Friday, February 1, 2008

Recent Videos Of Interest (

I wrote about earlier and have been pleasantly surprised by the number of high quality interviews, lectures and other videos made available through the service. For those of you who haven't had time to check it out, here are some that may be of interest:

Imad Moustapha on the Israeli Airstrikes in Syria

Imad Moustapha, Syrian Ambassador to the United States, answers questions concerning the Israeli airstrikes in September 2007 on alleged Syrian nuclear facilities.
Program and discussion:

Military Promotion of Democracy
Michael Mandelbaum, author of Democracy's Good Name, states that while military action can remove despotic rulers, it is not sufficient to establish democracy in a nation. There are other requirements, one of which is time.
Program and discussion:

Michael Mandelbaum on Democracy in Middle East
Michael Mandelbaum, author of Democracy's Good Name, gives explanation for his pessimistic stance on democracy’s ability to take hold in the Arab world.
Program and discussion:

The Roots of Islamic Extremism
Author and journalist Yaroslav Trofimov discusses the Saudi Government's use of violence within the Grand shrine of Mecca during the two-week siege of the Grand Mosque. He claims the event sparked modern day Islamic extremism.
Program and discussion:

The Grand Mosque Siege of 1979
Author and journalist Yaroslav Trofimov discusses Juhayman al-Otaibi and Mohammed Abdullah al Qahtani, the rebel leaders that led the 1979 assault and seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Program and discussion:

Paul Saffo: The Secret to Effective Forecasting
Forecaster, Paul Saffo presents Embracing Uncertainty: The Secret to Effective Forecasting as part of The Long Now Foundation's Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
Program and discussion:

Hidden Economic Powers of Money and Influence
Ben Stein notes that certain individuals possess enough money and trade influence to leverage governmental change.
Program and discussion:

Profile of A Gang Leader
Author and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh discusses the Robert Taylor housing projects of Chicago and gang leader J.T., the educated and charismatic protagonist from his new book Gang Leader For a Day.
Program and discussion:

Child Gang Members
Author and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh addresses the socioeconomic factors and educational deficiencies that drive children into gangs in the Robert Taylor housing projects in Chicago.
Program and discussion:

Inside the World’s Largest Illegal Arms Network
Stephen Braun discusses Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible.
Program and discussion:

Afghanistan: Present Situation Challenges Ahead
Afhanistan: Present Situation Challenges Ahead. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah provides an up-to-date analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan and the challenges that lie ahead. One of the principal decision-makers at the Bonn Conference, Dr. Abdullah enjoyed a rare vantage point as the first post-Taliban Minister of Foreign Affairs. Although not a member of the government nor any opposition parties at present, he continues to be regarded as one of Afghanistan's leading political figures. Dr. Abdullah is the Secretary General of the Massoud Foundation, a non-profit institution dedicated to serving the people of Afghanistan by promoting social welfare, education, health, and agriculture. Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann moderates - Asia Society
Program and discussion:

Radical Islam in Bangladesh
Hudson Senior Fellow Maneeza Hossain discusses consolidating Islam in Bangladesh. Hossain's new book Broken Pendulum: Bangladesh's Swing to Radicalism, (Hudson Institute Press) explores whether Bangladesh is doomed to Pakistan's fate of military leadership or if it will discover democracy.
Program and discussion:

National Security Intelligence Associations (Link List)

Steve Marrin put together a useful list of National Security intel associations. Some people had trouble getting the links to work on the email so I thought I would copy and paste them into blog and add some of the others identified on the IAFIE mailing list (Thanks, Phillip!):

Association for Intelligence Officers (AFIO)

National Military Intelligence Association (NMIA)

Naval Intelligence Professionals (NIP)

Marine Corps Intelligence Association (MCIA)

Military Intelligence Corps Association (MICA)

International Intelligence History Association

International Intelligence Ethics Association (IIEA)

International Association for Intelligence Education

Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Intelligence Committee

Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA)

International Studies Association's Intelligence Studies Section (ISA/ISS)

Association of Old Crows (The Electronic Warfare and Information Operations Association)

National Cryptologic Museum Foundation

The MASINT Association

The OSS Society


Canadian Association for Intelligence and Security Studies (CASIS)

Canadian Forces Intelligence Branch Association


Security and Intelligence Studies Group (SISG) of the UK Political Studies Association and the British International Studies Association

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Immersive Media Demo (Next Gen Streaming Video)

The good people at Immersive Media were kind enough to point me to the error of my ways. Apparently you can embed their media in other websites, so let's give it a try! Other videos are available here.

