Saturday, July 5, 2008

Designing Safe Living, Architectures Of Control And Wine Economics (Link List)

Virtually everyone knows that the way a large grocery store is laid out is a careful exercise in design. All the fresh veggies as you come in the entrance and all those free sample carts at the end of the aisle are designed to get you to buy more -- and more expensive -- items.

Using design principles to manipulate people in predictable ways is not particularly new but I happened to run across a trio of very interesting posts on this idea that seemed worth sharing.

The first is from the American Association of Wine Economists (where do I sign up?) titled, They Always Buy The Ten Cent Wine (via Marginal Revolution). Apparently the way wines are organized on a shelf is designed to make sure you see the expensive, special occasion wines.

The second is not so much a post but a blog called Architectures Of Control. Besides having a very cool blog name (is it a blog or a thrash metal band?), the author, Dan Lockton, is a PHD researcher in Industrial Design at Brunel University (which also has one of the few intel studies programs in Europe) in the UK. The evolution in Dan's thinking about how to use architecture to control people, for good and bad purposes, is fascinating to watch. He is a keen observer of this niche and is always worth reading.

Finally (and I read this on AOC), there is actually a conference on using design to improve security: New Science s Of Protection--Designing Safe Living in Lancaster, UK from 10-12 July, 2008.

Related Posts:
The Serious Play Series

Friday, July 4, 2008

Let Freedom Blog! Chinese Dissidents Write Backwards To Beat Government Filters (WSJ via Digital Inspiration)

Great article in the Wall Street Journal recently about recent rioting on southern China and how Chinese bloggers are defeating internet censorship, in one case, by using a simple widget that lets them write backwards. The text is still readable but the automatic filters set up by the government don't recognize it (The WSJ has a paywall so if you want to see the full article, take a look at it soon. Digital Inspiration has a summary and some additional links).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Part 4 -- What Would A Good Definition Look Like? (What Is Intelligence?)

Part 1 -- The Problem Of "Intelligence"
Part 2 -- The Importance Of A Clear Definition Of Intelligence
Part 3 -- The Reasons For A Lack Of A Definition

The changing nature of intelligence coupled with the wide variety of new entrants and the lack of academic evaluation over the centuries has muddied the waters of today. Now, a common definition of intelligence has to, potentially, take into account not only the intelligence activities of nation states but also those intelligence or intelligence-like activities conducted by law enforcement, NGOs or the private sector. Such a definition would be, ideally, broad enough to apply to any level of activity.

Imagine two seemingly very different scenarios. In the first, a country seeks intelligence on the capabilities and intentions of an enemy; in the second, you are in the process of buying a car. In the first case, the country performs a wide variety of activities designed to collect information such as listening to the enemy’s broadcasts or reading its newspapers, perhaps even sending in some spies, recruiting some agents and planting some bugs.

In the second instance you, too, might spend time gathering relevant information by listening to advertisements or automobile shows like Car Talk or Top Gear. You would almost certainly read the newspapers, check out the classified ads and search the internet for deals. You might even send in a “spy”, a friend, to go to a nearby car dealer to assess how willing the dealer was to negotiate. You might even go yourself, telling little white lies about your car-buying intentions in order to keep the salesperson guessing. Clearly, both you and the country would want to hide some of your information or activities from the other party.

Armed with some information on the enemy, the analysts of our hypothetical country would begin to sift through it, to come to conclusions that would help the decisionmakers in the country better understand the intentions of that enemy. Likewise, you would need to sift through your automobile research to see what seemed relevant and what seemed unhelpful. Finally, both must come to a tentative conclusion regarding the intentions of the “other side”, enemy or car salesperson. It is tentative because of all the uncertainty involved; uncertainty due to the quality of the sources, uncertainty due to the limited amount of time devoted to the analysis, uncertainty because of the possibility of deliberate deception in both cases. It is from these analytic conclusions, no matter how formally or informally constructed, that decisions can now be made.

Other than the focus of the inquiry and the scale of the investigation, there does not appear to be much difference in the process involved in these two cases. Yet the first is clearly traditional intelligence activity while the second is not. Is there a substantive difference between these two activities and, if not, then what definition of intelligence would cover them both?

One standard that cannot reasonably be applied is “importance”. Just because an example is a relatively unimportant one, as is the example of doing the research to buy a car, it does not mean that an honest theorist can eliminate it from consideration. Whether you are building the Taj Mahal or a dog house, you are still employing the principles of engineering and architecture. The importance of the example does not matter. Likewise, a good definition of intelligence needs to encompass a broader range of activity than just that found in the national security arena. A good definition of intelligence must work across disciplines, indeed across history, and must work for both simple and complex examples.

