Friday, June 25, 2010

Part 3 -- What Is Intelligence And What Is The Role Of Intelligence In The Formulation Of Strategy? (Teaching Strategic Intel Through Games)

Rudyard Kipling from John PalmerImage via Wikipedia

"Well is the Game called great! I was four days a scullion at Quetta, waiting on the wife of the man whose book I stole. And that was part of the Great Game! From the South—God knows how far—came up the Mahratta, playing the Great Game in fear of his life. Now I shall go far and far into the North playing the Great Game. Truly, it runs like a shuttle throughout all Hind. -- Rudyard Kipling, Kim, Chapter 12

For many people, “intelligence” is an even more misunderstood word than “strategy”.  Conjuring up images of James Bond or, at least, George Smiley, intelligence, for many, is exclusively about secrets and spying.  

This has been patently untrue for some time, however.  As early as 1949, Sherman Kent, one of the earliest and most influential thinkers about  intelligence analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency, claimed that as much as 80% of information needed in intelligence work came from open, non-secret, sources.[1]  In a world that moves 21 exabytes of information via the internet each month, the role of both secrets and spying in intelligence, while still important, is clearly further diminished.

In recent years, in fact, intelligence has moved from a narrow government function to a broad reaching discipline.  Intelligence-led policing is a highly regarded public safety strategy while competitive intelligence has, for many years, been a driver for some successful businesses.  Likewise, commercial intelligence agencies, such as IJet and Stratfor, provide intelligence analysis services to private clients.  Even non-governmental organizations, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, have established intelligence organizations to cover issues of interest to them.  In addition, intelligence studies programs, like the one at Mercyhurst have sprung up all over the US and abroad.  The International Association For Intelligence Education now boasts some 20 colleges and universities among it members.

There are several common themes running through these activities that help define intelligence[2]:  First, intelligence is about the things that are outside your control but are relevant to your entity's success or failure.  In short, intelligence is externally focused.  Ever since Moses sent scouts "through the Negev and on into the hill country" of Canaan to see "what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many” intelligence has been about "the other guy"; the enemy, the criminal or the competitor.

Second, intelligence uses information from all sources and, more than that, most of this information is unstructured.  Very few disciplines truly deal with information from all sources.  Intelligence analysts, however, routinely have to integrate economic, political, military, cultural and other types of data into a forecast for decisionmakers within an organization.

In addition, much of the information used by intelligence analysts is incomplete or unverified and may even be the result of a deliberate attempt to deceive.  This messy, dirty, unstructured data requires a unique set of analytic methodologies.  Traditional statistical methods often don't work, for example, with the kinds of anecdotal data normal in intelligence work.

Third, intelligence is designed to reduce the level of uncertainty for a decisionmaker.  It is part of the decisionmaking process.  If intelligence is about the question, "What is going on out there and how is it likely to change?" then the other half of the decisionmaking question (the so-called operational half) is "What can we/should we/will we do about it?"

Finally, intelligence is a process.  It is something that happens, that is both iterative and reflexive; not something that just is.  While emphasis is typically placed on the output of this process, the intelligence product, the quality and utility of this product (as with any product) is a direct function of the process used to create it.  More importantly, since intelligence is a process, it can be improved upon through careful and intelligent change, improving, in turn, the quality and utility of the final intelligence product.

Intelligence products come in many flavors but one of the most useful distinctions is between descriptive and estimative products.  Descriptive products outline the relevant facts, figure, personalities and issues surrounding a topic of interest.  Estimative products, on the other hand, attempt to forecast what will likely happen because of the intersection of those facts, figures, personalities, etc.

Of the two, decisionmakers typically value quality estimative intelligence over even the very best descriptive products.  In a world dominated by a 24/7 news cycle and supported by the vast resources available on the internet, providing mere facts and figures is rarely enough to justify the expense of a dedicated intelligence unit.

In short, strategic intelligence should be the foundation for all strategic planning.  Without some sense of how the external world will likely change to support or hinder attempts to achieve a person’s or organization’s strategic goals, any allocation of resources in support of those goals will likely be sub-optimal.

Why Games?

[1] Kent, Sherman, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949.

