Robert David Steele, President OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS A Non-Profit Educational Corporation 1914 Autumn Chase Court Falls Church, Virginia 22043
Voice: (703) 536-1775 | Facsimile: (703) 536-1776 INTERNET: email@example.com
Intelligence and Information Worlds Are Merging
It is a pleasure to be here speaking to all of you. Although I am a specialist at finding secrets in the service of an elite few, and you are specialists at abstracting and indexing public information for a larger mass of consumers, in fact our worlds are merging.
I am going to talk about what is changing in our common information environment, from the point of view of an intelligence specialist intent on encouraging you to pursue new markets and opportunities. If I do nothing else I want to explode the myth that there is anything special about intelligence which allows it monopolize the policy consumer, and I want to highlight the need for improving direct consumer interfaces as part of your growth strategy.
Let me begin by praising your organization as a whole, and its publications, especially that marvelous 1992 edition of the Yearbook of the Information Industry edited by Arthur Elias. I consider that one of the single most useful books in my library, and use it to make the point that from where I sit, your organization and your key people are making a difference. As I outline some of the opportunities and attendant gaps in government policy and national capability, I hope you will be moved to pursue these ideas, both as individuals and as an organization.
When Berlin Wall Fell, So Did The Myth of Intelligence
The single most important event in recent years, an event which shattered multi-billion-dollar myths about the value of the classified intelligence and broke open a multi-billion dollar market for open sources, was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Empire.
This event was important to you because it stands as living proof of the incapacity of the intelligence community, as it is now trained, equipped, and organized, to forecast and deal with change. The intelligence community was created to deal with a single relatively static and monolithic threat, that of the Soviet strategic nuclear arsenal and its conventional military underpinning. It was also, what-ever anyone else may say to the contrary, built to serve one person in particular (the President), and it was not designed to serve as a general intelligence service, that is, to perform the kinds of services needed by many of your clients, who want to know about all sorts of changes in the marketplace, in government policy, in technologies, in databases, in communications, in legal actions.
So on the one hand, the fall of the Berlin Fall stands as testimony to the failure of a multi-billion dollar system designed to inform a relatively limited elite audience about a very large and specific threat category. On the other, and this is the good news for your organization and all of us involved in public information goods and services, by demonstrating so dramatically the end of the Soviet threat, the fall of the Berlin Wall also opened a flood-gate of consumer demand for information about a very wide range of topics which the intelligence community has not been able to notice, monitor, and evaluate.
The Consumers Want Unclassified Information About EVERYTHING
All of a sudden, government consumers are much more vocal about two things: they need to follow a much wider variety of situations around the world than the intelligence community is accustomed to monitoring; and they want the information--to the extent possible--to be given to them in an unclassified format suitable for sharing with Congressional and media allies as well as foreign coalition partners.
There is a subtlety here. Policy consumers have always needed to monitor a wide variety of events and conditions around the world, and they have always preferred to deal with unclassified information. What has changed is that the intelligence "myth" has been exploded, and policy consumers are now less likely to accept the imposition of security classification or the short-comings of the intelligence community in covering non-traditional topics.
The break-down of the intelligence community represents a golden opportunity for commercial vendors of open source material--what we in the intelligence community call public information. I would like to take a moment to emphasize why you are in such a strong position vis a vis the intelligence community.
The Intelligence Community Was Built To Do Soviet Secrets
The reality is that the intelligence community, in its designs and methods, its collection and production management decision, and its resource allocations, has been so totally structured for a single mission, the collection of intelligence about a closed society, the only closed society that represented a strategic nuclear threat of consequence, that its capabilities do not lend themselves to re-orientation to other targets, much less to rapid and constant re-orientation among differing targets sets over time.
It is as if we had built a Cadillac and a single superhighway connecting two points--Moscow and Washington--and all of a sudden find that we need three jeeps, ten motorcycles, and a hundred bicycles in order to handle our information requirements. The Cadillac does not led itself to off-road movement, nor does it lend itself to multiple "minor" missions.
