Monday, December 31, 2007

21st Century Marines In Africa (CETO, 2005 Report)

Another oldie but goodie. Written before the decision to form AFRICOM, this paper is a brief but fairly complete overview of the continent and the major international players and issues there (If you haven't already seen it, you can download the full text here via the CARL). As the authors at the Center For Emerging Threats And Opportunities out in Quantico indicate up front, "The purpose of this paper is to provide a continental overview, identify key actors, outline U.S. interests and strategies, address potential future roles for Marine forces there, and identify operational capabilities, doctrine, and training and education issues." The laundry list and descriptions of the Influential Actors In African Affairs Section is worth the price of admission.

Good Resource On International Energy (EIA)

Most analysts are familiar with the excellent work done by the US's Energy Information Agency but in case you aren't, you should take a few minutes to check it out. It really should be the first place you stop when you are doing research on energy production or consumption or anything else energy related anywhere in the world.

Their wonderful website is a treasure trove of information. Start your tour with the Home Page. Lots of US focused stuff here but the link on the top of the right hand column takes you to the International section. In the Analyses section (halfway down the middle of the page), you can find the country profiles which are pure gold. The EIA updates these relatively frequently and provides a comprehensive overview of almost every country's energy situation along with an outstanding array of graphics and maps.

Beyond the country profiles, there is a wealth of information here. I was particularly interested in the Special Reports and link lists. For example, interested in World Oil Transit Chokepoints? Click here. Interested in the location of all of the Chinese nuclear reactors? Click here. This is an authoritative source for info whether you are an energy professional or an analyst tasked to examine the energy needs of a particular country or region on a one time basis.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jihadi Communications Techniques (Link List)

I have stumbled across a number of fairly recent but obviously not new articles about how various Islamic extremist groups use modern media and the internet to communicate. The titles and the links are listed below, in case you haven't seen them (click on the link to download the full text):

Communication And Media Strategy In the Jihadi War Of Ideas

The Radical Dawa In Transition: The Rise Of Islamic Neoradicalism In The Netherlands (Not technically about communications strategies but there is a section in the report on these strategies)

A Framework For Understanding Terrorist Use Of The Internet

Al Qaeda: Propaganda And Media Strategy (with thanks to The CARL!)

Darfur: A Cultural Handbook (ARAG)

The Advanced Research And Assessment Group of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom published last April an outstanding cultural guide (written by Tony Lindsay) on the Darfur region and the ongoing crisis there (Download the full text here). It would make an excellent primer for a student or analyst who was new to the region or as a quick reference guide for a more seasoned analyst. I was particularly impressed with the extensive list of Darfuri and Chadian rebel groups, the section on the Sudanese naming system and the annex on how to do business in Darfur.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan-US Relations (Lead And Background Info: CRS)

In the wake of the Bhutto Assassination, I thought this recent CRS document (download full text here, hosted by the FAS) might prove interesting. Written in October 2007, it gives some detailed background information that might be of use. Beyond the background, there are some leads here as to who might be the perpetrators (Italics, bold and hyperlinks are mine):

  • "On October 18 (2007), former Prime Minister Bhutto made good on her promise to return to Pakistan after more than eight years of self imposed exile and was welcomed in Karachi by up to one million supporters. (Hours later, two bomb blasts near her motorcade — likely perpetrated by suicide attackers — left at least 115 people dead, but Bhutto was unharmed.) While Bhutto continues to enjoy significant public support in the country, especially in her home region of rural Sindh, there are signs that many PPP members are ambivalent about her return and worry that her credibility as an opponent of military rule has been damaged through deal-making with Musharraf."
  • "Bhutto has alleged that some pro-jihadist retired Pakistani military officers have plotted her assassination, and Baitullah Mehsud (plus more here and here), a pro-Taliban militant commander in South Waziristan, vowed to launch suicide attacks against her. The government deployed thousands of security troops to safeguard her Karachi arrival (Zahid Hussain, “Triumph or Tumult for Bhutto?,” Wall Street Journal Asia, October 18, 2007)"
  • "The leadership of the country’s leading moderate, secular, and arguably most popular party — the Pakistan People’s Party — seek greater U.S. support for Pakistani democratization and warn that the space in which they are allowed to operate is so narrow as to bring into question their continued viability as political forces. They also identify a direct causal link between nondemocratic governance and the persistence of religious militancy in Pakistan. According to former Prime Minister Bhutto, “Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism .... Civil unrest is what the extremists want. Anarchy and chaos suit them.” She asserts that elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus are sympathetic to religious extremists and that these elements can only be neutralized by being made answerable to an elected government."
  • "Many analysts consider a potential accommodation between President Musharraf and former Prime Minister Bhutto to be the best option both for stabilizing Islamabad’s political circumstances and for more effectively creating a moderate and prosperous Pakistan (some reports have the U.S. government quietly encouraging Musharraf to pursue this option). Such accommodation might include Musharraf retiring from the military following his reelection as President and allowing Bhutto to return to Pakistan and run for national office. Even as this arrangement may be in process, it is highly unlikely to alter the army’s role as ultimate arbiter of the country’s foreign and national security policies, but might create a transitional alliance that would empower Pakistan’s more liberal and secular elements."

Watching The Story Unfold: The Bhutto Assassination (Wikipedia)

One of the best open source places to watch a story unfold such as the Bhutto Assassination is on Wikipedia. Authors from all over the world rapidly converge on the site to update it with current news and speculation. As with any source, it is not definitive but it can be up to date and often includes views from all over the world. Currently the site contains a useful list of international reactions and some information regarding the immediate reaction in Pakistan itself. There is also a fairly exhaustive reference list. Expect this site to be updated regularly (a number of references were added while I type this).

