Friday, January 4, 2008

The Digital Economy Factbook (The Progress And Freedom Foundation)

The Progress and Freedom Foundation is a "is a market-oriented think tank that promotes innovative policies for the digital age" that is heavily supported by various telecom companies and telecom trade associations and may well be carrying the water for them on a variety of issues. Regardless of the organization's funding or basic purpose, it has recently put together a very useful 188 page Digital Economy Factbook (full text download here) filled with charts, graphs and summaries on virtually everything digital including digital media, electronic commerce and threats to the digital economy with all of it exhaustively endnoted.

The attached chart is taken from the section on threats to the digital economy:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Report On Net Food Importing Countries That Is Far More Interesting Than It Sounds (World Bank)

The World Bank has just published a report titled, "Who Are The Net Food Importing Countries?" that is far more interesting than it sounds. This report (download full text here) has surprising implications for national security and intelligence analysis (particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa). The report is also packed full with data making it something you would probably want to file away for that day when someone asks you "What are the net non-oil imports into Burkina Faso?" Check out these highlights from the conclusion (Boldface and hyperlinks are mine):

  • "This paper shows that while it is true that most low-income countries are net food importers, their imports are negligible, and they have a large trade surplus in other agricultural commodities which can be easily substituted for foods if relative prices change significantly."
  • "Part of the reason for this small food trade deficit is the oil exporters and countries in conflict which have large raw food deficits. If these are excluded, then even low income countries have a surplus in food trade."
  • "While a large number of low-income countries are net food importers, majority of them are net agricultural exporters, and their agricultural trade surplus is almost 5 percent of their imports. If the oil and conflict countries are excluded, the trade surplus increases to 6 percent of imports."
  • "Being a net food importer and an agricultural exporter is especially pronounced in low income SSA."
  • "There are only 3 vulnerable low-income countries, i.e., countries whose net narrow food trade deficit is more than 10 percent of their imports, excluding oil exporters and conflict countries. Of these 3, Benin and Guinea-Bissau export cotton and nuts, respectively, and Senegal exports peanut oil which is not included in our measures."
  • "Low-income countries, excluding the ones in conflict and oil exporters, have moved from a deficit of 1 percent of their imports in 1980/81 for raw food trade, to a surplus of about 1 percent of the imports in 2004/05. SSA countries have not experienced the same transformation."
  • "These results suggest that the almost automatic reaction, that food price increases are bad for low-income countries, needs to be qualified."
  • "On the other hand, there are a group of countries that are experiencing civil conflicts and are large importers of food, and can not easily adjust their production and meet their basic needs. They also need special assistance in the distribution of food within their boundaries."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins (The Revolution Begins On Page Five: The Changing Nature Of The NIE And Its Implications For Intelligence)

Part 1 -- Welcome To The Revolution
Part 2 -- Some History
Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins

The three pages and a paragraph that constitute the sanitized key judgments of the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Trends in Global Terrorism was the first of the recent NIEs that the Director Of National Intelligence (DNI) released at about the same time it was produced. While the reasons for its release are tied to Congressional action, it also likely has to do with a desire to show greater transparency in the face of the withering criticism of the intelligence community over the previous several years and to show that the relatively new DNI position was not just conducting business as usual. That said, the document itself provides no context in which to place either the estimative judgments or the intelligence requirement the NIE addresses.

This was quickly rectified in the next NIE, released in January 2007 and dealing with the issue of prospects for Iraq's stability. Complete with a professionally produced cover sheet, the January 2007 NIE sought to not only explain the roles and functions of the DNI and the NIC but also provide background on the NIE process generally and on the process for preparing this NIE specifically.

The really interesting stuff begins on page five, though. Here is where the authors, and by extension, the intelligence community, explained the terms of art traditionally used in an estimate. In order to do this, the authors had to come to grips with these definitional and theoretical issues themselves. In other professions, such as law or accounting, any discussion of definitions or theory would inevitably tap into the experience of its professionals but also take advantage of a large body of work done by a variety of experts over the years that would have been well documented in judicial opinions, peer-reviewed research papers or approved by standards setting committees.

Such is not the case in intelligence. Most intelligence professionals are practitioners (of one kind or another) and are so busy doing that they have little time (and sometimes little interest) for reflection or codification or other theoretical work. The intelligence studies discipline is relatively new and has had little to work with (notwithstanding the best efforts of the Federation Of American Scientists and the National Security Archive at GW) until very recently. The intelligence community itself has done some work in this area but it has come in fits and starts and to this date there is not even a generally agreed upon definition of intelligence (certainly not one broad enough to cover business and law enforcement intelligence activities as well as national security interests).

Thus, while the explanation of estimative language that accompanies each of the last four publicly available NIEs could be seen as adminis-trivia or, even worse, a sort of CYA, the process of having to explain itself to others actually forced the intelligence community to come to grips with the nature of its profession more quickly than anything in the past 60 years. In a little over a year, likely driven by a genuine desire to do a better job coupled with an intense desire to avoid any more public thrashings at the hands of the legislative branch (or its executive branch masters, for that matter), the intelligence community, with its best analysts on its most important products, has dramatically changed the way it communicates its results to national security policymakers.

