Saturday, April 19, 2008

Britannica Free For Bloggers (Britannica Via Techcrunch)

I saw on TechCrunch today that the Encyclopedia Britannica was making all its online content free to any blogger who "qualified". More than that, by signing up I would also be able to direct any of my readers to full content versions of articles on Britannica's website for free as well (no more stubs!). The catch, of course, is that the hyperlinks in the free article (the one I send you to) will only then take the reader to the Britannica stubs unless the reader is a subscriber. I guess the concept is that if a reader sees how great a Britannica article really is, they will want to pay the 70 bucks for a year long subscription...or something like that.

Anyway, I wasn't sure if I would qualify but I submitted SAM to be scrutinized by our British friends (sign-up was dead easy) and, surprise, surprise, they "accepted" me. Very decent of them, I must say.

Anyway, let's try it out. By clicking this link you should be able to go to the full text version of Britannica's article on intelligence. Or by clicking the word intelligence (as hyperlinked here). If it doesn't work, drop a comment or an email.

I like being able to tap into Britannica's arguably more authoritative data set. I generally link to Wikipedia articles for terms I think might be unfamiliar to readers if I think the Wikipedia article seems accurate enough. The Britannica option allows me to share some of Britannica's admittedly top quality articles with my readers as well. What can I say? Thanks, Britannica!

They also have this nifty widget that allows you to put a short definition or bit of info about a topic into a blog post as well. Here I have put in a widget with Britannica's short take on the CIA.
OK. You are correct. It did not take you to the entry on the CIA. You have to click on the "All Articles" button which will take you to a list of articles which are alphabetically arranged but only sometimes start at the beginning of the alphabet (you have to see it to understand that this must be a bug ... and the fact that I had to go to Wikipedia to get the hyperlink for "bug" in the sense of a software bug tells you that there is still room on the planet for at least two encyclopedias).

Scroll down and then find CIA and it will give you the short take on the CIA. I guess I could have just hyperlinked to the full CIA article. It would have been neat, however, to have the widget start where I wanted it to start but also have all the other hyperlinks from the intelligence article available to the curious reader, just in case they wanted to go exploring. Right now it seems to be generating random entires from the list which means that something wholly inappropriate might pop up when a reader hits the site. I don't want that. This result is magnified by the fact that the title for the random entry is in large black text while the word "intelligence" is in white and slightly smaller text in the green bar at the top of the box. The net effect is to make the reader think the box is about the random entry and not that the random entry is somehow subordinated to the word "intelligence". Picky, picky, I know, but it seems to me that it would take just as much effort to do it right. I also can't place the widget feature where I want to put it on the page without messing with the html code. All in all, the widget feature is nice but not something I will likely use that much.

TechCrunch seems to think that EB is going the way of the dinosaur and that this move is just slowing the comet down, not stopping it from hitting the earth. I am not so sure about that. It seems like a classic loss leader move by Britannica to get bloggers to introduce people to the quality of the Britannica content. Some of the newly introduced will inevitably become subscribers. If Britannica can work a little harder to make their content blog friendly (add a few pictures, guys!), I think it might work.

Saturday Timewaster: World's Most Amazing Trick Shot (YouTube)

Worth the 1 minute, six seconds it takes to watch it...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Accelerated Analysis: A New And Promising Intelligence Process (Original Research)

In the near term, it seems to me that the Intelligence Community is going to be faced with (at least) three big challenges: Inexperienced analysts, tight time schedules and moving targets. "Accelerated Analysis", a process that emerged from our coursework and research projects here at Mercyhurst, seems to hold the promise to address all of those issues.

This promise largely stems from the work of one of our recent graduates, Mike Lyden, whose thesis, "The Efficacy of Accelerated Analysis in Strategic Level Intelligence Estimates," is now available for full text download here. I was Mike's primary reader and I can say, without hesitation, that his research is both compelling and provocative. The fact that Mike knows how to write also makes it a darn interesting read.

