Archive for intelligence

Journalists vs Analysts

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2011 by Lance Strzok

I get the impression that a lot of analysts try to be journalists, and it got me thinking that maybe the road ahead is to actually make journalists within the IC.

How do analysts differ from journalists? The most obvious differences are level of knowledge on a subject, and objectivity. It is my beliefthat most analysts are pretty deep in tbrms of knowledge with respect to the subject matter they write on, and as human nature would have it, they are pretty attJched to their judgments on the things that they write about and don’t necessarily seek out others to collaborate with or open theclselves up to disagreement.

Journalists on the other hand, appear to me to be openly shallow in most subject areas that th~y write on when compared to analysts,but they seem more ethically bound to deliver balanced reporting on a subject after interviewing various analysts and SME’s for onions on the matter from various angles. In this way, the various sides of the story, and the drivers and stakeholders all get some kind of view represented in the report. (Want to highlight a little with respect tel differing motives and abilities here, depth of knowledge differences, motives differences, and objectivity or cognitive dissonance impacts as well as how each potential role might yield a different result).

So taking much of what I mention above as true, I ask, “what if the Ie had journalists that were directed to write reports, with deadlines, and had to find and interview analysts across the Ie, DoD, legal, state, local, academic, and others areas in order to more fully cover a topic? That would leave more emphasis properly placed on analysts to do their job of maintaining facts and forming and defending positions, rather then writing reports and adding to the noise. In addition to this, it would tend to have a positive influence on relationships between analysts an their willingness to collaborate when they start to see the influence that their argument held up, or not, who agreed with them, who did not and why. All these are good things in my mind and might alleviate some of the agency vs agency stuff that seems to eat away at the collective effort.
Now I believe that we have the tools to author joint products, like Living Intelligence, Intellipublia, and more, but how we would task this group of Ie level Journalists is another matter to consider. I am less certain about a common tasking system that would allow the head of the journalists to direct efforts against stories in a way that would meet intelligence requirements of all those that are submitting Intelligence requirements to different requirements processes. That being said, if we were going to make this group of journalists, then we could ptobably set up some folks that know how to direct this kind of activity and are familiar with the groups out there, and the general types of requirements that are needed such that they could direct journalists to meet them.

So in short, there would be analysts, sme’s and journalists. A directing mechanism for the journalists that takes input from key stakeholders, and a truly joint product that woul:d have the names of the analysts and agencies that contributed to them, thereby reducing the number of redundant reports that are created, and fostering the kind of collaboration and solid products that I believe we should be creating as a community.
I would think that creating this group and giving them the charter and responsibilities to do this job would be more likely than analysts all across the community getting reallylgood at collaborating and sharing in that way that we have hoped. Again, the difference in motivation and bias may be slowing or preventing the achievement of the environment we are trying to create.

Please let me know what you think.

Some responses from another area are below.

(Reader 1) I read a lot of topical blogs written by journalists, and I have say for many of them, I hold their analysis in higher esteem
than much of what I read in finished intelligence. Now, journalists are just as capable of having biases, but most of
them state it up front, or you can tell it by whom they are writing for. I think professional journalists are better at writing a tight storyline, keeping to the narrative, and in many cases offer interesting insights that many others would miss.

(Reader 2) I have to respectfully disagree. Some contemporary journalists seem to publish opinion pieces under the heading of articles. I have seen instances that present as the journalist going into the process of reporting with their own agenda instead of being objective. In this age of computers and instant gratification it also seems in trying to reduce the reporting to the short time span it’s presented in, the message is often distorted or lost entirely. The dearth of print media and conglomeration of newspapers further reduces the impact of responsible journalism. I am not saying this is necessarily the fault of the journalist, it’s the just the system they are forced to operate within. Don’t get me wrong, there are responsible journalists out there but there are many sloppy ones as well.
So too is the analyst field. But this is a problem of our own making. For too many years the attitude of “knowledge is
power” and each agency’s artificial stovepiping discouraged the sharing of information. This attitude became ingrained
and as we all know it is hard to change as human nature, as well as corporate mindset attests. As a result the problem
becomes not so much as how to share but in finding out who is working on what. Reinventing the wheel became
commonplace,. Then too the lack of social media skills among the older generation of analysts further compounded the
But programs like this blog for example s~gnal a change in direction. Education is the key. The newer analysts are more
comfortable using social media in their daily life so it translates easily into their analytical practices. Now it is a matter of
“advertising” who is doing what in the various agencies so that connections can be made between analysts. In addition, no
competent analyst should be producing arliyfinished intelligence without it being vetted. This is just common sense in my opinion. Are we going to have an opinio~? Yes. Are we going to possibly resent criticism? Again, yes. This is human
nature. I truly believe the vast majority0tanalysts today get the fact that producing for production’s sake is not
appropriate. We hopefully realize each intlividual is ultimately responsible for each and every call and their decision could ultimately affect the very lives of the indiliduals using it. I would hope they would do their very best and ensure it is the most accurate infonnationlanalysis possib e. Bottom line if you are putting your name to it, don’t you want to make sure you get it right?

