Monthly Archives: February 2009

Kvick Tänkare

They say (Don’t ask me who…I’m just referring to the generic ‘they’, you know?  The ones who tell you that you shouldn’t run with scissors or read your thoughts via satellites.) that if you want a successful blog you should pick a topic and stick with it.  Don’t jump all over the place and people will flock to your site looking for consistent posts on a reliable topic.

Well, nertz (see definition 3 if you aren’t familiar with the term) to that.

In light of recent research which indicates that thinking quickly about different things actually makes you happier

Results suggested that thinking fast made participants feel more elated, creative and, to a lesser degree, energetic and powerful. Activities that promote fast thinking, then, such as whip­ping through an easy crossword puzzle or brain-storming quickly about an idea, can boost energy and mood, says psychologist Emily Pronin, the study’s lead author.

So, I’m going to introduce an occasional feature here that I’ll title ‘Kvick Tänkare’ (I think that’s Swedish for ‘Quick Thinker’)  and use it to put in little bits and bobs that I think are interesting but don’t have more than a line or so to say about them.  Here are today’s items:

  1. Oldest words in English language are “I”, “We”, “Two”, and “Three”.  Sounds like Dr. Suess invented language.
  2. Sad news…Philip Jose Farmer died yesterday.  I was a huge fan of his Riverworld series growing up and recommend it heartily.  He put some very interesting ideas in his work and overlaid it with great storytelling.
  3. Hey, is it just me or does this chick look like she’s got a scar across her wrist?  Does it look like the result of a A) weird lighting B) Cutting obsession or C) just being clumsy?

Economic jocularity

Think economics is all about gloomy forcasts and talk of the Great Depression?  Well, after you’ve had enough purusing your 401(k) statement and contemplating you declining value of your home this weekend, cehck this out for a bit of light hearted economics:

Total War is coming.

Last week, Creative Assembly released their demo for the new installment of the Total War franchise, Empire, which covers combat in the 18th century.  Here’s the trailer:

I downloaded it and gave it a go.  My poor laptop was straining to cope and it did a pretty pitiful job at it but the game was still pretty impressive.  Now I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the Total War series so I’m likely to give anything they do a positive review.  Still, the graphics are (as always) very nice, it sounds good and it looks like they packed this game with some nice improvements over the earlier games.

The naval warfare aspect is totally new, being an upgrade from the old system where naval combat was just done out of sight and the computer would just spit out the results.  Now, you have to maneuver your forces, pick your shot type and decide if you want to board the enemy ships.

Of course, all this realism and cool graphics comes at a cost and that cost is (for me) unachievable processing speeds meaning this game will have to wait until I can justify a new computer.

Intelligence Analysis Training Review – Part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

In my last post I focused primarily on how the course was presented.  There were a number of other observations about the class that seem worthy of note.  Overall, I’d have to say that conversations with the students seemed to validate the findings of the CRS report regarding Fusion Centers around the country (which I commented on here).

It was disappointed (although not necessarily surprised) to hear students (analysts!) say that they were forbidden from doing anything predictive, didn’t create their own products and/or were limited to cut and paste jobs from other products.  I think there are probably multiple reasons for this but if I could list a few suspects:

  1. Most people I spoke to belonged to agencies with strict hierarchies.  In almost all cases, the mid and upper levels of those hierarchies were staffed with people who had no background in intelligence analysis.  Hierarchies are fine for administrative work (making sure people get paid, accountability, etc.) but it certainly makes things difficult if analytical products have to gain approval through the very same channels that, up till then, only had experience in approving your vacation time.
  2. There remains a strong bias among sworn law enforcement that civilians have no ability to provide meaningful insight to issues of law enforcement or homeland security.  This seemed to be a reoccurring theme is discussions during breaks and after class and had universal resonance.
  3. The fetishization of the ‘beat cop’.  Law enforcement is different from the military in that nearly every new scheme, proposal, product is advertised (if its proponents want to have any hope of have it accepted) as being of direct benefit for the individual patrol officer.  ‘Officer safety’ is important (just as the safety of soldiers is) but an obsession on that aspect of operations threatens to crowd out other (dare I suggest) equally, or even more, important issues.  As a result, a lot of ‘intelligence’ focuses on things like concealable weapons, descriptions of serial criminals or summaries of headline grabbing crimes occurring in other parts of the country/world.
  4. The universal analyst.  The rise of 24 news channels, the internet and the plethora of knuckleheads who comment on issues in which they have no expertise (excuse me…Just got a note from my old friend Mr. Kettle.) has resulted in the belief that analysis isn’t that big a deal and anyone who’s read a Tom Clancy novel or watched an episode of ’24′ can do it.  So, some consumers don’t want analysis because they think theirs is just as good.
  5. An emphasis on ‘case support’ (more on that later)