A good definition of intelligence must also clearly differentiate intelligence activity from non-intelligence activity. It should be possible to know, based on the definition, whether one is engaged in intelligence activity or not, otherwise, intelligence is not a profession; it is merely an attempt to re-brand some other, more established, activity as “intelligence”. In other words, a good definition of intelligence should make it clear not only what intelligence is but, equally clearly, what it isn’t.

Tomorrow -- Previous Attempts To Define Intelligence

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

MCIIS Participation In Graffiti Task Force Highlighted (

In case you missed it in this morning's Erie Times News (doesn't everyone read that?), the paper highlighted the Institute of Intelligence Studies' participation in the anti-graffiti task force here in Erie. The effort is pretty large but we are just doing the analysis part. Interesting work for Professor Dave Grabelski and some of his students!

Part 3 -- The Reasons For A Lack Of A Definition (What Is Intelligence?)

Part 1 -- The Problem Of Intelligence
Part 2 -- The Importance Of A Clear Definition Of Intelligence

Why is there no generally accepted definition of “intelligence”?

It is certainly not for lack of effort. Numerous attempts to define intelligence exist in federal law, in the mission statements of the various agencies, corporations, and other bodies that conduct intelligence activities, as well as in the writings of scholars and intelligence practitioners. The net effect of all these attempts, however, is to only sow confusion.

For example, until very recently, the CIA, on its “kid’s page”, found the question, "What is intelligence?” so difficult that it balked at providing an answer, noting, “What is intelligence? This question is not easy to answer and, depending on who you ask, you may get different answers."(Note: The CIA has upgraded it’s “Kid’s Page” and now states that “intelligence is the information our nation’s leaders need to keep our country safe.” This is, as we shall see shortly, a deeply misleading definition).

Mark M. Lowenthal, a long-time veteran of the national security and private sector intelligence communities, notes in his book, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, "Virtually every book written on the subject of intelligence begins with a discussion of what 'intelligence' means, or at least how the author intends to use the term. This editorial fact tells us much about the field of intelligence. In spite of earnest efforts to lay down a comprehensive definition of what they do, even seasoned intelligence professionals often see their field as something vague and nebulous, which is constantly re-imagined in a never-ending search for purpose.

This lack of clarity is largely the artifact of two historical trends and one, more recent, development. Historically, intelligence units were small and focused on the relatively few wealthy or politically powerful citizens in an enemy country or competing organization. These units were also quite insular, using codes and compartments to isolate key bits of information even from other members of the organization. In this context, decisionmakers from Sun Tzu to George Washington often operated as their own spymasters and the decisions they made were intricately bound up with the intelligence operations they ran. As a result, and also along historical lines, academia traditionally had little role in analyzing or generalizing the activities of these intelligence organizations. Sherman Kent, often referred to as the “Father of US Intelligence Analysis”, noted the lack of academic contributions in 1955:

“What [intelligence] lacks is a literature.... What I am talking about is a literature dedicated to the analysis of our many-sided calling, and produced by its most knowledgeable devotees.... The literature I have in mind will, among other things, be an elevated debate."

A lack of academic evaluation was partly a function of the system under consideration. Information regarding intelligence operations was difficult to get, if it existed at all. It is also likely that many of these historical figures discouraged excessive investigation into their sources and methods either in order to preserve a capability or out of vanity. Whatever the reason, the lack of academic scrutiny meant that intelligence, as a concept, remained undeveloped. (Note: There is still quite a ways to go to catch up with other disciplines even today. According to the College Board, there were at least 220 undergraduate degree programs in engineering in the United States and 131 undergraduate architecture programs. Compare this to the approximately 45 undergraduate programs offering any courses at all in intelligence nationwide).

Beginning with World War I and increasing exponentially since the advent of the internet, the tidal wave of information now available to each of us is the development that has served, in some senses, to expand the definition of intelligence. Analysts at all levels and in all disciplines can now find online for little or no cost formerly expensive or difficult to find resources and capabilities once available only to elites. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the International Relations and Security Network, have entered the world of intelligence along with a variety of commercial enterprises, such as iJet and STRATFOR – entries made possible by a steady stream of information from all parts of the world on virtually any subject. Even casinos claim to use intelligence (Thanks, Kathleen!).