(Reader 3) Interesting thoughts, Lance.
Reminds me of the mix between bloggers and what they call “Developer Advocates” or what not in the software world. As
this whole Internet-hosted, “cloud” and Iaas/Paas/Saas thing has taken off, there’s a lot more direct interaction between a
company and an individual delevoper.
So where you previously had tech Journalists reporting at magazines like Dr. Dobbs, and then tech bloggers like
TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, etc, you nor also have people working at cloud hosting companies that write articles or
screencasts on what their company provides.
I guess they are technically marketing/sales folks, but they are similar to a cross between a journalist and an analyst in that they might not be a SME, but they aren’t teallY just offering quick/shallow news articles, either.
Personally, from my limited viewpoint, I itill don’t really care for this idea of news-reporting style analysis, where an
article comes, goes and never gets update1 or pointed to again and that’s where LivingJntcJ really seems like a great idea.
But I can definitely see the need for someone who acts a a go-between for analysts who are too busy/too involved to sit
and chat it out with others every day, or ate naturally better at quiet thinking and research, versus interviewing or
collaborating across issues.
That’s why I dropped out of my own journalism ideals back in college – trying to get people to talk to me was a pain (and
scared me), whereas messing with a computer was a whole lot easier.

(Reader 4) +1 to james. Saying analysts need to be more like journalists in order to incorporate more balance is like saying chocolate needs to be more like vanilla in order to be more chocolatey.

(Reader 5) It is my belief that most analysts are pret deep in terms of knowledge with respect to the subject matte’ they write on” Man, I would love to work where you work.

We can do better.

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by Lance Strzok

No matter who you put in the DNI office, they have to be willing to address the changes that have to take place within agencies and analysts. The DNI has to be empowered to directly impact the budget of the agencies that he is trying to get to work together. Otherwise you can fire all the people you put in that seat and it won’t make a bit of difference. The public has to demand more from our leadership, and from our intelligence agencies.

To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. I am frankly disturbed with the current demonstrated lack of desire (not ability) for government agencies to truly collaborate on articles and issues regarding our national interests.

Family, friends, and fellow taxpayers deserve better from the Intelligence Community (IC) and government agencies that are sworn to guide and protect our great nation. Taxpayers pay taxes every year with the idea that the money they give to the government will be spent on programs that have well defined requirements, have little waste, and are realistic in scope and timeliness.

Watching the news we see glimpses of failures to recognize key information that was available across the various government agencies or agency databases that may have allowed a given atrocity to have been avoided. This followed by finger pointing and general denial of responsibility when something happens. I see databases at individual agencies that are created using government funds and then treated like they somehow belong to that agency. Rather then storing that information centrally where it can be searched, mashed, and relationships can be formed, they sit on servers within disparate agencies with the hope that access to those data can be logged and metrics can be made on how useful that database or information is so that a business case for its continued use can be justified. This of course inherently reduces its usefulness and timeliness and the ability for computer systems (that don’t sleep) to find relationships in mountains of data. Do agencies own their databases? Or did taxpayer dollars pay for them with the idea that they would be shared and used by all in an effort to protect our nation?

So put those mountains of data, (databases) in a central location where computers can apply artificial intelligence and pattern recognition on all of that data simultaneously and alert analysts to relationships that are found or that may exist with flags that denote a need for a given analyst to be granted access in order to find out the details of that relationship.

By moving the data into a shared environment, we can allow computers to find relationships and share those relationships and relevancy with the analysts that are interested in that information. We won’t have to rely on humans to detect it, and share it. You see, the sharing part of this is where I believe we are coming up short.

So why is it that sharing is so difficult within these communities? Well there are several reasons.

Policies – that state which organizations can share what with others, and also define the protection of databases and information.

History – of keeping secrets in the case of of the intelligence community. A long history of doing our best to keep secrets and protect databases of information under terms like “national security”, or “need to know”. These ideas served us well, but are they actually working? I would argue that they are not as effective as we may imagine, and that we may want to start to outpace our adversaries rather then spend so much time and effort trying to protect every bit of information so zealously. That is an entire debate that deserves another post all together.

