Monthly Archives: September 2010

So long Tony…

Tony Curtis just died…I was going to say that it’s a shame but at 85 he had a pretty phenomenal career, tons of kids (I guess that happens when you have six wives) and it sounds like it was a life well lived.  So, here are a couple of clips of the guy…if you haven’t checked out these films, do yourself a favor and open some time up in your weekend schedule…

Tis the season…

We are approaching the best time of year with Halloween right around the corner.  Let Me In is the American remake of ‘Let the Right One In‘, a Swedish vampire movie that I blogged about previously.

The original was quite good and the American version is not supposed to be an exact remake so do go and see the original.  That being said, I’m pretty excited to see this one given that it’s getting positive reviews.  Here’s the trailer:

‘There are opportunities…it just depends on if you can grab them.’

If you’re concerned about a growing Chinese military threat you’re wasting your time.  Rather, if you see China as a threat to American hegemony you should be looking at places like Senegal.  Al Jazeera has a special about Chinese immigration to Africa.  How many Americans (even in this time of economic hardship) are willing to pack up and move to a new economic frontier?  Meanwhile, who do you think is going to have more influence throughout the continent in the next 10 or 20 years?

Best line:  ‘Chinese people like to do things quickly and things move slower in Africa.’

One doesn’t usually hear of Chinese being the impatient ones.  After all, aren’t they still waiting to see how the French revolution worked out?

The Battle of Kandahar

The long awaited summer fall offensive in Kandahar province has finally begun.  Who can tell how things are going at this point?  Things seem volatile enough that the civilian force designed to follow the military forces closely are generally being forced to stay in Kandahar proper.

Along with the military buildup has come a similar effort to increase the presence of State Department employees, along with aid contractors paid by the Americans, who would serve as stabilization teams in those areas.

Although some 300 American civilian staff members have arrived in Kandahar Province, at the district levels there are only a few, mainly because of security concerns.

While Gen. Petraeus is talking about the Taliban “reaching out” to the Karzai government to cut some sort of deal, the BBC has a report (from a source of unknown reliability/credibility) of serious security concerns:

A nearby district called Dand, which shares borders with the city, has been badly affected by insurgency. Many people who were accused of working or co-operating with the government, aid agencies or foreign forces, have been captured and beheaded.

Pakistan seems to be getting its share of what-for as well.

Oh, and the Brits seem to be walking back talk of a July 2011 withdrawal.

In which I demonstrate I can follow a recipe

Mark Bittman‘s book “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” is, quite frankly, brilliant.  We had a ton of produce from our CSA and I needed to do something with it…fast.  Tomato sauce is easy and I made a bunch, ‘getting rid’ of the extra tomatoes that were accumulating everywhere like tribbles.   So, cracking open this massive tome I found and made:

Indian Style Pumpkin Soup

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 lbs pumpkin (or squash) cut into 1-2 inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (I used a white onion but I don’t think it matters)
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon each:  minced garlic, minced, fresh ginger, curry powder
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat the butter on medium-high and once it’s melted, add the pumpkin and onion.  Cook until the onion is soft (the book says 5 minutes but I had a small pot and had to keep stirring it to distribute the heat so it took longer).  Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook for an additional minute or so.  Add the stock, bring to a boil and lower the heat so you’ve just got a little bubbling action going.  Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes.

Puree the soup (I ladled it out into a blender and did it in batches).  Once it’s all pureed, put it back on the stove on low heat and mix in the coconut milk and the cilantro.

I served it over rice made with vegetable broth, rather than water to add a bit more flavor. Very filling, very tasty.

Particularly good with some nice, substantial bread.

To Reign in Hell

So, I see they’ve greenlighted a film based on Paradise Lost.  I suppose it might be pretty good but (and I’m ashamed to admit it), I was never able to work my way through Milton’s work and worry that given they’ve decided for it to be”crafted as an action vehicle that will include aerial warfare, possibly shot in 3D.” the heavenly hosts might, in fact, demonstrate their wrath upon the human race.

If you’re going to go that route, I’d recommend a film adaptation of Steven Brust‘s To Reign in Hell.  It’s a clever update of the story of the Battle for Heaven with lots of room for action and (if the film makers decide to go totally edgy) a good plot with interesting characters.  Since they won’t do that, check out the book, it’s a lot of fun.

Music monday…sucky job edition

Reflecting my day at work today…and potentially the foreseeable future…Methinks I need to get serious about finding alternate employment.

