Saturday, April 5, 2008

Suicide Bombings In Iraq And The World View Of Iran's Most Powerful Leader (

Here are a couple of recent videos that should be of interest to many:

Mohammed Hafez on Suicide Bombings in Iraq

Suicide Bombings in Iraq: Understanding the Strategy and Ideology with author Mohammed Hafez.
Program and discussion:

The World View Of Iran's Most Powerful Leader
Reading Khamenei: The World View Of Iran's Most Powerful Leader with remarks by Karim Sadjadpour, Mohsen Milani, and Afshin Molavi. Dr. Haleh Esfandiari moderates the panel.
Program and discussion:

Friday, April 4, 2008

Serious COOLINT: Amazing 3D Search Engine (Tianamo)

Tianamo is a search engine that is still in beta but it is worth a look if only for the 3D display it gives your results. You can sign up for access to the full screen beta version here but the excellent people at Tianamo have given me an embed code so you try it out right in SAM! Have fun!

Iraq NIE Released, Countdown Begins For Unclass Version (NYT)

The New York Times is reporting this morning that the latest National Intelligence Estimate on the situation in Iraq has been released. The report also quotes anonymous sources (of course) concerning the content: "The new intelligence estimate cites slow but steady progress by Iraqi politicians on forging alliances between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq" and "several factors that could reverse these trends: including a campaign of violence by Shiite splinter groups and the possibility that the government would not carry out a series of reconciliation laws Iraq’s Parliament passed recently."

The Times report goes on to state that Senators Carl Levin and Edward Kennedy have already asked for an unclassified version of the NIE, stating, “Without a current unclassified assessment of the situation in Iraq, Congress and the American people will not have the essential information needed for an informed public debate" (Note: Press release confirming letter is here). "Authorized leak" versus "unclassified version" is a distinction without a difference. I say there will be an unclass version on the streets before the Pennsylvania primary. Any takers?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Analytic Confidence Defined...Finally! (Original Research)

One of the great benefits of teaching at Mercyhurst is having the opportunity to work with a bunch of dedicated and very intelligent students. Another advantage is having enough students in the intelligence studies program to be able to conduct meaningful experiments.

Both factors come into play in the newly published thesis, Appropriate Factors To Consider When Assessing Analytic Confidence In Intelligence Analysis by one of our grad students, Josh Peterson (click here to download the full text. The full text will also be permanently available in the Mercyhurst Student Projects link list in the right hand column of this blog). Josh presented some of his research and findings at the recently completed ISA Conference but the full study is presented here for the first time.

I have written about the problems with the concept of analytic confidence before. Some analysts interpret analytic confidence psychologically (i.e. how the analyst feels about his or her analysis) while some use it estimatively (e.g. "I am confident that X will happen"). I have also argued that neither makes much sense in the context of modern best practices for intelligence analysis.

Analytic confidence really has to do with how well calibrated a particular estimate is. Both an experienced analyst and a beginner might say that "X is likely" but one would hope (vainly, perhaps) that the expert would have a tighter shot group around the target than the newbie.

Josh takes this as his starting point and asks, "What, then, are the relevant, legitimate elements of analytic confidence? What should analysts consider when they are asked to state how confident they are in their analysis?" Through a good bit of research (laid out in his lit review) he identified seven elements that seemed to legitimately underpin the concept of analytic confidence. They are: Source reliability, source corroboration, use of a structured method to do the analysis, analyst level of expertise, amount of collaboration between analysts, task complexity and time pressure.

Josh then created scenarios that were similar but, in one case, all of the elements mentioned above were extremely negative (low source reliability, high time pressure, etc) and, in another case, the elements were extremely positive (high source reliability, use of a structured method, etc.). Josh also established a third, control, group to help establish the validity of his experiment.

Josh used the students here at Mercyhurst as subjects for the studies. The students here get a good bit of real world experience in doing analysis both in our classes and in the internships and contract work we do so I think they are good proxies for entry-level analysts in the Intelligence Community.

Josh found that students could accurately identify high confidence from low confidence scenarios but that they were doing this largely through intuition. He suggested that we probably needed to update our curriculum in order to better teach our students those elements that should legitimately raise or lower an analyst's confidence in his or her work (suggestions we have already adopted).