Culture – where the people that know information seem to have more value and bring more value to an organization. Knowledge is power, and your pay is based on what you know and what you bring to the table. Rather then what you know and how you share it in ways that others can benefit from it. This continues to be a problem, fueled with a pay for performance system that (if done incorrectly) could lead to ever tighter lips when it comes to sharing.

In short, we will have to address the policies, historical vs current sharing ideology, and the culture of perceived value in knowledge sharing vs knowledge hording and the value that either idea brings to an organization.

Once we have the culture of appropriate sharing, shared situational awareness on items of interest within a community of interest, and technology supporting the sharing the awareness across unified data stores then we may see a more realistic environment for stopping future attempts at causing the US harm.

Another area ripe for improvement is where do we write about the things we know and understand?

Currently, each agency has its own process for vetting and releasing reports or products that get some sort of seal of approval (which just means it completed a vetting process that can be as shallow as one person deep). They also each have a production group, or division of folks that move these products through a process, then publish them to some server (again, may or may not be seachable or indexed). By the time the information has gone through the process, the information may be a little old, or been overcome by events. This group and process is intended to bring a sense of authority to the documents, and once the document or information has the command seal added, it is available to the rest of the consumers to apply to their problem set. These reports are now something that can be referenced and in some cases, only these documents can be used or referenced for making decisions with regard to acquisition. This is another area where we need to take a good look at policy and see if there is room for a joint product, not just agency products that can get a seal of approval.

The idea that the smartest people on any given topic exist in one building is just not realistic. acquisition communities should be able to find joint products that reflect what communities of interest have to say about the topic at hand. They should not have to be bound to one agencies opinion, but able to use the opinion of the members across the community that work that issue. Simply put, if I offered you a report by one agency that has 4 people that looked it over and contributed to it, and one that an entire community worked on collaboratively to create, which one would you choose?

So the question always comes up on the vetting process for these collaborative documents. What rigor is there? What process? How can the consumer know that a given product has any more or fewer errors then a product created by a single agency and put through their process? Put another way, how can we know that a product that had 15 contributors from across the community and was read by many more as it was being created is any more accurate for making decisions then one that is created by 4 people at a single agency that goes through that agencies process?

Bottom line, we need to demand that our Intelligence Community act more like a community than a group of competing agencies, and empower those that are trying to change the culture of collaboration and analysis from agency specific to that of one IC supporting decision makers. Not 16 agencies trying to tell their own version of the story. Huge change has to take place, and it won’t happen unless the public is demanding it. Otherwise, no matter who you put in the DNI’s chair, it won’t matter because the agencies can just wait him or her out and go on with business as usual. So empower the DNI to directly impact budgets, and force documentation of actual collaboration and proven steps of change with embedded liaisons. Make intelligence production occur in a collaborative space that is open to all of the people that work that issue and have the appropriate credentials to work with that information at the lowest level possible. Take production down to the analysts level, and have it created and published in an open, accessible, collaborative forum. Build communities of interest, foster and reward superior contributions and products that have the touch of many hands and minds.

These are real, and achievable steps that we can take to move us toward a more focused and efficient Intelligence apparatus.

Constructive comments always appreciated.

A plan to motivate – Directing components within an enterprise.

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2010 by Lance Strzok

Some perceived problems up front.

One leading agency wants to lead or direct changes across the other agencies, but has limited number of ways to motivate those agencies to change. The largest motivator may be financial incentives / or withholding, that can be offered to those commands that can prove alignment and conformance.

Most agencies are motivated by internal problems and solutions, and don’t understand the need for the certain changes that will align the entire enterprise for success. Lack of understanding and financial constraints drive decisions to local needs. There is no education or representation of the greater enterprise needs at the local command level.

Individuals within a command that have ideas that are not conformal with the commands point of view may be reluctant to press to hard for these enterprise level alignment changes for fear of reprisal in any form.

Idea on what to do.

Have at least one individual at each agency that is an embedded member from the directing agency. These members belong to the directing agency, but sit in a local command or agency.
Since they don’t belong to the local command, they can deliver the news from the directing agency without fear of retribution or getting fired.
Their performance appraisals are based on achieved changes that are documented and returned to the directing command each month.
This person is motivated to engage the local command to make the changes and advise the local command of efforts they can make in order to receive funds.
The local command is motivated to listen to the directing agencies representative because that representative recommends the funds to be sent to the agency based on the local commands efforts to align and with the directing agency.

I see this as win, win, win – because the directing agency gets influence at local commands, the local commands have someone to listen to and get direction from, while the local command representation has top cover and can deliver the news without fear of retribution.

The local reps need to be fairly senior and have personable and good communication skills.

Have any comments or thoughts on how this could be better? Do you think it could work?

As always, thanks for reading.
Your comments and constructive criticism are welcome.