Most law enforcement analysts are dragooned into doing case support which is often portrayed as synonymous with intelligence analysis but it’s not.  Case support may contain elements of analysis but, for the most part, it involves data collation rather than analysis.  It’s a good place for analysts to begin their career, to learn the concepts and procedures involved with law enforcement but eventually you’ll want your analysts to more on to broaden their scope, working less on the link charts and power point presentations and more on the analysis.  Do you really want an analyst spending her day looking up drivers licenses in a data base when the same task can be done at the same level of expertise by a new hire?  Besides the waste of experience it’s also much more costly.

That is not a universally held view, even among analysts.  I’m always surprised by analysts who feel the profession is best served by a focus on case support.  We had an interesting (unscheduled) discussion that touched on this very issue.  This is where introductory courses of intelligence analysis (Yes, I mean you FIAT) drop the ball.  It’s a short course that tries to cram a host of technical processes in a short time frame but they short change the analytical process and throw the word ‘analysis’ around far too often on things that are not analysis.  So, graduates leave the course thinking they’re doing analysis when they aren’t.

While this conflict created some brief friction in the class this discussion needs to be had.  Ideally, the concept would be introduced in introductory level courses and more fully developed through professional journals, conferences, etc.  Unfortunately, that sort of thing requires a community which just hasn’t developed yet (methinks this thought is worthy of another post) so we’re going to have to rely on forums like this training to bear the brunt of the work in introducing and indoctrinating the concept at the same time.  A tough task that I’m not sure can be done given the contradictory messages analysts can expect to get from their agencies.

These issues are exactly why I was so glad to see a dedicated block of instruction devoted to organizational change and why I didn’t think it went deep enough.  ‘True believer’ analysts are going to face a very steep climb in many agencies so they’re going to need to do a bit of ‘guerrilla’ thinking (warfare or marketing…pick your analogy) to have a chance to bring about some change.

So Twilight hasn’t ruined vampires…

This weekend I finally got around to watching ‘Let the Right One In‘, a Swedish movie on the Vampire theme.  I have to admit, I’ve grown quite jaded about vampire literature over the past few years.  It just seems that there hasn’t been much in the way of originality out there.  Once Anne Rice overturned the Bela Lugosi stereotype with the first couple books of the vampire chronicles (of which I can really only claim to be a fan of the first two, Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat), it seemed like everyone just decided to spend the next twenty years just riffing off of her ideas (even her).  So, we had vampires taking normal occupations, struggling with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to kill humans, and, of course, the vampire as the angst ridden teenager.

And really, the only thing more boring than a teenager is a vampire teenager.

Which is why I thought it was quite clever that that the vampire in this movie is a twelve year old girl (comfortably avoiding hitting that age where her obsession with the Jonas Brothers might interfere with communing with the children of the night).

Here’s the trailer…

So, while it was getting quite difficult to get interested about any vampire themed project lately (oh, wait…don’t tell me.  This time the vampire is a psychiatrist?  Trains poodles in his spare time?  Makes funny balloon animals for his victims?) I have to admit this one is quite good.  It’s got creepy atmosphere (in part because of the story and in part because of the pacing and style of the film which is quite different from an American film), subtle yet effective special effects, and raises some interesting questions to the vampire legend (I really enjoyed how they worked with the theme of vampires having to be invited into a house before entering).  Blood and gore was used intelligently and within the context of the plot, neatly and very ably avoiding the cheap torture porn so much in vogue today.  Its sparsity makes its use all the more effective.