Finally, Josh took his results and his research and combined them into a rubric (see below) that analysts can use to help score their confidence. Josh did not have time to test this rubric and the weighting in it represents his interpretation of the relative importance of each factor based on his read of the literature. Given how far he had already come, he wisely left these tasks to future researchers.

Analytic confidence is a tough nut to crack. It is hard to explain and even more difficult to research and test. Josh has taken a good first cut at it, though, and I think his work deserves some attention if only as a step upon which others can build.

Language Resources And A Military Directory (Link List)

Two good resources stumbled into the 'ol inbox in the last 24 hours:

EduNet Language Page. Edunet, "a virtual community for those involved in education in Ireland", has a comprehensive list of language resources for just about any language in the world. The site also contains a number of links to books and texts, linguistics websites and multilingual resources.

The Combined Arms Research Library's Link Directory. The CARL has done it again! Designed primarily for the military professional, they have put together a very deep directory of links to a variety of useful resources. For the intelligence student, teacher or professional, particularly useful are the links to crisis planning and country studies, news services, maps and the world's armed forces. For the historian, there is a good bit here including some obscure items such as old WW II technical manuals along with an extensive link list of more traditional fare.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Obama's Ideas For Intelligence Community Reform (The New Republic)

The New Republic has an interesting article that contains some facts and speculation about how Senator Obama might try to change the intelligence community should he become president. The author, Barron YoungSmith, quoting the Washington Post states, said that Obama "would give the Director of National Intelligence--who currently serves at the pleasure of the president--a fixed term, similar to that of the Federal Reserve chairman." The intent behind the move is, the author claims, to make the intelligence community an "independent assessor of empirically-verifiable facts; that intelligence assessment is a non-ideological exercise in finding out what's true and what's not." Certainly worth the read...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

CIA To Travel In Time, Assassinate Musician (Aversion)

April Fool's!, which covers the rock, punk and indie music scenes, posted a pretty good April Fool's story today complete with alleged quotes from the DCIA Michael Hayden (My favorite? "Hayden dismissed criticisms of the plan, and pointed to the Agency's track record of righting pop-music wrongs by careful manipulation of history."). For the full story, go here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

DCIA Hayden On Meet The Press (MSNBC)

The full text transcript is here.

ISA Convention Wrap-Up

The ISA Convention went true to form: Way more to do than there was time to do it. With about 100 exhibitors and 1100 panels, it was impossible to see it all. That said, you can be pretty sure that it was all covered in one way or another. I strongly recommend that anyone who has an ongoing interest in virtually anything "international", whether it is a theory, crisis, conflict or policy, to search the paper archive. You will almost certainly find someone who presented something of interest to you.

If you want to see some of my posts on the conference, the links are below:
Poliheuristic Theory And Performativity: More Interesting Than They Sound
Interesting Resource: Keesing's World News Archive
Good Resource: International Center On Non-Violent Conflict
Striking A Bargain: Simulating And Teaching Diplomacy
International Relations A Growth Discipline In Brazil (Be sure to look at the comments as well)
Good Resource: The Uppsala Conflict Data Program

Poliheuristic Theory And Performativity: More Interesting Than They Sound (Liveblogging ISA)

I heard about two concepts for the first time at a panel at the now complete ISA convention: Poliheuristic Theory and Performativity. I thought that both ideas were worth exploring further.

Poliheuristic Theory is apparently a "theory of foreign policy decision making posits a two-stage process wherein the decision maker first employs a noncompensatory decision rule to eliminate politically unacceptable alternatives and then employs a (perhaps) traditional decision procedure to select from the remaining set of acceptable alternatives. (Note: See link above for source)" Everyone at the panel I attended insisted that the theory was descriptive rather than prescriptive which means that it is not very useful for intel analysis. Listening to the speakers, though, I thought that maybe there was something there. Anyway, worth further exploration.

Performativity (as I understand it and my understanding may well be flawed...) is the idea that people can begin to act in accordance with a theory, whether or not the facts and research that underlie the theory are correct or not.

Both concepts were used by Uri Shwed in his paper on the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. I found the presentation about the paper interesting (very intel-like) but the panel's discussant seemed to think the evidence was too circumstantial. If you are interested in that conflict or either of the two concepts above, you will have to contact Dr. Shwed as the paper is not in the Convention's archive.