Where these organizations fall on the spectrum of intelligence and intelligence-like activities is unclear but the overlap in sources, methods, capabilities and purposes only serve to highlight the need for and lack of a clear, "big-tent" definition of intelligence.

Tomorrow -- What Would A Good Definition Of Intelligence Look Like?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Part 2 -- The Importance Of A Clear Definition Of Intelligence (What Is Intelligence?)

Part 1 -- The Problem of "Intelligence"

Why, then, is there this lack of consistency in defining intelligence? On the one hand, it is not unusual for non-professionals to have romanticized notions of what a certain profession does. For example, largely because of the prevalence of courtroom dramas on film and TV, many people tend to believe that lawyers spend much of their time in court. In fact, the opposite is true. Most lawyers spend very little time in court and some lawyers spend no time at all participating in jury trials. It is easiest, then, perhaps, to attribute the common public misconceptions about what intelligence is and what it does to an entertainment industry with an insatiable appetite for espionage dramas.

Easy, perhaps, but dangerous as well. The ability of the non-professional to understand the capabilities and limitations of intelligence, the relatively limited role of secrecy in most intelligence activities and the part intelligence actually plays in policymaking in business, law enforcement and national security activities is critical to sound decisionmaking. Yet, textbooks on American government rarely give more than a passing mention to the role of intelligence in the US government and it is highly likely that no more than 25 colleges and universities offer courses in intelligence at present.

This lack of understanding is particularly dangerous in a democracy. The perception of excessive secrecy and unaccountable power common among many US citizens is clearly contrary to the fundamental tenets of democracy and freedom these same citizens want. As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), General Michael Hayden has said:

  • “As a secret organization serving an open and free society, CIA has been granted an enormous public trust. That’s what secrecy is in a democracy. Not a grant of power, but a grant of trust. Each day, we have to earn that trust—as our democratic system demands—by acting as our fellow citizens expect us to: Skillfully, boldly, and always in keeping with the laws and values of our Republic. That’s our social contract.” (21 JUN 07, Speech, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations)

The responsibilities inherent in this “social contract” cut both ways, of course. Not only does the public have a responsibility to better understand intelligence and its function in modern decisionmaking but also intelligence professionals have a responsibility to better explain what it is they do and how they go about doing it.

That is, as soon as they figure it out themselves.

While the confusion in the mind of the public is, at least, partly understandable, the lack of consistency among intelligence professionals is baffling. It is one thing for the average person to be unable to define “law”. It is another thing entirely for a lawyer not to know (or, at least be able to find) what “law” is. Yet, that is precisely the position intelligence professionals find themselves in today.

Arriving at a clear definition of intelligence is particularly important for people seeking to teach intelligence. Our desire is to spend most of our time teaching how to do intelligence; to prepare the next generation of analysts and other intelligence professionals for the challenges that lie ahead, not to merely re-hash the arguments of the past. In order for that to make sense, we need to establish an operational definition of intelligence – one that students and instructors in business, law enforcement and national security intelligence courses can translate into a set of theoretical concepts and practical skills that represent not only today’s best practices but also provide direction for researchers going forward.

Tomorrow -- The Reasons For A Lack Of Definition

Monday, June 30, 2008

What Is Intelligence? (Part 1 -- The Problem Of "Intelligence")

Introductory note: My colleague, Jim Breckenridge, and I are spending the summer thinking and writing about intelligence. For us this means intelligence in the national security arena, of course, but it also means intelligence in law enforcement, business and countless other areas where we see intelligence or intelligence-like activities. I hope to post some of Jim's thoughts later this summer, but I decided to start with one of my favorite topics, "What Is Intelligence?" I find the answer to this question -- which I intend to lay out in a multi-part series -- to be particularly interesting.

Two other quick notes. First, this is yet another example of what I like to call "experimental scholarship" -- using blogs or other new technologies to publish and solicit peer input for what would normally be considered "scholarly" works (For earlier examples see my series of posts on using wikis to do intel analysis, word usage in recent NIEs and re-defining words of estimative probability). Second, those of you familiar with my earlier work might note the eerie resemblance of parts of this series of posts to my 2006 paper, with Mike Beerbower, titled "Towards a New Definition of Intelligence" in the Stanford Law and Policy Review. Full credit goes to Mike for his contribution to this evolution of my thinking.