Five Sites To Help You Think, Two Sites To Make You Think (Link List)

Several very kind people have sent me a number of useful sites and I have run across a few myself. Here, in no particular order, are the sites to help you think: One of the people who listened to the recent podcast about getting and keeping your security clearance (mentioned here) recommended this site that was apparently referred to during the interview. It looks like it is worth following for a bit to see how useful it really is. (Thanks, Rachel!)

The Ultimate Student Resource List. has compiled a list of about 100 short tips on everything from what free software to download to taking notes that work, all compiled in an easy to scan format.

The FIRST Database at SIPRI. This is an extraordinary tool for anyone interested in studying international politics. SIPRI has compiled a ton of databases and indices into a single searchable database. It is a one-stop shop for reliable background data on international politics. (Thanks, Bradley!)

20 Foods To Snack On For Productivity. again. Good list for students approaching finals/deadlines.

Top 60 Little-Known Technology Web Sites. Information Week has done a good job of compiling a list of useful tech sites to help you stay up on tech trends.

Here are two sites that will make you think:

Immersive Media. If you have not seen the new technology currently available through Immersive Media, you owe it to yourself to take a look (Note to Immersive Media -- make your videos embedable!). Imagine the intelligence and training implications of this technology...

Books That Make You Dumb. These are the results of a very clever analysis done by Virgil Griffith from CalTech. He compared the average SAT scores of colleges and universities according to with the top books for each college or university from Facebook. He then generated some interesting charts that show the correlation between the types of books that were popular at a particular college and the SAT scores. I am not sure what it means but it does make you think...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rank Ordering The 26 Risks From The 2008 Global Risk Report (WEF)

The World Economic Forum just concluded in Davos, Switzerland. The annual meeting of many of the world's economic and political leaders is always worth watching but the most interesting document to come out this year, for me at least, was the Global Risk Report for 2008 (Download the full text here).

Put together by some pretty high speed, low drag thinkers from places like Citigroup, Swiss Re and the Wharton School Risk Center, the report is roughly equivalent to an NIE for the Davos crowd. The document makes estimates regarding the likelihood and the severity (in terms of lives and money) of 26 separate events over the next 10 years. Some, like the risk of a Katrina-like disaster in another major metropolitan area somewhere in the world, are based on what the report refers to as "traditional actuarial models". Other risks, such as seven identified geopolitical risks, have much greater uncertainty associated with them. All of the risks are rated on a 1-5 scale with a 1 = least likely or least severe and a 5 = most likely or most severe. The table below gives a summary of the risks, the scores associated with those risks and what exactly the numbers mean.

A couple of interesting things here. First, no single risk has a greater than 20% chance of occurring according to the authors. Second, the scales, in terms of severity, are not set at regular intervals for either lives or money. They spike upward very quickly, almost logarithmically, so that the differences between a 2 and a 3 and a 3 and 4, for example, are quite stark -- almost as if the economists of Davos were making a Richter Scale for risk. Third, some of the titles are a little obtuse. You will have to see the full text to understand what some of them mean.

Finally, though, I found it fascinating what the authors of the document didn't do. They didn't look at the risks from the standpoint of overall severity. In other words, they did not do what I did in the chart above -- create a single chart with all three variables in it. They chose to look at likelihood versus severity in terms of lives separate from likelihood versus severity in terms of cost. They created two charts and two tables to show how these variables worked together.

While these views were very interesting, it seemed to beg the question, "How should we rank order the risks?" Decisionmakers have to allocate resources (for a more detailed discussion of the central importance of this idea to notions of strategy and strategic intelligence see this article by me and Diane Chido). Typically, decisionmakers allocate more resources to attempt to mitigate or take advantage of the most important risks and allocate fewer resources to the less important risks. All of this seems like common sense until you try to rank order the risks. There are lots of methods for making this type of determination but one of the most common is expected value.

The concept behind expected value is simple: If I have a 30% chance of making 10 dollars, my expected value is .3 X 10 = 3 dollars. It can also lead to what might seem like a counterintuitive answer. Quick, which would you rather have, a 30% chance at 10 dollars or a 1% chance at $1000? While many people pick the first deal, the expected value of the first is only $3 while the expected value of the second deal is $10. Expected values can be either positive or negative. In the case of the Davos data, we are clearly talking about expected costs.

We already have the likelihood values and, since the World Economic Forum was kind enough to use 5 point scales for both of their severity ratings, the equation is pretty simple. The expected value of the Davos estimates would be the likelihood of occurrence multiplied by the average of the two severity ratings (cash and lives). In terms of rank ordering it makes no difference if I use the likelihood scale or the actual percentages associated with that scale. In order to keep things simple, I used the likelihood scale.

