Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


The power of collaborative intelligence?

Ever so often, a little development shows how the internet is increasingly powering collaborative intelligence efforts. The increasing number of "sensors" out there (mobile-phones, etc etc) and the many specialist corners of the internet makes for more and more value in the open intelligence "production" on the internet. And compared to closed intelligence productions, the free flow of debate, rhetorical "anti-logos", makes for much more nuanced analyses in the end.

The latest of such anecdotes is that the US Airforce has just disclosed a hitherto secret drone project it was working on. The french newspaper Liberation's Secret Defence blog had pictures of a mysterious drone over Afghanistan, brought a picture snapped over Afghanistan, by god-knows-who, a grainy photo of a flying UAV. This unknown model was circulated and processed in a lot of specialist blogs and a pretty credible explanation was arrived at. At the same time, new pictures surfaced. And voilá! If you secret is safe with everyone on the internet, why not go public as the US Airforce did. Read more here.

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Let the students pull the cart

During my time as a graduate student at both King's College London and the University of Copenhagen, I always was a bit puzzled why established academians wouldn't utilise the vast resource of student brainpower and work-eagerness that was tappable, right at their feet.

Usually, when you are a student, you choose courses on what you think is either a)interesting or b) can be beneficial to your future. This in turn means that in institutions with a high number of focused and bright students (KCL fitting the description best of the institutions I frequented), you will have a mass of devoted brains gathering around a subject that the professor is often himself deeply interested in.

Why not, more often, solicit papers to some or all of the students, to further your own research? Why not put a class of eager students in front of your own cart and let them pull you a bit, while showing them that their work is used for something other than just grading, and then - degrading in your basement till you have to move house at some point.

The Strauss Center at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs has done just that. Putting a number of MA students in a class and letting them research for an excellent report on the Hormuz Strait and it's strategic implications for oil flows out of the Gulf.

As a general introduction, with spats of in-depth analysis - it is a perfect example of open source collaboration. If I ever get a fat university position, I'd like to work with students in this way.

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The mysterious Israeli Airstrike: Revisited

Last year, Israeli airplanes hit a target inside Syria - and the expected fuss over that incident, didn't materialise. This has led people to speculate that it was a nuclear facility, but not much is know.

Now, the New Yorker provides us with some quality journalism in digging deep into the story and revealing some of the contradictions that other media (and most of us bloggers) have raced past.

An interesting aspect of the article is how much information can be found in Open Sources and with some dedicated effort turned into usable intelligence.

Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture?or with nuclear reactors?but much to do with Syria?s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.

A Strike in the Dark. What did Israel bomb in Syria? by Seymour M. Hersh

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OSINT and social software

Now the Canadian Forces warns their soldiers about using social software as this constitute a major source of the "enemy's" intelligence. Brig.-Gen. Peter Atkinson estimates that as much as 80 percent of their intelligence comes from the net.

This percentage has set off some fury over at Enthropic Memes, disputing the claim. And to me it also seems that the good Brigadier General is just regurgitating one of the most widespread OSINT memes, namely that 80 percent of all intelligence is gleaned from open sources. This is the type of information that can be thrown around without anyone actually bothering about finding a source. It might very well be true, but it comes off as if the Social Software and the internet has changed this from the days of the public library, and I don't think that's the case.

I think there is some validity to the claim, but on the other hand, the internet has also strengthened some aspects of Counter Terrorism, so you loose some, you win some.

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Bin Laden Speech Archive updated

A horrendous delay in putting up OBL's latest speeches is now corrected - and once again the archive will help you find the words and pictures of Osama Bin Laden:

The Bin Laden Speech Archive

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Semantics of the bomb

Recently, Russian television showed the testing of a new thermobaric bomb, allegedly four times more effective than the US equivalent MOAB [Nicknamed "Mother of All Bombs"]. But recently the veracity of the Russians' claim has been questioned. Technically it seems that there is something rotten in their claim, namely how it was deployed from a high-speed bomber but clearly is designed to be dropped from a slow-moving cargo plane.

This suspicion is backed by a funny semantic word-play for those who knows Russian (from Wired) and is a good example of how the arms community develops its own genre and discourse that obscures it to outsiders (just like any other trade, be it plumbers or rhetoricians):

The Russian term for the Father of All Bombs, "Kuzkin otets," translates literally as "Kuzkin's father." The phrase itself makes no sense. But to "show you 'Kuzkina mat,'" "to show Kuzkina's mother," is one of the most famous Russian idioms. It equates roughly with the English-language threat "we'll show you." Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev forever cemented "Kuzkina mat" in the Russian lexicon in 1962, during a period of escalating tension that preceded the Cuban missile crisis, and described a reportedly successful test of a 50-megaton H-bomb, the most powerful weapon ever.

