Daily Archives: February 18, 2010

Two views of the Haitian relief effort

News today was that the Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, John Holmes (no, not that John Holmeslet’s face it, that link was the reason you even wrote this post – eds.)  wrote an email to his staff expressing his displeasure over a number of shortfalls in the relief effort in Haiti.

…there remain major unmet humanitarian needs, particularly in critical areas such as shelter, other NFIs, and sanitation.Regarding coordination, I was disappointed to find that despite my calls for the Global Cluster Lead Agencies to strengthen their cluster coordination capacity on the ground, very little progress has been made in this critical area.

We cannot, however, wait for the next emergency for these lessons to be learned. There is an urgent need to boost significantly capacity on the ground, to improve coordination, strategic planning and provision of aid.

I’m not really acquainted with the U.N. culture but this sounds pretty scathing in a bureaucratic sort of way.

Mark, on the ground in Haiti, has a different view of the letter.

A lot of UN people died here. We were decimated.

This is not even mentioned any more.

For the first week, everyone was running around shellshocked, with no working communications.

We lost friends, partners and children. Families were ripped apart.

We were victims. Yet we have not been allowed any time to grieve, to cope with our loss. We are not considered victims, despite our lives being traumatically disrupted. Would have been worth a mention, I would have thought.

That is a good point.  The UN (and, I imagine many NGOs as well) are both victims and supposed to organize the recovery.  Tough job for a group that went through something that traumatic and unexpected.

Happy 1,000!

Well, gentle readers, this is the one thousandth post here at TwS!  From my perspective this blog has finally found it’s footing over the past 12-18 months in terms of my subject matter and readership.  When I started this blog, lo those many years ago I really wrote primarily for myself, which was good since I rarely got more than a couple of hits a day (I couldn’t even get spambots to visit!).  I’m certainly not a major (or even middling) player in the blogosphere (heck, I don’t even merit regular reading from the DHS) but I’m getting more readers than I imagined when I first started this.

And more (much more) important than numbers of people coming here is who’s coming here (I had a bit of an existential crisis when it seemed the vast majority of traffic coming to this blog were reaching it by searching the term ‘sleestak‘).  I’ve been extremely flattered by those of you who either commented or linked to items on this blog since, without exception, I consider your efforts much superior to mine.  The fact that you take the time to read my musings (and keep reading them) is quite humbling and confirms my belief that regular readers of this blog are among the most discerning, educated and intelligent people in the world.

Swedish Zombie update

It’s been awhile since we last heard any reports about zombies in Sweden but today they resurfaced.  The press continues to provide woefully transparent cover stories to prevent panic but the truth shines through:

A suspected drug smuggler, caught with almost 100 grammes of cocaine in his underpants, tried to bite his way out of the clutches of the Swedish customs.

he suspected drug smuggler went as far as to agree to removing his clothing down to his underpants, at which point he refused to undress further, claiming to be shy.

“It looked like he had something very large nestling aside his sexual organ,” a customs official said in a police interview according to the newspaper.

With the search at an uneasy stalemate, the man tried to dispose of a package on the sly, and a wrestling match broke out with customs officials.

As the officer and the minimally clad 41-year-old became embroiled in a tugging match on the floor of the interrogation room, the officer felt the would-be drug smuggler’s teeth bite into his upper arm, the newspaper reports.

Yeah…this was all about drugs.  Sure.  Clearly, one of Mad King Gustav‘s zombies escaped and was trying to make its way out of the country when stopped by security forces.  Subduing the zombie obviously attracted some public attention and required the above cover story.

strategic communication

I took advantage of the snow storm and holiday weekend to knock out some professional reading.  The first was a paper by the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom titled:  Strategic Communication:  A Primer.

I’m not sure if there’s anything earth shattering in the paper but they do a pretty good job of depicting some concepts graphically, which I wanted to highlight here.

To begin with, the author makes the case for why strategic communication is necessary and should be incorporated systematically into any strategic plan rather than just be glommed on as an afterthought.  While the author argues that strategic communication should be reserved for geo-strategic issues I’m not sure I agree and see no reason why the principles discussed couldn’t apply also to some domestic issues as well.  Here’s his definition:

Strategic Communication:  “A systematic series of sustained and coherent activities, conducted across strategic, operational and tactical levels, that enables understanding of target audiences, identifies effective conduits, and develops and promotes ideas and opinions through those conduits to promote and sustain particular types of behaviour.”

Here’s his graphic conception of strategic communication.  As I’ve said, there’s no reason this couldn’t (shouldn’t) be applied to non-military issues as well.  This should be different than just cramming a bunch of people or agencies together (like the DHS) and requires coordination between the various contributors to make sure they can compensate for each others weaknesses and compliment each others strengths.

The analogy he uses to capture this idea is an orchestra (and I really like this graphic).

This of course requires an orchestra leader.  Someone has to make decisions.  In the field of intelligence I’ve often harped on the desperate straits we’re in because of weak planning and direction.  It’s the same here.  Without a clear goal and strong leadership your orchestra is going to sound like garbage.

The music is the narrative.  Depending on the effect you seek to achieve, different sections of the orchestra will be used at different times, or with different emphasis. The tempo of the music will also vary, depending on what effect the conductor desires.

Like Bob Dylan said, ‘The times, they are a-changing’ and that’s just as true when discussing threats.  It doesn’t really matter if we’re talking about terrorism, environmental or energy issues, crime or disease, new, potential threats are popping up or looming on the horizon.  Strategic communication provides a way to link various methods to combat or prevent those threats.  These new threats aren’t always vulnerable to traditional forms of power and influence.  Perhaps there’s something fundamentally different in these from past threats or maybe there are some significant differences in the operating environment which make traditional methods of influencing the environment less effective but in either case ignoring strategic communication will make any such task much more difficult.

“Emergent threats are at their most adaptable when they are small. This is when they are able to learn rapidly. Conversely this is also when they are at their most vulnerable. Since military forces will always be resource-limited, a central issue in future campaign planning will be the ability to effectively orchestrate, innovate and adapt effort across all arms of government to achieve effect at the right time. We might refer to this as adaptive campaigning. The essential characteristic of an adaptive campaign is that its structure and behaviour should be able to evolve over time and in a way that tends to increase the probability of ‘success’ through adaptation to the changes in the system, and to the environment in which it is embedded.”

And just like intelligence analysis, we need to be careful that we understand and conduct an analysis of our target and make sure we aren’t just projecting our biases and perceptions upon them.  So, consider this graphic which compares the congative attributes of three different demographics.

“…the chart is illuminating for it shows that at no point do the cognitive attributes of poorly educated Arab males – whom for convenience we may choose to refer to as the Arab Street – match the attributes of educated Americans – whom for convenience we might refer to as Policy Makers. Thus when Policy Makers articulate what they consider to be a reasoned policy for a particular action their audiences are likely to be swayed more by feeling and emotion than the ‘irrefutable’ reasoning that we in the West might find so compelling. This in no way infers that western culture is superior to that of Arab or Muslim culture, instead it recognizes the concept of bounded rationality, irrespective of education.”

Seems to me this would apply just as much to intelligence analysis as it would strategic communication.

Finally, one last point.  The author recognizes the strengths and utility of ‘new media’ as a way of conveying a message.

“There is a danger that this new media – often referred to as social or digital media – is viewed as a leisure activity and not an avenue for telling a story or communicating with audiences.”

Again, the crossover with intelligence is important to note.  New media, as with much open source information, is regularly regarded with suspicion or disdain.  New Media is saddled with the additional handicap that it is often little understood by many decision makers