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How to Run a War Room

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Hint: You need to know your Boyd.

British political consultant James Frayne at Campaign War Room explains:

Creating an effective war room

….War rooms are therefore places which can pull in relevant information, which can process it effectively by working out what is most important at a given moment, and which can make timely decisions as a result of processing this information. They must become expert in Boyd’s OODA loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (although I appreciate some prefer to think of this the other way round – you inevitably act first, and observe after).

War rooms should have the following characteristics:

  • They must have clear objectives. In electoral politics, the objective is clear: win the election. In permanent campaigns or in business, objectives are usually less clear. Is the war room there to act as a rapid rebuttal machine, for example, to defend a business’ reputation (Wal-Mart set one of these up back in 2005)? Or is it to help re-organise a business? War room staff must know exactly why they are there.
  • They should have a small staff and clear lines of authority. War rooms are often created because prior decision-making structures failed, perhaps because there were too many people involved in discussions, or because no one knew where authority lay. These were reasons why the most famous political war room of all – Clinton’s in 1992 – was created. They need be tight so that people don’t get bogged down by endless people given their opinions, and they need to have clear lines of authority so that everyone knows who can make what decision.
  • They must have executive authority. It sounds like an obvious point and in many ways it is, but I remember one campaign where we worked in the campaign office but ultimate authority for decisions lay off-site. It was a debacle as you can imagine. War rooms must contain those people who can actually make decisions.

Read the rest here.

Guest Post:A Hipbone Approach to Analysis III.

Saturday, October 30th, 2010


Charles Cameron is the regular guest-blogger at Zenpundit, and has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute:

A Hipbone Approach to Analysis III.

by Charles Cameron

I’ve been slowly prepping this series of pieces about my analytic approach — and the mysterious business of “connecting the dots” — for a while, but.. Jeff Jonas, whose work I only recently ran across, has given me “another piece of the puzzle” and a slew of new dots to connect, so here’s a quick impression of some new (for me) terrain that connects with other areas I have long been familiar with.


What it comes down to in my post today is this: I would like to reconcile “connecting the dots” with “putting together the pieces of the puzzle”.

Both metaphors have to do with “seeing the big picture”, and one of them (“connecting the dots”) has to do directly with nodes and edges, i.e. with those systems we call graphs and networks, while the other suggests a far subtler set of connections.

Consider this: n+1 is the next dot in the series of integers after n, with “+1” being the only link necessary — you can represent that on a graph with two nodes and an edge. But if you had the sky of the northern hemisphere in one hand (hey, this is a thought experiment) and five square miles of landscape around Winchester Cathedral in the other, finding just where to fit the cathedral (and the surrounding, branching, leafy trees nearby) snugly into the sky would be a far trickier business, and the links between air and leaf and stone molecules would be very many — we should be grateful for the ease with which the sky accommodates itself in reality to the cathedral and the trees (and the cathedral and the trees to the sky) — and for the ease with which a painter like Turner can capture the effect…

Two puzzle pieces, I mean, may have to fit along many aspects of their intersection, while dots can be connected by a single common thread.


I’ve only recently “met” the mind of Jeff Jonas, but he has some remarkable things to say about puzzles — for one thing, he writes about the levels of, well, computation involved in solving a jigsaw puzzle:

The first piece you take out of the box and place on the work surface requires very little computational effort. The second and third pieces require almost equally insignificant mental effort. Then as the number of pieces on the table grows the effort to determine where the next piece goes increases as well. But there is a tipping point where the effort to determine where to place the next piece gets easier and easier … despite the fact the number of puzzle pieces on the table continues to grow.

That in itself is a fascinating thought to dwell on, in fact it’s the sort of piece of the puzzle that gives me an epiphany — Jonas talks about puzzle pieces that provoke epiphanies, too:

Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.

I’m processing this as a theologian / philosopher / poet, and Jonas has just given me a new angle on the theme of the intersection of frames of reference that Arthur Koestler in The Act of Creation takes to be the fundamental element in insights ranging all the way from casual jokes about rabbis to — let me give you a more powerful example — the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture which, if I’ve understood the layman’s version correctly, began as a hunch that the otherwise entirely distinct mathematical zones known as “elliptic curves” and “modular forms” could be mapped onto each other – and wound up once proven, successfully bridging algebra with analysis.

Now, I am no no no no mathematician — but I am a student of conceptual bridges, so if I’ve phrased myself poorly here, please bear with me. The point is to think freshly about how one idea connects with another.