Mike puts his results succinctly in his abstract:

  • "This thesis presents the findings comparing the accuracy of strategic-level estimative judgments made under conditions of accelerated analysis by undergraduate analysts at the Mercyhurst College Institute for Intelligence Studies to estimates of similar scope found in declassified National Intelligence Estimates produced by the United States National Intelligence Council. These historical research studies found that not only are the student estimates of greater nuance than their National Intelligence Estimates counterparts, but they were also of statistically equal accuracy."
I don't know about you but I'm hooked.

Mike lays out the need for alternative methods and processes in the very first part of the thesis. Experienced professionals will find little new here but students and academics just entering the field will find a good summary. The literature review gets more interesting when Mike begins to talk about the Accelerated Analysis process in the sections beginning with "A Model Found" (p . 23). He describes, in the remaining sections of his literature review, all of the disparate threads that seem to get tied together by the Accelerated Analysis process. All of this, in turn, points to a set of clearly worded hypotheses and an interesting method for testing them.

I'll only steal a little of Mike's thunder on the detailed results. One of the ancillary findings that emerged from his study was the relative accuracy of statements in National Intelligence Estimates that use words of certainty (like "will") versus those that use words of estimative probability (such as "likely"). The chart with the results is reproduced here but the counterintuitive bottomline is that the NIC was statistically significantly more likely to be correct when it used words of estimative probability than when it used words of certainty.

I don't think Mike would conclude that he has "proven" that Accelerated Analysis works. I do think his results suggest that it is a new process that is worthy of further study, however. Certainly our own, albeit anecdotal, results, imply that he is correct.

Related posts:
What Do Words Of Estimative Probability Mean?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Muckety Means Interesting Visualizations (Muckety via Information Aesthetics) has been in business for some time but I just ran across it the other day. It is a news site with a twist. Along with its news articles, it includes an interactive link diagram (see example below). The diagrams and links in them are based, apparently, on their own database of information. The current version of the database seems to be focused mostly on US persons and organizations. As such it is probably of more interest to the competitive intelligence professional than to other intelligence disciplines (at least for now). It does have an interesting feature that allows you to double click on some of the names and watch them expand and automatically link (double click on the name Caleb Temple in the map below to see what I mean).

For another take on this site see Intelfusion and, of course, thanks to Information Aesthetics for finding it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Improving Intelligence Analysis: Two Methods Are Better Than One (USIP)

It one of what has to be the most lucid papers I have read in a long while, Jack Goldstone, writing for the US Institute Of Peace, clearly and concisely explains the value of using multiple independent analytic methods in forecasting instability. His paper, titled "Using Quantitative And Qualitative Models to Forecast Instability" (download full text here), is a real gem that will be of use to academics, students and professionals. Goldstone is a Professor at George Mason and also the Director of the Center For Global Policy (The Center appears to do some extremely interesting research but some of it is hidden, unfortunately, behind a paywall).

Highlights from the Summary include (Boldface, hyperlinks and italics are mine):

  • For most of the post–World War II period, policymakers and intelligence agencies have relied on experts to make qualitative judgments regarding the risk of instability or violent changes in their areas of study. Yet the inability of such experts to adequately predict major events has led to efforts to use social and analytical tools to create more “scientific” forecasts of political crises. (Note: Goldstone also cites the work of Phillip Tetlock favorably in this regard).
  • Because certain models have a demonstrated accuracy of over 80 percent in early identification of political crises, some have questioned whether such models should replace traditional qualitative analysis.
  • While these quantitative forecasting methods should move to the foreground and play a key role in developing early warning tools, this does not mean that traditional qualitative analysis is dispensable.
  • The best results for early warning are most likely obtained by the judicious combination of quantitative analysis based on forecasting models with qualitative analysis that rests on explicit causal relationships and precise forecasts of its own. (Note: Such an approach was explicitly used by my students in their project on the role of non-state actors in sub-Saharan Africa).
  • Policymakers and analysts should insist on a multiple-method approach, which has greater forecasting power than either the quantitative or qualitative method alone. In this way, political instability forecasting is likely to make its largest advance over earlier practices.

