Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dax Norman Just Passed Away And That Is An Enormous Loss. Here's Why.

Dax Norman died on August 20, 2017.  My deepest sympathy goes out to his family.

I called Dax a friend but, as happens sometimes, we had not had a chance to speak for quite a few years.  

I do know, however, he was a good man.  Don't take my word for it; just check out the many comments that have already been added to his obituary.  All the things that people say about him - that he was a gentle man, that he was kind and generous, that he willingly gave his time, that he was an excellent teacher and mentor - are all true.

For those of us who teach and think about intelligence analysis, however, he was more.  He was one of the best thinkers I knew on how intelligence should work.  

I met Dax shortly after I got out of the Army in 2003.  He was looking for a University to do some unclassified research on technology trends and Mercyhurst wound up with the contract.  While not a huge contract, it was large for us back then.  It also started a multi-year relationship with the US government that helped many students test and hone their skills as junior analysts.  Any Mercyhurst grad who ever spent any time on one of the so-called "summer projects" owes that experience either directly or indirectly to Dax.

Dax made innumerable contributions to our national security in his decades working for the government.  One of these contributions that I always found most significant is the work he did on open source credibility back in 2001.  Facebook did not even exist back then and Dax was one of the few thinking about the problem that we call today "fake news".  More than just think about it, though, Dax came up with a rigorous system for evaluating the credibility of online sources long before anyone even thought that they needed such a thing.  His work is still online for anyone who is interested.  For Mercyhurst students, of course, it has been modified and enshrined as the much beloved (?) online source evaluation sheet that accompanies each and every online source used in our reports.

I have more stories, of course, and others will tell theirs as well.  The long and short of it all is that Dax was one of the good ones.  There aren't enough Daxes in the world and he will be missed.  

If you knew him, you can post your thoughts or memories on an online sympathy wall.  If you are in the DC area there will be a service on 6 SEP.

Monday, August 28, 2017

RFI: Looking For Descriptions Of The Intelligence Process

I am looking for relatively recent, short descriptions of the intelligence process from as many different sources as possible.  An example (from US Joint Publication 2) of the kind of thing I am looking for is in the image to the right.  

I am NOT looking for images, just descriptions.  My first preference would be from official (public, obviously) documents but I will accept anything that has been published.  

I don't care what language it is in.  In fact, I would LOVE descriptions of the process from other countries or disciplines (e.g. Law enforcement or business).  You can attach the sources in the comments to this post or send them to me at my university email (kwheaton at mercyhurst dot edu). Please do not hesitate to share!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Learn IMINT? Stop Looting? Yep, It's Been A Good Day!

Can you see the signs of antiquities looting in the picture to the right?

I think I can.  Left of the main road there appear to be three looting pits.  I also think I see some more pits to the right of the road at the base of the first row of small hills.  They might be vegetation but the shadowing and the distribution suggest looting - at least to me.

How did I learn to spot looting pits?  I joined the GlobalXplorer Project!

Here's how National Geographic's GlobalXplorer Project describes itself:
"GlobalXplorer is an online platform that uses the power of the crowd to analyze the incredible wealth of satellite images currently available to archaeologists. Launched by 2016 TED Prize winner and National Geographic Fellow, Dr. Sarah Parcak, as her “wish for the world,” GlobalXplorer aims to bring the wonder of archaeological discovery to all, and to help us better understand our connection to the past. So far, Dr. Parcak’s techniques have helped locate 17 potential pyramids, in addition to 3,100 potential forgotten settlements and 1,000 potential lost tombs in Egypt — and she's also made significant discoveries in the Viking world and Roman Empire."
In order to accomplish this mission, the GlobalXplorer Project puts you through a brief  tutorial that teaches you how to spot looting of archaeological sites.  It then unleashes you and other members of the project onto a dataset of thousands of satellite photographs of Peru like the one above.  

Your answer to the question "Is there looting going on in this picture?" is then compared with hundreds of other answers from different people looking at the same picture.  Pretty quickly the crowd forms a consensus that allows project managers to focus scarce local enforcement and preservation resources.