By publicly explaining itself, the intelligence community has set precedents – precedents it can repudiate only at the risk of its credibility. Whether the community intended it or not, whether it likes it or not, these public explanations of estimative language begin to define an emerging (and, as I will outline later on, still unfinished) theory of intelligence.

Monday: Part 4 -- Page Five In Detail

Part 2 -- Some History (The Revolution Begins On Page Five: The Changing Nature Of The NIE And Its Implications For Intelligence)

Part 1 – Welcome To The Revolution!
Part 2 -- Some History

While the National Intelligence Council (NIC) publishes some of its research for public consumption, releasing National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), even the key judgments from NIEs, was, up until 2007, virtually unheard of. The intelligence community considers NIEs, which likely contain highly classified information, to be closely guarded secrets and only a handful have been released prior to the ones discussed in this post. These include reports on such topics as SARS, AIDS and Humanitarian Emergencies. While a number of declassified NIEs have been available to researchers (for example, this NIE on Yugoslavia in 1990), the release of an NIE that concerned a current, sensitive issue was, until recently, simply not done.

In some sense though, this recent spate of releases is a natural extension of a process that began several years ago with the 9/11 Commission and the release of another highly classified document, the August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief (“Bin Laden Determined To Strike the United States”) and the WMD Commission’s dissection of the 2002 Iraq WMD NIE. Once policymakers had seen the impact that the release of these documents had on the debate regarding these issues, it was a small step to start demanding the release of a sanitized version of the key judgments for public review while the policy debate was still underway.

In 2006, the NIC, upon the request of Congress, made a version of its assessment regarding the Global War on Terror available and in 2007 the NIC released three additional NIEs on Congress’ request and the Director Of National Intelligence’s (DNI's) order (Prospects For Iraq's Stability and its update plus The Terrorist Threat To the US Homeland). Two other, significantly less well known NIEs from 2002-2003 were also released as part of the Senate’s investigation into prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq. The DNI likely realized that the routine release of NIEs would, to a significant extent, defeat their purpose, i.e. to reduce national security policymakers’ level of uncertainty regarding external factors that could impact US national security issues. As a result, he formulated a policy that explicitly stated that such releases would not become the norm. This did not, however, stop the DNI from releasing the Key Judgments from the Iran NIE several weeks ago.

While the release of NIEs is unlikely to ever become “normal” (The NIC writes many NIEs in a given year and the few released this year likely make up a small fraction of the total number of NIEs completed), the potential for such a release has become the norm. It is this potential for increased Congressional and public scrutiny that is likely the driving factor behind the dramatic and largely positive changes that have taken place over the last 12 months in the way the NIE communicates its estimative conclusions to decisionmakers .

Tomorrow: Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins

The Revolution Begins On Page Five: The Changing Nature Of The NIE And Its Implications For Intelligence (Part 1 -- Welcome To The Revolution)

There has been a good bit of discussion in the press and elsewhere concerning the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program (Click here to download full text). Virtually all of this commentary has focused on the facts, sources and logic – the content – of the estimate.

It is my position that, while the content is fascinating, the most interesting story behind the NIE has to do with the changes in form that this latest NIE has adopted; that what the NIC has said is, in many ways, less interesting than the way it has decided to say it.

The NIE is arguably the highest form of the intelligence art. Typically strategic in scope and focused on only the most important issues of the day, the authors of these documents, located primarily at the National Intelligence Council, are considered to be the best analysts in the US intelligence community. The US intelligence community, with its nearly 50 billion dollar budget and its vast human and technical resources, is, likewise, the undeniable thought leader for the broader intelligence community including the up-and-coming law enforcement and business and competitive intelligence communities. This shift in form, then, implies a new, emerging theory of intelligence – what intelligence is and how to do it – that is likely to influence intelligence communities worldwide. “Emerging”, however, is the key term here. As this and other posts will highlight, the revolution may have begun but it is far from complete.

I suppose the traditional sort of place for this kind of thing is an academic journal but the experimental nature and immediate feedback of the blog format really appeal to me. I particularly like being able to make sources (if they are on the internet and increasingly they are) immediately available to the reader. I am well aware that this intersection between Web 2.0 and academia is largely seen as "service" rather than "scholarship" by most tenure committees but I don’t see how posting this research to a blog precludes cleaning it up and publishing it in a journal later and I suspect such a “finished” article will be better for the comments that it receives in advance of publication. I am also hoping that the bite size chunks inherent in blog writing, published one a day, Monday through Friday, will make it easier for me to write and for you to read…

Tomorrow: Part 2 -- Some History

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from SAM! Having trouble coming up with a meaningful resolution for the new year? Try the Resolution Generator below to come up with a meaningless one, then!

Enjoy the day!

New Year's Resolution Generator

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.