Soundgarden with Fell on Black Days

What an intelligence product should NOT look like

Will Potter over at Green Is the New Red has a couple of posts about a recent Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin that has been released.  There’s a lot to talk about here to get comfy…

Ok, first.  The Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has hired a private agency to produce intelligence products like this.  Without knowing all the details of the agreement, oversight, etc. this is bad, on the whole.  The whole homeland security industry depends on the existence of a continual series of threats to keep the money rolling in.  After the post 9/11 ‘glory days’ of blank checks to anyone and everyone who could cram the word terrorism or security into their resume or business description, politicians began to want some return on their security investment dollars and so the domain of homeland security agencies and fusion centers began to expand to the monstrosity that is ‘All crimes, all hazards’.  I’m beginning to think we’d be better off with an “Agency for Infinitesimally Unlikely but Really Scary Events”.

But, before I get too deep into this allow me to throw some props to Pennsylvania.

  • The bulletin is unclassified!  That, quite frankly, is amazing.  I can’t find a recognizable classification caveat anywhere in the document.  They’d be my heroes if they didn’t have to end the document with the weasley:

This document is provided to organizations/stakeholders associated with the security of Pennsylvania critical
infrastructures, key resources and significant special events. It is not to be distributed beyond those Pennsylvania stakeholders without the express permission of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.

  • While the PA Office of Homeland security website is by no means perfect, it isn’t the worst I’ve seen and seems to indicate an intent to provide some information to the public.  Given the abysmal performance of most such agencies in this arena, they do deserve a nod for that.

Ok…in the words of Benjamin J. Grimm, ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’

The first part of the report is a ‘Dates of Interest’ section.  This entire part of the document is a HUGE red warning flag that calls into question the analytical capabilities, political orientation, ethical standards and understanding of U.S. law of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.  It also calls into question the judgment and competence of whoever is approving and evaluating these products with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.  Yes, my friends, the rot runs deep.

This section really speaks more to the writers (and, perhaps their perceived audience) than it does about actual threats.  So, you’ll find a lot of warnings about Muslims, anti-war activists, environmentalists, animal rights activists and left leaning groups.  There is not one incident where ‘right wing’ groups or individuals are noted.  This is particularly problematic given the time frame of this portion of the report which covers 31 August to 4 October.  Remember all that hoopla about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’?  No one had any concern that there might be violence or protests aimed at Muslims?  Apparently not.  The fine folks at ITRR seemed to only see the threat coming from teh Muslims.  Were there no Tea Party rallies planned during this time period?  You know, the ones where people talk about watering the tree of liberty with blood?  Apparently not.

I suspect the writers of the report knew that they were peddling crap and so attempted to create the illusion of credibility by peppering in phrases like ‘increased risk of escalation’, or ‘Targeting communications indicate a focus on evading or sabotaging law enforcement’ but they see no need to substantiate anything and so such phrases are meaningless.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing in those first three pages that should be anywhere near a law enforcement intelligence product without a lot more context and a clear explanation of the link to criminal activity.  The analysts involved need a great deal of remedial training and whoever is in charged probably needs to be moved to accounts receivable.

But let me not stop at the first three pages.  The best place for the whole document would be the crapper if the paper it was printed on was super soft and absorbent.  The rest of the bulletin is more bullshit trying to conflate political activism, civil disobedience and terrorism.  Really, the authors should be ashamed of themselves for producing this nonsense.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we can say it’s an outlier.  This sort of non-intelligence intelligence is quite common and (in my opinion) the result of weak, unqualified leadership of agencies that 1) don’t understand intelligence 2) don’t understand analysis and 3) have no idea what a ‘homeland security’ agency or fusion center is actually supposed to do.  Rather, these yahoos are just winging it based upon what they gathered from watching Jack Bauer or reading Tom Clancy.

The (sort of) good news is that the public release of this document got the governor to reject it in pretty strong terms and ordered the cancellation of the contract with ITRR.  That’s a nice start but they problem remains, the people that thought ITRR was producing a quality product are still running the ship and will face no consequences for their actions.  Is there a stronger way to demonstrate that you think intelligence issues aren’t important and high standards aren’t needed?

It’s even more problematic when the guy in charge doesn’t recognize that Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist (although that might explain the dearth of ‘right wing threats’ in the bulletin).

But here’s the real important bit of information that might have gotten missed.  As outrageous as these bulletins are, they don’t mean much (in the short term at least).  The fact of the matter is many agencies have been producing such voluminous amounts of crap since 9/11 that most of it goes directly from inbox to trash without being read.  So, while many people within the state government may have known about the garbage IRTT was producing, the head of the PA State Police may have summed up best why this may not be as nefarious as it sounds at first blush:

State Police Commissioner Colonel Frank E. Pawlowski was aware of the bulletins; at least, they were distributed to the State Police and Rendell said Tuesday that Pawlowski told him nothing in the bulletins “was of any value to the State Police.”