[2] For a more exhaustive discussion of these themes and how they lead to this definition of intelligence, see Wheaton and Beerbower, Towards A New Definition Of Intelligence, Stanford Law and Policy Review, Vol. 17, Issue 2 (2006),  p. 319-330.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Part 2 -- What Is Strategy And What Are Strategic Decisions? (Teaching Strategic Intel Through Games)

Carl von Clausewitz, painting by Karl Wilhelm ...Image via Wikipedia

"As war is a game through its objective nature, so also is it through its subjective. -- Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Chapter 1.

While there are many definitions of "strategy" and "strategic decisions", for the purposes of this paper, a strategy is an idea or set of ideas about how to accomplish a goal and strategic decisions are ones that typically put at risk a substantial portion of an entity's disposable resources.

Defining strategy broadly is important.  Far too often, strategy is only associated with terms such as "long-term" or "large" and strategic thinking is something accomplished only at corporate headquarters or by generals and kings.

Defining strategic decisions in the context of the resources risked by the entity (person or organization) making the decision puts the role of strategy into perspective.  Under this definition, it is possible for the exact same decision to be strategic in one case and tactical (or even trivial) in another context. 

For example, imagine an individual who owns a successful dry cleaning store.  Deciding to open up another branch of the store in a different part of town is clearly a strategic decision for this owner.  This owner will likely spend many of his disposable resources (time, money, personnel) getting the new branch set up and operating efficiently.  Failure with this new branch would likely impact the old branch as well.

The same decision, to open another branch in the same town by the owner of a chain of 10,000 dry cleaning stores does not have the same strategic quality as in the first case.  In fact, such a decision, in such a large, national organization, might not even be made at the owner’s level.  The percentage of disposable resources placed at risk with this decision is likely much less and it is entirely possible that such a decision would be pushed down to regional or even sub-regional levels.

More importantly, defining strategy in terms of the resources at risk broadens the scope of what arguably constitutes strategic intelligence as well.   Under this definition, strategy is not confined to large, powerful organizations.  Small businesses, police units and even students can have strategies and, in turn, require strategic intelligence to support their decision-making processes.

What is intelligence and what is the role of intelligence in the formulation of strategy?
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Teaching Strategic Intelligence Through Games (Original Research)

(Note:  This is another in a series of posts that I refer to as “experimental scholarship” -- or using the medium of the internet and the vehicle of this blog as a way to put my research online for more or less real-time peer review. Earlier examples of this genre include: A Wiki Is Like A Room..., The Revolution Begins On Page 5, What Is Intelligence? and What Do Words Of Estimative Probability Mean?.  

This series of posts is based off a paper I gave at the Game Education Summit last week.)

Strategic intelligence is considered by intelligence professionals to be the highest form of the analytic art.   There is a tremendous need for this type of intelligence product and a lack of trained professionals capable of producing it.  Developing effective teaching methods for this challenging subject, therefore, is an area of ongoing concern for the business, law enforcement and national security intelligence communities.

Previous research (cited in detail in later posts) suggests that a game-based approach to teaching can be successful but no report so far has examined game-based learning in teaching intelligence analysis.  I hypothesized that a game-based approach to teaching strategic intelligence analysis would increase learning and improve performance while also increasing student satisfaction with the course.

This series of posts reports the initial results and lessons learned from teaching three full courses (2 undergraduate and one graduate) in strategic intelligence using games as a teaching tool.  This series of posts will begin by examining the unique challenges in teaching strategy, strategic decisionmaking and the types of intelligence that supports those efforts.  This will be followed by a short discussion concerning games-based learning generally before examining in detail the specific approaches used in these three courses. 
This series of posts will also examine both the learning outcomes and student satisfaction with the courses.  Finally, this series of posts will discuss appropriate course modifications for undergraduate and graduate students when teaching advanced subjects with games based on the evidence from this study.

What is strategy and what are strategic decisions?
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

1975 Experiments Showed Flaws Of A-F, 1-6 Rating System For Evaluating Accuracy, Reliability Of Intel Info(

A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion on the always interesting US Army INTELST regarding schemes for grading sources.  I pushed my own thoughts on this out to the list and published a link list on SAM that contained much the same information.