The kicker? Khrushchev's H-bomb itself was mostly a demonstration of might rather than a serious attempt at fielding a practical weapon. The H-bomb was too big and unwieldy for day-to-day carriage on Soviet bombers, so only the one test model was ever built.



Nerding the Chinese subs to the surface

Over at Arms Control Wonk there is an intensely interesting post, dissecting the Chinese naval strategy for building missile-armed submarines (SSBNs) for nuclear deterrence against the US and Russia. Jeffrey Lewis, owner, ask the interesting question How Capable is the 094? as a part of an ongoing series on the Chinese submarine programme. Analysing his way through open source information on the subs, he draws a number of very interesting conclusions about how those subs can actually operate, how their patrol patterns would be, what targets they are intended for and so on.

But it gets really interesting when his thoughts are garnished by knowledgeable bloggers and geeks that contradict, support and all in all enlarges his thoughts.

This is a brilliant example of grassroot, web 2.0 technology driven Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) - and I love it.

Perhaps my knees gets wobbly over this sub dissection as I am myself nurture a nerdish complextion towards submarines and the strategic pictures they paint. I recently stubled over the ultimate naval strategy game package, consisting games such as Fleet Command, Sub Command and Dangerous Waters. These games are a million kilometres away from other computer games and they throw mud in the face of every decent 3D engineer who has toiled away to harness the fantastic powers of modern computers. They run in 3D, agreed, but you can tell how this is mostly an annoyance, a distraction from what the developers Sonalyst (and their nerdish constituency) really care about: Sensors. Instead of blazing around in 3D environments in a hectic tempo like any normal red-blooded computergame, you sit for hours in front of a 2D (albeit very realistic) depiction of a sonar waterfall. You check your various inputs, deploy towed arrays, drop sonarbuoys, listen, wait and listen some more. Even with time-acceleration it is ridiculous. Suddenly you get a confirmed contact and have those five minutes of nerve-riddled action. There is no way of smarting over that you enjoy games like these, but to anyone with the inclination, they prove a very addictive pass time.

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Private intelligence companies goes strategic

It is nothing new that large, global companies have their own security organisations that tries to secure assets on a local level, working tactically with a strategic overview. Shell, BP, Maersk and others do this. This, of course, entails a bit of intelligence work. But a global, strategic intelligence service? It seems that

Wal-Mart is building one.

At a first glance there shouldn't be too much in the way of ethics against this. As a company would only try to protect its own assets and interests. But as a notorious super-capitalist company, surviving on providing the lowest possible prices by pressuring providers and employees alike, the commercial takes on a political slant, almost. And Wall-mart has already been under fire for surveillance and intimidation of dissidents, critics and employees. So if you had an effective intelligence organisation, coupled with some kind of physical protection force, and work in a number of the world's developing countries, wouldn't it be obvious that you would try to get leverage this way? It seems so.



Open Source Intelligence ... on Iranian concrete.

My new darling, Wired's Danger Room has an interesting story about the development of super-strong concrete in Iran. One of the Danger Room's readers is an MA in Civil Engineering and participated in a contest, with among others, a number of Iranian Engineering students. They had made some ultra strong concrete and by googling their professor, it was clear that he was involved with concrete for nuclear reactor construction.

This is interesting with the ongoing US effort of making larger and crazier bunker-busters in mind.

That is a real-life example of how grey area information is freely available for use, if you know where to look and what to look for.



Open source intelligence and social software

The waves from the intelligence-wikipedia "Intellipedia" has traveled far and wide in the internet world, with blogs monitoring the development of how intelligence agencies alledgedly use collaborative software - just like all the kids out on the 2.0 web.

Now Clive Thompson has written a comprehensive article on the US intelligence community's use of social software like blogs and wikis.

The problems that the intel-community face looks very much like the driving prospects of the information society: an amock-running amount of information, stemming from the possibilities of self-publishing along with a pluralistic break-down of traditional information souvreignty, understood as the possibility to control information and determine importance in information and events.

While large knowledge organisations battle to keep a hold of this Tasman devil of information, their employees as private citizens are froliciking in the warm waves of user-made information. By decentralising and individualising - in effect de-bureaucratising - the large organisations might be able to rein in information. But the cost seems to be their unity of command and effort.

Intelligence agencies are especially interesting examples of this double movement between processes and chaos, as they deal with a far greater security of information. Or in the words of thermodynamics: Intel agencies are ideally separated from the outside world by a semi-permeable boundary that allows all relevant information to filter in, but none to filter out. However the problem is that the formula for the boundary is hard to set and the evolution of the information society after the Cold War has petrified the intelligence services' boundaries into cement.

The article highlights a lot of the relevant problems in integrating OSINT and social software in intelligence work, but also highlights that this IS the future, nay, the reality of intelligence today. Thanks to Niels for the link.