Intel Jobs Requiring Wiki Experience (

One of my students (Thanks, again, Pat!) sent me this interesting job listing. What struck him and me is that the job responsibilities include "Monitor and respond to NGA internal technical forums, Wikipedia and Intelipedia sites". While this job is more tech support than analysis, I find it interesting that such a requirement is creeping into the intel community. I wonder how long it will be before intel analyst jobs have, as a "Desired Skill", an understanding of wikis and wiki software?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wiki Vs. Email Grudge Match (Organizational Theory And Collaboration)

One of my students (Thanks, Pat!) sent me a very interesting post by Manny Wilson over at Organizational Theory and Collaboration. Apparently, Mr. Wilson put together the graphic below when he was at CENTCOM and trying to explain the difference between working via email and working through a wiki. This graphic was then picked up by Chris Rasmussen at NGA and used in its presentations on the same topic and was then re-posted by the Wikinomics blog (twice) a couple of weeks ago.

It manages to capture in an easy to understand graphic the same point I struggled to make with words in my recent article, "A Wiki Is Like A Room..." That is, wikis save time because they cut down on "transaction costs" within a group. Individually, each transaction only takes a small amount of extra time but over the life of the project, this time adds up to a considerable loss that could have been put to use doing additional analysis. It also stands to reason that the larger the group, the more time the group will save, all other things being equal, by using a wiki.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Al-Qaeda Media Nexus: The Virtual Network Behind The Global Message (RFE)

Daniel Kimmage, a senior regional analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has put together an excellent analytic paper (download full text here) designed to answer two questions (Note: taken directly from the Introduction): "What does the structure of jihadist media tell us about the relationship between Al-Qaeda central and the movements that affiliate themselves with it? And what can the priorities of jihadist media tell us about the operational priorities of Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements?" I found the large number of detailed charts and graphs (Click on the full text link above to get the report and the legend to the chart below) to be particularly useful as well.

Key Findings from the paper include (Boldface is mine):

  • The ”original” Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden accounts for a mere fraction of jihadist media production.
  • Virtual media production and distribution entities link varied groups under the general ideological rubric of the global jihadist movement. The same media entities that “brand” jihadist media also create virtual links between the various armed groups that fall into the general category of Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements.
  • Three key entities connect Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements to the outside world through the internet. These three media entities — Fajr, the Global Islamic Media Front, and Sahab — receive materials from more than one armed group and post those materials to the internet.
  • Information operations intended to disrupt or undermine the effectiveness of jihadist media can and should target the media entities that brand these media and act as the virtual connective tissue of the global movement.
  • While video is an important component of jihadist media, text products comprise the bulk of the daily media flow. Within text products, periodicals focused on specific “fronts” of the jihad are an important genre that deserves more attention from researchers.
  • The vast majority of jihadist media products focus on conflict zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
  • The priorities of the global jihadist movement, as represented by its media arm, are operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and North Africa.
  • Jihadist media are attempting to mimic a “traditional” structure in order to boost credibility and facilitate message control. While conventional wisdom holds that jihadist media have been quick to exploit technological innovations to advance their cause, they are moving toward a more structured approach based on consistent branding and quasi-official media entities. Their reasons for doing so appear to be a desire to boost the credibility of their products and ensure message control.
  • In line with this strategy, the daily flow of jihadist media that appears on the internet is consistently and systematically branded.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

IntelFusion Remixes Peterson's Table Of Analytic Confidence Assessment (IntelFusion)

Jeff Carr over at IntelFusion has added his own twist to Josh Peterson's recent work on analytic confidence. Jeff's remix is a good visualization (see below) of what Josh was getting at in his thesis. See the full post here and the IntelFusion main page here.