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Of actionable and inactionable intelligence

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — nutshell version: strategy should precede tactics as contemplation precedes action ]
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action should be founded on contemplation robert mcnamara

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Let me grab a quick quote from page 4 of Dr. Rob Johnston‘s Analytic Culture in the US Intelligence Community: An Ethnographic Study, and launch from there:

Warner reviews and synthesizes a number of previous attempts to define the discipline of intelligence and comes to the conclusion that “Intelligence is secret state activity to understand or influence foreign entities.”

Warner’s synthesis seems to focus on strategic intelligence, but it is also logically similar to actionable intelligence (both tactical and operational) designed to influence the cognition or behavior of an adversary.

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Look, I’m an amateur reading professional materials, but what I sense here is a distinction between “actionable” and “strategic intelligence” — which for my purposes as a confirmed Taoist might semi-tongue-in-cheek be called “inactionable intelligence” and be done with it.

But of course while “inactionable intelligence” is certainly intelligence, it is by no means inactionable in any real sense. It is simply actionable at a different level or altitude, one more rareified if you will, closer to the needs of policy makers than those in the field, background hum to the vivid and pressing urgencies and exigencies of battle.

Let me take, from my reading when I began this post a week ago, and without giving them undue priority over a thousand such pieces that you or I might find, three headlines to illustrate my point:

  • American Conservative: COIN Is a Proven Failure; America risks shoveling more troops into Iraq to replicate a strategy that never worked in the first place
  • EmptyWheel: Over $80 Billion Wasted in “Training” Iraqi, Afghan Forces: No Lessons Learned
  • Informed Comment: Iraq Fail: Shiite Gov’t asks Sunni tribe to fight ISIL, but Sentences Politician from Tribe to Death
  • Agree or disagree with those three individual pieces as you may, each in turn depicts a situation where it is not the single raid or drone strike, firefight or rescue attempt, but the wider grasp of a war and its nth-order ramifications that is at stake. And while having a clear grasp of such things (seeing them in a coup d’oeuil, perhaps?) may not save or kill at the individual, small group, immediate tactical level, it can save tens or hundreds of thousands of lives, and perhaps even avert entire wars and their deranged after-effects, acting as what I’ll call “actionable wisdom” at higher altitude.

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    So we have the proposition: true inactionable intelligence is insightful actionable wisdom.

    Now here’s the thing: everyone knows that actionable intelligence is useful — it is almost something you can touch or see — it gives meaning to the view in a sniper’s scope, it is visceral, present, immediate, concrete, practical.

    By comparison, the high contextual intelligence I am calling “actionable wisdom” is more remote, theoretical, abstract — less tangible, less, let’s face it, sexy than “actionable intelligence”.

    Yet it has a wider and deeper reach, and the potential to offer far more positive outcomes and save far more lives.

    **

    I often refer to Castoriadis‘ quote about how different philosophy would be if our paradigm for a “real object” in consiering what reality is was Mozart‘s Requiem rather than a kitchen table — a table seems more real than music, munitions more real than morale — but are they?

    Or to put that another way — and I’m serious, if mildly metaphorical, in repurposing Stalin‘s quote — How many divisions has the Battle Hymn of the Republic?

    As many as it brings courage to, would be my answer.

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    Footnoting that McNamara quote: It’s from Robert S. McNamara in Conversations with History, starting from the question at the 11.21 mark onwards. Here’s a more detailed transcript:

    At times I think there is a tension between what you call contemplation and action. But I think there’s less tension than most people believe, and I myself believe a person of action, or let’s say an administrator if you will, should put more weight on contemplation, what you call contemplation, should put more weight on establishing values in his mind, establishing goals and objectives, for himself, for his organization, and those he’s associated with. Let me phrase it very simplistically: I don’t believe there’s a contradiction between a soft heart and hard head. In a sense, I don’t believe there’s a contradiction between contemplation and action. Action should be founded on contemplation, and those of us who act don’t put enough time, don’t give enough emphasis, to contemplation.

    After a discussion of his role introducing safety features in the 1950s auto industry, he continues:

    There’s no contradiction between what I call a soft heart and a hard head, or there’s no contradiction between what I’ll call social values on the one hand and a firm’s financial strength and sustainability on the other – that’s really what I was first trying to prove to myself and then trying to prove to others.

    An English game

    Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — image and Sotheby’s cataloguing via Michael Robinson ]
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    Carl Jung told his friend Sir Laurens van der Post:

    One of the most striking testimonies to the quality of the English spirit is the English love of sport and games in a classical sense and their genius for inventing games.

