Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leksika - A New Site On Russia, Eurasia Worth Watching!

I just received a note from one of the sharper crayons that has emerged from the Mercyhurst Intel Studies box - Spencer Vuksic.  

Spencer, a truly gifted analyst and Russian linguist currently seeking his masters in International Studies from Johns Hopkins, has, along with a fellow Mercyhurst alum Graham Westbrook, started a new project - Leksika - to provide open source intelligence analysis on all things Russian and Eurasian.

According to Spencer, "Leksika’s value proposition is in the application of intelligence analysis to political, social, and economic shifts in the region in opposition to the largely polarized reporting from both the West and Russia."  

Just in the last month they have published short, easy to read but highly informative pieces covering such diverse topics as Russia's partnerships with Serbia and Latvia, the current situation in Crimea, Israeli and Russian relations and Poland's geopolitical positioning.  Earlier posts have reached even more broadly including a three part series on Russia's cyber strategy.

One of the most interesting and FREE features of the site is their "ReapReport".  Here they do a side by side comparison of the top news stories coming out of western and Russian media.  More importantly, they add a highly useful "What to Watch" blurb in order to highlight upcoming events of interest.

While clearly still in the start-up stage, Leksika is already quite good and has the potential to be a one-stop shop for unbiased analysis of Russia and Eurasia.  Recommend you check it out and take advantage of the free subscriptions!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Intelligence And Ethics: Now You Can Check The Codes!

Some would say that ethics in intelligence is an oxymoron.  
Certainly, the ethical challenges faced by today's intelligence professionals are more severe than any other time in human history.

It is interesting to note, in this regard, that all three of the major sub-disciplines of intelligence (national security, law enforcement and business) now have publicly available codes of ethics for their practitioners.

The most recent of these is from the newly minted National Intelligence Strategy:
As members of the intelligence profession, we conduct ourselves in accordance with certain basic principles. These principles are stated below, and reflect the standard of ethical conduct expected of all Intelligence Community personnel, regardless of individual role or agency affiliation. Many of these principles are also reflected in other documents that we look to for guidance, such as statements of core values, and the Code of Conduct: Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees; it is nonetheless important for the Intelligence Community to set forth in a single statement the fundamental ethical principles that unite us and distinguish us as intelligence professionals. 
MISSION. We serve the American people, and understand that our mission requires
selfless dedication to the security of our nation.
 
TRUTH. We seek the truth; speak truth to power; and obtain, analyze, and provide
intelligence objectively.
 
LAWFULNESS. We support and defend the Constitution, and comply with the laws of the United States, ensuring that we carry out our mission in a manner that respects privacy, civil liberties, and human rights obligations. 
INTEGRITY. We demonstrate integrity in our conduct, mindful that all our actions, whether public or not, should reflect positively on the Intelligence Community at large. 
STEWARDSHIP. We are responsible stewards of the public trust; we use intelligence
authorities and resources prudently, protect intelligence sources and methods diligently,
report wrongdoing through appropriate channels; and remain accountable to ourselves,
our oversight institutions, and through those institutions, ultimately to the American people.
 
EXCELLENCE. We seek to improve our performance and our craft continuously, share
information responsibly, collaborate with our colleagues, and demonstrate innovation and agility when meeting new challenges.
 
DIVERSITY. We embrace the diversity of our nation, promote diversity and inclusion in our workforce, and encourage diversity in our thinking.
The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals has long had a code:
To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession.
To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.
To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one's identity and organization, prior to all interviews.
To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one's duties.
To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one's duties.
To promote this code of ethics within one's company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession.
To faithfully adhere to and abide by one's company policies, objectives and guidelines.
Finally, the International Association of Crime Analysts offers this as ethical guidelines to its members:
Theoretically today’s professional crime analyst is expected to know the details of every crime in his or her jurisdiction, and often to predict when the next will occur. In reality, the title of crime analyst can mean different things even in the same agency. Generally, a crime analyst is one who monitors crime trends and patterns, researches and analyzes similarities and differences in crime details, and reports those findings to the appropriate personnel that can address those crimes either through deterrence or prevention. Many skills and abilities are necessary to complete the crime analysis process. Necessary skills include logic and critical thinking, research skills, organizational skills to organize facts and findings, written and oral communication skills, and computer skills. Necessary personal traits include a desire to aid in the reduction of crime through the legal and ethical examination of crime facts and data.
The professional crime analyst assists law enforcement managers in decision making, supports street officers and detectives with information helpful to their jobs, and provides service to other crime analysts and to the general public. As professional crime analysts, we commit ourselves to the following principles:
 
