001 (9/11), the Department of Defense’s
(DoD) most significant endeavors in Africa have been
undertaken in pursuit of narrowly conceived goals
related to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)."

"Though often tactically successful, these efforts—
against Algerian insurgents in North Africa and an
assortment of Islamists in Somalia—have neither
benefited American security interests nor stabilized
events in their respective regions."

"Misdirected analyses regarding
Africa’s sizable Muslim population, its overwhelming
poverty, and its numerous ungoverned spaces and
failed states further contribute to a distorted picture
of the terrorist threat emanating from the continent."

"Because of its pioneering incorporation of security,
development, and humanitarian functions into
one organization, AFRICOM may be particularly
susceptible to criticism if its sporadic “hard” operations
overshadow its “softer” initiatives."

"AFRICOM must demonstrate
its commitment to a long-term security relationship
on African terms."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Really Useful Productivity Tools For The New Year (

David Seah sponsors a series of free productivity tools under his trademarked name "The Printable CEO". He has all sorts of time and task trackers but I find his Concrete Goals Tracker and Compact Calender to be most useful.

Monday, December 3, 2007

WHO Director general To Give Webcast On Climate Change And Health

Taken in part from WHO Director General To Speak About Climate Change And Health

(Thanks, Mike!)

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), will deliver the David E. Barmes Global Health Lecture on Monday, December 10 at 3:00 p.m. in the Masur Auditorium (Building 10) on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. The title of her lecture is "Climate Change and Health." It also will be videocast live at:

Dr. Chan, who is from the People's Republic of China, was appointed to the post of WHO director-general in November 2006; her term runs through June 2012.
Previously she was the representative of the WHO director-general for pandemic influenza as well as assistant director-general for communicable diseases.

Dr. Chan served as Director of Health of Hong Kong before joining WHO. In her nine-year tenure as director, she launched new services to prevent the spread of disease and promote better health. She also introduced new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance and response, enhance training for public health professionals, and establish better local and international collaboration. She effectively managed outbreaks of avian influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Additional information about Dr. Chan's lecture is available at:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Nixon Could've Invented The Internet And Other Gems (Secrecy News)

Secrecy News reports on the recent declassification and release of a previously Top Secret/Sensistive/Codeword document regarding the strengths, weaknesses and, surprisingly, the methods of preparation of the CIA's President's Daily Brief (PDB) under Nixon and Kissinger. Secrecy News highlights the inconsistencies of the CIA's position with regard to the declassification of PDBs (According to Meredith Fuchs at the National Security Archive (and quoted in the Secrecy News piece), "What is most amazing is that one day they say the method of producing [the PDB] is so secret that nothing about the document can be disclosed, and then not long after they release this detailed, hour by hour explanation of how it is produced...") but there are other golden nuggets of information in this document:

  • Policymaking vs. Intelligence. There is an extensive discussion about the relationship between the PDB and the NSC's own policy and analysis "Situation Room document" and the degree to which they overlapped and competed. Andrew Marshall, the author of the memo to Kissinger, summed up with the comment "the success of the Situation Room Product probably has driven the CIA's PDB out of the focus of the President's attention". Ouch!
  • Office Politics And Intelligence. Check out this quote: "This situation presents a number of awkward problems. The CIA is not likely to suggest stopping production of the PDB. CIA has a major institutional stake in the PDB. It will not give it up easily. Moreover, in a recent discussion with Jack Smith, he strongly expressed his view that the CIA people almost consider themselves almost as part of the President's staff. They have no other natural superior. I told him I thought that view somewhat unrealistic in organizational and bureaucratic terms. But nonetheless, it may be the view of some of them and suggestive of their likely reluctance to given up production of the PDB. Over time they are likely to find out about the current situation if it persists." The condescension is almost palpable here. It is interesting to note that this reaction was only relevant to Nixon. Apparently (according to the document) Kennedy and Johnson thought highly of the CIA product.
    • It is also worth noting the number of clear statements of likelihood in this paragraph. The intelligence community has wrestled with the question of Words of Estimative Probability for many years and I wonder if there is a correlation between how the CIA products were being written at the time and the desires of the decisionmakers -- particularly Kissinger. If Kissinger liked, for example, documents with clear statements of likelihood (whether that preference were implicit or explicit), you would expect to find that mirrored in his staff's reports and, more importantly, in his staff's selection of reports for the President to read. Perhaps it was the way they were written that kept them off the President's desk...
  • Lack of Feedback and Information Overload. Both of these topics are covered extensively in this document. Like WEPs, these two problems have a long history with the intelligence community and it is interesting to see a senior level staffer address them so directly.
  • Nixon and the Internet. One of the most interesting discussions comes at the end of the document where the author cautiously recommends a new sort of intelligence portal for Kissinger and the President:

    • Sounds a lot like the internet to me, complete with hyperlinks, etc. Apparently it did not happen at least partly because, as the report itself notes, "the balance of experience has been that top-level executives don't like gadgets."