OK, OK, I hear you. You can't equate cash and lives (even if the fact that the authors put the two on the same five point scale almost begs you to do so...). This is, of course, the likely reason that the authors of the document would claim for not doing the expected value calculation that I am about to do. I think they are being a little too coy. Many of the guys who wrote this are actuaries or come from the insurance field. They put a dollar value on life every day. It is their job. I suspect that explaining how they do this and justifying their decision just seemed like something that was too difficult to do so they left us with a less useful document.

Which is a shame because I think there are at least two ways they could explain themselves that would have made this document more useful to decisionmakers. First, the intent behind using the combined severity scores is for the purpose of rank ordering not for the purpose of valuing. What we want here is some sense of which risk is overall most critical and, in general terms, how much worse is one risk than another. Second, there appears to be an inadvertent bias towards life in the assessment of overall severity. There are five total category 4 or 5 level risks with respect to severity in terms of cost. Only one of those has any associated cost in lives. On the other hand, there are also five category 4 or 5 risks with respect to severity in terms of lives lost. The severity in terms of cost for each of these, however, runs between 3 and 4, virtually guaranteeing that, assuming equal risks of both events, events with more lives lost will be more important than events where more money is lost.

In the end, I wish they had taken a crack at it because I know they are better mathematicians than I and would have done a better job of it. Anyway, here goes! When you do the math, the 26 risks for the next 10 years break down along these lines:

Lots of interesting stuff here as well. First, none of the risks get close to the maximum score of 25. Second, the top two risks are both what the World Economic Forum categorizes as "society" risks -- chronic disease and a pandemic. It is also interesting to see that terrorism is #18 out of 26, roughly equal to the collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in terms of its expected cost. Finally it is amazing to me how many of these risks could be readily and accurately assessed using exclusively open sources.

It is also instructive to look at the averages for each of the five sectors the WEF evaluated:

Clearly, society risks have the greatest potential cost while risks associated with technology pose the least expected cost. The other three categories, geopolitics, economy and environment, have roughly the same expected cost and lie between the two extremes.

One final comment; a thought experiment, really. Let's assume that the list is generally accurate, that these are the risks the world will face in the next ten years and that they are ranked more or less according to their level of importance. How do the intelligence resources that should be watching these risks stack up against the risks themselves? How much is spent on intelligence concerning chronic disease in the developed world and is that amount weighted appropriately given this issue's importance?

Clearly every one of these global risks has national security implications but not every one translates into a traditional national security priority. Which ones do the intelligence community cover and which ones do other agencies cover? Given that they are all interconnected (the full document even has a network diagram showing how they are all interconnected), where does the integrated picture emerge? Who is responsible for producing it?

Even in those areas where the intelligence community clearly has a stake, have resources been allocated appropriately? For example, failed and failing states have an expected cost that is roughly twice as much as international terrorism. Do we spend twice as much on intelligence concerning failed and failing states as we do on intelligence concerning terrorism? If we don't, are we being rational?

I can only speculate about the answers to these questions but I would be interested in your comments.

(Note: The full spreadsheets for the data above are available here)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Old Video: Sodium Leak At A Nuclear Reactor (WikiLeaks)

The video below shows the immediate after effects of a sodium leak at a fast breeder nuclear reactor in Monju, Japan back in 1995. The video is interesting for several reasons. First, it is instructional in that it shows what a sodium leak looks like (no, thats not snow in the video...) and the kind of protective measures necessary to work in that environment.

Second, the video is apparently associated with a bit of a cover-up in Japan (the operators of the plant allegedly suppressed the video and claimed that the damage and risk presented by the accident were much smaller than this video implies).

The most interesting thing for me, however, is the source of the original video, Wikileaks (the video below is obviously the DotSub version of the WikiLeaks video). I have been following WikiLeaks since it came online and it is developing into an interesting site. Wikileak's stated purpose is clear: " Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis. Our primary interests are in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we expect to be of assistance to peoples of all countries who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations." Exposing corrupt regimes and unethical corporations sounds admirable in principle. It is hard, however, not to notice that there is currently one article on Iran, 15 on China and over 1000 on the US in the database. It was, for example, WikiLeaks that leaked the classified NGIC document on Fallujah.

I strongly suspect that this excessive focus on the US is largely a function of WikiLeak's relative youth. The site has only been around since last July and it will take more time before it establishes itself. Right now, the "low-hanging fruit" is likely in countries, like the US, UK and Canada, with good internet connectivity, lots of "secrets" (at many levels) and that may jail you but are unlikely to kill you for leaking them. As the site gains notoriety and trust, hopefully it will begin to more completely fulfill its stated mission. There is some evidence that this is happening with the current crisis in Kenya.

Regardless of your perspective on WikiLeak's utility or propriety, it is likely to be around for a good bit and is worth, at least, knowing about.