GlobalXplorer, like the Satellite Sentinel Project and other non-profit efforts, takes advantage of aerial imagery and imagery analysis techniques formerly familiar to only highly trained intelligence professionals.  In so doing, GlobalXplorer also creates an excellent tool for exposing intelligence studies students to some of the tradecraft of the modern imagery analyst.

I recently used the project in precisely this way in a class I am teaching called Collection Operations for Intelligence Analysts.  The course is designed to expose analysts to the difficulties inherent in many modern collection operations.  My hope is that by knowing more about collectors and what they do, the students will become better analysts - and maybe catch a few grave robbers in the process!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Another Color of Hope - Chapter 2 Now Available (Free!)

Another Color Of Hope, for those of you who missed it the first time around, is a "choose your own adventure" style intelligence training game that I have been developing.  I use a free development platform called Twine to create this work of - as it is known formally - interactive fiction.

I have been wanting to design a game to teach or, at least, introduce a particular intelligence analysis method to my students for quite some time.  Interactive fiction seemed to be a good way to create a more engaging environment for learning this particular method.

I am being a little coy here about which analytic method I am trying to teach on purpose.  Part of what great games do is teach without teaching.  Much of the learning is baked into the the gameplay in such a way that the student/player doesn't necessarily know they are being taught.  Much of my research into game-based learning suggests that this is far more difficult to do than you might expect but I thought this experiment was worth the effort (I do think it is pretty obvious which method I am trying to teach by the end of Chapter 2, though...).

If you have not played Chapter 1 you can access it here:

Another Color Of Hope (Chapter 1)
(And you can leave a review of the chapter here.)

And you can access Chapter 2 here:

Another Color of Hope (Chapter 2)
(And you can leave a review of it here!)

Don't hesitate to share both chapters with others and feel free to use them in class if you think they are helpful!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Free Google Spreadsheet ACH Template!

Mercyhurst grad student, Sam Rosenthal, recently accepted my challenge to build a tool that had all (or most) of the features of the famous PARC 2.0.5 desktop software for doing Analysis Of Competing Hypotheses in a Google spreadsheet.  You can see what it looks like below and make a copy of the template for yourself by clicking on the picture.

Richards Heuer's method is widely taught but, despite several attempts, no one (to my knowledge) has ever succeeded in creating an ACH tool that made collaboration easy ("Easy" being the operative word here).  The Google suite of tools, including Google Docs and Sheets, has solved much of the collaboration problem, though.  Up to 50 people (!) can work on a single document simultaneously.

Having done this with as many 20 people, I can tell you that it is a pretty trippy experience.  Documents don't so much "get written" as "grow" when you have this many people writing and editing and formatting at once.  Everyone who participates in one of these massively multi-writer online experiences (MMOEs?) comes away amazed at how fast the process is and how analytically solid the final products turn out to be.

As good as this tool is, there are still some limitations.  First, it is a Google product and comes with all the usual baggage, caveats and idiosyncrasies of any Google product.  Second, to add more evidence or hypotheses you will have to cut and paste empty rows or columns.  Also, while many people can work on the spreadsheet at once, there is no way (yet!) to capture, aggregate and display the level of consistency or inconsistency with any given piece of evidence based on input from multiple users (other than using an analytic modifier such as Nominal Group Technique to come up with a collective answer for each piece of evidence).  Sam is working on integrating Google Forms into the spreadsheet such that this becomes a possibility.  He hasn't yet figured out how to make days last 28 hours, though, so I don't know when we can expect this update.

Instructions for saving a copy of the spreadsheet: 
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people will be looking at this spreadsheet over the next few days. DON'T start playing around with it until you make a copy! Click on the picture or link above and, when the spreadsheet opens up, go to the "File" tab on the spreadsheet (top left) and click on it. Then click on the "Make a Copy" link. This will let you make a copy to your personal account so you can play with it as much as you want.

Finally, don't hesitate to share but just give Sam credit for the good work!