It also addresses one of the weaker parts of Anne Rice’s book, what happens, practically, to vampires created in the form of a child?  How do they get on?

It does however seem to categorize all Swedes as either drunks, bullies, or vampires which I found very amusing but my better half took slight umbrage at.

It is subtitled, which I know turns some people off but, if you’re even slightly interested in the horror genre generally or vampires specifically you should watch this.  There is talk of an American remake, due out in 2010 but they’ll be using the original novel for source material instead of the screenplay so it may turn out very different from this version.  I am a bit concerned about it getting the Hollywood treatment (age the girl to 18 so they can tart her up a bit and avoid those pesky inferences that kids under 18 actually may have sex, lots more blood, shotguns that shoot wooden stakes, etc. etc.) but will remain optimistic.

Update: I received this comment from ‘Ann’ on my ‘about’ page in reference to this post.

“i red your post on the movies about vampires, and i have a question, can female vampires have babies? (in underword 2, it showed that they can, but i do not think i have read about it anywhere else)”

Well, I’m going to assume she’s talking about the vampire legend here.  As far as I understand most of the literature of vampires, their ‘undead’ status would preclude virtually all biological functions, including procreation.  The one exception would be the need to feed, but even then it’s only blood.  Rice’s work touched on this and in her vampire world, it came to be a cultural taboo among the vampires not to create children vampires because they would have too much trouble getting by.  I assume a pregnant women turned into a vampire could pass that condition along to her fetus but, of course, the undead fetus would remain in that stage of development for eternity and becoming a totally different genre of horror, not to mention a major pain in the neck in terms of care and feeding.

Where else will we get our mavericks?

I’m a huge fan of The Atlantic magazine and really enjoyed Mark Bowden‘s book Black Hawk Down but (you knew there’s be a ‘but’, didn’t you?) his article this month is a piece of hack advertising for Lockheed Martin/Boeing that had better have resulted in some significant ad revenue for the magazine.

Boden’s article, titled ‘The Last Ace‘ tells the chilling tale of how the evil doers of the world are nipping at our heels and the only thing which can guarantee our safety and the continuation of Western Civilization (the F22 Raptor) is in danger of being cut by a bunch of panty waisted, penny pinching bureaucrats.

The problem is this:

Some foreign-built fighters can now match or best the F‑15 in aerial combat, and given the changing nature of the threats our country is facing and the dizzying costs of maintaining our advantage, America is choosing to give up some of the edge we’ve long enjoyed, rather than pay the price to preserve it. The next great fighter, the F‑22 Raptor, is every bit as much a marvel today as the F‑15 was 25 years ago, and if we produced the F-22 in sufficient numbers we could move the goalposts out of reach again.

Of course, the F15 cost about $38 million in 2007 dollars and the F22 costs over $130 million dollars (by very generous estimates) so ‘the price to preserve’ our advantage has risen 300% in the past quarter century.  There is such a think as a law of diminishing returns.

Now, in his defense, Bowden does do some lip service to the tough decision to continue such a costly program and how such planes don’t defend against guys with box cutters but then, freed of the obligatory disclosures, he can get right into talking about how totally cool the F22 is and how so hot those fighter pilots are.  And, if you actually needed more than that, without the F22 there are going to be tons of dead soldiers and marines on our battlefields.

Because, you see:

A small country can buy a MiG‑21 on the world weapons market for about $100,000, put in a better engine, add more-sophisticated radar and jamming systems, improve the cockpit design, and outfit it with “launch and leave” missiles comparable to the AMRAAM. These hybrid threats are more dangerous than any rival fighters America has seen in generations, and they cost much less than building a competitive fourth-generation fighter from scratch. The lower expense enables rival air forces to put more of them in the air, and because the F‑15 can carry only so many munitions…

Of course, Bowden doesn’t answer the question that if some tin pot country can build an airplane that can match the F15 for 1/10 the cost, why not build a ton of these cheap, effective fighters instead of a handfull of these ‘superfighters’?  While technology is great and all, the reason we haven’t had a significant dogfight in decades isn’t because our aircraft are so far advanced (the Iraqis had pretty good equipment) but rather that we had a training system for pilots that couldn’t be beat.  So even if Sudan manages to get a couple souped up MiG 21s all tricked out, the fact that they can only give their pilots 20 hours of flight time a year is going to tell in a major way when they come up against trained U.S. pilots, even if we put them in an F-86 armed only with a surly attitutde.