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    Exempli gratia:

    Pooh Stcks

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    Catalog entry:

    Shepard, E.H.
    “FOR A LONG TIME THEY LOOKED AT THE RIVER BENEATH THEM…”

    Illustration for Chapter six of ‘The House at Pooh Corner,’ the episode “in which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in.” The game is ‘Poohsticks.’ Sold this morning: £314,500 (US$492,727)

    Shepard, Ernest H. (10 December 1879 – 24 March 1976)
    188 by 148mm, original ink drawing,
    signed “EHShepard” lower left.

    **

    For those who don’t know the game, here’s the relevant excerpt from The House at Pooh Corner:

    Pooh had just come to the bridge; and not looking where he was going, he tripped over something, and the fir-cone jerked out of his paw into the river. ‘Bother,’ said Pooh, as it floated slowly under the bridge, and he went back to get another fir-cone which had a rhyme to it. But then he thought that he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day, so he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped slowly away beneath him, and suddenly, there was his fir-cone slipping away too.

    ‘That’s funny,’ said Pooh. ‘I dropped it on the other side,’ said Pooh, ‘and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?’ And he went back for some more fir-cones. It did. It kept on doing it. Then he dropped two in at once, and leant over the bridge to see which of them would come out first; and one of them did; but as they were both the same size, he didn’t know if it was the one which he wanted to win, or the other one. So the next time he dropped one big one and one little one, and the big one came out first, which was what he had said it would do, and the little one came out last, which was what he had said it would do, so he had won twice … and when he went home for tea, he had won thirty-six and lost twenty-eight, which meant that he was – that he had – well, you take twenty-eight from thirty-six, and that’s what he was. Instead of the other way round.

    And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest. But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.’

    Taoism with Intelligence, yeah!

    Monday, December 30th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — this post is useless and a delight, if you catch the same drift I do ]
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    Well you know me, I love juxtapositions and variations on a theme, and I have a keen interest in applying them with intelligence to Intelligence — especially where it meets Religion — so this one’s a natural!

    I mean, you might think the upper panel was an IC logo since it uses the word “intel”, but it’s not — it’s the long-time logo for a brand of computer chips from Intel Corp — now found in both PCs and Macs.

    But the IC was not to be outdone, and — mirabile dictu — has responded with its own “inside” logo. Intel is fine, you see, but frankly Tao is better.

    My own preferred Taoist text is that of Chuang Tzu‘s Inner Chapters — “chapters inside” one might almost say — which you can find translated by the excellent Burton Watson in Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.

    Open it up, go inside…

    **

    NSA’s Tao source:

  • Der Spiegel
  • Arresting Citizens, part II: Religion

    Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the religious and irreligious attributes of the sovereign citizen movement, with a glance at syncretism and the Grateful Dead ]
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    There’s something of a question as to whether the US sovereign citizens movement is religious and perhaps apocalyptic, or basically secular in nature. As I said in part I of this double post, its main manifestations haven’t seemed particularly religious, and I have accordingly not been paying them a whole lot of attention.

    This sense — that the movement is primarily legal rather than religious in emphasis, is nicely captured in this personal communication from JM Berger:

    Very few of the beliefs that we use to define the sovereign citizen movement are by definition religious. The things that most often define a sovereign have to do with interpretations of secular law. Athough those interpretations are sometimes supported by religious concepts, the beliefs themselves are centered on what adherents think is a pragmatic reading of law. So to explain that, most sovereigns wouldn’t refuse to answer a policeman’s questions by citing a religious principle. They would instead cite some secular legal principle they believe is valid. But some sovereigns do mix religion in more aggressively, such as those who follow outgrowths of the old Moorish Science Temple religion. But even they rely on legal arguments.

    The most common sovereign how-to materials and recruitment websites tend to be pretty secular and based on a reading of history that, while fanciful, is predicated on a misreading of history rather than on ideas we would normally consider religious. In fact, I think the big challenge in understanding this movement is figuring out how these ideas take such powerful hold having neither a consistent religious dimension nor any evidence — even subjective or anecdotal — that they work on a practical level.

    JM is the author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam and of the New America Foundation report, PATCON: The FBI’s Secret War Against the ‘Patriot’ Movement… His views as expressed in the quote above are based on recent research.

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    Jean Rosenfeld is also a researcher with an interest in both foreign and home-grown violent movements. She authored what may have been the first detailed inquiry into Al-Qaida from a religious studies perspective, The `Religion’ of Usamah bin Ladin: Terror As the Hand of God, back in 2001, edited the anthology Terrorism, Identity, and Legitimacy, and was one of the FBI’s advisory scholars during the [“sovereign”] Justus Freemen standoff, see her article The Justus Freemen Standoff: The importance of the analysis of religion in avoiding violent outcomes in Cathy Wessinger, ed., Millennialism, Persecution & Violence.