Intelligence Estimates: How Useful To Congress? (CRS)

The CRS recently released a report (now available here in full text through the FAS) on NIEs and their increasing importance to Congress. The thing that interested me most was the discussion of the role of Congress in the recent spate of public NIE releases (including ones on Iran's Nuclear Intentions, Prospects For Iraq's Stability, the original and the update, the Terrorist Threat To The Homeland and Trends in Global Terrorism). Here are some of the other highlights from the Conclusion (I have separated the findings in order to make it easier to read and, as always, the boldface and italics are mine):

  • "Congress is and will continue to be an important consumer of national intelligence, but there are concerns that heavy emphasis on mandating NIEs may not assist the legislative process to the extent that some anticipate. NIEs can provide the Intelligence Community’s best evidence and analysis on major issues of national security and can highlight areas where information is lacking, but they usually require lengthy preparation and coordination before they can be disseminated."
  • "The example of the NIE on Iraqi WMD suggests that compressing the production schedule can be counterproductive."
  • "Moreover, conclusions of NIEs may not be informed by knowledge of initiatives planned or underway by others in the executive or legislative branches."
  • "A more public role for NIEs in debates on national security policy issues could obscure their inherent limitations and distort the discussion of the policy issues."
  • "In some cases, Congress may find intelligence assessments or briefings prepared in a less structured way and within tighter time constraints better serve its legislative needs than formal NIEs."
  • "The creation of the Office of the DNI provides a focal point from which the analytical capabilities of all intelligence agencies can be brought to bear on given issues, even ones that are narrowly focused. It is considered likely that a combination of NIEs on some topics, supplemented by more limited assessments supported by an ongoing dialogue with intelligence analysts, may provide the most effective support to the legislative process." (Historically, of course, the Executive Branch has been the primary consumer of intelligence. While this is unlikely to change, an increased interest by Congress -- the branch that controls the purse strings -- coupled with the DNI as the primary POC, is likely to lead to a more independent intel community and a stronger DNI.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Al Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters In Iraq (CTC West Point)

Released just before Christmas and available here for full download, the CTC at West Point has done a stellar job analyzing the Al Qai'ida records captured in the raid near Sinjar along Iraq's Syrian border in October 2007.

Highlights from the Conclusion include (Hyperlinks are mine):

  • "Saudis made up the largest contingent of foreign fighters entering Iraq. Libyans were second (first if measured in percapita terms) and Syrians a distant third. In terms of sheer numbers, Saudis constituted the largest group of foreign fighters and contributed the most overall suicide bombers, but the percentage of Saudi fighters listed as suicide bombers was actually lower than non‐Saudis."
  • "Recent political developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prevalence of Libyan fighters in Iraq, and evidence of a well‐established smuggling route for Libyans through Egypt, suggests that Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al‐Qa’ida."
  • "The Sinjar Records reinforce anecdotal accounts suggesting that al‐Qa’ida’s Iraqi affiliates rely on smugglers and criminals—rather than their own personnel—to funnel recruits into Iraq."
  • "Many of the foreign fighters entering Iraq arrived with a group from their hometown, suggesting that al‐Qa’ida’s recruiters try to attract groups of friends simultaneously."
  • "The majority of fighters that listed their occupation before traveling to Iraq were students. Universities have become a critical recruiting field for al‐Qa’ida."
  • "Al‐Qa’ida’s reliance on criminal and smuggling networks exposes it to the greed of mercenaries. In many cases, the United States should target work to destroy these networks, but the U.S. must remain flexible enough to recognize opportunities to co‐opt, rather than simply annihilate, such systems."
  • "The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s unification with al‐Qa’ida and its apparent decision to prioritize providing logistical support to the Islamic State of Iraq is likely controversial within the organization."
  • "The Islamic State of Iraq has failed politically because it has been unable to balance the practical demands of its local Iraqi constituency and the religious demands of its foreign supporters."
  • "The Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States’ concerns about violent salafi‐jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents. These governments, like others in the Middle East, fear violence inside their borders and would much rather radical elements go to Iraq rather than cause unrest at home. U.S. and Coalition efforts to stem the flow of fighters into Iraq will be enhanced if they address the entire logistical chain that supports the movement of these individuals—beginning in their home countries – rather than just their Syrian entry points."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Defeating Cross Border Insurgencies (Thesis)

The new batch of CGSC masters theses are online and available for download here. One that stood out immediately due to its topic was Major Thorsten Lyhne Jorgensen's thesis, "Defeating Cross Border Insurgencies" (The full text can be downloaded here). MAJ Jorgenson is from Denmark yet his thesis is better written and more methodologically sound than many I have read. Using a comparative case study as the broad method and the theoretical models of Collier-Hoeffler combined with the counter-insurgency insights from O'Neill to help focus his research, MAJ Jorgenson has identified some trends that appear to be constant across a wide realm of cross-border insurgencies. Highlights from the abstract and the text include (Italics are mine):

  • "This thesis assesses whether COIN efforts can be successful when the insurgents are operating from safe havens in neighboring states."
  • "In order for the COIN to be successful, a number of prerequisites must be in place. The political and military leadership and the civilian and military operators on the ground have to be historical and cultural aware with regards to the region in which operations are conducted, especially with regards to the structural aspects in effect amongst the local populace." (There are a couple of typos in the above and they were in the original. MAJ Jorgenson's thesis is 130+ pages and English can't be his first language. No foul, then, to the author; but I felt like it needed an explanation...)
  • "A well planned and coordinated application of the DIME is the key to success. The regional aspects of the cross border insurgencies call upon a diplomatic approach involving regional players as well as IO, IGO and NGOs."
  • "The Informational instrument of national power is a proactive tool in the fight against the insurgency. This powerful instrument is difficult to control by nature, needs to be both primitive and sophisticated in nature and message. Primitive in nature when dealing with the local goatherd or illiterate and sophisticated and professional when dealing with the world press."
  • "The Military instrument of national power is a necessity in securing the populace. The application of the Military instrument must be immediately followed by reconstruction efforts aiming to mitigate poverty and everyday suffering. Executing projects, both long and short term, utilizing local labor is a way to counter the alarming unemployment figures which are potential recruitment bases for the insurgency. Sufficient boots on the ground is essential to maintain presence and thereby maintain legitimacy of the entire COIN effort."
  • "The Economic instrument is important especially when dealing with underdeveloped populaces such as the ones in Oman, Kashmir and Afghanistan. A significant and long term effort like the one in Oman stands good chances of success. Decreasing poverty and providing jobs through economically secured programs are a safe way to gain legitimacy and support within the local populace. As for the previous instruments of national power, the Economic instrument must be applied in accordance with a well coordinated regional plan."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Presents, Presents, Presents! (Happy Holidays!)

It is the holiday season just about everywhere so here is a list of goodies for just about every type person (or every type person that reads this blog...).

For The Operationally Inclined:

Operation Christmas. Ever wonder how the jolly old elf does it? Wired magazine has finally dug the dirt and ripped the lid off of Santa, Inc.

NORAD Tracks Santa. NORAD has been doing this for years and has recently upgraded to a real-time version integrated with GoogleEarth and live video.

For The Audiophile:

Vintage Christmas Wax. SAM is all about independent and new music and there is nothing more "indie" than these cleaned up .mp3s of old wax canister versions of classic Christmas songs. You never heard the Edison (as in Thomas Alva Edison) Mixed Quartet sing "O Come All Ye Faithful"? Here is your chance.

