Tag Archives: intel

Best sentence on intel in 8 years

Perspicacity points to Doyle McManus:

“By shining light on organizational dysfunction that’s hard to dramatize, the attempted bombing has highlighted a problem that desperately needs to be solved.”


New information on al Qaeda org structure

New information on al Qaeda from the inside:

The interrogations of two accused Westerners who say they trained and fought with al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region provide an inside view of the terror group’s organizational structures.

Arguably, they shed more light on the state of al Qaeda than any material previously released into the public domain.

The documents reveal training programs and the protective measures the terrorist organization has taken against increasingly effective U.S. missile strikes.

This is something I began exploring on this blog over five years ago, the theory being that insight into the organization would point to more precise ways to neutralize the organization.  Looking back at what I wrote then, I think I should have been more careful to emphasize that an org chart is just a construct that hints at some of the workings of the organization.  Orgporn is usually more of a clue than a definitive answer.  It tells you what questions to ask next.  That said, any insight should prove useful.

Without seeing the new intel, it’s hard to say what’s in it, but the source of the information seems better than most.  More to come.

[Image: Xchango.com]

Week in Public Organizations, 7Jun2009


What a week.  more orgporn, gender and mentorship, playing chess with terrorists, spendthrift car companies, antitrust in high tech, black wires, Scandinavian transparency, Korean intel, tending the automotive garden, debunking Hawthorne, more car stuff, and parsing intel failure.  These were some of the stories that made the cut last week:

Forbes posts corporate orgporn
NBER study links gender gap, mentorship opportunities
Obama strategically undermines Osama
GM sends signals… but perhaps not the right ones
Tech companies under antitrust investigation
Covert agency + construction = secrecy fail
CFP: Finland builds through transparency
Scenarios for increased DPRK surveillance
Safford discusses cars, gardens
Hawthorne debunked?
Are there options for GM beyond cars?
What does “intel failure” actually mean?

What does “intel failure” actually mean?

North Korea’s nuclear test about a week ago and its handful of missile tests in the days since have provoked a lot of discussion about what the DPRK’s intentions might be.  An underlying question raised by the apparent surprise around the world is:  was this an intelligence failure?

Joshua Pollack doesn’t think so, at least not in terms of the intelligence services neglecting to collect and analyze the right information:

There is an option C) as well: the intel collectors saw all the signs, but the higher-ups failed to draw the proper conclusions.

There was a scattering of leaks in the days ahead of the test, possibly from South Korean intelligence. And afterward, we learned that the IC was watching the preparations intently:

The official said that U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring the test facility had witnessed significant activity in the days before the explosion. The United States had positioned an array of high-tech equipment to monitor the test, including Pentagon aircraft equipped to collect atmospheric samples of any nuclear plume.

Pollack’s observation raises the question of what intel failure actually means.  While it’s usually intended to mean a failure to collect or properly analyze diplomatically and militarily sensitive information, that definition neglects the role of intel’s ultimate customers. The point of intel is to enable decisions; intel without a decision is as pointless as decisions without intel.  To understand success or failure in intel, we must expand the scope beyond producers to consumers.

Information and analysis provided by the IC to its customers enters a decision-making process fraught with competing agendas and priorities.  Pollack’s Option C raises the possibility–and we’ll likely never know for sure–that the administration muffed the decision.  If true, one consequence could have been a failure to act early to build global support for opposition to the tests; fortuntately, that support appears to have emerged.  Assuming the IC were on top of events in North Korea, one might assume that the administration executed a very savvy campaign or got very lucky.

Regardless of whether balls were dropped in the lead-up to March 25, there is an opportunity here to understand how decisions were or were not made, and to make them differently next time.  Alas, there is also opportunity for the more powerful decision-makers to shift blame to the IC when convenient, and it has been very convenient in the past.

Week in Public Organizations, 25May2009


Time has gotten away from me.  Foreign intel, veteran astronauts, leadership in the federal sector, ROTC on campus, learning through failure, and the effectiveness of EI training.  These were some of the compelling stories in the last week:

US increasingly relies on foreign intel cooperation
Bolden named NASA administrator
Federal workers value strong leadership
Downs argues for ROTC on campus
Failure (sometimes) leads to learning
EI training proven effective

Politico notes absence of CEOs in Obama adminstration

Politico fronts this story today:

This constellation of talent, however, has something of a black hole. There is virtually no one on Obama’s team with outsized achievements or a high-profile reputation earned in the world of business.

There are no former CEOs in the Obama Cabinet. And among the people who make up his daily inner circle, there is only a dollop or two of top-level private sector experience.

Whether it is a signifcant absence, however, is far more debatable. As it happens, only a small number of the business leaders in recent administrations were stand-outs. And several were ostentatious flops. It would be hard to argue that there is a close correlation between success in business and success in Washington.

Still, some long-time White House observers find it noteworthy that when Obama convenes his best minds, there will be few people who have answered to shareholders as well as voters — people who know by intuition how the business community is likely to react to any given day’s news.

I have wondered about this myself.  Putting aside the certainty of breathtaking cuts in pay–one would think that extraordinarily wealthy CEOs would be honored to add service to country to their legacies–it seems… Obama-like… to include some big-name corporate talent to the administration, especially in light of the financial crisis and what I predict will be an inevitable reorganization of significant parts of government.  Certainly it would send a message if the usual suspects such as Gates, Jobs, Welch, etc. rushed to the aid of their country.

There are a few personal favorites I would nominate, among them

These are purely personal picks.  None of them is perfect, but they are all achievers in their own right.  It isn’t necessarily a must to bring CEO talent into the White House–John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, thinks the administration has done a good job in reaching out to business–but any of these would be certain to leave an imprint.

[Note: I recognize that my list is lily-white and male.  I would expect this to shift in the next few years.]

Bookmark and Share

Week in Public Organizations, 21Sep2008

Climate change, role-playing games, leadership shifts, open-source intel, nationalized oil, juries and policy, paradoxes of attention, and thoughts on torture.  These were some of the stories involving organizations in public life this week:

WP: Intel agencies predict climate change challenges

Danger Room: Terror plots could be hatched in online role-playing games

Hayden: bin Laden no longer al Qaeda’s manager

OSINT contractor shares thoughts on improving the process

Slate: National oil companies hold political future

Judge: Juries do not engage in policy analysis

O&M: Your well-being is guaranteed

May, Workman, and Jones: Bureaucracy faces paradox of attention

APA: We probably shouldn’t aid in torture