Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Challenges (Day 2 -- International Security Forum)

Related Posts:
Live-blogging The ISF
BBC Monitoring
Towards An Unruly World: Ideas Of Interest

After a quick trip to the Routledge booth to talk about books past and future, I trotted off to a full day of seminars on various topics tied to the parade of horribles from yesterday.

There are four time slots today with six panels in each slot. This means that you can see no more than one-sixth of what the conference has to offer. Since I am presenting in one of those time slots, that limits my participation even more. I am not a big fan of this type of conference format as it really limits your exposure to new ideas. It also explains some of the hit and miss quality of this post. Still, I managed to pick up some new stuff of interest today as well.

(Note: In case you are new to this series of blog posts, this conference is being held under the Chatham House Rule which does not limit my use of the ideas that come out of the conference but does prohibit my use of the names or affiliations of the people speaking about those ideas. The ideas mentioned below, then, are not my own. In some cases, I don't even agree with them. I am reporting them merely because I found these ideas interesting.)

When can NGOs do better with non state actors than states or international organizations? When the non-state actor wants to be seen like a state (i.e. has political ambitions, needs international attention, leadership under pressure to deliver something to the people, etc.). This condition often occurs late in the game -- when the non-state actor has tried other avenues. Likewise, because of the timing and the purpose, states typically do not want the NGO to succeed.

The legal framework is an important factor in cyberwar. The lack of an adequate legal framework actually impeded efforts to respond effectively to the series of cyber attacks in Estonia 2 years ago. There has been some good thinking on this issue but it is not widely known and has not yet been incorporated into legal systems. This results in a continuing exploitable weakness in the system despite efforts to more directly address the cyberwar threat.

Russia. The current sabre rattling over Georgia is likely just that. The next major crunch point with Russia is likely in Ukraine and will revolve around the status of the Black Sea Fleet currently stationed in Sevastopol. Russia's ability to act has not been hurt as much as some people think by the recent sharp decline in gas and oil prices or by the economic meltdown generally.

Secrecy is a force divisor in asymmetric warfare. Asymmetric warfare is anti-Clausewitz. It focuses on weaknesses in the system rather than on the center of mass. Fighting an asymmetric war, then, requires more knowledge than force ("all the force you need to deal with most terrorists is a cop with a gun"). Secrecy is an impediment to the system effectively applying its collective knowledge, ergo, secrecy reduces the efficacy of force.

The Intelligence Cycle can be thought of as an out of date operating system. Dealing with modern intelligence problems using the framework of the intel cycle is like trying to get Windows 95 to run Vista programs.

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Towards An Unruly World: Ideas Of Interest (Day 1 -- International Security Forum)

Related Posts:
Live-blogging The ISF
BBC Monitoring

The ISF Conference began yesterday at the International Conference Centre in Geneva. It is a magnificent facility, with 640 attendees, and the speaker's list looks very interesting but the rules of the conference are going to cramp my style.

The whole ISF is being held under the Chatham House Rule and this prohibits me from citing who said what. That said, I can report some of the ideas to emerge from the conference.

Some of these ideas were unsurprising but some of them either had surprising twists or were brand new ideas entirely. I will start with the unsurprising ones first:

The Parade of Horribles. Climate change, war, terrorism, energy, food and water shortages, the demographic time bomb, WMDs, cyberwar, economic collapse... Lawyers call a lengthy string of terrible things like this the "Parade of Horribles". It is a rhetorical device designed to engage attention and compel action and it was used in much the same way here. What was interesting was the degree of consistency -- the same list of threats came up in multiple different contexts.

China and India. There seemed to be a good bit of concern and a certain sense of inevitability that China and India would emerge as future powerhouses. Nothing new here, of course, but the degree of certainty about this shift in power was noticeable. Certainly I heard more of this type of talk here in 24 hours than you do in the States over the course of several months. In addition, it was rarely just "China" and mostly "China and India".

Solutions. There was also a remarkable consensus about solutions: Reinforce international institutions (including the UN Security Council and regional initiatives); establish the "right amount" of regulation for markets; and increased coordination between defense, diplomacy and development agencies/organizations.

Some of the surprises:

Cyberwar/crime. There was far more talk concerning this issue than I thought there would be. If you take a look at the panels in detail, you can see that cyber takes up quite a bit of real estate. Interestingly, there is not a single panel devoted exclusively to terrorism (though it permeates the discussions here) but there are several devoted exclusively to cybersecurity issues. At one point there was even talk of Alternate Reality Games!

Emphasis on intelligence analysis tools and methods. No one called it that, of course. No, they used code words such as "security foresight" but they couldn't fool me -- they were talking about intelligence. Collection of information did not seem to be an issue; figuring out what the info we have actually means did.

"Resiliency". I think I witnessed the birth of a buzzword. The word "resiliency" kept coming up. The need to build resilient societies, have resilient systems. I think that the use here is similar to the way environmentalists use the word "sustainable" and the way network theorists use the word "robust". There was a sense that the runaway process of globalization had sacrificed too much of the world's resiliency for the sake of efficiency and that at least part of the current set of problems was due to this imbalance (Note: John Robb has been talking about the "resilient community" for quite some time but it was interesting to see the same term crop up here).

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Monday, May 18, 2009

BBC Monitoring (International Security Forum)

bbc monitoring at cavershamImage by robinhamman via Flickr

I had a chance to visit with the good folks at the BBC Monitoring booth at the ISF conference. For those of you unfamiliar with BBC Monitoring, they are the branch of the BBC that acquires and translates raw news and other reports from around the world.

They have been doing this since 1939 and made their intial fame in WWII translating German news broadcasts. Since then, they have grown substantially and now provide translation services in over a hundred languages through their subscription service.

I had the great good fortune to be asked to give a speech at the BBC Monitoring HQ (see image to right) a number of years ago and, as a result, I got a chance to actually see their operation. It is quite impressive. They pull in info from all over the world and rapidly and professionally translate and distribute in whatever form you want.

Conceptually, at least, it is pretty straightforward and simple. What makes BBC Monitoring different is that they are so frightfully good at it. Want an example? Check out their case study of last year's Georgia crisis.

Related Posts:
Live-blogging The ISF!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Live-blogging The International Security Forum!

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All this week I am in Geneva, Switzerland attending the International Security Forum (ISF). The ISF is a biennial conference designed to discuss "ways to increase communication and cooperation between institutions engaged in research related to international security worldwide."

The conference this year has a strong (for me, at least) intel orientation. The theme is "Coping With Global Change" and the whole first day will be dedicated to the question: which new challenges are looming over the horizon? (Uhhh...that's our job, isn't it?)

The conference has a really interesting line-up of speakers and panels. For example, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari, and Deputy Director for Energy and Environmental Security in the Office of Intelligence and Counterintel at the Department of Energy, Carol Dumaine, will make two of the keynote speeches.

I am here as a guest of the wonderful people at The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) and The Center For Security Studies CSS, two of the many sponsors of the forum. My own modest contribution to the event is a short presentation on "Open Sources And The Death Of The Intelligence Cycle" (Yes, you read that right -- death. And if it is not dead yet, by the end of my presentation, people are going to want to kill it...).

I am going to lug my computer around with me and see if I can do a bit of live-blogging. I will probably not be able to cover most of the panels as Chatham House Rules are in effect but, as with all good European conferences, there are lengthy coffee and lunch breaks and I may be able to corner a few people and capture their insights for you.

As always when I cover these type events, if you look at the schedule and see something or someone interesting, drop me a note or post a comment and I will try to sit in on the presentation or get a few words with the speaker, at least.
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