Sara Bareilles. Not all that Christmas-y but if you like Norah Jones you will likely like Ms. Bareilles.

For The Historian:

Christmas At War. The Imperial War Museum has put together a very interesting online exhibit of a number of stories and images of Christmas at War. Once you have finished with this exhibit, I recommend you check out the rest of this detailed site.

For The New Year:

Writing Proper Thank-You Notes. Excellent outline for doing what we know needs to be done.

Beating The Little Hater. A little hip-hop motivational lecture for the New Year from IllDoctrine.

Getting Back To School, Work Or Both: Find the best seats on every plane, every airline.

In-Flight Fitness Guide. The American Physical Therapy Association comes to the rescue with this series of tips for keeping yourself loose and healthy on long flights.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Getting More Use Out Of MS Outlook ( has a good post about how to get more out MS's Outlook by making it easier to collaborate. There are tools here for college students, professionals and just people who want to get more out of this nearly ubiquitous tool.

Friday, December 21, 2007

4 Minute History Lesson On Saudi Arabia (YouTube) highlights the potential value of the opening four minutes to the recently released movie, "The Kingdom", as a pretty good summary of recent Saudi history. I am no Saudi historian so I will leave it to the experts to decide. If you find it as compelling as I did and if it is reasonably accurate, it might be a useful snippet for a terrorism class:

Excellent African Map Source (Le Monde Diplomatique)

Le Monde Diplomatique has an excellent online collection of maps here. While all of the maps look good, I was particularly impressed with the ones on Africa (located about halfway down the webpage). Most are quite detailed and require little more than a high school knowledge of French (and a working knowledge of the area) to translate. Some, such as this amazing map of Sub-Saharan Africa from 2004, are even in English.

... And Bad News In Afghanistan (SENLIS)

I have to say up front that I am not familiar with the SENLIS Council. I stumbled on its November, 2007 report, "Stumbling Into Chaos: Afghanistan On The Brink" (Download full report here) by accident. The organization advertises itself as: "... an international policy think tank with country offices in Kabul, London, Ottawa, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Brussels. The Council’s work encompasses foreign policy, security, development, and counter-narcotics policies, and aims to provide innovative analysis and proposals within these areas." Further research into its Board Of Advisors and recent activities also suggest that it is, at least, reasonably reputable.

The report (and the SENLIS website) is certainly worth reviewing. While the tone set by the title is often mirrored in the text, there are numerous excellent graphs and pictures based, presumably, on primary source info collected by SENLIS (I particularly appreciate the picture of the "Taliban Passport" and the chart showing the increase in the price of weapons in southern Afghanistan in 2007).

Highlights from the summary include (Boldface in original but italics are mine):

  • "The Taliban has proven itself to be a truly resurgent force. Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt; research undertaken by Senlis Afghanistan indicates that 54 per cent of Afghanistan’s landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan, and is subject to frequent hostile activity by the insurgency."
  • "The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries. The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply. The insurgency also exercises a significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change."
  • "The depressing conclusion is that, despite the vast injections of international capital flowing into the country, and a universal desire to ‘succeed’ in Afghanistan, the state is once again in serious danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban."
  • "Of particular concern is the apparent import of tactics perfected in Iraq. The emboldened Taliban insurgency is employing such asymmetric warfare tactics as suicide bombings and roadside bombs, causing numerous casualties both among the civilian population and the international and national security forces." (Compare with this report. Is it possible that bin Laden has read Sun Tzu, too?)
  • "Increased lawlessness and lack of government control in the border areas with Pakistan are directly and indirectly fueling the insurgency through the flow of new recruits, a stable financial and operational support base and ideological influence inspired by Al-Qaeda. With limited ground troops and facing a massive resistance, Afghan security forces supported by NATO-ISAF are struggling to contain the return of the Taliban."
In addition to this report by SENLIS, those interested in Afghanistan might also be interested in this map posted to the Intellibriefs blog. Caveat: Unlike SENLIS, the accuracy of the sources of the information in the Intellibriefs map is much more difficult to determine.

Mixed News On Al Qaeda And Iraq... (CRS)

Secrecy News just picked up and posted the newly updated CRS report on "Iraq and Al Qaeda" (Download the full text here). While the report does not provide any solid answers on the current level of Al Qaeda activity in Iraq or the the degree to which it is tied to Bin Laden, it does do a good job of laying out the history and arguments on all sides. Highlights from the summary and full text include (Boldface is mine):

  • "Although the connections between Ansar al-Islam and Saddam Hussein’s regime were subject to debate, the organization apparently did evolve into what is now known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I). AQ-I has been a key component of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency that frustrated U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, but there is debate about how large and significant a component of overall violence was carried out by AQ-I. In mid-late 2007, in part facilitated by combat conducted by additional U.S. forces sent to Iraq as part of a “troop surge,” the U.S. military has had some success exploiting differences between AQ-I and Iraqi Sunni political, tribal, and insurgent leaders. These successes, which in some cases have resulted in the virtual expulsion of AQ-I from many of its sanctuaries particularly in and around Baghdad, have weakened AQ-I to the point where some U.S. commanders believe they have achieved “victory” over AQ-I. However, the most senior U.S. commanders believe it has not been completely defeated and remains dangerous, and some U.S. commanders assert that AQ-I fighters have relocated to parts of northern Iraq."
  • "Analysis of the broader implications of AQ-I might depend on the degree to which AQ-I is in contact with the remaining leadership of the Al Qaeda organization as it has evolved since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. That relationship remains a subject of debate among experts."
  • "... perhaps the most controversial question about AQ-I is the degree to which it is linked, if at all, to the central leadership of Al Qaeda as represented by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, both of whom are widely believed to be hiding in areas of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan."
  • "... on July 24, 2007, President Bush devoted a speech almost exclusively to this issue. In making an argument that AQ-I is closely related to Al Qaeda’s central leadership, the President noted the following details, including:"
    • "In 2004, Zarqawi formally joined Al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden"
    • "In line with the increasing AQ-I efforts to cooperate with Iraqi Sunni insurgents, most of AQ-I’s fighters and some of its leaders are Iraqi."
    • "That AQ-I is the only insurgent group in Iraq “with stated ambitions to make the country a base for attacks outside Iraq.” Referring to the November 9, 2005, terrorist attacks on hotels in Zarqawi’s native Jordan, President Bush said AQ-I “dispatched terrorists who bombed a wedding reception in Jordan.”
  • "Some experts believe that links between Al Qaeda’s central leadership and AQ-I are tenuous, at best, and that the few operatives linking the two do not demonstrate an ongoing, substantial relationship."
  • "Still others maintain that there is little evidence that AQ-I seeks to attack broadly outside Iraq, and that those incidents that have taken place have been in Jordan, where Zarqawi might have wanted to try to undermine King Abdullah II, whom Zarqawi opposed as too close to the United States. There have been no attacks in mid-late 2007 that can be directly attributed to AQ-I."

