Friday, January 25, 2008

Hip Hop Encryption (MC Frontalot)

Another entry for the SAM soundtrack...

If you haven't heard the nerdcore stylings of MC Frontalot, you should give the song below a listen. There are few songs, to my knowledge, that feature encryption so prominently in the lyrics. It certainly deserves consideration as the NSA's unofficial theme song (if it has not already been so designated).

Ins And Outs Of Obtaining And Keeping Your Security Clearance (FEDtalk)

Federal News Radio is sponsoring a segment on its FEDtalk program at 1100 this morning (Eastern Time) about obtaining and keeping your security clearance. It appears that you can listen to the broadcast over the web here in real time or listen to it later here. FEDtalk has a number of other interesting archived programs including one on a "Winning Federal Resume" that looked particularly interesting.

(Note: I haven't listened to any of them yet. I just got clued into them by a good friend today (Thanks, Bradley!). If you hear anything useful (or not) please post it to the comments section)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

FBI Counterterror Whistleblower Answers Questions (ALA)

When you think of controversy you don't normally think of the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting but apparently you would be wrong, at least this year. FBI Special Agent Bassem Youssef is described as "the Chief of the FBI Counterterrorism Division’s Communications Analysis Unit" and "the highest ranking Arab-American agent and fluent Arabic speaking agent employed by the FBI." He was scheduled to speak at the mid-winter meeting but was apparently warned that giving his speech could jeopardize his job but he was not forbidden from answering questions which is what he does for a little over an hour. You can listen here; download the podcast here, see the full video here and get some of the backstory here. Below is a short clip from the full presentation:

Dodd's Impassioned Speech About FISA (YouTube)

I am at home under the weather but I stumbled upon this floor speech (via Boing Boing) by Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn) regarding the recent FISA legislation and found it so interesting that I wanted to get it out there.

If you are following the FISA legislation as a professional, academic or student, the speech is, of course, worth listening to. Dodd was essential in the defeat of the bill back in mid-December. He was, and still is, very much against the clause that would grant immunity to telecom companies who allegedly violated privacy rights in passing communications to the government absent a warrant prior to some of the earlier FISA amendments. His complaint against the current form of the bill is, in short, pretty narrowly focused.

The other (and for me), more interesting aspect of the speech is the way Dodd delivers it. The tone and the pace have an old-school, statesmanlike ring to them. In this day of 30 second soundbites, the chance to hear an articulate and well-crafted 30 minute speech is rare. There is clearly both passion and anger in Dodd's voice, yet the speech never descends to a point where he is just angry or just passionate. You may agree or not with what Dodd has to say, but it is hard not to be impressed by the way he says it.

Here are a few listening notes:

  • The first 5-6 minutes are fairly technical from a parliamentary perspective. You pretty much have to be prepared to give this about 10-15 minutes of your time in order to get hooked.
  • There is not much to see in the video. Dodd is giving the speech from the podium and the camera never moves from him. I found the speech much more interesting when I just kicked back and closed my eyes and listened to it radio-style.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blog Comments And Peer Review Go Head To Head (Chronicle of Higher Education)

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story today about how the MIT Press is essentially comparing peer review by blogging with traditional peer review in the preparation of an academic book. I think the article will be interesting to anyone who followed my series of blog posts that took a more or less academic look at the Iran NIE over the last several weeks. Currently the story appears to be "free". It may go behind their paywall soon, however, so if you are interested I would take a look at it today (unless you are a subscriber, obviously). Thanks, Barbara!

Resource Roundup (Link List)

I have run across a number of potentially useful sites recently. Here they are in no particular order:

FuzzFind Web Search. Fuzz Find is a new search engine aggregator that is still in beta. It only aggregates hits from Google, Yahoo, MSN Live Search And right now. While is still my favorite aggregator, I really like the way FuzzFind displays the results of the search and think that the unique "tuning" feature could prove useful. It is worth playing with right now and keeping an eye on for the future.

OFFSTATS. The University of Auckland Library in New Zealand seems to be offering a one stop shopping place for official statistics with multiple links to every country and an interesting feature that allows the searcher to narrow the focus. It is probably not as easy to use as Nationmaster but I can see it getting you closer to the primary source material.

ABYZ News Links. This is a very comprehensive site containing links to all sorts of regional and local news sources. I particularly like the fact that it explicitly lists in what languages the news feed is available. To give you a sense of the depth of the links, this site lists 24 news sources for the Maldives! This site has a ton of easy to do exercises to improve your grammar, spelling and punctuation. Designed for journalists (with the AP style in mind) the site is almost just as useful to intelligence analysts who have to learn to write in the concise style of a journalist. I also like the way the exercises are put together. If you get the right answer, the site doesn't bore you with the details. If you get the wrong answer, however, the site lets you know what you did wrong and why immediately.

Deep Web Resources. I have mentioned Marcus Zillman's very useful site before. He scans the internet looking for good sources and tools and then posts them to his blog and then sorts and saves them to various sites he runs. The amount of stuff he finds can be staggering and it is tempting to just start at the top and satisfice. I strongly recommend you did a bit deeper into this particular list as there are some interesting sites buried here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bahraini Foreign Minister Speaks (IISS via is hosting a brief clip from a speech given by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa at a conference sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in December. The clip itself does not contain much new info (the transcript from the FM's presentation is much more interesting...) but it serves to highlight the value of, a source I have only recently discovered but which has already proved fairly useful.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Epilogue -- The Revolution Begins On Page Five: The Changing Nature Of The NIE And Its Implications For Intelligence

Part 1 -- Welcome To The Revolution
Part 2 -- Some History
Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins
Part 4 -- Page Five In Detail
Part 5 -- Enough Exposition, Let's Get Down To It...
Part 6 -- Digging Deeper
Part 7 -- Looking At The Fine Print
Part 8 -- Confidence Is Not the Only Issue
Part 9 -- Waffle Words And Intel-Speak
Part 10 -- The Problem With “If”
Part 11 -- One More Thing
Part 12 -- Final Thoughts


One of the reasons I decided to post this "article" as a series on this blog was to experiment with the blog format; to see how it might work (or not) with more academic style articles. The purpose of this post is to discuss what I have learned through this process.

First, though, I want to thank all of the people who took the time to comment on the blog or to drop me a line. The responses, even when they took exception to my findings, were overwhelmingly positive regarding this "experiment".

If this was an experiment, what, then, were the results? I will start by laying out some of the facts and then discuss what I think they mean in the context of academic publication and scholarship.

This blog, which has been around since just before Thanksgiving last year, currently gets about 1000-1500 unique visitors a week and about twice as many page views. As I understand it, "unique visitor" is a term of art that describes a "hit" from a single person and "page views" describes how many pages a unique visitor looks at before he or she departs the site. Confusingly, unique visitors can be the same person if they come back at different times. If, for example, someone hits the site, looks at 5 pages (clicks on 5 links to 5 posts), departs, comes back at a later date and looks at 3 pages, then the site has been hit by 2 unique users and has had 8 page views.

Clearly, given the nature of the series, the number of people who actually read any or all of the posts in the series is something well below the approximately 3000-4500 unique visitors the site had over the 2.5 weeks the series ran.

While there are all sorts of packages available, I have installed only the most basic analytics software on the site. This software allows me to know who is hitting the site and what they are reading in only the grossest possible sense. My own estimation, based on an extrapolation of the numbers I do have, is that the series had 1000-1500 unique visitors representing no fewer than 100 and no more than 300 real live people who read all or most of the posts in the series. It is likely that another 100-300 people read at least one part of the series over the last 2.5 weeks.

One of the main difficulties with Intelligence Studies as an academic discipline is that there are relatively few journals in it. Moreover, since the economics of journal publishing are driven more by subscriptions than the popularity of the articles in the journal, comparing the number of readers from journal to journal and from discipline to discipline is fraught with difficulty.

That said, I have tracked down two interesting numbers for comparison purposes. The first indicates that journal articles in the British Medical Journal average 1168 hits (not all of which will be unique visitors) per article in the week after publication. The second, from the British Library, indicates that the average number of readers per annum of an average journal article ranges from 500-1500 with an average of 900 (this presumably includes people who will read only part of the article).

I was, frankly, pretty surprised to see these comparison figures and it suggests that the way forward within the intelligence studies discipline is with online journal publishing. If I can get roughly the same number of hits (largely from professionals in the discipline) with this modest effort as the British Medical Journal reaches over generally the same time period and roughly the same number of readers in 2.5 weeks that the lesser read (but far more widely distributed) journal articles analyzed by the British Library get in a year, I think it indicates a high comfort level from people in the profession with the electronic distribution of scholarship.

Beyond the question of readership there is also the more important question of scholarship. This is much more difficult to get at by looking at the numbers, however. On the face of it, the series falls well within normal limits for journal articles. Putting all the pieces together adds up to about 9000 total words which would, with charts, graphs and bibliographies add up to a respectably substantial journal article (about 30-40 pages depending on the journal). This is far longer than mathematics articles (which average about 12 pages) and far shorter than law review articles (which have recently begun to impose page limits in order to bring down the number of pages to 70 or so...). A quick review of page lengths in Intelligence and National Security suggest that 30-40 pages is within the range of "normal" for that publication.

Likewise the methodology and collection of the data were well within the norm for academic articles. I took a discrete but logically connected subset of National Intelligence Estimates and analyzed the way in which they were written, looking for patterns that emerged from the data analysis. The results are easily open to verification -- anyone else can do the same thing I did -- and the documents analyzed were all primary sources. I also tried to indicate where I saw weaknesses in my method and why I thought I could still make the evaluation I was making.

I also tried to be suitably "academic" in the tone of the article. I think I laregly succeeded while noting an occasional descent into "blog-speak". Many of the readers of this series of posts are students at Mercyhurst College and I wanted to make the series as interesting as possible. Having read many academic articles over the years, I also recognize that the pure academic tone is certainly not required...

Citing sources proved particularly easy with this form of publication. My intent was to turn my endnotes into hyperlinks within the posts. The paper contains 75 hyperlinks to sources outside of the document. In a print journal, all of these would have to be endnotes. I am not entirely satisfied with this method for sourcing, however. For one thing, the hyperlink cannot take the reader to the exact place in a lengthy document to which the post refers. I think if I do such an experiment again (and I think I am likely to), I will include the page number in a parenthetical immediately after the hyperlink. While this article was fairly easy to write without reference to non-web-based sources, I expect that this will not always be the case. I had planned to just include an endnote and put it at the bottom of each post if I had to refer to something that was not on the web but, thanks to the DNI and the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, all of the major references were readily available.

The fundamental element of traditional academic scholarship that was missing from the process was peer review prior to publication. I would make three comments here. First, the problems with the peer review system are well known to any academic. Some have gone as far as to claim that it is less a system for determining quality than it is a system for enforcing acceptability. Second, the notion of what constitutes adequate peer review is changing dramatically with any number of experiments on-going. Finally, the ability to comment that is provided by blogging technology changes and adds both depth and nuance to traditional notions of peer review.

Consider the traditional process. An article goes in and it is assigned to various referees who make independent and anonymous reviews of the work prior to publication. The readers rarely get any insight into reviewer comments or questions. Comments from the readers likewise have to go back to the editors and may or may not show up in a later issue of the journal. The best indication of the quality of an article is likely the number of times it is cited in other works -- something that is not known for years after the article is published.

With blogging technology, the peer review process becomes an integral part of the writing process. It happens simultaneously, in more or less real time. A variety of different metrics (including the ones discussed above) are more or less immediately available.

All in all, the process of writing this article and posting it as a series on a blog was extremely gratifying. I enjoyed the research, writing and review processes much more than I do normally.
Again, thank you all for all of your comments. It was genuinely appreciated.