MakeUseOf.com has a good post about how to get more out MS's Outlook by making it easier to collaborate. There are tools here for college students, professionals and just people who want to get more out of this nearly ubiquitous tool.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Goodexperience.com highlights the potential value of the opening four minutes to the recently released movie, "The Kingdom", as a pretty good summary of recent Saudi history. I am no Saudi historian so I will leave it to the experts to decide. If you find it as compelling as I did and if it is reasonably accurate, it might be a useful snippet for a terrorism class:
Le Monde Diplomatique has an excellent online collection of maps here. While all of the maps look good, I was particularly impressed with the ones on Africa (located about halfway down the webpage). Most are quite detailed and require little more than a high school knowledge of French (and a working knowledge of the area) to translate. Some, such as this amazing map of Sub-Saharan Africa from 2004, are even in English.
I have to say up front that I am not familiar with the SENLIS Council. I stumbled on its November, 2007 report, "Stumbling Into Chaos: Afghanistan On The Brink" (Download full report here) by accident. The organization advertises itself as: "... an international policy think tank with country offices in Kabul, London, Ottawa, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Brussels. The Council’s work encompasses foreign policy, security, development, and counter-narcotics policies, and aims to provide innovative analysis and proposals within these areas." Further research into its Board Of Advisors and recent activities also suggest that it is, at least, reasonably reputable.
The report (and the SENLIS website) is certainly worth reviewing. While the tone set by the title is often mirrored in the text, there are numerous excellent graphs and pictures based, presumably, on primary source info collected by SENLIS (I particularly appreciate the picture of the "Taliban Passport" and the chart showing the increase in the price of weapons in southern Afghanistan in 2007).
Highlights from the summary include (Boldface in original but italics are mine):
- "The Taliban has proven itself to be a truly resurgent force. Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt; research undertaken by Senlis Afghanistan indicates that 54 per cent of Afghanistan’s landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan, and is subject to frequent hostile activity by the insurgency."
- "The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries. The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply. The insurgency also exercises a significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change."
- "The depressing conclusion is that, despite the vast injections of international capital flowing into the country, and a universal desire to ‘succeed’ in Afghanistan, the state is once again in serious danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban."
- "Of particular concern is the apparent import of tactics perfected in Iraq. The emboldened Taliban insurgency is employing such asymmetric warfare tactics as suicide bombings and roadside bombs, causing numerous casualties both among the civilian population and the international and national security forces." (Compare with this report. Is it possible that bin Laden has read Sun Tzu, too?)
- "Increased lawlessness and lack of government control in the border areas with Pakistan are directly and indirectly fueling the insurgency through the flow of new recruits, a stable financial and operational support base and ideological influence inspired by Al-Qaeda. With limited ground troops and facing a massive resistance, Afghan security forces supported by NATO-ISAF are struggling to contain the return of the Taliban."
Secrecy News just picked up and posted the newly updated CRS report on "Iraq and Al Qaeda" (Download the full text here). While the report does not provide any solid answers on the current level of Al Qaeda activity in Iraq or the the degree to which it is tied to Bin Laden, it does do a good job of laying out the history and arguments on all sides. Highlights from the summary and full text include (Boldface is mine):
- "Although the connections between Ansar al-Islam and Saddam Hussein’s regime were subject to debate, the organization apparently did evolve into what is now known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I). AQ-I has been a key component of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency that frustrated U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, but there is debate about how large and significant a component of overall violence was carried out by AQ-I. In mid-late 2007, in part facilitated by combat conducted by additional U.S. forces sent to Iraq as part of a “troop surge,” the U.S. military has had some success exploiting differences between AQ-I and Iraqi Sunni political, tribal, and insurgent leaders. These successes, which in some cases have resulted in the virtual expulsion of AQ-I from many of its sanctuaries particularly in and around Baghdad, have weakened AQ-I to the point where some U.S. commanders believe they have achieved “victory” over AQ-I. However, the most senior U.S. commanders believe it has not been completely defeated and remains dangerous, and some U.S. commanders assert that AQ-I fighters have relocated to parts of northern Iraq."
- "Analysis of the broader implications of AQ-I might depend on the degree to which AQ-I is in contact with the remaining leadership of the Al Qaeda organization as it has evolved since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. That relationship remains a subject of debate among experts."
- "... perhaps the most controversial question about AQ-I is the degree to which it is linked, if at all, to the central leadership of Al Qaeda as represented by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, both of whom are widely believed to be hiding in areas of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan."