Good News In Iraq... (Report To Congress)

The DOD issued its tenth quarterly report on "Measuring Security and Stability In Iraq" (Download the full text here). The news seems pretty good on this front. Highlights include:

  • "There has been significant security progress, momentum in reconciliation at the local and provincial levels and economic progress. However substantial the security progress made since the last report, sustained and durable progress depends on further progress in attaining political and economic objectives."
  • "The “tribal awakening” movement has grown as an increasing number of sheikhs—Sunni and Shi’a—have chosen to stop resisting the Coalition."
  • "The number of security incidents has fallen significantly and is now at levels last seen in the summer of 2005. Although ethno-sectarian violence continues to be a concern, overall civilian casualties, enemy attacks and total improvised explosive device attacks have decreased markedly over the reporting period. For example, the number of high-profile attacks in Iraq declined by over 50% since March 2007."
  • "While the GoI’s lack of progress on key legislation has been disappointing and has hindered “top-down” reconciliation, “bottom-up” reconciliation initiatives gained momentum as tribal and local outreach efforts expanded during this quarter."
  • "The Iraqi economy continues to improve and overcome many challenges to stability and growth. Estimated nominal gross domestic product (GDP) is US$60.9 billion. Real GDP will increase by an estimated 6.3% in 2007 as growth in the non-oil sector continues. The inflation rate has continued to decline due to the Central Bank of Iraq’s tight monetary policy implemented through appreciation of the Iraqi dinar. Year-on-year headline inflation as of October 2007 is 20.4%, which is down from 52.8% one year ago and year-to-date inflation is 4.2%."
  • "The key to long-term success will be the GoI’s ability to capitalize upon local gains, pass key legislation and promote national reconciliation."
The report contains a number of useful charts and graphs like the one below that indicates that the perception among Iraqis of the level of insecurity in the country is worse than the reality:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Finding Weaknesses In Jihadist Propaganda (Monograph)

Major Timothy King recently published a monograph through the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Army's Command and General Staff College titled, "Finding Weakness In Jihadist Propaganda." Using a comparative case study method, MAJ King looks at Communist China and finds the techniques used there "has striking similarities to the current Jihadist social revolution".

Highlights from the abstract and the text include:

  • "Despite the advantages of globalized communications, the Jihadists do not “own” the battlefield. They are effectively using the battleground (television, internet, satellite TV) but pale in comparison to America’s potential. Today, America does little to compete with the Jihadists in the realm of information operations. America can win the war of ideology on the information battlefield should it ever decide to compete."
  • "Osama Bin Laden has “hijacked” the neorevivalist ideology by omitting the original egalitarian (albeit utopian) motivation. Their strategy is reliant on violence; it may serve in the short term as emotional gratification but it fails to return Islam to preeminence."
  • "The fact that there is not an undisputed unified leader of the Jihad should be exploited."
  • "Alternative ideologies such as the idea of “Islamic Democracy” exist and should be co-opted into a new ideology that receives the support from legitimate governments worldwide."
  • "The Jihadist military is its strongest entity but it lacks a legitimate government to retain political gains of military action. The Jihadists lack the governmental institutions the guarantee a continuance of change."
  • "Education, now that it has started, is difficult to stop or contain. Globalized communications allow Muslims unprecedented access to legitimate information as well as propaganda. Our task is to enable those Muslims to access information easily through language barriers and infrastructure.'
  • "The use of television programming, traditional and satellite open a “free speech” zone where the Jihadists have taken the initiative. With American help, modern Islamic television can broadcast high quality programming that promotes peaceful modernization."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hizballah, Deception And The 2006 Summer War (Thesis)

The CARL has just uploaded an NPS thesis that should be of interest to anyone studying either Hizballah or deception. Highlights from the abstract include (Boldface mine):

  • "This paper will demonstrate that Hizballah, fighting an asymmetric conflict with Israel, used deception very effectively in their defense of southern Lebanon during the 2006 Summer War; this use of deception significantly offset many of Israel’s hard power advantages. It will also show that Hizballah’s use of information technologies greatly enhanced their ability to wield deception."

How To Reform Intelligence Reform (Testimony)

Robert Hutchings, Diplomat in Residence at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and formerly the Director of the NIC, recently testified before Congress regarding the state of intelligence reform. In what has to be one of the bluntest reports on record, Hutchings lays out his problems with recent reform efforts and outlines five recommendations for "reforming the reform". It is compelling testimony with a number of surprising insights that make this a "must read". Highlights include (Boldface and italics are mine):

  • "Let me first preview my bottom line: namely, that the organizational changes that led to the creation of the office of the DNI were undertaken without addressing the other aspects of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. The result, I fear, may leave us worse off rather than better."
  • "The pre-war debate was never about the intelligence but about the policy. Yet the policymakers who launched the war and the members of Congress who voted for it, chose to blame it all on faulty intelligence. Neither the 9/11 Commission nor the WMD Commission addressed the failures of policy, which were vastly more serious than anything the intelligence community did or failed to do."
  • "Democrats attacked the intelligence community to get at the president; Republicans attacked it to protect him. What both sides agreed on was to stick it to the intelligence community."
  • "Let me hasten to add that the intelligence community did and does need reform. But these reforms were debated in the worst possible climate for sound judgment."
  • "This idea is also tied up with what I call the “coordination myth”: namely, that it is somehow possible to “coordinate” the work of hundreds of thousands of people across dozens of agencies operating in nearly every country of the world. Anyone who has worked in complex organizations knows, or should know, that it is possible to coordinate only a few select activities and that there are always tradeoffs, because every time you coordinate some activities you are simultaneously weakening coordination among others."
  • With those thoughts in mind, let me offer five suggestions for intelligence reform, none of which entail further organizational change.
    • First, fix the “demand” side of the problem.
      • In 2004, when I was Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, we produced a bleak assessment of the Iraqi insurgency that incurred presidential wrath when it leaked to the New York Times. But the real story was that the President hadn’t read it – not even the one-page “Presidential Summary”! (This is the second time this has been brought up in the last week. See With Spies Like These for the previous reference).
      • This is not a marketplace in which intelligence products have any intrinsic value; they are freely and routinely ignored.
    • Second and relatedly, create an interagency strategic planning group.
      • Interagency planning may seem obvious, but it does not happen because administrations do not want it. Individual departments certainly do not: they want their own pet projects held close until the last possible moment rather than having them run up against the competing ideas of other departments.
    • Third, strengthen Congressional oversight, as the 9/11 Commission recommended.
      • In the past year or so there have been two National Intelligence Estimates on terrorism – with quite alarming findings. But to my knowledge no Congressional hearings on those estimates have occurred. On the second of those estimates, concerning threats to the homeland, General Hayden said (at the Council on Foreign Relations) that 70% of the information came from detainee interrogations. This is worrying for two reasons: it shows how poor our penetration of terrorist networks still is, and this dependency on (often dated) detainee information can turn into a circular argument for continuing our disastrous detainee policy. Have there been Congressional hearings to look into this?
    • Fourth, accentuate the strategic coordinating role of the DNI and de-emphasize the centralization of operational functions.
      • Let me focus on the very first of the 33 “enabling objectives” of the 500-day plan – to formalize a “National Intelligence University.” I think I know what a university is. What the IC intends is not one; it is a training center. Calling it a university is a triumph of form over substance.
    • This then leads to my fifth and final recommendation: begin the evolutionary process of changing the culture of intelligence.
      • This will entail a radical re-conceptualization of what “intelligence” is and should be. We have moved from an era in which clandestinely acquired information accounted for a large chunk of what we needed to know (or thought we needed to know) into one in which our “secrets” count for relatively little for most of the issues that affect our national well-being. (Again, see With Spies Like These... for a recent reference to this same issue).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Islamic Justifications For The Use Of Armed Force (Dissertation)

Fazal Mohammed Hassan wrote his dissertation (back in 2005 -- so excuse me if you have already seen it) on "Ending Oppression And Establishing Justice: Examples From Islamic History Of Select Muslims And Islamist Groups Justifying The Use Of Armed Force" while at Florida State University. I have not had time to read it in detail (and do not pretend to be an expert in this area) but I found the sections I skimmed generally well-organized and useful, if only for its substantial use of primary sources. Also useful were the author's perspectives on the roots of justified violence in Islam and the detailed discussion of key, modern Islamic figures (including bin Laden and al-Zawahiri). Highlights from the abstract (the full text is 238 pages) include:

  • "This dissertation examines the justification for using armed force throughout Islam’s history. Special emphasis will be made to the following three terms, harb, jihad, and qital. These three words translate into war, struggle, and fight respectively."
  • "It is the main thesis of this work that violence committed in the name of God by Muslims throughout Islam’s history is based upon the need to end oppression and establish justice."
  • "Though this topic has gained momentum since the events of 9/11, it is the intention of this work to show that using armed force is not new, but a political instrument used to establish Shari’ah or Islamic law. The term “political” is used because for most Muslims, including all those mentioned in this dissertation, believe that Islam is not just a personal belief system, like most in the West believe, but an ideology that is to be used for all times and for all facets of life."
According to the bio sketch in the dissertation, Hassan was born in Bangalore, India and has received a bachelors in Sociology, a Masters in Asian Studies and his Ph.D. in Humanities (in 2006). indicates he is currently at Florida International University, though he is not listed in the faculty directory there.

Domestic Counterterror Roundup (RAND, CRS)

Two good reports that should be of interest to the domestic counterterror/homeland security crowd in the feeds over the last several days. The first is by RAND and is titled, "Securing America's Passenger-Rail Systems". While the report is focused on domestic rail systems, I found the methodology used by the authors to be worth a closer look. They state, and I agree, that it could be extended to other areas of research concerning infrastructure. Highlights include (Boldface is mine):

  • "Even though there have been no successful attacks on rail systems in the United States recently, the FBI and local police departments have thwarted several planned attacks against the New York subway system alone. The use of passenger rail and the frequency with which terrorists target it call for a commitment to analyzing and improving rail security in the United States."
  • "...we found that the most prevalent terrorist threat to rail systems comes from bombings, that most terrorist attacks on rail systems produce few fatalities and injuries, and that attacks in densely packed rail cars and interior rail-facility locations are of particular concern because of the casualties they can produce."
  • "In addition, given the damage associated with a relatively small number of large attacks, security measures that prevent only the largest-scale attacks could significantly reduce the human costs associated with this threat."
  • "The vulnerability assessment identified 11 potential target locations (e.g., system operation and power infrastructure) within a notional rail system and eight potential attack modes (e.g., small explosives). These targets and attack modes were combined to produce 88 different attack scenarios of concern."
  • "We identified 17 security-improvement options (SIOs) within three broad categories: (1) process-based improvements (e.g., implementing enhanced security training), (2) technology-based alternatives (e.g., using portable [handheld] detection systems), and (3) infrastructure and facility modifications (e.g., installing blast-resistant containers)...The 17 security measures were rated for their incremental impact at each layer, as well as to their potential system-level contribution across layers."
  • "Thus, we can predict with near certainty that terrorist-attack patterns will change in the future, though we cannot predict with much certainty precisely how those changes will be manifested. Given this uncertainty, rail-security systems must be designed to be responsive to potential changes in attack patterns, and the consequent impact on the relative effectiveness of the security portfolio must be reevaluated periodically."
The second report is from CRS and is titled "Terrorism and Security Issues Facing the Water Infrastructure Sector". This report is much less reassuring. Reading it in conjunction with the RAND study on rails makes me hope that RAND will apply their method to the water system as well. It might help Congress focus a bit more usefully. Highlights include (Boldface and italics are mine):
  • "There are no federal standards or agreed upon industry best practices within the water infrastructure sector to govern readiness, response to security incidents, and recovery. Efforts to develop protocols and tools are ongoing since the 2001 terrorist attacks."
  • "A key issue is how additional protections and resources directed at public and private sector priorities will be funded. In response, Congress has provided $789 million in appropriations for security at water infrastructure facilities (to assess and protect federal facilities and support vulnerability assessments by non-federal facilities) and passed a bill requiring drinking water utilities to conduct security vulnerability assessments (P.L. 107-188). When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 (P.L. 107-297), it gave DHS responsibilities to coordinate information to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure, including the water sector. Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive-7, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lead federal agency for protecting drinking water and wastewater utility systems." (Interesting. Anyone know how much experience EPA has with terrorism or physical security issues in general?)
  • "Recent congressional interest has focused on bills concerning security of wastewater utilities. In the 109th Congress, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved legislation to encourage wastewater treatment works to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop site security plans (S. 2781), but there was no further action on this bill. Similar legislation has been introduced in the 110th Congress (S. 1968)."
The chart below is taken directly from the CRS report and includes appropriations to the Department of Energy (DOE), Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the Army Corps of Engineers (COE).

Monday, December 17, 2007

One Stop Shopping; Current US National Strategies

Mike Yared ( posted a great list of many (if not all) of the current US strategy documents available on the web on Michigan State's H-WAR listserve last week and has kindly allowed me to cross post them here (Thanks Mike and Steve!):

Current U.S. National Strategies

National Strategy for Homeland Security July 2002 White House Office of
Homeland Security

National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace February 2003 White House

National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructure and
Key Assets February 2003 White House

National Military Strategy February 2004 (March 2005?) Joint Chiefs of Staff

National Defense Strategy March 2005 (April 2005?) Office of the Secretary
of Defense

National Intelligence Strategy October 2005 Office of the Director of
National Intelligence

National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza November 2005 Homeland Security

National Strategy for Victory in Iraq November 2005 National Security

National Military Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction February
2006 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism February 2006
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

National Strategy for Combating Terrorism September 2006 National Security

The National Security Strategy

National Counterintelligence Strategy March 2007 Office of the Director of
National Intelligence

With Spies Like These... (Washington Post)

Many people believe that the lack of human intelligence resources, among other things, led to the US intelligence community's mistaken belief that Iraq still had WMDs. Since then, there has been a good deal written about and apparently done to increase the US's clandestine capability.

It is this conventional wisdom that is going to make this Washington Post editorial so controversial. The author, Joseph Weisberg, believes that such spies, even if they existed, "wouldn't have made any difference."

Other highlights:

  • "Ever since the inception of the CIA, the operational side of the agency has both believed in and spread the fantasy that foreign agents can provide vital secret intelligence that will clear up great mysteries, change the outcome of wars or prevent terrorist attacks. But this view of intelligence is a myth."
  • "Intelligence from almost all CIA assets is unreliable for the simple reason that so many of them are double agents, meaning that the CIA recruited them but that they are being controlled by their own countries' intelligence services."
  • "This does not mean that there isn't some useful intelligence to be gleaned from various human sources -- just that these sources aren't always going to be recruited agents and that they aren't going to prevent terrorist attacks or change the outcome of wars."
Related posts:

In Praise Of Open Source
Nada Nadim Prouty: Inevitable

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests And The Role Of The U.S. Military In Africa (CRS)

The CRS has just published a new background brief on AFRICOM for the members of Congress. The report contains a good outline of the US's strategic interests in Africa, DOD's current proposal for the new command and a list of oversight issues for Congress as well as a good bit of background info including an annex on the 42 (!) instances of US armed forces intervention in Africa since 1950.

Here are some other highlights (Boldface and italics are mine):

  • "In recent years, analysts and U.S. policymakers have noted Africa’s growing strategic importance to U.S. interests. Among those interests are Africa’s role in the Global War on Terror and potential threats posed by uncontrolled spaces; the growing importance of Africa’s natural resources, particularly energy resources; and ongoing concern for Africa’s many humanitarian crises, armed conflicts, and more general challenges, such as the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS."
  • "DOD has signaled its intention to eventually locate AFRICOM on the continent, and U.S officials are consulting with strategic partners in the region to identify a suitable location for the command’s headquarters. The new command will operate from Stuttgart, Germany until facilities in Africa are secured. DOD has stressed that there are no plans to have a significant troop presence on the continent."
  • "The 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa highlighted the threat of terrorism to U.S. interests on the continent. Political instability and civil wars have created vast ungoverned spaces, areas in which some experts allege that terrorist groups may train and operate. Instability also heightens human suffering and retards economic development, which may in turn threaten U.S. economic interests. Africa recently surpassed the Middle East as the United States’ largest supplier of crude oil, further emphasizing the continent’s strategic importance." (Yoikes!)

The Professional Communications Toolkit (SAGE)

Presentation skills are incredibly important for intelligence professionals. It is not by chance that the item tagged in this blog the most so far has been "presentation". You have to be smart to be in intelligence but coupling those smarts with excellent briefing skills can help take you far.

I received an email the other day that pointed me to an interesting book, The Professional Communications Toolkit by Joel Whalen (Thanks, Pat!). I skimmed the three chapters available online and all were worth the time and the rest of the book seems equally valuable. As always, the notes in italics are mine.

Chapter 1 - Effective Communication: Its Not About You


  • "Effective communication happens in the mind of the person who receives your message, not in your mind."
  • "When you get a meaningful thought, a part of your brain called the limbic system activates (Gershon, 1999). A surge of neurotransmitters is produced that resonates with cousin-receptors residing in your gut. Literally, your gut—from the back of your throat, down your esophagus, through your stomach and intestines—is lined with the same type of receptors that compose your brain."
  • "Your listeners believe what you’re saying is important and true, not just because they think you make “sense.” Their bodies work with the cerebral cortex to form 'Felt Sense'. The Felt Sense feeling tells them that what you’re saying is the truth."

Chapter 3 - The Power and Limitations of Speaking

Highlights (Some interesting explanations of recent neurological research here as well):
  • "The most typical result of communication is miscommunication. Each communication results in a different meaning in the speaker’s mind and the listener’s mind. So, if you’re thinking “people don’t always understand me when I need them to,” you’re in good company."
  • "Repetition does not work—You may have been taught that repetition aids memory. Advertising people are advised to repeat their ideas three times in a commercial. I’ve learned that repetition does not get your listener to remember. What does aid memory, every time, is things said first, last, and sensory-rich messages."
  • "What is always forgotten—The demonstrators forget numbers, names, and other details. They also don’t remember any sequence of events. If a story has four steps, people forget the order of when things happen. When you speak, you create a sense that things happen simultaneously, in flashes."

Chapter 5 - Managing Communication Anxiety

Highlights (Lots of good tips here for managing your fears when you have to speak in public):
  • "When you get speech anxiety, your pulse soars to intense levels, as it does during heavy physical exercise. After 3 to 5 minutes, your body begins to slow down, and your pulse drops dramatically to 90 to 100 beats per minute (bpm)."
  • "It’s as if you’re temporarily insane."
  • "Some anxiety is good (See chart below).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In Praise Of Open Source (Wired and Haft Of The Spear)

Michael Tanji of Haft of The Spear and Wired's The Danger Room, has posted a good explanation (and a little history) of the value of open source intelligence.