Which leads us to the other unasked question Bowden left out.  Why do we need piloted fighter planes at all?  If we can build hordes of low cost drones (put a remote control system in a few of those MiG 21s, load ‘em up with missiles and let them swarm) why isn’t that a possible alternative.  Hey if you lose one of those, who cares?  Have a bunch flying stand-by, have the controller take a swig of Mountain Dew and fly another into the fray (ok, I’m simplifying a lot but you get my point).

Then Bowden talks about how old the F-15s are.  You’ve heard this before.  ‘The pilots weren’t even born when these pieces of junk were built.’  That argument just doesn’t carry any water any more, espeically when it comes to air warfare.  After all, the B-52 is going to have a service life of at least 85 years when all is said and done.  Twenty five years for the F-15?  The thing is barely out of the prototype stage.

And then we get to the real heart of the matter:

“I flew in a comparison test with both the F‑15 and the F‑22,” he continued. “You flew against the F‑22 one day, and the next day we took the same profile and flew against the F‑15. I fought both of those, and there was absolutely no comparison. This is not a paid advertisement for the F‑22. You talk to any aviator in the world, ask what they would like to fly, and if they don’t say the F‑22, then they are lying. I would kill to fly it.”

Hey, I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but maybe there’s another way for this guy to get his kicks other than a $130 million airplane (paid for by our tax dollars, of course).  And that’s really what it boils down to for much of the rest of the article.  You hear about how clunky the F15 is.  How you have to work to fly it.  You can almost hear them saying “Awww..C’mon!  It’s so old all the other pilots are making fun of me.”

On second thought, perhaps this is just a commercial for Boeing.  Bowden does take a shot at the equally expensive F35 (because the only thing better than one super expensive high tech fighter is two of them).

So America’s fighter fleet is likely to remain F‑15-based, backed up by the F‑22 and F‑35, a fifth-generation fighter that resembles the Raptor but without the same maneuverability and speed.

Is that a (not so subtle) hint for the powers at large to stop and go ‘Hey…what do we need the F-35 for?  It’s got less maneuverability and speed?  Why not just buy more F22s?!’

And no defense related story is complete without a dash of fear.  So…who are the boogeymen today?

Russia, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and others are now flying fourth-generation fighters with avionics that match or exceed the F‑15’s. Ideally, from the standpoint of the U.S. Air Force, the F‑22 would gradually replace most of the F‑15s in the U.S. fleet over the next 15 years, and two or three more generations of American pilots, soldiers, and marines would fight without worrying about attacks from the sky. But that isn’t going to happen.  “It means a step down from air dominance,” Richard Aboulafia, an air-warfare analyst for the Teal Group, which conducts assessments for the defense industry, told me. “The decision not to replace the F‑15 fleet with the F‑22 ultimately means that we will accept air casualties. We will lose more pilots.

Oh…an honest assessment from a defense industry consultant.  I’m sure he doesn’t have a vested interest in the purchase of new fighter planes.

North Korea?  Iran?  Really?  And are tensions looking that high with India?  Why not throw in Great Britain too.  What the heck…what if the U.S. Navy attacks?  They have all sorts of advanced fighters…and are right off our shores!!!

Bleg – Chinese Rock Music edition

I was listening to a recent edition of This American Life and there was a story in it that revolved around China.  At the end of the segment they had this crazy sounding music that was using an electric guitar to riff off of (what I assume) traditional Chinese folk music.  So, I did a bit of searching to see if I could find out who it was (I couldn’t) or just more about the Chinese rock scene in general.  I quickly came to two discoveries.

  1. There ain’t much information in english and the stuff there is makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  2. Even if I could figure out was was worth listening to, I have no idea where to get downloads of the stuff.

So, if any of you can help a blogger out here I’d really appreciate it.  Please leave any hints or links in the comment section or email me.

The madness! The madness!