The Problem Of Intelligence

At first blush, the question asked in this post, “What is intelligence?” seems like an easy one. Everyone knows – or thinks they know – about intelligence. It is about spies, secrets and James Bond. Intelligence is at least as old as Sun Tzu, the Chinese general who discussed the use of spies 2500 years ago, and is perhaps as old as recorded history.

More recently, it is what the US "lacked" before the attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2001 and what "failed" in Iraq with respect to Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), both claim they need more intelligence to do their jobs. Even businesses now gather intelligence on their markets and their competitors and charitable foundations use intelligence-like capabilities to watch their particular interests.

If intelligence services were an industry, it would be about the same size, at $100 billion (including all national security activities and a rough estimate of the amount law enforcement and the business community spends on intelligence and intelligence-like activities), as the engineering services industry in the US. It would be five times the size of the architectural services industry.

The US Intelligence Community is the best known intelligence organization but it is by no means the only one in the US. This community of 16 government agencies, however, employs over 100,000 people (only a small percentage of which are “spies”). That is substantially larger than the number of employees at either 3M or Microsoft, over 5 times the size of Google and 20 times the size of T. Rowe Price. If the US Intelligence Community were a company, it would be about 45th on the Fortune 500 list of the largest companies, somewhere between Microsoft and Sears (Even within the government, however, it is a large organization, with over three times the budget of the State Department). In many communities, intelligence organizations are major employers and the problems these organizations face are more like the ones faced by big business than they are like the ones faced by the heroes of the latest spy thriller.

Despite its size, longevity and importance to world affairs, the profession of intelligence, what it is and what it does, is not widely understood – even among those who do it. Consider the following four activities:

  • Writing a highly classified report on crop yields in a small African country.
  • Executing a secret coup in an enemy country.
  • Conducting routine police patrols in a crime-ridden part of a large city.
  • Openly talking to a competitor’s employees at a local bar.
How “intelligence like” do they seem to you? How well do they fit your own, internal definition of intelligence? Imagine now a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is an activity that is not “intelligence”, that does not fit your internal definition of intelligence, and where an activity that received a 5 would nearly perfectly fit your internal definition of intelligence. How would you score the activities above?

No matter how strongly you feel about your responses, the truth is that different people answer these questions very differently. In fact, I have asked these same questions, and others, of hundreds of students and intelligence professionals alike and there is rarely a consensus in terms of scoring. For many of the questions, the distribution of the final scores deviate little from what you would expect from random chance.

Why would this be so? Consider the activity of writing a highly classified report on crop yields in a small African country. Some people focus on the fact that the report is highly classified; Top Secret, perhaps. For these individuals, intelligence is about secrecy. Secrecy in intelligence, however, is usually about how difficult it is to collect the information, not how useful it is once it has been acquired. Those who tend to focus on the utility of the report note that this report, with its narrow focus, will likely be of interest to a relatively small number of users. Intelligence professionals, in particular, typically view it as the kind of report that the intelligence community routinely generates for background purposes, in case some decisionmaker needs it at some time in the future. The classification of such a document, taken in isolation, generally gets little weight from experienced intelligence officers.

Now consider the activity of executing a coup in an enemy country. This, for many unfamiliar with intelligence, is the essence of an intelligence activity. It is the substance of novels and films and fills the popular conception of what intelligence is and does. Many intelligence professionals do not see this type of activity as intelligence at all, however. The information collected and analysis conducted regarding the enemy country much more closely meets their internal definition of intelligence. The decision to act, to actually engineer and execute a coup is, in these professionals' minds, an act of policy. The fact that covert action falls within the realm of US intelligence organizations is, for them, an accident of history, not a fundamental intelligence function.

The final two activities on the list above, a police officer on the beat and talking to competitors in a bar, highlight how intelligence, as a profession, has grown outside its traditional, national security, boundaries. Businesses, whether they are looking at their competitors, their markets, or the physical security of their employees, are increasingly using the tools and methods traditionally available to the intelligence professional. In fact, as will become obvious in Jim's discussion of the broader history of intelligence, business necessity has often driven intelligence activities and improvement in intelligence capabilities. While it may seem like the idea of law enforcement intelligence is also new, it, too, dates back centuries. While most people don’t think of the cop on the beat as a collector for the law enforcement intelligence professional, that is exactly the role (among others, obviously) that individual serves.

Tomorrow: The Importance Of A Clear Definition Of Intelligence

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Iranian Missle Engineers Redefine "Awkward Pause" (LiveLeaks via Gizmodo)

Gizmodo is carrying a LiveLeaks video this morning of the alleged launch of an Iranian rocket.