My own thoughts run close to his but I have a few additional ideas that I think are worth considering. First, when most people think of open sources, they think of the internet and all of the information that is now available. This thought, particularly among some of those of a certain generation, it typically followed by the thought that you can't believe any of it; that little or none of it is credible.

That, of course, is just plain false.

The truth is that there is a vast and growing body of highly credible open source information available through the internet and countless other open sources. To get it you need to be trained in how to use the tools of the trade and be well equipped with critical thinking and critical reading skills. Several good academic libraries -- such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Cal Berkeley -- have taken up the challenge and posted a good set of guidelines for assessing source reliability on the internet.

Second, open source information is just a small part of what open source intelligence can do. Adding a complete analytic capability to the wealth of open source information creates a powerful tool for assisting decisionmaking. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Alternative Analysis. The recent CRS report highlighted the potential value of conducting an open source review in addition to a classified review of important intelligence questions. First, such a document would be a worthy test of the classified intelligence. Second, if the analysis was consistent with the classified view, then the open source version could be used to ensure that the estimate received the widest possible dissemination (highly classified documents often come with so many bureaucratic obstacles to using the intelligence that they may not be read at all). If the open source analysis was not consistent with the classified view (i.e. the classified view not only passed the test but was clearly better), then it would help justify the 43.5 billion dollar US intelligence budget.
  • Stretching Limited Resources. Even with a 43.5 billion dollar budget, it is still a big world. That money can run out very quickly and many parts of the world get little if any coverage. For a fraction of the cost of most classified operations, the intelligence community could contract with academia (yeah!) and other commercial vendors to track important but unresourced intelligence requirements. Such a program would also go a long way toward supporting the intelligence studies programs starting up across the country.
    • Some would say that the community already does this through its own, very capable OpenSource Center and by contracting with such vendors as Janes, Stratfor, Oxford Analytica, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the amazing Australian telecoms research firm, While these services are very, very good, what I have in mind is different. I am talking about a fully loaded intelligence system that is capable of both watching and producing routine analytic products in its assigned requirements but also of surging to meet short term demands. Such a system, consisting of a series of centers around the country would not cost much but would add perspective and diversity to the intelligence analysis equation and could respond to a much wider variety of decisionmakers including law enforcement, businesses, non-governmental organizations and even private citizens.
  • Providing A Starting Place. Classified systems, by their nature, have to keep intelligence collection operations focused and intelligence products in restricted channels. Open source can cast a wider net. Particularly useful in a crisis, analysts using just open source information can rapidly build a useful conceptual model upon which, at a minimum, other analysts can layer classified intelligence to add nuance.
  • Take Maximum Advantage of Technology. There was a day when the intelligence community had the latest technology. That advantage is all but gone. In fact, because of security requirements, today's technology often comes to analysts very late and is often very expensive. Open source, in this environment, is very nimble. It can test and adopt new technologies quickly and can evolve to meet new challenges with the latest tools.
These are reasons for the intelligence community to push the boundaries of what we can do with open sources today, while the classical view of intelligence is still considered relevant. The future, whether the current crop of intelligence professionals sees it, believes it or understands it, belongs to open source.

Finding Key Words In Video/Audio (MIT)

MIT has posted a neat piece of web -based code designed to search its growing library of free lectures. There doesn't seem to be too many lectures of interest to the intelligence community so far but I only did a cursory search. The interface is worth a look, however, as it is very slick. I suspect that the database will only get better with time.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gladwell On The Value Of Learning Like A Marine (YouTube)

Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and The Tipping Point) recently spoke at the 92 St. YMCA in New York City. His talk centered on some recent writing he had done but he touches, in this clip, upon the value of treating education the way the Marines treat training rather than the way modeling agencies treat models. It is only about 4 minutes but worth it.

What Do Che Guevara And The CIA Have In Common? (COIN: CARL)

They have both written manuals on staging a revolution! The good people at the Combined Arms Research Library have made available online both Guevara's 1961 text, "Guerrilla Warfare" (direct download here) and the CIA's 1984 book used by the Contras titled, "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare" (direct download here).

The two texts overlap only in areas. Guevara's book is a more complete manual for the revolutionary while the CIA text is more about crafting the message of the revolutionary forces. There are, however, a number of interesting sections that will resonate with today's COIN specialists. I found Guevara's section on intelligence (which he begins with a quote from Sun Tzu: Know yourself and your adversary and you will be able to fight a hundred battles without a single disaster.) to be the most interesting. Here are a few highlights:

  • "Nothing gives more help to combatant forces than correct information. This arrives spontaneously from the local inhabitants, who will come to tell its friendly army, its allies, what is happening in various places; but in addition it should be completely systematized."
  • "Men and women, especially women, should infiltrate; they should be in permanent contact with soldiers and gradually discover what there is to be discovered."
  • "The peasants, not accustomed to precise battle language, have a strong tendency to exaggerate, so their reports must be checked."
The CIA manual contains a number of interesting nuggets as well:
  • "Every member of the struggle should know that his political mission is as important as, if not more important than, his tactical mission."
  • "Armed propaganda in small towns, rural villages, and city residential districts should give the impression that our weapons are not for exercising power over the people, but rather that the weapons are for protecting the people..."
  • "Cover ("Facade") Organizations. The fusion of several organizations and associations recognized by the government, through internal subjective control, occurs in the final stages of the operation, in close cooperation with mass meetings."
  • "Control Of Mass Demonstrations. The mixture of elements of the struggle with participants in the demonstration will give the appearance of a spontaneous demonstration, lacking direction, which will be used by the agitators of the struggle to control the behavior of the masses."
  • "Too often we see guerrilla warfare only from the point of view of combat actions. This view is erroneous and extremely dangerous. Combat actions are not the key to victory in guerrilla warfare but rather form part of one of the six basic efforts. There is no priority in any of the efforts, but rather they should progress in a parallel manner. The emphasis or exclusion of any of these efforts could bring about serious difficulties, and in the worst of cases, even failure. The history of revolutionary wars has shown this reality."
By far, my favorite part of this text, however, is in the appendix which seeks to acquaint the revolutionary with the rhetorical practices of anaphora, prolepsis and preterition (among others). You kinda have to see it to believe it...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

SAM Afghan Edition, Part II (IEDs In Iraq And Afghanistan: CRS)

IEDs are well known in Iraq but I have not seen as much concerning their use in Afghanistan. This recent report from the CRS gives some insight into IED use in both places and some of the countermeasure initiatives currently under way.