One of the topics that came up as a result of that discussion was "Whatever happened to the old A-F, 1-6 method for evaluating the accuracy and reliability of a source?"  Under this system, the reliability of a source of a piece of info was graded A-E, with "A" being completely reliable and "E" being unreliable.  "F" was reserved for sources where reliability could not be determined. 

Likewise, the info was graded for accuracy on a scale of 1-5 where "1" indicated that the info was confirmed and "5" indicated that it was improbable.  "6" was reserved for info the truth of which could not be judged.

Under this system, every piece of collected info had a unique identifier (B-3, C-2, A-1 -- now you know where that expression came from!) that supposedly captured both the reliability of the source and the accuracy of the info.

Except that it didn't work.

In 1975, Michael G. Samet conducted a series of experiments using the system for the US Army's Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences titled, Subjective Interpretation of Reliability And Accuracy Scales For Evaluating Military Intelligence.  I ran across it while doing some background research for the link list.  Unfortunately, the good people at NTIS had not had the time to scan this report and upload it yet.  Even more maddening was the fact that the abstract (the only thing available) included details about the study but not the !@#$ results.

So, I had to send away to NTIS for a hard copy.  I have uploaded it to to make this important piece of research more generally available.

The study asked about 60 US army captains familiar with the scoring system to evaluate 100 comparative statements.  The results were pretty damning:
"Findings of the present study indicate that the two-dimensional evaluation should be replaced because:
1.  The accuracy rating dominates the interpretation of a joint accuracy and reliability rating and
2.  There is frequently an undeniable correlation between the two scales."
You can read the full study below or download it from here

All of this raises another issue, though.  It seems that every 20 years or so the US national security intel community takes a crack at validating its methods and processes.  Sherman Kent talks about one such effort in the 50's and then, again, in the 70's and early 80s there seems to have been another attempt (the report referenced here is an example).  We seem to be entering into another such era given some of the language coming out of IARPA.

For some reason, however, just when things get good, the effort peters out.  When these efforts peter out in the intel community, however, the results become almost impossible to find.  Not having this research on hand and, frankly, online, means that the government will inevitably pay for the same research twice (the questions don't go away just because we forget what the answers are...) and researchers will be forced to start from scratch even though they don't have to.

I won't repeat my rant from a few days ago, but finding and keeping track of this kind of stuff seems to be a perfect task for academe and the kind of thing the DNI ought to fund (Hint, hint...).

Subjective Interpretation of Reliability and Accuracy Scales For Evaluating Military Intelligence
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Monday, June 21, 2010

Contest: What's Wrong With This Article?

(Note:  I intend, over the next year or so, to sponsor a number of contests designed to encourage students (and anyone else) to improve their analytic skills.  Today's contest has to do with critical reading skills.

The rules are simple:  The first person to post the correct answer in the comments wins an incredibly valuable, gold-plated Mercyhurst College Institute of Intelligence Studies T-shirt.  OK, so it's not gold-plated.  It is still incredibly valuable...

Obviously, anonymous answers won't count.)

Assume for a minute that the portion of the article copied below is important to some analysis you are working on.  There is something here that may be wrong or it may be right but it is definitely worth checking out (Hint:  It is not the obvious stuff).  What is it it and why (correct answers must include both)?

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -- Argentina have become the bookies' favourite to win the first World Cup on African soil, after two clear wins in their opening matches while their closest competitors have failed to impress.
Bookmaker William Hill said England's lacklustre goalless draw with Algeria on Friday was one of the most profitable matches involving the national team ever as fans lost money on bets for them to win in Cape Town.
"The game against Algeria was probably the biggest winning match involving England for us ever -- we made an absolute fortune," said William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe.

"On that match I estimate that the British bookmaking industry made $14.8 million," he added.

Sharpe said the overall turnover may be affected if England, who meet Slovenia on Wednesday in their last group match, do not qualify for the second round.

"What will happen is that overall turnover will go down," he said. "British punters will lost interest in the World Cup if England go out."
You can read the rest of the article here but I am only interested in the portion copied above.  In addition, you should not need to do any additional research to answer this challenge.

Good luck!
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