Friday, September 12, 2008

We -- All Of Us -- Won! (DNI Open Source Conference)

According to the DNI's official blog for the Open Source Conference going on in DC right now, Mercyhurst College had one of the two winning entries in the Conference's Open Source Innovation Challenge!

As most of you already know, the challenge was to tackle one of two analytic questions using only open sources and to do it in one week. The Mercyhurst team consisted of Mike Butler, Ray Wasko, Shannon Ferrucci, Dan Somavilla, Drew Brasfield and Chris Hippner and was sponsored by the Director of the Institute of Intelligence Studies here at Mercyhurst, Bob Heibel. They addressed the question: "Using the best open sources to inform your answer, is Al Qaeda a cohesive organization with strong and centralized control, intent and direction?" The other winning entry came from iJet Intelligent Risk Systems but I don't have any additional details.

The students involved were all unpaid volunteers and gave up their Labor Day holiday and the week before classes started in earnest to participate in the challenge. Their ability to self-organize, manage the collection effort (more on that in a minute), synthesize and analyze the vast amount of information that streamed in and produce an innovative and original document amazed both the faculty and their peers.

(Note to employers: One of the biggest advantages of hiring a Mercyhurst grad as an entry level analyst is also one of the most difficult to explain: By coming here and staying in the program, these students self-select to become analysts. Typically they do so because they really like doing intelligence analysis. They like the time pressure, they like difficult problems and they shoulder the responsibility of "getting intelligence right" very well. We told these students at the outset that the competition would be fierce and that their chances of winning were slim. We knew that this would not matter because we have 350 more students here just like them...)

One of the cooler things this team did, of course, was to crowdsource their efforts. I helped them put out the call for input right after Labor Day and many thanks to HOTS, IntelFusion, Soob and all the other bloggers that picked up the call and re-broadcast it. Also thanks to the members of IAFIE, INTELST, all of the alumni and all of the friends of the program for all of their help getting the word out and contributing to the process. I have not yet seen the list of all of the contributors but I have been told it is lengthy. If, as the DNI's new Vision 2015 document tells us, commitment, courage and collaboration are the core values of the intelligence community then everyone who offered a bit of advice, analysis or information without any expectation of reward deserves some of the credit, in my opinion.

On the analytic side, the team was clearly standing on the shoulders of giants. They benefited enormously from a wide variety of previous authors on the topic and their meticulously sourced document gives full credit to them. I also think they benefited from the expertise of Mercyhurst's own experts, Bob Heibel, former deputy director for counter-terrorism at the FBI and Steve Marrin, who had many, if not all, of these students in his terrorism class last year.

The presentation of the products and the slide show they put together along with it are due to be presented later today at the conference. Sometime after that, I will post both the document and the slide show here for anyone interested in the results.


Suki Fuller said...


Congrats to all. I wasn't able to attend but am following the event via people attending, blog and Twitter. Is there a copy of the project available for non-attendees to view?

Anonymous said...

I would very much like to see the results. I have done the very same thing for my troops over the years and would love to compare results.

Anonymous said...


That's awesome! I'd be really interested in seeing the product if it's made available. Congratulations to all!