Koestler’s insight at the intersection between two fields (for this is essentially a matter of multiple-frame, and thus cross-disciplinary, thinking) is, I’d suggest, Jonas’ epiphanic piece of the puzzle.



But as we are trying to figure out the puzzle pieces — and this applies to “what is the meaning of life?” as much as to “what threat should be uppermost in our concern?” — Jonas has more to throw at us:

There may be more than one puzzle in the box, some puzzles having nothing to do with others. There may be duplicate pieces, pieces that disagree with each other, and missing pieces. Some pieces may have been shredded and are now unusable. Other pieces are mislabeled and/or are exceptionally well crafted lies.

I would like to add that puzzles may not be the only thing in the (universal) box. There’s a quote that originates somewhere in Heidegger, to the effect that “A puzzle is the unknown, to be solved, while a mystery is the unknowable, to be entered into and dwelt within.” As I say, I’ve only just run into Jonas’ thoughts, but I’d like to integrate that piece of the puzzle in with the ideas he’s providing – why not have a go at the mystery too while we’re about it?


So what happens with ideas? How do they connect?

Hermann Hesse, the Nobel laureate in literature who gave us Siddhartha and Steppenwolf and The Journey to the East, won his Nobel for his most ambitious novel, The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel, also known in English as Magister Ludi). It is an amazing piece of work that inspired at least one other book by another Nobel laureate — Manfred Eigen’s Laws of the Game: How the Principles of Nature Govern Chance — gave John Holland (he of genetic algorithms) the ruling metaphor for his life’s work, was an early and profound influence on Christopher Alexander’s thinking about pattern languages, and in general serves as a catalyst for grand scale creativity among a disparate crowd of very bright minds.

It is about a game — a game on the order of the complete works of JS Bach. And the essence of the game is the juxtaposition of thoughts.

It is about “connecting the dots” and “putting together the pieces of the puzzle” on the grand scale, to create not a single link between ideas, not a small “bigger picture” deploying a half-dozen or so insights, but a vast architecture of ideas that encompasses all “deep” human thought and connects all “beautiful” cognizable patterns. Hesse uses the image of an organist playing an organ to describe the play of ideas that composes his Game, writing:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number.

And in Hesse’s central, musical metaphor, the myriad thoughts that comprise what he terms the “hundred-gated cathedral of Mind” are linked one with another by likeness — by identity, isomorphism, homology, symmetry, parallelism, opposition, analogy, metaphor…


I’ll have to move us deep into the territory of the arts and humanities here, because Hesse himself was supremely versed in those areas, but in doing so I would remind you that John Holland wrote of his life’s work, “If I could get at all close to producing something like the glass bead game I can’t think of anything that would delight me more.”

Here’s Hesse on the analogical / isomorphic nature of the moves that connect ideas — “only connect!” said EM Forster — in his great Game:

Throughout its history the Game was closely allied with music, and usually proceeded according to musical or mathematical rules. One theme, two themes, or three themes were stated, elaborated, varied, and underwent a development quite similar to that of the theme in a Bach fugue or a concerto movement. A Game, for example, might start from a given astronomical configuration, or from the actual theme of a Bach fugue, or from a sentence out of Leibniz or the Upanishads, and from this theme, depending on the intentions and talents of the player, it could either further explore and elaborate the initial motif or else enrich its expressiveness by allusions to kindred concepts. Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game’s symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature. Experts and Masters of the Game freely wove the initial theme into unlimited combinations. For a long time one school of players favored the technique of stating side by side, developing in counterpoint, and finally harmoniously combining two hostile themes or ideas, such as law and freedom, individual and community. In such a Game the goal was to develop both themes or theses with complete equality and impartiality, to evolve out of thesis and antithesis the purest possible synthesis.

It is Bach, it is Hegel, it is the very essence of creativity, it is the associative, metaphoric nature of mind and brain (and I won’t get more than toe-deep in the “deep problem” of consciousness here).


And it does involve combining the understanding of both puzzle and mystery, to return to that distinction from Heidegger:

I suddenly realized that in the language, or at any rate in the spirit of the Glass Bead Game, everything actually was all-meaningful, that every symbol and combination of symbols led not hither and yon, not to single examples, experiments, and proofs, but into the center, the mystery and innermost heart of the world, into primal knowledge. Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.

Hesse is proposing his intuition that the world of ideas is a mandala-form array of symmetries with a “vanishing point” in the center.