And I thought it was outrageous that I had to salute when I was in Bagram:

I’m squeezing between several plywood B Huts on my way to the divine grounds of hot chow. I’m lost when suddenly Bob the MP Fobbit stops me.

“Hey, where’s your road guard belt”? He confronts me in that arrogant, you stupid ass tone, they use.

“ What”? I respond in and exasperated manner. I have limited time to get some chow and get back before the time my plane is rumored to leave. This rumor will later morph into a lie on the part of the terminal personnel.

“Your road guard belt, you’re required to wear one during hours of limited visibility regardless of uniform”. He tells me this in a way that leads me to believe he thinks I’m an idiot.

“Well, you’re going to have to get a ticket then”. Bob informs me. Evidently, a violation of Supreme Fobbit Directive #1 results in a $35 ticket.

Read the whole story here.

Intelligence Analysis Training Review – Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Note:  This post is freakin’ long.  Longer than any blog post has a right to be but that’s too bad because I can’t think of a natural cut off point for it.  So…if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the executive summary:

Overview: The class remains quite promising and the research and work that’s gone into it so far is quite evident.  It’s main drawback is that it tries to stuff too many subjects in too small a timeframe.  As a result, some rather important elements of intelligence analysis get a rather superficial treatment.  Ideally, there’d either be an extra day of class time or a bit fewer topics to provide additional depth.

On with the main text:

I just completed the second of four parts of the Intermediate Intelligence Analysis Training Program conducted by the Sacramento Regional Office of Homeland Security.

The administrative aspects of the class went very smoothly.  The class designers say that their intent, once the program gets final approval, is to take this class on the road so many of these aspects will be irrelevant but it was nice to see that there were no hiccups in the basics.  Accommodations, transportation, food, training facilities, instructional material and additional paperwork were handled quickly and efficiently giving students one less thing to worry about.  Bonus points for getting me vegetarian meals at lunch.  My only recommendation would be that if they are planning on providing food in the future, they might want to specifically ask if the students have any dietary restrictions up front.

I’d also recommend that the course begin with an agreement that the class be a ‘non-attribution zone’.  In order to make attendees comfortable that they could speak openly and honestly about issues, their agency, etc. everyone should agree that nothing said in class would be quoted or attributed to the speaker.  I don’t think it would have changed much in this course but it would be nice to establish it right at the beginning and set a standard for professionalism.

The course was given over a three and a half days that ran a total of approximately 28 hours (excluding lunch times).  They were pretty long days, packed and demanding which I continue to think is particularly good in keeping out the riff-raff who are just looking to chill out away from the office for a couple of days.  When I was finished I was ready for a couple days of shooting zombies and other mindless activity.

The three and a half days of classes were divided into the following sections:

  1. Introduction and Pre-test
  2. Problem Based Learning
  3. Personal Leadership
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Analytic Techniques
  6. Critical Analysis
  7. Collaborative Risk Management
  8. Final Exam and Evaluation

Generally, the course required a higher level of participation than many other trainings I’ve attended and that was an intentional decision on the part of the course designers.  Their position is that adults generally (and those in law enforcement specifically) don’t learn or retain information particularly well in a lecture format.  Therefore, they tried to emphasize interactivity and practical exercises wherever they could.  There were still those awkward moments of silence where you could tell either the class wanted to play a passive role but overall the class embraced the concept.

The pre-test and final exam were multiple choice questions which apparently were a requirement by our evil federal overlords and the requirement demonstrates how far there still is to go in getting people to understand what analysis is.  In a course designed to teach critical thinking and problem solving, is regurgitation of lists and definitions really what we want to test for?  I understand how difficult it is to find good, objective metrics to demonstrate competence for those skills but that it looks like the government just took the easy way out in an effort to find something to test.  Needless to say, I don’t think the tests accurately demonstrated the extent of learning we did (or didn’t) do.

We were provided with a hefty course guide and three publications for the class:

Hey…who doesn’t love free stuff?  The publications were only occasionally referenced during the class so it might have been nice to refer to them more frequently.  Too many publications get thrown onto a shelf to collect dust if a compelling case for their being read and incorporated isn’t made.