Let me pursue this from another angle, that of cybernetics. Effective decision-making and action comes from having good feed- back loops--not only lots of feed-back loops, out to various sensors or informants or sources of information in different areas of interest, but also efficient feed-back loops, in which the time between change of circumstance, report of change, and notice of change is kept to a minimum. By imposing its rules of secrecy, the intelligence community is pre-ordaining a longer feed-back loop, a slower response time, and--in this era more often than not--the possibility that it does not even have access to the right source which is only available outside the classified arena.
It has been my experience that free market principles work in the intelligence business just as they do in the general economy. Although the intelligence community has a monopoly on classified information and information products, this has really been a false monopoly, for unacknowledged all these years is the fact that intelligence has comprised less than one tenth--some would say less than one one hundredth, of the daily "input" to the average policy-maker. Now it has settled into a niche that is no longer as valuable as it once was, and has proven inept and unsuited for rapidly adapting to changes in the marketplace and especially to changes in sources of information, in methods of processing information, and in consumer demands for different kinds of information presentation.
Changes in Sources
Let me take each of those one at a time. National intelligence relies on three major methods of collecting information: its overhead imagery systems, able to take photographs "behind enemy lines"; its signals collection systems, employing a "vacuum cleaner" approach to both radio and newer communications sent over the airwaves; and human intelligence, divided between clandestine, covert, and overt human intelligence. Clandestine intelligence is spies moving openly among their targets under cover of doing something else; covert is special operations personnel observing their targets from completely hidden positions; and overt is what we all do, the open exploitation of publicly accessible information.
In the imagery business, you now have multi-spectral imagery, or MSI. I don't know if you have given any thought to indexing and abstracting MSI, but I can assure you that in 75% of the world that is the ONLY source of overhead images needed for mapping and other practical applications, and it is probably worthwhile to start thinking about this data stream as one meriting the kind of pre-screening services you provide.
In the signals arena the vacuum cleaner approach will no longer work, and a system optimized for collection against Soviet signals must now deal with the Third World, and the explosion of television and cable broadcasting, of telexes and facsimiles, and other means of electronic communications. There is a market here for selected signals monitoring, transcription, abstracting, and indexing. Niche customers are going to want tailored products, particularly as many of their information domains leave the world of print media and can be found only in the world of cyberspace.
Lastly, we have the human intelligence arena. There is a change here also, that affects you. In the traditional human intelligence paradigm, the consumer told the intelligence analyst what they wanted, the analyst told the collector, the collector asked a confidential source, and back up the chain the information went, if it was available. I call this the linear paradigm. This paradigm is no longer effective. What I call the diamond paradigm is now operative, in which the consumer, the analyst, the collector, and the source must be, at one time or another, in direct communication with one another--for instance, to explore nuances in the requirement (the consumer talking directly to the collector) or the topic (the consumer talking directly to the source). What does this mean for the open source arena and you in particular? It means that indexing and abstracting will play a much more significant role in putting people together, and that the value of your work will often be judged not by what larger body of print material it leads the researcher to, but by how quickly it allows one human to link up with another in order to ask a direct question and get a direct answer.
The other more obvious challenge in the open source arena is the explosion of desktop publishing and other limited edition public works. I won't belabor this since you know it better than I, but from an intelligence consumers' point of view I want to stress the over-arching concern of the consumer that the intelligence community is not capable of covering all the bases, and only a private sector effort, driven by free market principles, offers any hope of reasonable global coverage.
In the most fundamental sort of way, then, radical changes in the nature of sources of information have severely undermined the ability of the intelligence community to meet the needs of a widening consumer base, while offering you enormous challenges, not only to sell source material to the intelligence community, but directly to the traditional consumers of intelligence.
Changes in Processing
In the processing arena, I just want to make two points. The first is that the intelligence community, which made its major investments in information technology during the mainframe era, is seriously hurting from the fact that it sees itself trapped with a mainframe infrastructure that does not lend itself to distributed processing and the kinds of employee productivity gains that come from distributed processing. The second is that bureaucracies are notorious for making the wrong decisions, and slow decisions, about their capital investments. The Central Intelligence Agency's decision to invest heavily in IBM's Secretly Neurotic Architecture and the PS 2, and the complete disconnect between information technology research, development, and procurement actions between the various intelligence community organizations, suggest that the intelligence community will remain fifteen to twenty years behind the private sector when it comes to multi-media processing. You will have an advantage here as well.
Changes in Presentation
Finally, in the presentation arena, I just want to quote Frank Carlucci, who--speaking several years ago to an audience of intelligence community analysts--put it better than anyone I have heard when he said something along the lines of: the President doesn't have time to read. What the President needs is a five minute video he can watch five minutes before he addresses the substantive topic in question. The intelligence community still has not learned that a secret (or an unclassified) paragraph is far superior to a hundred-page compendium of materials that is heavily classified and therefore difficult to gain access to and even more difficult to draw on when attempting to move policy. In combination with your advantages in the source arena (more of them, and about topics we never dreamed of spying upon), and the processing arena (making hyper-text and hyper-media a reality), this is the area where the private sector may literally put two thirds of the intelligence community out of business.
Changes in Definition of National Security
There is one other major change that affects the value of your services and your marketing opportunities, and that is the change in the definition of national security. We have all heard about increased emphasis on national competitiveness, and the growing realization that the environment is as great or greater a threat to our long-term prosperity as the Soviet bear. What this really means, as Alvin Toffler so aptly points out in his book, PowerShift, is that your consumer market has vastly expanded in the last three years or so--EVERYONE--both in and out of government--now understands that information is a substitute for capital, for labor, for time, and for space, and EVERYONE now understands that information has a value, a value they were not previously willing to recognize or budget for. You are much more likely to encounter individuals who are eager to at least hear about your services and products.
Competitive Information Services
Now let me discuss in turn several areas of information products and services where I believe the consumer wants and cannot get everything they need from the intelligence community. By way of transition, this is probably a good place to comment explicitly that while the intelligence community is indeed a new market for open source products and services, my suggestion to you is that you compete with them directly for the hearts and minds of their consumers.
I am going to briefly discuss some basic types of intelligence, and want in passing to make the point that YOU are now the American intelligence community. In terms of the power to influence national decision-making, the baton has passed from the clandestine operator whispering secrets in the dark alleys of the Third World, to the indexer and abstractor laboring over masses of multi-media multi-lingual materials. You are America's first line of defense in the information war that is taking place as we speak.
Within the three major different types of intelligence production, encyclopedic intelligence, current intelligence, and estimative intelligence, your position has improved in each case.
I will use a personal example in the area of encyclopedic intelligence. It fell to me, in 1987 and 1988, to help the Marine Corps stand up a new National Intelligence Production Facility, consisting of roughly 50 people in the first year, and --the point in this example, $10 million over five years for information handling systems and data access.
I made a mistake. Assuming without testing that everything we wanted to know was available from the national intelligence community, we invested our $10 million so as to acquire what we call a "system high" capability, meaning that our communications and computers were protected and capable of handling Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information, or SCI. The trade-off the intelligence community has always made--and we made it also-- is that no direct on-line access to unclassified systems is permitted. Our one workstation with external unclassified access was behind a glass door, and rarely used for lack of practice and convenience.
Only after we built this magnificent system with no online connectivity to the commercial databases of the world did we discover a basic truth: virtually everything the Marine Corps wanted to know about the expeditionary environment--which is to say, mostly in the Third World, was NOT available in the national classified data bases. Although structured to receive such data, for instance, about bridge loading capabilities, or the depth of water in ports around the world, the "data fill" had not been accomplished because of decades of focus on the Soviet Union.
By contrast, and belatedly, we discovered that most of what we wanted to know WAS available in open sources, both online and in print. I made a mistake. In retrospect, I wish that every Marine analyst had been given a simple workstation with unlimited external online access, and that we had put a single SCI workstation behind that glass door of ours. I take the trouble to describe this personal experience as a way of illustrating how relevant and timely your products and services are in relation to classified products and services.
The fact is, a well-organized vendor of unclassified products and services is probably in a better position to meet our policy consumers' needs for encyclopedic intelligence than is the intelligence community itself.
The same holds true in the current intelligence arena. It has been my experience that too many intelligence analysts and intelligence collectors are pre-occupied with staying a few days ahead of the news, and treat information as sensitive and perishable simply because they are afraid of getting "scooped" by the media. The reality is that the intelligence community cannot compete with the media on its own terms, and is better off focusing on true secrets of strategic importance. PARTICULARLY when the topics and targets of "current intelligence" are rapidly changing and unpredictable, open sources really have a chance to shine. The trick is learning what the intelligence community still has not learned, which is brevity. The consumer needs a information which has been tailored, boiled down to the bare minimum, highly pertinent, and requiring a minimum of time to obtain, digest, and disseminate to others. More on THAT in a moment.
In the estimative intelligence arena there is no advantage one way or the other between the intelligence community and the private sector. You are both relatively unsophisticated. Besides a relative avoidance of good forecasting methodologies, my greatest concern with intelligence products, and private sector products, is the lack of emphasis on the "delta"--on what has CHANGED. It is not enough to report the facts or raw data. Besides tailoring the information into the format and focus needed by the consumer, it is absolutely vital--perhaps even more vital than accuracy--to convey a sense of what has changed. What is the meaning of the data or the information IN RELATION TO previous reports, timeframes, contrasting cases, etcetera.
Let me emphasize that. From my point of view as a specialist dealing with change, there are two ways I can learn of change in any domain of interest to me: one way is to read all of your secondary abstracts and indexes, and then go read the original source material, and form my own judgement. The OTHER way is for you to add a secondary value to your abstracting and indexes, and somehow find a means of associating relative change values with specific documents. You may wish to consider the fact that a consumer is much more likely to pay handsomely for a service which not only abstracts documents based on content, but also evaluates those documents in terms of the Delta Factor: their pertinence to dealing with change.
The opposite of change is similarity. One thing I have noticed about intelligence community products over time is that they tend to be one-dimensional, focusing on a specific topic, country, or weapons system. Very rarely does an intelligence community product actually tailor its content for a specific decision-maker, or draw strategic generalizations by region or timeframe. This may not be a service you wish to provide, but I want to mention that in evaluating document abstracts and thinking about what to read, my OTHER criteria for selecting useful material is: will this tell me about my topic only in relation to one time and one place, or many times and/or many places?
Intermediate and Long-Term Strategy
You all realize as well as I do that actually selling your products and services to the government consumer and the intelligence community analyst will be difficult if you have to go through information technology intermediaries used to doing things in old ways. For this reason I recommend as an intermediate strategy that you focus on packaging your services so they are obtainable through the telephone and the bookstore, and usable on individual computers, at this point nothing more powerful than a 386 DOS machine. The consumers have money. If you make it easy for them to dial into a menu driven service, rapidly download what they need, or rapidly search at their desks and then obtain from a CD-ROM, then they will buy it from you direct and by-pass the automated data processing bureaucracy which will delay or prevent procurement, and the library bureaucracy which will be underfunded and unable to process the procurement.
As a long-term strategy I believe that those who provide indexing and abstracting services are going to have to develop long-term agreements with those who actually hold the original documents, and a joint subscription kind of pricing arrangement will have to be offered to the consumers and their purchasing agents.
A Vision of Abstracting & Indexing
One final note, and here I simply want to pass on a vision which extends your role not only to the highest policy levels, but down into the entire supporting infrastructure of schools and small businesses. In my view our entire national approach to intelligence, to knowledge, to information technology, is severely flawed. Even the modest initiatives put forth by Vice President Gore and his staff do little to address the fundamental problem, which is not just one of connecting humans to humans and humans to data, but also of changing what humans do--at school, at home, and at work. It makes no sense to me for a young person to be sentenced to twelve years in prison, followed by another four to eight years in a half-way house called graduate school, if there exists both an information technology architecture, and a related indexing and abstracting system, which gives them immediate multi-media access to the tera-bites of information they have in the past been forced to learn about by rote.
Just as businesses are now putting repair manuals into electronic form, and sharply reducing their training costs by teaching the employees how to use the tools and gain access to knowledge instead of imperfectly memorizing the knowledge, so also should we sharply reduce our rote learning while increasing our educational system's investment in information technology tools and the kinds of services you provides. So I would end by suggesting that with the arrival of the cyber-space frontier, our definition of national intelligence has changed, as has our definition of national security, and you have assumed a much more important role as the intelligence "scouts" for future generations of students, workers, and policy-makers. I urge you to think of yourselves in that way, and to pursue policy initiatives which sharply reduce rote training & education across the country, while sharply increasing the access of all our citizens to abstracted & indexed knowledge online--in this way you will make a long-term contribution to our national security and our national competitiveness.