Saturday, February 16, 2008

Visualizing Intelligence Analysis (

Many people are visual learners and with so much multimedia around, it is pretty much inevitable that the forms that intelligence analysis will take in the future will go far beyond the typical written summary and oral brief.

While tailoring the content of intelligence to meet a decisionmaker's preconceptions or desires has always been just plain wrong, tailoring the form to meet the needs of a particular decisionmaker just makes sense. If intelligence is not "accessible" to a decisionmaker, it is likely to be ignored and if it is ignored, it might as well not have been created. After all, the first version of the President's Daily Brief was designed to fit in President Kennedy's shirt pocket (It was called the PICL for "President's Intelligence Checklist" (the people who wrote it worked in the "PICL Factory"). I have also heard that President Reagan asked the intel community to create videos for him to watch, particularly on key leaders but I don't know if that is true).

All of this is by way of introduction to a new online service called The service allows the user to easily create comic-like products using images from or their own images. These products can then be easily embedded into web-pages or blogs.

I gave it a try and you can see the results below. I took Ken Foster's recent article for ISN on Peru and tried to turn it into a one page "comic". It was pretty easy to use the Comiqs search function to find relevant images from Flickr and then very easy to add the text. While this was just a test and I have obviously missed most of Ken's nuance, I am pretty satisfied with the ability of this tool to "translate" one medium into another.

My frustrations with Comiqs stem mostly from the lack of functionality in the current version. There are limited tools for editing pictures and no tool for creating a good quality print version of the comic. Since the product is in beta, it will likely see dramatic improvements in the near term. I certainly hope so. All in all, I found it easy and, well, fun.

I don't say it would work for any type of intelligence product (not sure the PDB guys want to jump on this just yet...) but I could imagine it as a useful tool for certain kinds of intel products for certain kinds of audiences. For example, I could imagine it as a very useful tool for creating training materials for young soldiers (Anyone out there remember PS Magazine?).


michael said...

Hello Kristan,

Thanks for trying Comiqs! The comiq you created certainly looks very interesting and educational. In just a few panels, the intelligence analysis comiq highlights the key points: background situation, main actors, and future events.

Some of the features that you mentioned are indeed missing currently. But as you correctly pointed out, we're still in beta and will be adding the features as we go along.

Do email us about what editing features you think are really useful. We'd love to hear them! :-)

- Comiqs

Anonymous said...

I love this idea! It strikes me that it would be useful for anyone who needs a quick, easily digestible, overview of a given situation. Certainly I can think of a few national leaders that it would be eminently suitable for!

Jim Hoerricks, PhD said...

Great post and thanks for spreading the word on the power of visual evidence.

Jim Hoerricks
Forensic Image Analyst and best selling author of Forensic Photoshop - a comprehensive imaging workflow for forensic professionals.