Problem based learning seems to be a riff of the Socratic method (kinda-sorta) and the class took to it quickly.  This set up the rationale for the participatory style of instruction versus the traditional lecture method.  I don’t have much to say about this block of instruction since both the instruction and practical exercise met the stated objectives.

Personal leadership: I had some problems with this block in the first session and have to admit I still think this block misses some opportunities (of course, those who know my success, or lack thereof, in bureaucratic institutions may question my ability to speak with any sort of authority on this subject).  The idea that there is a ‘right’ way to introduce organizational change seems a bit too simplistic and formula-loving to me and overlooks the important aspects of organizational and personal analysis.  Since analysts (civilian ones, at least) are frequently considered junior partners in law enforcement circles (including fusion centers), an honest approach to organizational change should revolve around how analysts can best parley their limited influence into the most effective change.  How can analysts evaluate and utilize the goals and motivators of the institution and senior personnel around them to bring about change (call it ‘Judo-style change’)?  If you wanted to get really high-speed, you could recommend the works of Machiavelli or Sun-Tzu (with practical examples) as guides to thinking about change.  Now this may seem a bit esoteric and/or academic for analysts at this level so anything like this would need to be introduced properly but my recommendations are built around two assumptions:

  1. The course is advertised as being for ‘intermediate’ analysts which means they should have already mastered the basic technical skills of analysis and should be ready for the cerebral stuff
  2. Analysis is all about pushing your intellectual boundaries and if you aren’t pushing analysts (at least a bit) out of their comfort zone, they’ll fall into the mental pitfalls of routine thinking processes.

This is also the place where it might be worthwhile to discuss the ethics of intelligence analysis.  What should an intermediate level analyst do if they (or a subordinate) is instructed to create a product with a particular finding?  How about if they witness a violation of federal regulations or civil liberties?  I’m not talking ‘pie-in-the-sky’ discussions but rather a ‘real world’ discussion of the responsibilities of the analyst and the implications of any action.

Critical Thinking and Analytical Techniques: These are hard for me to judge fairly since I’ve taught a very similar course and I’m having difficulty in separating my personal instruction style from the material.  That being said, here are my observations.
The discussion of ‘universal intellectual standards‘ could have benefited from a bit more exploration, ideally through example(s).

The practical exercise involved a scenario where 15 people were on the international space station when a massive meteor strikes the earth.  There are only enough supplies to keep 6 people alive on the station long enough until earth becomes inhabitable again.  There are brief biographies of the 15 and each group had to determine who should survive and who should get booted out of the airlock.  The exercise went well although there was more room to question each group more specifically about how they developed their selection criteria and weighed their choices according to their criteria.  That would have allowed for us to go beyond arguing over individual people and examine if we were even measuring people according to the same criteria (which has definite implications for analysts).

There was a brief foray into the world of 28CFR Part 23 which could have been done in an on-line portion of the class.  Given the importance of the regulation, it’s incredibly boring nature, and our press for time I’d recommend moving it entirely on-line.

This portion drew heavily upon The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards Heuer which is often regarded as the foundation of systematic examination of analysis and any analyst worth his/her salt should at least know of it’s existence.  It was a bit disappointing (even if not surprising) how many seemed to be unfamiliar with the work.  I try to make the link between Heuer’s ‘parlor tricks’ and actual analysis a bit more explicit but that’s a personal preference.

The portion about hypothesis development and the use of the Analysis of Competing Hypothesis program was quite good and the instructors understood clearly that the ACH works best when demonstrated.

Discussions about other techniques were a bit uneven.  Key assumptions check was good, devil’s advocacy could have used an example (to define it from simple contrarianism), and red cell analysis needed a bit more fleshing out (the temptation to mirror image or engage in fanciful movie plot scenarios becomes great if you don’t understand the technique clearly) and I would have liked to see a concrete example attached to inside-out/outside-in thinking.

The discussion of the Beltway Sniper was relevant and a great example for many of the points discussed.  The supporting documentation allowed the class to raise all sorts of interesting questions that demonstrated a nice grasp of the concepts.  We had two practical exercises to use the techniques described and they were complex enough to prevent jumping to conclusions yet simple enough to allow us to get to a point where we could say something intelligible about them in a reasonable amount of time.