Well, I have leapt far from my original topic, Jeff Jonas’ comments on piecing together a puzzle, but I hope the bungee-cord I’ve been depending on has held your attention, and now as always, at the far end of the extension there’s a bouncing-back.


The human mind “connects the dots” and “pieces together the puzzle” by recognizing likenesses — pattern recognition, if you like.

But just how human analogical thinking functions is not exactly an easy question…


Saturday, October 30th, 2010

On the BBC:

Hat tip to SWJ Blog.

Guest post: A Hipbone Approach to Analysis II.

Friday, October 29th, 2010

 Charles Cameron is the regular guest-blogger at Zenpundit, and has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute:

A Hipbone Approach to Analysis II.

by Charles Cameron

Let’s call this one Hopscotch across the disciplines.

…our intelligence community failed to connect those dots…
        –  President Obama, Remarks on Security Reviews, Jan 05, 2010

I’ve been giving quite some thought over the past fifteen years to this issue of connecting dots.

My internet handle, hipbone, does double duty for me, since it refers to Ezekiel’s apocalyptic prophecy as featured in the lyric, “hip bone connected to you back bone”, in the old spiritual, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones. On the one hand it points to apocalyptic, by which I mean the soon expectation of a sudden and complete transformation in world affairs, very possibly accompanied, triggered or accomplished by extreme violence, with the end result being a highly favored “new heaven and new earth” or “new world order” depending on who is doing the expectation. On the other hand, it points directly to the idea of “connecting the dots” itself, since the entire song is about connections. I have been working on both fronts at least since 1995.


Connecting the dots is a matter of thinking, and there are two basic strategies of thought available to the human mind: linear thinking, which proceeds via cause and effect along a single track, and which is the major style of thought used within disciplinary silos, and lateral thinking, which skips sideways across silos and disciplines on wings of metaphor and analogy. Machines can crunch numbers and do some of our linear thinking for us: but it’s up to the analysts to cover the lateral front.


Let’s go aphoristic:

Expectation is algorithm: there are no algorithms for the unexpected.

I’d like to connect the dots … to blind spots.

Blinds spots are the spots we can’t, or won’t, and in any case don’t see. They fall into the category of the invisible. Visionaries are those who can see the invisible, who peer into our blind spots, into those places where we can’t see the connections between the dots, and can therefore easily be blind-sided. There’s an almost Borgesian thickness to the way things tie into one another here: the unexpected is by definition what we can’t predict, what blunt force thinking can’t predict — but it’s not invisible to those whose practice is to peer into the invisible, to aficionados of the subtler associative / metaphorical strategy…


Let’s go mythic.

There are two major strategies in life, two main ways of tackling problems, just as there are two heroes in the ‘Spider Woman” myth, which Joseph Campbell said was the central myth of the Americas. In Navajo terms, these twin heroes are called Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water, and their names may already give us the sense that one represents a brute force approach while the other is cannier, subtler — and able to achieve things his twin could barely imagine.

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator may be able to penetrate 60 feet of concrete, but the Grand Canyon was created by the natural flow of water — and as Lao Tzu said, “Nothing under Heaven is more soft and yielding than water, yet for eroding the hard and strong, nothing can surpass it.”

You can pitch this one-two punch at a variety of levels. The military can be seen as the nation’s Monster Slayer, its intelligence community as the Child Born of Water. You could see Thomas Barnett’s Leviathan as Monster Slayer, his SysAdmin as Child Born of Water. Or within the IC, you could say that software that can “crunch mega amounts of data” takes the Monster Slayer approach — but it requires cognitive skills and insight of a Child Born of Water sort to know when a student’s slightly eccentric interest represents a threat to the lives of three thousand office workers…


Let’s go analogic.

I’m thinking of the flight school students who “focused on learning to control the aircraft in flight, but took no interest in takeoffs or landings” — who asked one instructor where they could take lessons on jets without learning to fly smaller planes first, a request he concluded indicated they were “either joking or dreaming”.

In the not-so-terror-conscious atmosphere pre-9/11, a lack of interest in takeoffs and landings might have seemed quirky — but the “connections” weren’t obvious enough for the info to travel all the way up the FBI food-chain to the very top, as it would today. In post-9/11 retrospect, such things look a bit different – but I presume it still took reasoning by analogy for an instructor in a SE Asian diving school to recognize that a student who appeared less interested in the business of avoiding the bends and surfacing safely than in learning underwater swimming might pose a similar threat.