Personal Integrity
    Maintain an attitude of professionalism and integrity by striving to perform at the highest level of one’s proficiency and competency, in order to achieve the highest level of quality.
    Remain honest and never knowingly misrepresent facts.
    Accurately represent one’s own professional qualifications and abilities, and ensure that others receive due credit for their work and contributions.
    Seek and accept honest criticism for one’s work, and take personal responsibility for one’s errors.
    Treat all persons fairly regardless of age, race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or nation of origin.
    Practice integrity and do not be unduly swayed by the demands of others.
 
Loyalty to One’s Agency
    Safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of restricted information or documents.
    Thoroughly research, analyze, prepare, and disseminate quality work products to the best of one’s ability, ensuring that all reports and documents are accurate, clear, and concise.
    Faithfully adhere to and abide by one’s departmental policies, objectives, and guidelines. Support colleagues in the execution of their lawful duties, and oppose any improper behavior, reporting it where appropriate.
 
Commitment to the Crime Analysis Profession
    Continually strive to increase the recognition of and respect for the profession by participating in professional crime analysis associations, contributing time and effort toward their goals and missions.
    Advocate professional, research-based crime analysis functions within the law enforcement environment.
    Seek training and education throughout one’s career; remain current with trends and practices in crime analysis.
    Contribute to the professional education, training, and development of other crime analysts. Share information and the results of research and development by responding to information requests, submitting information to individuals and organizations, participating in meetings, or publishing articles.
    Present methodologies, results and recommendations through fair, honest, conscientious, independent and impartial judgment.
    Exercise objectivity, impartiality, accuracy, validity and consistency in all research conducted. 
If you are looking for an interesting exercise, have your students or colleagues try to apply all three codes of ethics to this situation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Advanced Analytic Techniques (The Blog) Is Back!

Check out www.advat.blogspot.com!
Each year, I teach a class called Advanced Analytic Techniques (AAT) here at Mercyhurst.  It is a seminar-style class designed to allow grad students to dig into a variety of analytic techniques and (hopefully) master one or two.   

The students get to pick both the topic and the technique on which they wish to focus so you wind up with some pretty interesting studies at the end.  For example, we have applied the traditional business methodology of "best practices" to western European terrorist groups and the traditional military technique of Intelligence Preparation of The Battlefield to the casino industry.

As you can imagine, some of these projects gain a bit of notoriety for their unique insights.  One of my former students, Jeff Welgan, even had his AAT project written up in the book Hyperformance.

Beyond this deep dive that each student is required to do, the class is also designed to teach students how to evaluate analytic techniques for things such as validity and flexibility.  To help with this process, each week we take a quick look at an analytic technique that no one in the class is using in their projects.  

We start this process with a tour d'horizon of the available literature on the method with a particular focus on the literature that is higher up the evidence pyramid and relevant to intelligence analysis.  At the end of the week, one member of the class runs an abbreviated demo of the technique using the other half of the class as guinea pigs.  Once we are done, we all sit down and write up our thoughts about the method.  Last week, for example, we took a (quick) look at SWOT.  This week we will be examining various forms of Red Teaming.

All of this - the summaries and critiques of the articles we have found, and our overall "evaluation" of the technique - gets posted onto the Advanced Analytic Techniques blog each week.  Over the years, the blog has become increasingly popular and I certainly encourage everyone to take a look and, if you have a comment, join in!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Three Convergent Thinking Techniques Every Analyst Should Master

"The most important failure was one of imagination." -- 9/11 Report

This sentence and the reforms that it (and others like it) compelled after the attack on the twin towers have driven many of the changes in the way intelligence analysts do their jobs over the last 13 years.

Fundamental to these changes were (and are) attempts to get analysts to think differently. Specifically, most of the discussion and many of the efforts were aimed at increasing divergent thinking abilities among intelligence professionals.  Red teaming, brainstorming, and the ubiquitous informal encouragement to "think outside the box" are all, to one degree or another divergent thinking strategies. 