Critical Analysis: For this block we watched the Battle of Algiers which I hadn’t yet gotten around to watching (despite repeated brow-beatings by my boss) so I was anxious to see it both as a film and to see how they’d integrate it into the curriculum.  While I thought the movie was quite good (and yes, I should have taken the time to watch it earlier) after we were about half way through the film I couldn’t figure out how it fit into the larger course.  We stopped the film for discussion and to answer some questions every 20-30 minutes but it mostly focused on the terrorism/insurgency angle and didn’t spend much time talking about analysis or critical thinking.  The scene where the paratrooper colonel describes the hierarchy of the insurgency lends itself to a discussion about how law enforcement sees organized criminal networks and frequently assumes they use a similar model.  They could also have looked at the film as a film to determine what message the creators attempted to deliver and how well they did.  Analysts should be able to critically assess not only the images on the screen (or words on the page) but what biases or point of view the creator had and what they’re attempted to ‘sell’.  Too often, analysts assume that if a product has a seal of an official agency on the title page the contents are beyond question and totally objective.  I’d recommend shifting the focus from this portion of the instruction away from teaching about terrorism and insurgency (which really deserves a specific class) and towards the lessons it can teach about analysis and critical thinking.

Then there was a brief discussion of ‘White’s Continuum of Conflict’ which is an attempt by one author to place all of human conflict on one sliding scale.  I wasn’t particularly impressed with it and reject the implications of a linear scale that conflict progresses along.  Again, I wasn’t too sure what the point of this was and it could be dropped with no loss.

At some point in this block was my least favorite part of the whole week.  Three individuals (I don’t remember if it was ever revealed where they work) gave their names and said they would be evaluating our writing in the next, on-line, portion of the class.  I assume they were rushed and crammed in where ever there was time but they began listing various dos and don’ts in a none too friendly manner.  There were some minor histrionics among members of the class during the break (I don’t think I could contain my eye-roll when one participant threatened to drop the class) but I do agree it could have been handled better.

Collaborative Risk Management: This block introduced the risk management tool CARVER+Shock (the link is to the FDA version of the tool but it’s a very similar system).  This block took up the final 3 or 4 hours of the course and it felt very rushed.  In that time we had to both get acquainted with the CARVER+Shock method and run through a practical exercise.  The practical exercise involved us playing ‘red cell’ by identifying a terrorist group and planing an attack as if we were that group.  I did a similar exercise at a training about ten years ago and it was very interesting but here it was too rushed.

In exercises like this there’s a temptation to try to outdo movie terrorists with elaborate plots that would cost millions and require a cast of thousands to have any chance of being pulled off.  We were so rushed there wasn’t a lot of structure to this part of the exercise and so we frequently got into the realm of fairy tale.  I’d recommend breaking this part of the exercise up into daily bits so that on the first day of the class each group would be told to create/identify a terrorist group (without much/any additional information about what they’d be used for), their ideology, resources, goals.  Then, the next day, groups could be assigned to identify a target which would be in line with those parameters.  Finally, they could plan the attack.

This block really needed more time to be effective given the numerous learning objectives they set out for us to achieve.  The time allocated would probably be fine if it was just an introduction to the concept of risk management but then the idea of a practical exercise would be more problematic.

Next:  Surprises, impressions, and recommendations

More Nine Inch Nails Mashups

ToToM is at it again, mashing up Nine Inch Nail‘s Year Zero record.  I’ve had the albums a couple of weeks but wanted to listen to them first before writing about them.  ToToM has made two albums (well, three actually but I only downloaded the first two) available for free download.  The first takes the music from Year Zero and applies vocal from other songs and the second album does the reverse (putting Reznor’s vocals over other music).  He ends up with some very surprising results (I never would have guessed Survivalism would work with Rock the Casbah).

I haven’t downloaded/listened to the third album he (she?) because it was titled ‘Out-takes’ and I assumed it would only be of interest to those involved in creating their own stuff.  I just looked at the song list though and I think I was wrong.  Download this one too…

So, fill up your Zune (or, if you must, your iPod) and enjoy!

Bootleg is Resistance by ToToM.