With 20/20 hindsight, this sort of thing seems glaringly obvious: even Monster Slayer could see it.


Let’s think about ignorance for a moment.

There’s Rumsfeld’s famous quip about known unknowns and unknown knowns, there are the genres of black swans and unintended consequences, there is what’s obvious and non-obvious, there are blind spots and hidden assumptions — and it’s the non-obvious that blindsides us, right?

We could rephrase the Spider Woman idea to state that Monster Slayer proceeds in terms of the obvious, while Child Born of Water works with the non-obvious. Jami Miscik, at that time Deputy Director for Intelligence at CIA, once remarked, “To truly nurture creativity, you have to cherish your contrarians and give them opportunities to run free”.

Child Born of Water is the contrarian, the maverick, the one whose oblique angle on things provides insight by… making non-obvious connections between the non-visible dots.

Guest Post: McCormick on CIA Leviathan Wakes up and Hunts Ishmael

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

James McCormick is a long time member of Chicago Boyz  blog and is the author of many a stellar book review.

[Originally cross-posted at Chicago Boyz]

CIA Leviathan Wakes Up and Hunts Ishmael

by James McCormick

Word came early last week from the Washington Times and Washington Post, while I was away on vacation, that Ishmael Jones, pseudonymous author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture would be sued for breaking his secrecy oath.

I reviewed Jones’ 2008 book here on chicagoboyz in April, and followed it up more recently with a late September review of a similar book by Canadian “Michael Ross” on his time with Mossad.

I found both books surprisingly revelatory about the organizational culture of these two intelligence organizations, but found little that would interest the James Bond crowd, or be of much value operationally to foreign governments.

Jones’ book was by far the most damning, however, because he illustrated (with incidents from his own deep-cover career) the extent to which the CIA now operates for its own bureaucratic benefit with minimal attention to its central mandate – gathering actionable intelligence. All the most virulent criticisms of the Tea Party against big government are understatements when it comes to how national security has been subordinated to the HR nostrums of the day at CIA. Jones effectively outlined how “the emperor has no clothes.” Not so much inept as indifferent. As someone operating under “deep cover” in the clandestine branch, away from the support and comforts of consular life, he was certainly qualified to note the career paths and day-to-day obsessions of the “home office” and his colleagues. While he didn’t name names, he described enough duplicity and lassitude in the CIA’s management and staffing to earn the undying enmity of “tap dancers” and “clock watchers” alike.

Most notably, Jones outlined in some detail how the vast number of clandestine officers that were supposedly hired and deployed by the CIA post 9/11 (at huge expense) were posted to the continental US. Numbers were further bulked up by counting support staff as “officers.” Meanwhile, CIA clandestine officers already in the field overseas at the time were being methodically hindered and removed to avoid bureaucratic risk. Jones contrasted this institutional predilection with his time in Iraq as part of a largely Army team of intelligence agents.

Apparently the Panetta CIA will now conduct lawfare against one of its own, after having done so much to limit his success when he was overseas secretly working on WMD proliferation. No good deed goes unpunished. Execute the messenger when the news is bad.

It’s still early days in the legal matter. I’ve not seen any indication that Jones’ legal team has formed a strategy for protecting or saving their client. Goodness knows Jones’ pocketbook will necessarily take a massive hit, as may well be the intent of the suit in the first place. Having spent years delaying out-of-pocket reimbursements during Jones’ active clandestine career (to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars), it’s only appropriate that the CIA would try to take back what they did pay him. Pour encourager les autres.

After risking his life overseas, there’s some irony that his own employers will hold him accountable for leaking their institutional dysfunction, rather than any actual secrets.

Will a change in control of the House mean that the CIA finds itself under Congressional scrutiny for misleading elected representatives about how they were spending billions of dollars? One would imagine that Jones’ defense lawyers will be dropping hints about the potential perjury committed by his CIA managers testifying on the Hill over the last decade. Be a shame if something should happen to all those shiny careers. Horse-trading ahead, I assume.

The intelligence agency that works safest, works not at all. And a CIA entirely based in the US or ensconced behind the walls of embassies can look busy without actually being busy. The current CIA bureaucracy, for entirely understandable reasons, has preferred Potemkin villages and iron rice bowls to aggressive intelligence-gathering. Jones’ misfortune is to have been a witness to it all. I hope this all turns out OK for him.

My mini-book review offers additional details for those with an interest in intelligence organizations.

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