- "... on July 24, 2007, President Bush devoted a speech almost exclusively to this issue. In making an argument that AQ-I is closely related to Al Qaeda’s central leadership, the President noted the following details, including:"
- "In 2004, Zarqawi formally joined Al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden"
- "In line with the increasing AQ-I efforts to cooperate with Iraqi Sunni insurgents, most of AQ-I’s fighters and some of its leaders are Iraqi."
- "That AQ-I is the only insurgent group in Iraq “with stated ambitions to make the country a base for attacks outside Iraq.” Referring to the November 9, 2005, terrorist attacks on hotels in Zarqawi’s native Jordan, President Bush said AQ-I “dispatched terrorists who bombed a wedding reception in Jordan.”
- "Some experts believe that links between Al Qaeda’s central leadership and AQ-I are tenuous, at best, and that the few operatives linking the two do not demonstrate an ongoing, substantial relationship."
- "Still others maintain that there is little evidence that AQ-I seeks to attack broadly outside Iraq, and that those incidents that have taken place have been in Jordan, where Zarqawi might have wanted to try to undermine King Abdullah II, whom Zarqawi opposed as too close to the United States. There have been no attacks in mid-late 2007 that can be directly attributed to AQ-I."
- "There has been significant security progress, momentum in reconciliation at the local and provincial levels and economic progress. However substantial the security progress made since the last report, sustained and durable progress depends on further progress in attaining political and economic objectives."
- "The “tribal awakening” movement has grown as an increasing number of sheikhs—Sunni and Shi’a—have chosen to stop resisting the Coalition."
- "The number of security incidents has fallen significantly and is now at levels last seen in the summer of 2005. Although ethno-sectarian violence continues to be a concern, overall civilian casualties, enemy attacks and total improvised explosive device attacks have decreased markedly over the reporting period. For example, the number of high-profile attacks in Iraq declined by over 50% since March 2007."
- "While the GoI’s lack of progress on key legislation has been disappointing and has hindered “top-down” reconciliation, “bottom-up” reconciliation initiatives gained momentum as tribal and local outreach efforts expanded during this quarter."
- "The Iraqi economy continues to improve and overcome many challenges to stability and growth. Estimated nominal gross domestic product (GDP) is US$60.9 billion. Real GDP will increase by an estimated 6.3% in 2007 as growth in the non-oil sector continues. The inflation rate has continued to decline due to the Central Bank of Iraq’s tight monetary policy implemented through appreciation of the Iraqi dinar. Year-on-year headline inflation as of October 2007 is 20.4%, which is down from 52.8% one year ago and year-to-date inflation is 4.2%."
- "The key to long-term success will be the GoI’s ability to capitalize upon local gains, pass key legislation and promote national reconciliation."
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Major Timothy King recently published a monograph through the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Army's Command and General Staff College titled, "Finding Weakness In Jihadist Propaganda." Using a comparative case study method, MAJ King looks at Communist China and finds the techniques used there "has striking similarities to the current Jihadist social revolution".
Highlights from the abstract and the text include:
- "Despite the advantages of globalized communications, the Jihadists do not “own” the battlefield. They are effectively using the battleground (television, internet, satellite TV) but pale in comparison to America’s potential. Today, America does little to compete with the Jihadists in the realm of information operations. America can win the war of ideology on the information battlefield should it ever decide to compete."
- "Osama Bin Laden has “hijacked” the neorevivalist ideology by omitting the original egalitarian (albeit utopian) motivation. Their strategy is reliant on violence; it may serve in the short term as emotional gratification but it fails to return Islam to preeminence."
- "The fact that there is not an undisputed unified leader of the Jihad should be exploited."
- "Alternative ideologies such as the idea of “Islamic Democracy” exist and should be co-opted into a new ideology that receives the support from legitimate governments worldwide."
- "The Jihadist military is its strongest entity but it lacks a legitimate government to retain political gains of military action. The Jihadists lack the governmental institutions the guarantee a continuance of change."
- "Education, now that it has started, is difficult to stop or contain. Globalized communications allow Muslims unprecedented access to legitimate information as well as propaganda. Our task is to enable those Muslims to access information easily through language barriers and infrastructure.'
- "The use of television programming, traditional and satellite open a “free speech” zone where the Jihadists have taken the initiative. With American help, modern Islamic television can broadcast high quality programming that promotes peaceful modernization."
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
- "This paper will demonstrate that Hizballah, fighting an asymmetric conflict with Israel, used deception very effectively in their defense of southern Lebanon during the 2006 Summer War; this use of deception significantly offset many of Israel’s hard power advantages. It will also show that Hizballah’s use of information technologies greatly enhanced their ability to wield deception."