In short, it might just be that nobody was really reading these things (Really, how many times can you read ‘While we have no evidence of a threat, we recommend everyone remain alert’ which just translates to ‘Hey, if something happens, we’re going to use this as proof that we gave you the dots and you didn’t connect them’?)

Intelligence analysts in law enforcement – observations. UPDATED.

I just spent a few days with a bunch of civilian intelligence analysts and that plus a number of other recent events have prompted some observations on the state of the field.

This particular group came from a number of agencies spread across two states and I have to admit I was blown away by their motivation and drive.  While, generally, analysts remain an introverted bunch (even I, gentle reader am an INTJ) their work ethic seemed to overpower that trait and didn’t dawdle when there was work to be done, even in groups.  While they were much more quite than comparable groups of law enforcement officers I’ve worked with before they were more task focused by orders of magnitude.  You know you’ve got an engaged bunch when you have to tell them to go home three times!  The next time you hear someone talk about lazy government workers, tell them to suck it.

They also had a great deal of interest and pride both in their craft generally and in their specific fields.  These are people who are chomping at the bit to do their work.  It’s stuff like this that really keeps me going in this field.

That’s good because (yeah, thanks, bring on the buzzkill. eds), I’m convinced (based on observations and reports from others) there remain deep structural problems in the field of law enforcement intelligence.  Let me count them (well, some of them anyway):

  1. I keep hoping to come across analysts that actually have some sort of ‘seat at the table’ and to be quite honest at this point I’d even be happy if it was the kiddy table out in the kitchen with all the 4 year olds making jokes about poo.  Analysts are simply not brought in to discuss serious issues in which they should be central players.  I’m talking about issues of hiring, training, and career progression where (and for once I’m not exaggerating) I don’t think I can think of more than three or four analysts I’ve met over the past eight years that have been brought in to actually have a serious voice on these issues.  There are even fewer incidents of analysts being allowed to have a say in things like analytical focus or resource allocations.  And just forget about the idea of analysts actually supervising in analytical shops.  I’m not saying these things never happen, just that they’re so rare we might as well consider them mythical creatures.
    • Given that most state and local agencies are facing big budget problems with many departments considering laying off police officers, does it make sense to pay cops to not conduct investigations, enforce the law and arrest bad guys and, instead, assign them tasks for which they are rarely trained in and, usually, have little interest or capability to do?  Does it make sense to take those people with training in intelligence work and perpetually keep them at the bottom of the food chain?
    • This makes sense only if you consider the following:
      • These supervisory positions represent promotional opportunities for agencies and you always take care of your tribe first.  No matter how much they may like their civilian employees, they simply aren’t on the right side of that thin blue line and if push comes to shove, you take care of your tribe first.
      • Further riffing off the tribal theme…There’s an abundance of literature and anecdotal evidence that civilian analysts are secondary or peripheral players (or, as I recently heard to my annoyance, ‘cop-lite’).  Given the recent emphasis on things like ‘Intelligence Led Policing’ where intelligence is supposed to be the prime mover in operations, this attitude is simple cultural chauvinism.  There’s unease at letting ‘out-group’ members get access to information or resources.  Who knows what they’ll do with them?  Can they be counted on to further the ‘in-group’ interests?
        • (A brief vignette) I once sat in on a meeting, the only civilian in a room of law enforcement officers discussing some procedural issues.  When the possibility arose that civilian analysts might have access to investigative information, you would have thought wikileaks just published the nuclear launch codes.  Bizarre scenarios began floating around about analysts being sleepers for criminal groups, selling confidential information, etc.  I then pointed to the dearth of evidence of ‘dirty analysts’ and recommended we asked internal affairs to generate some numbers of investigations of analysts compared to cops.  For some reason, there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for following this up with hard numbers.  While the point was made, analysts still were barred from accessing important information.
        • Think I’m being too cynical?  Allow me to recommend part 2 of last week’s This American Life (ignore the first part which is about a jerk who can’t understand why publicly threatening to shoot people would possibly get him in trouble).  It’s laden with interesting items regarding what happens when you rely too much on poor metrics, question the status quo and if such problems are the result of a ‘few bad apples’ or a rotten barrel which spoils most of what you put into it, regardless of how nice the apples were when you started out.
  2. I still think Fusion Centers do more harm than good.  Since they were created without a great deal of forethought, their numerous flaws just continue to get bigger and more obvious.  Agencies which  run them (usually law enforcement entities) have limited experience dealing with ways to measure success meaningfully (whether that’s intentional or accidental, I’ll leave for you to ponder) and so nobody has really bothered to figure out what these centers should do and how you should measure their effectiveness.  As a result, they generally figure out what the easiest things are to measure and then reverse engineer metrics and mission statements around those.  Therefore, things like number of bulletins published, database checks made, events hosted, or agencies contacted are used, giving a priority to activity rather than progress or effectiveness.
  3. This deemphasizes analysis which is a tricky thing to measure or evaluate easily.  I dig, trust me, I do.  This sort of thing is hard to do but it doesn’t mean you don’t even try.  So, rather than bother with figuring out how to build a system where you ‘fuse’ intelligence into functional analytical products, fusion centers give information sharing primacy because it’s much easier to measure.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Information sharing is very important but it’s not intelligence and it’s not going to prevent intelligence failures.
    • Many years ago, Richards Heuer wrote that intelligence failures were failures of analysis rather than collection.  I’m not sure I agree completely with that (unless you use the term ‘analysis’ broadly to include a leadership component that actively obstructs the work on analysts) but he was definitely on to something.  You wouldn’t know that however, by examining how fusion centers operate.  Rather than spending their efforts on enhancing their analytical capabilities, they spend all their time on the collection side.
    • There’s a manic frenzy to get access to more and more sources of information (what a shock, yet another simple metric you can throw around to demonstrate how ‘cutting edge’ you are) and give any Fusion Center shill a chance to pitch his/her agency and within the first two minutes you can bet you’ll hear them proclaim how many databases they have access to and advertise to anyone who will listen that they’re a ‘one stop shop’ for your agency when it comes to sorting through the numerous datasets out there.  That’s great and could be a really powerful tool but problem is the people they assign to answer all those queries, chained to those databases, are the analysts who are supposed to be doing, like, analysis.
    • To resurrect a tired cliché, everyone is so obsessed with making sure we’ve got all the dots, nobody is spending any time trying to connect them.
  4. I’m torn about intelligence professional organizations.  I know a number of people in them that I really respect and like but, as I’ve written before, I can’t help thinking they’re just enablers for bad practises and cover for agencies that engage in the trade of smoke and mirrors rather than intelligence analysis.  In short, they just don’t have any balls.  Now, I understand the argument that we’re talking about big cultural changes and we need to gently and gradually lead everyone by the hand, build consensus and we’ll eventually get to the promised land.  I don’t think it’s true but I understand it.  But if that’s our plan let’s be honest about it and tell the taxpayers ‘Yeah, you know that whole 9/11 thing?  Well, we’re going to fix our intelligence systems to prevent that sort of thing but we don’t want to be too pushy so we’re going to wait another decade or two until people who are uncomfortable with change can ride out their careers without too much stress and then we’ll start fixing things.’

