Categories
Intelligence

Is It Worth the Ink?

The CIA has disclosed a long-awaited report on its controversial interrogation methods as part of President Obama’s transparency promise. On his second day in office, he signed an executive order strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

So now is the time for the public to read that █████ ███ ██ █████████ █ █████████ █████. And even more is revealed, e. g. ██████████ ██ ████ ███████ █ ███ █ ███████. If you have no idea by now, better ████████████████ ████ ████████ █ ██████ ██ ████████, because ████████████████████████ ██████ ██ ██ ██████████████.

The CIA's report on interrogation methods
The CIA's report on interrogation methods

In the future, the newly created “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group” will handle the questioning of high-level prisoners. It is led by the FBI and will act in strict accordance with the the US Army field manual on interrogations, the █████████. I’m sorry, this one, the FM 2-22.3, is of course “approved for public release; distribution is unlimited”.

If it is approved for public release, it cannot be bad, right? And if CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano notes that “The CIA in no way endorsed behavior – no matter how infrequent – that went beyond formal guidance. This has all been looked at. […] That’s how the system was supposed to work, and that’s how it did work,” then I wonder whether that formal guidance was blacked out in the first place, too?

Categories
Intelligence Government

I don’t care how you get the information; I’m paying you for the result

Accountability - nothing to toy with / <i>Photo: Dunechaser, flickr
Accountability - nothing to toy with / photo: Dunechaser, flickr

Much has been written over the past few years on the role of private security companies (PSCs) (or PMCs, whomever you’re asking) in today’s conflict zones. Companies like Blackwater USA Xe have been criticized for their lack of accountability in regard to the laws of armed conflict.

Incidents involving Blackwater contractors blasting away civilians in Iraq have solidified the picture of an out-of-control private army that is driven only by its pecuniary interests. Now states are rushing to sign conventions regulating these companies’ activities.

Finally you might think.

But rather covertly another similar business model has flourished in the shade of the PSCs/PMCs without much being written about it: Private intelligence companies (or PICs), which according to Wikipedia are a:

[P]rivate sector (non-governmental) organization devoted to the collection and analysis of information, most commonly through the evaluation of public sources (OSINT or Open Source Intelligence) and cooperation with other institutions.

If this definition was entirely correct, there would be no obvious problems with the activities of such companies. After all they are only a bunch of newspaper readers writing intelligent analysis on political risks. Or are they?

Categories
Intelligence International Relations Government Security

BBC Monitoring @the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.


BBC Monitoring headquarters / photo: robinhamman, flickr
BBC Monitoring headquarters / photo: robinhamman, flickr

I had a chance to visit with the good folks at the BBC Monitoring booth at the ISF conference. For those of you unfamiliar with BBC Monitoring, they are the branch of the BBC that acquires and translates raw news and other reports from around the world.

They have been doing this since 1939 and made their intial fame in WWII translating German news broadcasts. Since then, they have grown substantially and now provide translation services in over a hundred languages through their subscription service.

I had the great good fortune to be asked to give a speech at the BBC Monitoring HQ (see image to right) a number of years ago and, as a result, I got a chance to actually see their operation. It is quite impressive. They pull in info from all over the world and rapidly and professionally translate and distribute in whatever form you want.

Conceptually, at least, it is pretty straightforward and simple. What makes BBC Monitoring different is that they are so frightfully good at it. Want an example? Check out their case study of last year’s Georgia crisis.

Related Posts:
Live-blogging The ISF!

Categories
Intelligence International Relations Security

Liveblogging the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.


Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods
Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods

All this week I am in Geneva, Switzerland attending the International Security Forum (ISF). The ISF is a biennial conference designed to discuss “ways to increase communication and cooperation between institutions engaged in research related to international security worldwide.

The conference this year has a strong (for me, at least) intel orientation. The theme is “Coping With Global Change” and the whole first day will be dedicated to the question: which new challenges are looming over the horizon? (Uhhh…that’s our job, isn’t it?)

The conference has a really interesting line-up of speakers and panels. For example, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari, and Deputy Director for Energy and Environmental Security in the Office of Intelligence and Counterintel at the Department of Energy, Carol Dumaine, will make two of the keynote speeches.

I am here as a guest of the wonderful people at The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) and The Center For Security Studies CSS, two of the many sponsors of the forum. My own modest contribution to the event is a short presentation on “Open Sources And The Death Of The Intelligence Cycle” (Yes, you read that right — death. And if it is not dead yet, by the end of my presentation, people are going to want to kill it…).

I am going to lug my computer around with me and see if I can do a bit of live-blogging. I will probably not be able to cover most of the panels as Chatham House Rules are in effect but, as with all good European conferences, there are lengthy coffee and lunch breaks and I may be able to corner a few people and capture their insights for you.

As always when I cover these type events, if you look at the schedule and see something or someone interesting, drop me a note or post a comment and I will try to sit in on the presentation or get a few words with the speaker, at least.

Categories
Intelligence Security

The Dow Jones of International Security

Courtesy of Isobel T /Flickr
Courtesy of Isobel T /Flickr

In a time where numeric and statistical models of reality are in crisis, there are still people that think that re-packing expert judgment using a formula somehow makes the underlying assumptions more valuable. The Russian Center for Policy Studies, for example, offers what it calls “the Dow Jones of International Security”, an index that “is meant to demonstrate the extent to which the international security situation differs from the “ideal” (…) at each point in time.”

According to the Center, the index is based on a complex methodology that is characterized by “its comprehensiveness, robustness, and clarity.”

The following formula is used to calculate your security:

Formula as presented on the Russian Center for Policy Studies' Website
Formula as presented on the Russian Center for Policy Studies' Website

values2
Screenshot: Center for Policy Studies site

According to the Center’s methodology page, the factors above include “the threat of global nuclear war, the number and intensity of local conflicts, the type of political relations between various countries and international organizations, the intensity and scale of terrorist activity, the stability of the global economy, and the threat posed by man-made catastrophes and epidemics.”

Now the question is, how does the Center collect its data to calculate the security index?

“It is calculated on the basis of expert analyses of the probability of the occurrence of one or another global or regional event that would have a direct impact on international security. Each such event is given a certain score on the scale we have developed.”

So the index is basically based on expert judgment which is quite unreliable:

Philip Tetlock pointed out in his book “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” that some 82’000 expert predictions that he tracked for two decades where only a tiny bit more reliable than random guesses or monkeys throwing darts at a board.

The problem with the index above also seems to be that perception of the current security situation is treacherous. For example on 10th September 2001 the West, especially the US seemed to be quite a safe place to most analysts. However, one day later the West was perceived as a side in a global war against a violent ideology. Nicholas Taleb’s “black swans” or random events with high impact, make an analysis of the current security situation much more difficult. It would be interesting to know how the Center’s experts had rated the probability of a global event one week before 9/11.

To be fair, the Center of Policy Studies is just doing what other political risk and even market analysts of big banks are doing: Selling their predictions by highlighting the value of expertise. As long as the marketing works and people really believe that accurate mathematical predictions of the future or even an accurate model of the present realities are possible, they will sell their products and the industry will continue to grow.