Robert Hutchings, Diplomat in Residence at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and formerly the Director of the NIC, recently testified before Congress regarding the state of intelligence reform. In what has to be one of the bluntest reports on record, Hutchings lays out his problems with recent reform efforts and outlines five recommendations for "reforming the reform". It is compelling testimony with a number of surprising insights that make this a "must read". Highlights include (Boldface and italics are mine):
- "Let me first preview my bottom line: namely, that the organizational changes that led to the creation of the office of the DNI were undertaken without addressing the other aspects of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. The result, I fear, may leave us worse off rather than better."
- "The pre-war debate was never about the intelligence but about the policy. Yet the policymakers who launched the war and the members of Congress who voted for it, chose to blame it all on faulty intelligence. Neither the 9/11 Commission nor the WMD Commission addressed the failures of policy, which were vastly more serious than anything the intelligence community did or failed to do."
- "Democrats attacked the intelligence community to get at the president; Republicans attacked it to protect him. What both sides agreed on was to stick it to the intelligence community."
- "Let me hasten to add that the intelligence community did and does need reform. But these reforms were debated in the worst possible climate for sound judgment."
- "This idea is also tied up with what I call the “coordination myth”: namely, that it is somehow possible to “coordinate” the work of hundreds of thousands of people across dozens of agencies operating in nearly every country of the world. Anyone who has worked in complex organizations knows, or should know, that it is possible to coordinate only a few select activities and that there are always tradeoffs, because every time you coordinate some activities you are simultaneously weakening coordination among others."
- With those thoughts in mind, let me offer five suggestions for intelligence reform, none of which entail further organizational change.
- First, fix the “demand” side of the problem.
- In 2004, when I was Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, we produced a bleak assessment of the Iraqi insurgency that incurred presidential wrath when it leaked to the New York Times. But the real story was that the President hadn’t read it – not even the one-page “Presidential Summary”! (This is the second time this has been brought up in the last week. See With Spies Like These for the previous reference).
- This is not a marketplace in which intelligence products have any intrinsic value; they are freely and routinely ignored.
- Second and relatedly, create an interagency strategic planning group.
- Interagency planning may seem obvious, but it does not happen because administrations do not want it. Individual departments certainly do not: they want their own pet projects held close until the last possible moment rather than having them run up against the competing ideas of other departments.
- Third, strengthen Congressional oversight, as the 9/11 Commission recommended.
- In the past year or so there have been two National Intelligence Estimates on terrorism – with quite alarming findings. But to my knowledge no Congressional hearings on those estimates have occurred. On the second of those estimates, concerning threats to the homeland, General Hayden said (at the Council on Foreign Relations) that 70% of the information came from detainee interrogations. This is worrying for two reasons: it shows how poor our penetration of terrorist networks still is, and this dependency on (often dated) detainee information can turn into a circular argument for continuing our disastrous detainee policy. Have there been Congressional hearings to look into this?
- Fourth, accentuate the strategic coordinating role of the DNI and de-emphasize the centralization of operational functions.
- Let me focus on the very first of the 33 “enabling objectives” of the 500-day plan – to formalize a “National Intelligence University.” I think I know what a university is. What the IC intends is not one; it is a training center. Calling it a university is a triumph of form over substance.
- This then leads to my fifth and final recommendation: begin the evolutionary process of changing the culture of intelligence.
- This will entail a radical re-conceptualization of what “intelligence” is and should be. We have moved from an era in which clandestinely acquired information accounted for a large chunk of what we needed to know (or thought we needed to know) into one in which our “secrets” count for relatively little for most of the issues that affect our national well-being. (Again, see With Spies Like These... for a recent reference to this same issue).
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Fazal Mohammed Hassan wrote his dissertation (back in 2005 -- so excuse me if you have already seen it) on "Ending Oppression And Establishing Justice: Examples From Islamic History Of Select Muslims And Islamist Groups Justifying The Use Of Armed Force" while at Florida State University. I have not had time to read it in detail (and do not pretend to be an expert in this area) but I found the sections I skimmed generally well-organized and useful, if only for its substantial use of primary sources. Also useful were the author's perspectives on the roots of justified violence in Islam and the detailed discussion of key, modern Islamic figures (including bin Laden and al-Zawahiri). Highlights from the abstract (the full text is 238 pages) include:
- "This dissertation examines the justification for using armed force throughout Islam’s history. Special emphasis will be made to the following three terms, harb, jihad, and qital. These three words translate into war, struggle, and fight respectively."
- "This work covers Mohammed, the Kharijites, the Assassins, Ibn Taymiyya, Sayyid Qutb, al-Jihad, and al-Qaeda, with emphasis placed on Mohammed and Qutb as key figures, and their respective justifications for using or writing about resorting to armed force as a means to an end."
