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Archive for May, 2006

Sunday, May 28th, 2006


The world-travelling Sinophile, Dan of tdaxp, has already declared his Summerblog ’06 to have begun [ ed. isn’t it still Spring?] . Up so far are two great extended series by Dan, based on some of his graduate research:

Redefining The Gap

Perspectives and Peers

Each are worth your time, each will take some time, so ” pop open an extra Corona “ and enjoy !

Sunday, May 28th, 2006


The cortisol charged timespace that I call ” last week” has left me behind on blogging and there are a number of good pieces I need to attend to, including posts like the one by Collounsbury on the Gerecht piece advocating reform of clandestine ops. Col had a number of observations that I wanted to highlight and remark upon ( my comments will be in normal text).

“First, as an outsider with contact with US diplos for business for various reasons (US firm, US client firms, etc.), I have long remarked that the American rotation system, which seems to effectively cycle in MENA virtually on a 2 yr basis although I believe the normal rotation is 3 yrs seems to be designed for maximum ineffectiveness on the part of the US diplos. Most Euros are around longer, and seem to cycle back through their region. US diplos seem to get sucked off hither and thither, willy nilly.

As such, first, one is just starting to get a working relationship going when they have to fuck off. It takes at least a year to be cogniscent of a country’s working environment. Second, of course, in the long term if they are depending on the long term “foreign service nationals” – and certainly I have seen that they do to an amazing extent, as in MENA the US diplos rarely have the language skills to be effective in my experience, never mind they are there for such a short time as to make your head spin, and they never seem to come back – then much of the supposed purpose (avoiding corruption, making sure the information they generate is independent, etc) is completely defeated, as they are deaf and dumb….

It amases me that the American foreign presence is so …. badly designed and executed”

First off, regarding both State and CIA folks operating out of diplomatic postings, Col is exactly right. It takes a great deal of time to acquire linguistic fluency and cultural intelligence in the operative sense so that you can move about in a radically different culture effectively as well as without attracting undue attention. This requires considerable ” in country ” experience that, unfortunately for reasons related to Cold War CI security policies, that the USG does a good job of preventing its personnel from ever acquiring.

If the analytical division at the CIA could use a healthy dose of diversity in methodological approaches and multidisiplinarity, then the field personnel need deeper regional specialization. If you want CIA and State personnel who talk like native speakers and intuitively grasp how a person from the target culture is going to react, then a long-term investment is required. Nothing else will do.

All the moreso for those CIA or DIA people who operate without benefit of diplomatic cover. Their only safety net is their knowledge base. Is it impossible to infiltrate Islamist groups ? No, but you must effectively become an “Islamist” – not only be perceived as but really be a serious student of Islam – as the ” American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, a mere kid from California, was accepted as a brother by Yemeni and Pakistani madrassas, the Taliban and two Islamist terrorist groups, al Qaida and Harakat-ul Mujahedeen-Al Almi.

“Finally with respect to the advice, it strikes me as well-conceived. I have only listened to diplos and spies talk, but the mention, as Gerecht does of the personnel system and of such incentivises on way of approach (as well as his emphasis on the non-official cover) strikes me as exactely the right thinking. Within an organisation one has to look at what the actual performance incentives are – incentive structure and how it actually will operate when it comes into contact with reality are the keys to understanding how to make an organisation work. “

Very true. If there seems to be a theme that runs across the military, foreign service and IC community bureaucracies it is the need to serious reform the personnel system and incentives for promotion or careeer advancement. While I do not have a good overview of the CIA personnel system, the current military promotion system originated in the 1890’s. The State Department’s stretches back to the 1920’s. Both were, in their day, radical and effective administrative reforms but the era in which they were created long ago passed into history.

Our eye should be on 2030, not 1930 or 1949 or even 1991.

Sunday, May 28th, 2006


Critt Jarvis was kind enough to add me to his wiki discussion team at Connecting in Conversation for his new gaming project.