    Also in a private communication, Jean writes:

    Sovereign citizen ideology is basically a religious ideology. It is deviant, of course, and is often mixed with Christian Identity religion. It comes out of the same “cultic milieu” as the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s and CSA of the 1980s.

    Setting these two opinions regarding the religiosity or otherwise of the sovereign citizens side by side, what strikes me most is the juxtaposition of the Moorish Science Temple in JM’s quote with the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord in Jean’s. Both are “new religious movement” of considerable interest to scholars of such things.

    For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]. For more on the CSA, see Kerry Noble‘s book, Tabernacle of Hate, with an Introduction by Jean Rosenfeld.

    **

    Given my interest in the religious imagination — which is manifesting itself these days in a wild profusion perhaps unmatched since the times of Qumran , Nag Hammadi and the Corpus Hermeticum — I was intrigued, in looking a little deeper into the US Sovereign Citizens movement, to find at least one individual with an approach to religion that’s suitably sui generis.

    The deliciously named (and I quote) ©H.I.R.M. J.M. Sovereign: Godsent™ is the author of TITLE 4 FLAG SAYS YOU’RE SCHWAG! The Sovereign Citizen’s Handbook (version 3.1), in which we read:

    The source of all Sovereignty is God. God holds Absolute Sovereignty, meaning He rules over all He surveys and answers to no-one above Himself, every force in nature including human conduct is His subject and under the control of “The Laws of Nature”. For example, “gravity”.

    The author then quotes 1 Chronicles 29:11-12

    Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.

    and follows this directly with the seal of the “Church of Sovereigns” depicted at the top of this post, right. On the left of the same image is a graphic taken from a video titled Calling the Sheriff 2.1.2012, which, if you recognize it, will give you an immediate and visceral sense of the Deadhead spirit of this particular writer.

    Here, by way of confirmation, is his bio:

    ©H.I.R.M. J.M. Sovereign: Godsent™, a veteran of the 2nd American Civil war, A.K.A the “War on Drugs” was born sovereign and free out of the the love generation but, was cast into slavery at age 5 in the police state of New Mexico, when his parents divorced. Struggling with the contradictions between society and the laws of nature, Godsent spent the next 33 years casting off the shackles of institutional conditioning, with the ultimate triumph of regaining the throne of his very own sovereign nation and setting new standards in the way Sovereign Americans and government employees interface.

    Shown the path of ahimsa (non-violence) at an early age, he is a lover of music and art, who has traveled the world to dance with friends at over 400 Grateful Dead shows in 5 countries. Surviving repeated attacks at shows and on the streets, by public employees, and noting the patterns and the damage done, he concluded that the World needed a treatise on Sovereignty and Reservation of Sovereign Rights. With the Investment of 23 years of field research, networking and litigation, and 7 years of writing, he has recently authored the definitive treatise on Reservation of Sovereign Rights. Along with the first automated sovereignty e-course, accompanied by an inspirational soundtrack, network services, a private, third-party document tracking system and educational videos.

    A monk of the 9 Sacred paths of Catholic, Buddha Rasta, Tao, Maya, Jain, Shvaite, Vaishnava, and Eckankar, he has traveled the world in search of priceless wisdom, humor, melody and artifacts. He has learned the most confidential knowledge and has been given the keys the Kingdom of God, by the enlightened masters, which he gives entrance to you here, in this book. He has never owned a weapon in his life.

    **

    I am not totally immune to the charms of the Grateful Dead, and take an interest in Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shaiva tantra myself.

    But but but… please!! Even Christ recommends we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. And When the Taoist Chuang Tze expresses his lack of interest in governance, he does so not by way of refusing to pay parking tickets or taxes, but by politely refusing an offer of high office [Basic Writings, p 109]:

    Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u river, the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.”

    Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”

    “It would rather be alive dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials.

    Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”

    Xi Jinping

    Monday, November 26th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — Xi Jinping quotes an unnamed “ancient Chinese military strategist” and I respond with Laozi — this one’s for Raff Pantucci ]
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    According to Reuters today, Xi used his quote (above, top) in a speech in 2000, while governor of Fujian province. If anyone can identify the “ancient Chinese military strategist” and reference the original source of Xi‘s quote, I’d appreciate a heads up. My version of the Laozi is from Ursula le Guin‘s translation, chapter 43.


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