Friday, April 24, 2009

Teaching Intel At Los Alamos (Coolest Thing I Have Done In The Last Couple Of Months...)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to run a couple of workshops on intelligence theory and intelligence communiciations at Los Alamos National Laboratory with my colleague Linda Bremmer. Beyond the details of the workshop (which you can read here online), I have to say it was one of the most interesting and unique opportunties that Mercyhurst has offered me.

We do a surprisingly large amount of off-site training for a variety of institutions and agencies. Our professors have taught as far away as Sri Lanka. Still, there are a number of reasons why Los Alamos was special.

First, look at the cool stuff they did just last year:

Second, the environment there is absolutely unique. You are 7500 feet straight up on the top of a desert plateau. If you are not accumstomed to that altitude, it can sneak up on you. We were told that they had seen instructors (presumably ones that talked too fast...) actually faint in the middle of a presentation. That story might be a little bit of an exaggeration to scare the low country folks but you could seriously feel the impact of the altitude every time you took the stairs. Beyond that, they also have 340 days of sun in one of the bluest skies I have ever seen. If all that isn't "unique enough" for you, you are also out in the desert with all the beauty and danger that this kind of environment implies.

In the third place, it was enormously challenging -- and rewarding. Most professionals have taught an "intelligence for dummies" class at one point or another, usually to a group of only modestly interested beginners. Imagine an "intelligence for rocket scientists, nuclear physicists and engineers" class! It was an extraordinary teaching experience. As students, they were engaged from the first minute and very, very quick; even when the material was wholly unfamiliar.

Finally, it was one of the most hospitible groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The administrative and technical support was first rate and the sponsors of the workshop truly went out of their way to make sure we were both comfortable and had the tools we needed to conduct the workshops. Despite a flight that required four (!) layovers, it was one of the easiest and most rewarding trips I have been on.

Amazing Resource On Intel Analysis Methods (FOR-LEARN)

One of the sites my students came across in the course of our studies into advanced analytic techniques is the very good FOR-LEARN online guide to analytic methods. It is a site that ought to be bookmarked by every analyst -- business, law enforcement and national security types included.

Put together under the auspices of the European Commission's Joint Research Center, FOR-LEARN seeks to guide "users throughout the critical steps of design, implementation and follow-up of a Foresight project and gives a description of the main methods that can be used." Simply replace the word "Foresight" in the previous sentence with "intelligence", and this resource becomes an invaluable (and free) starting point for research into all sorts of analytic methods.

There is a ton of good info here but the first golden nugget is the "methods table" the authors have put together (See static image below. Click on the image to go to the interactive version).

Each of the methods listed, in turn, has a broad, structured overview of the method, along with a brief how-to, its strengths and weaknesses, a case study and some links for additional research. The outline is remarkably similar to the one we used in The Analyst's Cookbook and continue to use in our Advanced Analytic Techniques course (clearly a case, by the way, of great minds thinking alike...).

The site contains much more than just methodologies, however. There are sections on how to scope and run an analytic project as well as extensive additional resources included on almost every page of the guide.

The guide does not contain everything, of course. There is a good bit more to many of these approaches than what the authors have chosen to cover here. There are also a number of intelligence methods that are not mentioned here. Despite these quibbles, it is an excellent product overall and deserves some attention from any serious analyst.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Interactive Map Of Complexity Science ( via

Complexity science is enormously important for intelligence professionals to understand. It holds great promise, I believe, for helping analysts get beyond the 69% threshhold.

It is, however, a daunting topic to tackle unassisted. I spent many years reading everything I could find on the topic that I thought could help me understand the consequences of what is, in many ways, a new way of thinking. I read James Gleick, of course, but I also read Per Bak, Steven Strogatz and Stuart Kaufmann, etc. (My favorite? Laszlo Barabasi).

Eventually, though, the topic become too broad -- there was simply too much to keep up with. Today the field is crowded with all sorts of new entries. If only there was a guide, a "map" of some kind to help orient newcomers to this field...


The picture above is just a partial screenshot of a fantastic, interactive map of the wide range of complexity sciences. The map is part of the larger Art and Science Factory site (worth exploring in its own right...). Links on the map go to important individuals and to key websites that explore the various topics.

Elearnspace (where I first saw mention of the map) comments that the map may be incomplete. They, as I, think, however, that it is a very useful product; particularly for beginners.