There are good reasons, however, for analysts to master the flip side of divergent thinking - convergent thinking -- as well.

There is quite a bit of excellent research that suggests that having a strong divergent thinking skillset is not enough.  In fact, the research goes further.  Having only strong divergent thinking skills likely lowers forecasting accuracy.

That's right - lowers.

Psychologists, for example, have long known that having too many choices is not only unproductive but counterproductive. In 2000, Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper showed the effects of too many options with respect to consumer products. Participants in their experiments showed more interest in the huge selection of jams with which they were presented but were more likely to actually make a decision and buy one (and to be more satisfied with their purchase) if presented with a smaller assortment.  Don't understand how this works?  Just take a look at the clip with Robin Williams as a recent Soviet emigre in the movie Moscow On The Hudson at the top of this post...

Beyond the realm of jam and much more directly relevant to intel professionals, Philip Tetlock, in his groundbreaking work on the correlates of forecasting accuracy, Expert Political Judgement, found that one popular analytic methodology, Scenarios Analysis, doesn't work at all.  Generating more and more plausible scenarios is actually counterproductive.  His experiments showed that "such exercises will often fail to open the mind of inclined-to-be-closed-minded hedgehogs but succeed in confusing already-inclined-to-be-open-minded foxes... (p. 199 of the 2005 edition for those interested in such things)"

Finally, research conducted by Mercyhurst's own Shannon (Ferrucci) Wasko using a real world intelligence problem and a controlled experiment showed much the same effect:  Divergent thinking alone lowers forecasting accuracy.

What's an analyst to do?

While divergent thinking is useful for developing concepts, ideas or hypotheses, convergent thinking is useful for focusing the analytic effort.  I have found that there are three crucial convergent thinking techniques:

  • Grouping.  Grouping (and its corollary, Establishing Relationships) is probably the most useful of the convergent thinking techniques.  In order to get a handle on all of the ideas that typically emerge from any divergent thinking exercise, it is important to be able to group similar ideas or hypotheses together.  Critical to this effort are the labels assigned to the various groups.  All sorts of cultural and cognitive biases can easily come into play with poorly chosen group names (For example, think how easily the labels "terrorist", "freedom fighter", "good" or "evil" can influence future analysis).  Mindmapping and other concept mapping techniques are very useful when attempting to use grouping as a way to deal with an overabundance of ideas.
  • Prioritizing.  Deciding which ideas, concepts or hypotheses deserve the most emphasis is crucial if collection and analytic resources are to be used efficiently.  Treating every idea as if it is equal to all the others generated by the divergent thinking process makes no sense.  Yet, as with any convergent thinking process, the decision regarding which concept is first among the putative equals should be made carefully.  Problems typically arise when the team setting the priorities is not diverse enough.  For example, a team of economists might well give economics issues undue emphasis. 
  • Filtering.  Filtering, as a convergent thinking technique, explicitly recognizes the awful truth of intelligence analysis - there is never enough time.  Filtering can be used to eliminate, in its extreme application, some possibilities entirely from further consideration.  Typically, however, analysts will use filtering to limit the level and extent of collection activities.  For example, intel professionals looking at pre-election activity in a certain country might decide to focus their collection activities at the county rather than at the city or town level.  As with grouping and prioritizing, where to drawn these kinds of lines is fraught with difficulty and should not be done lightly.
These are just the three techniques that I think are the most important.  There are clearly other convergent thinking strategies that are useful to analysts - don't hesitate leave your favorite in the comments!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Is A Critical Thinker?

Image Courtesy Wade M via Flickr
Just got turned on to Joe Lau's book, An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity (H/T to Edutopia).  I haven't had time to read more than the Introduction (free to download) and review the Table of Contents but it was enough to get me to order the book.

Why?

I really like his definition of critical thinking.  Lau identifies the 10 abilities of a critical thinker and it seems like a pretty comprehensive list to me:

  1. Understand the logical connections between ideas.
  2. Formulate ideas succinctly and precisely
  3. Identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.
  4. Evaluate the pros and cons of a decision.
  5. Evaluate the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
  6. Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
  7. Analyze problems systematically.
  8. Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
  9. Justify one's beliefs and values
  10. Reflect on the justification of one's own beliefs and values.
Obviously this is just my first take on it but I think it is worth checking out.