- "It is the main thesis of this work that violence committed in the name of God by Muslims throughout Islam’s history is based upon the need to end oppression and establish justice."
- "Though this topic has gained momentum since the events of 9/11, it is the intention of this work to show that using armed force is not new, but a political instrument used to establish Shari’ah or Islamic law. The term “political” is used because for most Muslims, including all those mentioned in this dissertation, believe that Islam is not just a personal belief system, like most in the West believe, but an ideology that is to be used for all times and for all facets of life."
Two good reports that should be of interest to the domestic counterterror/homeland security crowd in the feeds over the last several days. The first is by RAND and is titled, "Securing America's Passenger-Rail Systems". While the report is focused on domestic rail systems, I found the methodology used by the authors to be worth a closer look. They state, and I agree, that it could be extended to other areas of research concerning infrastructure. Highlights include (Boldface is mine):
- "Even though there have been no successful attacks on rail systems in the United States recently, the FBI and local police departments have thwarted several planned attacks against the New York subway system alone. The use of passenger rail and the frequency with which terrorists target it call for a commitment to analyzing and improving rail security in the United States."
- "...we found that the most prevalent terrorist threat to rail systems comes from bombings, that most terrorist attacks on rail systems produce few fatalities and injuries, and that attacks in densely packed rail cars and interior rail-facility locations are of particular concern because of the casualties they can produce."
- "In addition, given the damage associated with a relatively small number of large attacks, security measures that prevent only the largest-scale attacks could significantly reduce the human costs associated with this threat."
- "The vulnerability assessment identified 11 potential target locations (e.g., system operation and power infrastructure) within a notional rail system and eight potential attack modes (e.g., small explosives). These targets and attack modes were combined to produce 88 different attack scenarios of concern."
- "We identified 17 security-improvement options (SIOs) within three broad categories: (1) process-based improvements (e.g., implementing enhanced security training), (2) technology-based alternatives (e.g., using portable [handheld] detection systems), and (3) infrastructure and facility modifications (e.g., installing blast-resistant containers)...The 17 security measures were rated for their incremental impact at each layer, as well as to their potential system-level contribution across layers."
- "Thus, we can predict with near certainty that terrorist-attack patterns will change in the future, though we cannot predict with much certainty precisely how those changes will be manifested. Given this uncertainty, rail-security systems must be designed to be responsive to potential changes in attack patterns, and the consequent impact on the relative effectiveness of the security portfolio must be reevaluated periodically."
- "There are no federal standards or agreed upon industry best practices within the water infrastructure sector to govern readiness, response to security incidents, and recovery. Efforts to develop protocols and tools are ongoing since the 2001 terrorist attacks."
- "A key issue is how additional protections and resources directed at public and private sector priorities will be funded. In response, Congress has provided $789 million in appropriations for security at water infrastructure facilities (to assess and protect federal facilities and support vulnerability assessments by non-federal facilities) and passed a bill requiring drinking water utilities to conduct security vulnerability assessments (P.L. 107-188). When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 (P.L. 107-297), it gave DHS responsibilities to coordinate information to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure, including the water sector. Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive-7, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lead federal agency for protecting drinking water and wastewater utility systems." (Interesting. Anyone know how much experience EPA has with terrorism or physical security issues in general?)
- "Recent congressional interest has focused on bills concerning security of wastewater utilities. In the 109th Congress, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved legislation to encourage wastewater treatment works to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop site security plans (S. 2781), but there was no further action on this bill. Similar legislation has been introduced in the 110th Congress (S. 1968)."
Monday, December 17, 2007
Mike Yared (email@example.com) posted a great list of many (if not all) of the current US strategy documents available on the web on Michigan State's H-WAR listserve last week and has kindly allowed me to cross post them here (Thanks Mike and Steve!):
Current U.S. National Strategies from http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/archive.html
National Strategy for Homeland Security July 2002 White House Office of
National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace February 2003 White House
National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructure and
Key Assets February 2003 White House
National Military Strategy February 2004 (March 2005?) Joint Chiefs of Staff
National Defense Strategy March 2005 (April 2005?) Office of the Secretary
National Intelligence Strategy October 2005 Office of the Director of
National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza November 2005 Homeland Security
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq November 2005 National Security
National Military Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction February
2006 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism February 2006
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
National Strategy for Combating Terrorism September 2006 National Security
The National Security Strategy
National Counterintelligence Strategy March 2007 Office of the Director of
Many people believe that the lack of human intelligence resources, among other things, led to the US intelligence community's mistaken belief that Iraq still had WMDs. Since then, there has been a good deal written about and apparently done to increase the US's clandestine capability.
It is this conventional wisdom that is going to make this Washington Post editorial so controversial. The author, Joseph Weisberg, believes that such spies, even if they existed, "wouldn't have made any difference."
- "Ever since the inception of the CIA, the operational side of the agency has both believed in and spread the fantasy that foreign agents can provide vital secret intelligence that will clear up great mysteries, change the outcome of wars or prevent terrorist attacks. But this view of intelligence is a myth."
- "Intelligence from almost all CIA assets is unreliable for the simple reason that so many of them are double agents, meaning that the CIA recruited them but that they are being controlled by their own countries' intelligence services."
- "This does not mean that there isn't some useful intelligence to be gleaned from various human sources -- just that these sources aren't always going to be recruited agents and that they aren't going to prevent terrorist attacks or change the outcome of wars."
In Praise Of Open Source
Nada Nadim Prouty: Inevitable
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The CRS has just published a new background brief on AFRICOM for the members of Congress. The report contains a good outline of the US's strategic interests in Africa, DOD's current proposal for the new command and a list of oversight issues for Congress as well as a good bit of background info including an annex on the 42 (!) instances of US armed forces intervention in Africa since 1950.
Here are some other highlights (Boldface and italics are mine):
- "In recent years, analysts and U.S. policymakers have noted Africa’s growing strategic importance to U.S. interests. Among those interests are Africa’s role in the Global War on Terror and potential threats posed by uncontrolled spaces; the growing importance of Africa’s natural resources, particularly energy resources; and ongoing concern for Africa’s many humanitarian crises, armed conflicts, and more general challenges, such as the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS."
- "DOD has signaled its intention to eventually locate AFRICOM on the continent, and U.S officials are consulting with strategic partners in the region to identify a suitable location for the command’s headquarters. The new command will operate from Stuttgart, Germany until facilities in Africa are secured. DOD has stressed that there are no plans to have a significant troop presence on the continent."
- "The 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa highlighted the threat of terrorism to U.S. interests on the continent. Political instability and civil wars have created vast ungoverned spaces, areas in which some experts allege that terrorist groups may train and operate. Instability also heightens human suffering and retards economic development, which may in turn threaten U.S. economic interests. Africa recently surpassed the Middle East as the United States’ largest supplier of crude oil, further emphasizing the continent’s strategic importance." (Yoikes!)
Presentation skills are incredibly important for intelligence professionals. It is not by chance that the item tagged in this blog the most so far has been "presentation". You have to be smart to be in intelligence but coupling those smarts with excellent briefing skills can help take you far.
I received an email the other day that pointed me to an interesting book, The Professional Communications Toolkit by Joel Whalen (Thanks, Pat!). I skimmed the three chapters available online and all were worth the time and the rest of the book seems equally valuable. As always, the notes in italics are mine.
Chapter 1 - Effective Communication: Its Not About You
- "Effective communication happens in the mind of the person who receives your message, not in your mind."
- "When you get a meaningful thought, a part of your brain called the limbic system activates (Gershon, 1999). A surge of neurotransmitters is produced that resonates with cousin-receptors residing in your gut. Literally, your gut—from the back of your throat, down your esophagus, through your stomach and intestines—is lined with the same type of receptors that compose your brain."
- "Your listeners believe what you’re saying is important and true, not just because they think you make “sense.” Their bodies work with the cerebral cortex to form 'Felt Sense'. The Felt Sense feeling tells them that what you’re saying is the truth."
Chapter 3 - The Power and Limitations of Speaking
Highlights (Some interesting explanations of recent neurological research here as well):
- "The most typical result of communication is miscommunication. Each communication results in a different meaning in the speaker’s mind and the listener’s mind. So, if you’re thinking “people don’t always understand me when I need them to,” you’re in good company."
- "Repetition does not work—You may have been taught that repetition aids memory. Advertising people are advised to repeat their ideas three times in a commercial. I’ve learned that repetition does not get your listener to remember. What does aid memory, every time, is things said first, last, and sensory-rich messages."
- "What is always forgotten—The demonstrators forget numbers, names, and other details. They also don’t remember any sequence of events. If a story has four steps, people forget the order of when things happen. When you speak, you create a sense that things happen simultaneously, in flashes."
Chapter 5 - Managing Communication Anxiety
Highlights (Lots of good tips here for managing your fears when you have to speak in public):
- "When you get speech anxiety, your pulse soars to intense levels, as it does during heavy physical exercise. After 3 to 5 minutes, your body begins to slow down, and your pulse drops dramatically to 90 to 100 beats per minute (bpm)."
- "It’s as if you’re temporarily insane."
- "Some anxiety is good (See chart below).