It’s an honor to be included in a group of creative minds alongside such accomplished people as Art Hutchinson, Dave Davison, David Galiel , Alice Taylor and, of course, Critt himself. The discussion has already been a stimulating opportunity to engage in horizontal thinking by interacting with experts from other fields.

Watch the game evolve and give Critt your feedback.

” All men’s gains are the fruits of venturing”

– Herodotus

Friday, May 26th, 2006


A very interesting, long, link-rich, post on the atttention economy and ” attention scarcity” at Edge Perspectives with John Hagel. Midstream, Hagel observes:

“There is no question that the dynamics of the attention economy will redefine media economics and particularly advertising, but a more fundamental question needs to be addressed before we can gain a clear view of the implications for media and advertising: what is behind the desire to receive attention?”

This is an economic issue predominantly for those already ( by global standards) who are rich and safe and can afford to divert scarce resources toward ego fulfillment instead of satisfying more urgent needs. By definition, access to the internet creates considerable self-selection bias in a world where over a billion people subsist on pennies a day and a billion or so others enjoy a precarious status only marginally more secure.

Nevertheless, as internet use has now reached, possibly, a billion users, the aggregate effects of attention-related behaviors are certainly worth consideration. In Hagel’s view:

“But the discussion to date about receiving attention misses a couple of key points. First, there is a powerful dynamic between giving and receiving attention. In a world where more and more options are competing for our attention, we are unlikely to offer that attention unless something of compelling value is offered in return. We become much more selective and demanding in terms of who or what will get our attention.

…There’s a second dynamic that will reinforce the first. We all find ourselves in a globalizing world where we must find ways to develop distinctive and rapidly evolving capabilities. That is the only way to carve out sustainable livelihoods in the face of intensifying competitive pressure.
In this context, what we know at any point in time has diminishing value. We all need to find ways to tap into a broader set of experiences and perspectives to refresh our understanding of the changing world around us. To do this effectively, we need to receive the deep and sustained attention of those who have the most to offer and we cannot do this unless we can offer compelling value in return. If we cannot build deep and sustaining networks of attention (in other words, networks of relationships), we will find it more and more difficult to remain relevant and productive.

Together, these two dynamics create a self-regulating mechanism. In a world of attention scarcity, we will not continue to receive attention unless we earn that right. If we do not receive attention, we risk becoming progressively marginalized. Receiving attention becomes far more important than it ever was and will require far more effort than in the past. This is the strong message for the media business, but it applies much more broadly to all businesses, other institutions and individuals. In the process, advertising, at least as we know it today, will become less and less effective, no matter how creative we become at grabbing the attention of unsuspecting customers. “

Uhh..where’s my Ritalin ?

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006


A PDF by Reuel Marc Gerecht entitled ” A New Clandestine Service: The Case For Creative Destruction“. (Hat tip to Shloky )

I have just rapidly skimmed this but it looks very interesting. A critical review of the Cold War to Terror War performance of the CIA. Not pretty.

I caught a few breezy generalizations by Gerecht – Oleg Penkovskii, for example made a significant difference with the nuclear weaponry intelligence he provided in our not having had a nuclear war over Cuba with the Soviet Union. Without Penkovskii’s insight into the paper tiger state of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the temptation for JFK ‘s administration to strike first and hard would have been much stronger. That operation alone probably justified the CIA’s whole existence, warts and all.

Secondly, I have heard exceptionally bitter criticism from a senior CIA field veteran over the CIA DO being shackled in Iran by successive administrations of both parties, at the request of the Shah. So blindness in Teheran in 1979 cannot be laid entirely at the CIA’s door. The Carter administration, which was still dominated intellectually at the time on key foreign policy questions by Cyrus Vance, only wished to hear what it wanted to hear about Iran and disregarded everything else ( Iran and Afghanistan proved to be the eclipse of Vance’s influence with President Carter – and hardly a moment too soon. The man was a fountainhead of bad advice). Clearly they understood Ayatollah Khomeini not at all and prohibited the CIA from finding out much of anything.

Going to give it a closer look over lunch.

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