Highlights from the text include:

  • "Improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs, roadside bombs, and suicide car bombs, have caused over 70% of all American combat casualties in Iraq and 50% of combat casualties in Afghanistan, both killed and wounded."
  • "In Afghanistan, the IED munitions supply is supported by funds from an expanding opium trade."
  • "However, DOD officials have also stated that in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters have increased both the number and lethality of their IED attacks."
  • "DOD has found that insurgents build and deploy IEDs by using networks that, for centuries in Afghanistan and Iraq, have formed the sinews of commerce and survival for tribes and factions. A typical IED terrorist cell consists of six to eight people, including a financier, bomb maker, emplacer, triggerman, spotter, and often a cameraman. Videos of exploding U.S. vehicles and dead Americans are distributed via the Internet to win new supporters."
  • "Threat data about IEDs is tightly controlled by DOD to avoid giving feedback to the enemy about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of different IED designs. Also, proprietary rights must be protected for those companies who produce IED countermeasures. However, these controls may sometimes limit access by other companies to important information about the effectiveness of anti-IED systems as they are tested or used in battle."

SAM Afghan Edition, Part I (RAND)

There are two good reports on Afghanistan in my feeds this morning. The first is by Dr. Seth Jones from RAND and Georgetown University and contains testimony dated December, 2007 regarding the state of the Afghan insurgency given to Canada's Senate. You can download the full text here. I will try to get the second report out later today.

The assessment is fairly grim in the details but provides some concrete suggestions for the way ahead. Here are some of the highlights (Boldface, notes, italics and hyperlinks are mine):

  • "The evidence I have collected from repeated trips to Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007 indicates that there is an increasingly violent insurgency that threatens the country. It includes a range of insurgent groups, such as the Taliban, the Haqqani network (Note: Operates in the Fata region of Pakistan. For a complete tribal breakdown of the region click here), foreign fighters (including al Qaeda), Hezb-i-Islami, criminal organizations, and some allied tribes and sub-tribes. The overall number of insurgent-initiated attacks increased by 400 percent from 2002 to 2006, and the number of deaths from these attacks increased over 800 percent during the same period."
  • "Provinces that I could drive to only a few months ago, such as Wardak and Lowgar, are now off limits except to those willing to gamble with their lives."
  • "As one senior NATO official told me, NATO and Afghan forces control at most 20 percent of southern Afghanistan. The rest is controlled by Taliban or a range of sub-state groups."
  • "The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan significantly impacts the national security of NATO countries, including Canada. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border region is the headquarters of al Qaeda, which is in some ways a more competent international terrorist organization than it was on September 11, 2001."
  • "What explains the insurgency in Afghanistan that now engulfs roughly half the country? 'The answer is simple,” one senior Afghan government official told me in October 2007. 'The people are losing faith in the government. Our security forces cannot protect local villages, and our institutions struggle to deliver basic services.'"
  • "At its core, the insurgency in Afghanistan is not about religion, as some mistakenly believe...In general, the problem is not that most Afghans inherently support the Taliban. It is that patience with the Afghan government is wearing thin...Indeed, the primary challenge in Afghanistan is one of governance."
  • "Perhaps the most basic governance challenge in Afghanistan is security."
  • "Another major challenge is corruption. Afghans have become increasingly frustrated with national and local government officials who are viewed as corrupt and self-serving."
  • "Afghanistan has also faced challenges from outside actors, which have undermined governance. The first is a limited NATO role."
  • "Unfortunately, there are no short-term solutions to Afghanistan’s challenges. Research that the RAND Corporation has done indicates that it takes an average of 14 years for governments to defeat insurgent groups. Many also end in a draw, with neither side winning.Insurgencies can also have long tails: approximately 25 percent of insurgencies won by the government and 11 percent won by insurgents lasted more than 20 years."
  • "This does not mean, however, that Canada or other NATO countries need to – or should – win the insurgency for Afghans. Quite the reverse. While outside actors often play an important role, victory is usually a function of the struggle between the local government and insurgents."
  • "This means that Canada and other NATO countries can be helpful in assisting the Afghan government. Four steps may be helpful."
    • "1. Remove from power and prosecute key individuals involved in corruption and criminal activity, including Afghan government officials."
    • "2. Increase NATO and Afghan National Army resources in the south."
    • "3. Establish a regional approach to Afghanistan, including countering the sanctuary in Pakistan."
    • 4. Establish an institutional arrangement to improve international cooperation.
  • "Afghanistan is not hopeless. To be fair, NATO operations have had mixed success thus far. But the insurgency will ultimately be won or lost in the rural areas of Afghanistan, not in the cities. Success in ending the insurgency will take time and sufficient resources. It would be a tragedy if the naysayers in Canada succeeded in reducing their country’s commitment."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New, Simple Prediction Market Tool (

Prediction markets have been around for a long time and I have mentioned them here briefly before. Fundamentally, they operate like futures markets (some would say gambling establishments). In the simplest version of these systems, people essentially place bets on what the future will bring. The person who gets closest wins. In more complex systems, people can actually buy and sell the "bets".

The idea is that, if you have enough people involved, the going price will converge, over time, on the correct price. Of course, anything can be "valued" this way and probably the most famous predictive markets are the Iowa Electronic Markets. They have run a market on who will win the presidential election (among others) for a number of years and have been very successful at predicting the results. Currently you can buy futures -- i.e. contracts that will pay a dollar the day after the presidential election -- in the eventual Democratic candidate for about 60 cents and contracts for the eventual Republican candidate for about 40 cents. These prices predict, at this point, a Democratic victory because people are willing to pay more for a Democratic candidate than a Republican candidate while still only getting a dollar after the election.

The US government has played around with this idea (FutureMap was a predictive market idea that was linked to the ill-fated Total Information Awareness program which is a whole other story...) and probably still is in one form or another.

The goal of all these markets is to tap into the collective wisdom of many people to help make accurate predictions concerning the future or at least the odds that certain futures will occur. There are a number of books and papers that touch on this topic right now. The Wisdom of Crowds is one but my favorite is Gut Feelings.

That is a long preface to get to a new predictive market tool available at I have used it to set up a market in oil prices that you can see here. It is an easy way to get input on discrete questions. The team at Predictify help you mold your question and make it more specific in addition to helping you identify the exact source you will use (in my case, to identify the winners and losers. In all, it was painless and I already have over 50 "answers" to my question.

If you are interested in exploring the power of another predictive market, particularly one with a national security focus, see You can search for other predictive markets here. For general information about the prediction market industry (yes, it is an industry) follow the newly formed Prediction Market Industry Association.