All of these things occasionally make me swerve into the territory of crisis of faith and wonder if talking about intelligence analysis in law enforcement is futile.  I still don’t know the answer but suspect it lies in waiting for the analytical community to develop its ‘revolutionary consciousness’.

A las Barricadas!

Update:  Ask and ye shall receive!  I received an email from someone (who I was kind of hoping would take the bait since I knew he/she was an exception to what I was taking about) who said:

My analysis shop is run by analysts.  I’ve never worked in any other shop so I don’t know what it would be like for this not to be the case.  Our shop is set up with a “director” who basically just handles grants, supplies, HR stuff, etc., and then a managing analyst, with 3 civil service analysts, and then 6 contract analysts.  We’re actually hiring 2 contract analysts and the managing analyst is basically taking care of the whole thing, choosing who to interview and hire.

I think the key is that our shop basically started as one guy attached to homicide, and then another guy who worked with narcotics, and then it grew to 3, and then 4, until it exploded to 10.  And because it initially grew so slowly and was working with the most sensitive stuff, and also because the chiefs really liked what we were doing, they basically allow us to run our own stuff.  My sense is that this is not how most analytical shops develop.
Still, no idea how to measure our success.  Maybe in the # of proactive successful investigations?  Or crimes solved with analyst help?  The problem is that if we trumpet our success then people won’t want to work with us as much.  Part of our success is because we let the investigators and narcotics cops take all the credit (which is why they like us).

I’ve heard of success in analysis shops before but the times I’ve been able to delve into their details (and I can’t speak to the situation above) it’s been attributable to a particularly competent and influential person.  The concern (well, at least mine) is that there aren’t sufficient processes in place to maintain that success.  Time will tell…

And, thanks to my ghost contributor.  I don’t consider this endeavor futile.  If I did I wouldn’t stay in the field.

Music mondays (Thursday Edition) Corrected!

An oldie but a goodie…Nine Inch Nails ‘The Perfect Drug’ Guilty by Gravity Kills

Thanks to J for pointing out my error….so here (finally) is The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails.