Truth Commissions: Histories of Laughter and Forgetting

History kills. Literally. In a bizarre event reported by RFE/RL, Lenin has recently taken revenge on an irreverent desecrator of a Belarussian memorial to the dear leader in an act showing how history continues to keep a firm grip on its victims.The anonymous 21-year-old is said to have climbed on top of the larger-than-life, seven-meter Lenin and attempted to hang from his famous outstretched arm, when part of the statue collapsed, sending the prankster to his poetic demise.

While the young victim cannot be brought back to life, history, can be ‘restored,’ and will. Lenin’s long arm, according to a follow-up story published the very next day, will be returned to its former glory as soon as possible, say local authorities.

Svetlana Boym, the author of “The Future of Nostalgia” – a book that examines 20th century cultural history through the prism of individual and collective experiences of memory, uses the terms restorative and reflective to talk about two distinct ways of looking at the past. The restorative view is manifest in nationalist revival movements, which make use of national symbols, myths and conspiracy theories for the purpose of an absolute reconstruction of the past. Proponents of this view believe that their restorative projects are about the truth, that the past is static, and cultural and national identity is formed and solidified through collective artistic symbols and an oral epic tradition.

A reflective view of the past, on the other hand, dwells on the durational, the dynamic, the changing aspect of time, on the incomplete, on the shattered ruin and on the individual experience of the past, which is often a mournful memory and indefinable longing rather than deterministic seeking and proclamation of truth.

The first is dead serious and unforgiving. The second takes itself less seriously, tracing the experience of mourning in the direction of irony and mirth. It is also capable of forgiveness, partly through the therapeutic quality of forgetting and partly through the sensation of blurring the real and the imagined.

Exploiting memory

Memory is sad business. Etymologically, the word can be traced through the Latin memor, ‘mindful’ to the Greek martus, gen. marturos, ‘witness’ (not until New Testament Greek does the word acquire the additional ‘witness to God’ from where the English word martyr originates). The word also appears in Old English as murnan, ‘to grieve.’ The Indo-European root mer- or smer-, from which all memory cognates derive, means ‘to be anxious, to grieve.’ Examples of such cognates include, the Greek merimna ‘solitude, anxiety,’ the Old Lithuanian mereti, ‘to be anxious,’ the Serbo-Croatian mariti, ‘to grieve over,’ and the Sanskrit smarati, ‘he remembers.’

The list goes on. The subject of memory is exploited by myriad competing ideologies. Charged with controversy, it has most recently become a topic of concern for government and non-government institutions set on a mission to dispense (or dispense of) historical truths. In their more benevolent form, truth commissions can be imagined as cathartic institutions – secular churches of a sort – that aim to transform both guilty sinners’ and traumatized victims’ memories for the lofty purpose of achieving reconciliation.

So far so good. On the implementation level, however, these idealistic projects begin to crack: who commissions the truth commissioners? What is the methodology applied in the process of transforming individual and collective memories? Even if the aim of these commissions is rehabilitative rather than punitive, can they ever be devoid of this or that political agenda?

While truth commissions are a relatively recent phenomenon, historic revisionist projects – their ‘shadows’ in the parlance of analytical psychology – are as old as history itself. The historic revisionist is an anachronistic species who is particularly driven by symbolic anniversaries. Recent examples of such opportunistic political campaigns feeding on the corpse of history include the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; the establishment of the “Commission to counter the attempt of falsification of history to the detriment of interests of Russia,” coinciding with Moscow’s celebration of the 64th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany; the melodramatic spat between new EU members Hungary and Slovakia because the latter barred the former’s president from privately crossing its border on a day the country was commemorating the invasion by Soviet-led troops, which included Hungarians; and finally, the looming 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event ripe with potential for more memorialization and less and less laughter and forgetting à la Milan Kundera.

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” says Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.” The comment resonates with the sentiment of philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietzsche’s attack on historical knowledge and education for their own sake, knowledge which he calls impotent, stripped of all creative impulse, one that leads to a decadent culture and the ultimate destruction of the vitality and strength of a nation (the Germany of his time).

It is not that history cannot serve life, Nietzsche says in “The Use and Abuse of History for Life;” the desire to know the past is inherent in every individual and every nation. Historical knowledge is ‘healthy’ as long as it serves as inspiration for action, as reverence to the heritage of one’s ancestors, or as relief from suffering. Out of context, however, historical knowledge can be easily manipulated for unhealthy and degenerate ends:

From the thoughtless transplanting of plants stem many ills: the critical man without need, the antiquarian without reverence, and the student of greatness without the ability for greatness are the sort who are receptive to weeds estranged from their natural mother earth and therefore degenerate growths.

Another author obsessed with the labyrinthine clogs of excessive memory is Jorge Luis Borges, who in the short story “Funes the Memorious” creates a character who possesses total memory. Unable to forget anything, Funes is an example of the Nitzschean historic man of paralysis, since without forgetting, no action can take place, and creation is reversed into degeneration. In Gabriel García Márquez’ novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the characters suffer from the opposite malady: an insomnia sickness that culminates in total amnesia and the construction of an imagined, fictitious reality.

Therapeutic forgetting

Philosophers and writers have been preoccupied with the subject of memory and forgetting for thousands of years. More recently, cognitive and neuroscience has taken up serious interest in the pathology of memory.

Daniel L Schacter, author of “Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past” talks about the subjective experiences of ‘remembering’ and ‘knowing’ the past by paying homage to yet another memory-obsessed writer – Marcel Proust. Proust, who contemplated the act of remembering as “a telescope pointed in time,” laid the groundwork for scientific research of the experience of remembering. Writes Schacter: “Foreshadowing scientific research by more than a half century, Proust achieved the penetrating insight that feelings of remembering result from a subtle interplay between past and present.”

Cognitive science is ‘in tune’ with literature not only when it comes to blending past and present realities, the literal and the literary, truths and fictions.

Gerd Gigerenzer, mostly known for his work on heuristics, argues in his book “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious” that more memory is not always better, and that our best choices are usually based on “a beneficial degree of ignorance,” gut feelings and intuition rather than on our culturally held beliefs that more information is always better and that more choice is always better. Gigerenzer echoes Nietzsche on the ‘healthy’ use of history as a prompt for action: “Forgetting prevents the sheer mass of life’s detail from critically slowing down the retrieval of relevant experience and so impairing the mind’s ability to abstract, infer, and learn.”

Forgetting and mythopoeia then can be seen as therapeutic devices – a way of digesting the past through slow creative reflection instead of archiving the ulcerous symbols of history.

Psychology and cognitive science research can also help shed light on the physical and mental processes of memory work and adaptive forgetting to bring relief to traumatic experiences.

Myths and legends, oral epics or folk songs are the instruments of restorative ‘historians.’ Taken out of their native earth, which is the realm of literature, and ‘transplanted’ – to use Nietzsche’s metaphor – into the foreign soil of politics, they become degenerate growths of populist rhetoric that appeal to the fictions of national identities. It is those forms of literature, diagnostic rather than prescriptive and focusing more on the individual than the collective that have the potential to transform the experience of suffering, which posses the magical ability of turning tears into laughter.

Platonic reconciliation

There are some truth commissions that make use of individual stories, interviews and personal recollections, but their performance is nevertheless marred by their ultimate purpose, which is collective by the nature of their commissioners. They are governmental methods of constructing big pictures and sense-making tools that are devoid of sensing, which is an individual and private experience.

In an ultra-networked, technologically insatiable world where context is valued over content, the very existence of truth commissions is, to say the least, suspect. Contextual truths fall prey to the insensitized, ready-made emotions on which the non-reflective minds of political entrepreneurs in need of quick fixes and relativistic truths gorge. As long as truth commissions remain in the realm of collective bureaucracy, reconciliation will remain Platonic – a present representation of an absent thing.


A song at the year’s end

Frankfurt, September

by Paul Celan

translated by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh

Blind wall-space
bearded by brilliances.
A dream of a cockchafer
sheds light on it.

Behind that, raster of lamentations,
Freud’s forehead opens up:

the tear
compacted of silence
breaks into a proposition:
logy for the last

The pseudo-jackdaw
(cough-caw’s double)
is breakfasting.

The glottal stop is breaking
into song.

Thank you for your interest in my blog. In 2009, this blog will undergo a transformation. In addition to a change in title, the focus will change to reflect my literary interests. You will find me under “Things whole and not whole”.

With best regards,


Who’s got the last laugh? Interview with Dmitry Rogozin in Bulgarian “Kapital”

Last week the European Council on Foreign Relations ran a commentary by compatriot Vessela Cherneva, in which she gives a summary of an interview given by Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Ambassador to NATO, for Bulgarian newspaper Kapital. In addition to Ms Cherneva’s apt evaluation of the nuances and implications for Bulgaria (and beyond) in terms of Russia’s foreign policy toward Bulgaria and other “lost” spheres of influence in the wider Balkans region, a comment by one of the readers, explaining the notion of the “useful idiot” stemming from pre-Cold War Russian ideology are both well worth reading.

While Rogozin is well known to the international community for his thuggish “sense of humor”, I’m not sure to what extent such thuggishness comes across in a summary of his speech. This prompted me to translate the full interview from Bulgarian, which can be read below. Something else worth noting is perhaps the difference between interviews given to the Western press and the one in this Bulgarian publication. I cannot pinpoint exactly what those differences are, but one thing is certain: speaking to a cultural audience that one considers its adversary and another – its “historically proven and justified” sphere of influence is not the same.

Rogozin, who may or may not be having the last laugh aside, I can highly recommend the analyses and policy briefs published by the ECFR. They are a voice of hope that the EU has not entirely lost its ability for rational thought!

Interview with Dmitry Rogozin

Regardless of the West’s position, Moscow views the conflict with Georgia as unconditional victory. What is your next step?

You mean, who’s next? My colleague, the US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, said that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia face a threat of a Russian attack. I would like to add to this list two more categories: the Marcians and the Penguins. We are getting more and more annoyed of such panic-raising US statements. The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has proposed an independent investigation of the events in Georgia. We agree to such measures, but the Georgians don’t. In this case, the Georgian President Saakashvili is the aggressor and the criminal – and, so what? Is NATO going to cease communication with him? If we were to open the facts to CNN, are they going to apologize for the disinformation they were spreading during the crisis? And what are the faces of Dick Cheney and George Bush, the men who financed Saakashvili’s regime, going to be like?

The recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was not an easy decision for us, but it was the only way to stop the violence. In the very near future they will be recognized by another 10-15 countries. If a country is not formally recognized, it does not mean that it does not exist. The US didn’t recognize the Soviet Union until 1933. Yet we existed and developed prior to that.

Despite the civilian and military casualties, we can speak of a positive result of this war. Namely, the war was a test in morale, responsibility and who’s worth what in international politics. These things are clear. You can’t not take a side in this issue. What we want is that the aggressor is punished and anathemized by the international community, if not in real at least in moral terms. The second thing we want is peace and stability on the Caucuses for all. Third, it’s clear that our world is fragile and that it can be easily destroyed by one wrong step taken by a drug addict. This is why we have to protect ourselves from dividing into (political/ideological) blocks and to try to find stability for all of us.

You are comparing 8 August 2008 to 11 September 2001. What do you think are the long-term consequences of 8 August?

One thing is sure: we will not be acting like the Americans after 11 September. After they were attacked, instead of taking care of their national security, they attacked Iraq and Afghanistan; what’s more, under a laughable pretext. Russia will concentrate on its national security and will keep to its own part of the geographic map. Our goal is to create a wide coalition for peace and stability in Europe, to change the agreements, and to make security an indivisible issue for us all. You can laugh at me but I support the idea for obligatory conscription for everybody in Russia.

Where else are there Russian minorities that Russia intends to protect as it did in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Minorities are not only a Russian problem. There are Hungarians in Romania, Turks in Bulgaria…What’s important is to not provoke one another, but to secure peace of mind for our compatriots. Why, for instance, are Russian in the Baltic states refused citizenship rights? They are the second largest ethnic group in those countries. This stands in the way of friendly relations between Russia and Estonia and Latvia. There is one thing I want to clarify. We intervened in South Ossetia not only because Russians live there. We would likewise protect every small nation in our region, which is threatened by genocide – Jews, Bulgarians, all. How can we stand by indifferent if someone is shooting rockets at a civilian population?

After all the hard words of the past few weeks, is there place for constructive dialogue between Russia and NATO?

As a Washington favourite, Saakashvili has been a force of instability in the Caucuses for years. Since the beginning of August I have been in constant communication with NATO. We wanted to use the mechanisms for cooperation available in order to put a stop to the aggression with joint efforts. For some reasons America blocked this process. This is why we think that NATO’s General Secretary visit to Tbilisi on the 15-16 September, despite being planned way in advance, is amoral and not correct. We were hoping that our colleagues in NATO will understand that such a visit will be taken to mean moral support for Saakashvili, which is totally out of line.

The behavior of the Americans was scandalous. For many people the US was also an actor in this conflict because they were arming the Georgian army. As for the Europeans, we expected from them not just propaganda but an objective evaluation of who played what role in this war, and why. We trusted that they would adopt a balanced approach. We have economic and friendly relations with Europe, we are building together a common European home, which has now been bombarded from within by some revanchists with a Cold War mentality. We did not expect such hypocrisy.

Do you think NATO’s expansion to the east has come to an end?

We consider further NATO expansion as counterproductive and very, very dangerous. If NATO had not promised Georgia membership, the situation would not have escalated to aggression. Saakashvili took this promise as an indulgence. Until recently we treated his behaviour in the way an elephant would react to a puppy barking. But when he started to exercise violence over a small nation like South Ossetia, which only four years ago suffered the tragedy in Beslan, we could no longer pretend that nothing is happening.

If NATO likes to pretend that it doesn’t matter whose hands it is shaking and refuses to see the blood on these hands, then an organization of this kind can no longer be our partner. If NATO offers Georgia a plan of action toward membership, we will terminate all our cooperation with NATO.

What will happen to eastern Ukraine if Kiev decides to pursue NATO membership?

Ukraine is another version of the Caucuses drama. There the governing coalition split apart over the question of NATO membership. The Prime Minister and the President are on non-speaking terms because of this. This shows again how dangerous it is for NATO to step in the region. Many in Ukraine are now apprehensive, and with a good reason – President Viktor Yushchenko was selling weapons to Saakashvili. Besides, we have information that the Ukranian air forces may be involved in the shooting of Russian planes over Georgia.

All other issues aside, Ukraine is for us the cradle of Russian civilization. We come from Kiev. Ukraine is our mother; this is our family. You can’t just tear apart a child from its mother – we will not let this happen.

As the winter is coming, is there danger of cutting gas supplies to Europe?

Where are such fears coming from? We have never put forth the question of cutting supplies to our European partners. There are two elements in our country which remain unchanged no matter what happens: the discipline in our energy supplies to our partners and our readiness to apply our rocket systems. Both are in order. In 1991 nothing worked in Russia – but even then these two elements were in “readiness”. Don’t doubt our reputation in these two areas.

Are you ready to use the second element the same way you apply the first?

It is the guarantee to our sovereignty from the time of the Cold War until now. It is our guarantee for security.

The Black Sea is a strategic security zone. Is Russia ready to share it with NATO?

All the countries in the Black Sea region have to be very careful when it comes to this issue. No military activity should be developed there, otherwise there will be an ecological if not military disaster. There is sulphuric hydrogen at the bottom of the Black Sea – in case of military activity, this can lead to an ecological disaster. This is why we are warning NATO to stop flexing its muscles in the Black Sea region. They say now that they are delivering humanitarian assistance to Georgia. But why use navy ships? We want the Romanians, the Bulgarians and all countries bordering the Black Sea to be very careful what they’re doing and what they allow to be done in their waters. The Black Sea should be used for trade and tourism, not for military purposes.

Bulgaria has historical ties with Russia but today is a NATO member, a host of American military bases and supporter of Georgia’s membership in NATO. Does Russia view Bulgaria as a competitor in this respect?

Russia has lost many lives fighting to protect Bulgaria and we have never regret this. We have the same religious beliefs, the same blood, and there are no bad feelings between us. Your President Parvanov is my personal friend. However, Bulgaria has abandoned us many times, but afterwards always taken the correct decision when victory was on our side. Now Bulgaria once again is in the wrong camp – NATO. But this is your own fault and it depends on you to correct it at some point.

This week the EU sent over its most senior representatives to Moscow to discuss how Russia sees its future relations with Europe. How do you interpret the answer they were given?

We want to implement the “Medvedev-Sarkozy” plan – every step of it. But there’s a problem with this plan. Actually there’s more than one plan: one signed by Medvedev and the French President Sarkozy in Moscow on 12 August; in Tbilisi, however, Sarkozy was unable to convince Saakashvili to sign it, and the word “statut” was changed to “security” for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This plan was given to US’ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this black American panther managed to get Saakashvili to sign a different plan, one that does not at all include the 6 points. Then the Security Council changed the plan again…We are going to discuss only the original document signed by Medvedev and Sarkozy in Moscow. The EU is mostly interested in how many Russian troops there are in Georgia and when they are going to be withdrawn. I will answer immediately. We have 400 people military personnel in the demilitarized zone, which are stationed in 19 check points. They will stay there until a peacekeeping mission of the OSCE or a common mission between us and the EU arrives there. Then we will return to our pre 6 August positions.

You have proposed a new foreign policy concept for changing the security architecture in Europe. How does this idea look now in the aftermath of the recent events, and is there place for the US in this scheme?

This concept was presented in July. There is a need for a common security system for Europe, the US and Russia. The US is part of this. We are talking about a security zone from Vancouver to Vladivostok. We must stop acting divided in blocks, and move into a common, inter-related security system.

In the last month the fear from Russia was revived; investors left and your country is understood in this international isolation. Was the war with Georgia worth the price?

History will be our judge. The historical truth will be on our side. The West has become cynical and double-faced. It is morally poor and acts according to double standards. A few months will pass and everything will normalize. But we are going to draw our lessons learned. Two countries will pay the bill – Georgia and the US. Georgia has to cure itself of its nationalist-populist illness. The US has lost its reputation. What America has done in the past few years, has degraded it in the eyes of many people around the world.

So Russia is back in the Great Game?

(Long silence.) Yes. But everything will be ok. In the past there were moments when I thought that we have lost everything in the face of insults and hatred. I used to tell myself that things will turn around, that a time will come when we can look back at the situation and laugh. This time has come and I would like to conclude with a fitting joke. In Russia the optimists learn English; the pessimists learn Chinese; and the realists learn how to use a Kalashnikov.

Cultural Revolution in Intelligence

The piece below is my contribution to a special report on the revolution in intelligence affairs and was originally published by the International Relations and Security Network. Particularly insightful is the editorial by Kris Wheaton and a topic piece by Ken Egli on the potential role of academia in intelligence collection and analysis.


Cultural Revolution in Intelligence: From Government to Business Enterprise

Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a document entitled Vision 2015: A Globally Networked and Integrated Intelligence Enterprise. The first part of this bold intelligence community statement begins with an evaluation of the “shifting strategic landscape,” the defining characteristic of which is said to be uncertainty:

“We live in a dynamic world in which pace, scope, and complexity of change are increasing. The continued march of globalization, the growing number of independent actors, and advancing technology have increased global connectivity, interdependence and complexity, creating greater uncertainties, systemic risk and a less predictable future.”

Uncertainty has become one of the trendier concepts over the past few years, and is currently used profusely in the jargon of a variety of disciplines from intelligence to complexity and network sciences to corporate and risk management. The intelligence community is not the trendsetter. Originally stemming from the physical and natural sciences, the emergence of the concept of uncertainty has been accompanied by the development of a homogenized lexicon to talk about “new risks” generated and driven by globalization and network growth to a point where domains previously falling outside the scope of intelligence and security have been securitized. These domains run the gamut from society and culture to demographics and health to economics and finance to innovation and technology to natural resources and the environment. Regardless the domain, we now talk about complex adaptive systems whether we are examining conceptual physical models, bio organisms, tribes and clans, financial markets, terrorist or organized crime networks, or corporate knowledge management.

The list of globalized mashed-up vocabulary is long. It would appear that whichever way we turn, we find researchers, analysts and managers trying to detect emergence patterns, spot uncertain and unstable environments, aggregate and mine various types of data, develop systemic and holistic strategies and approaches, build resilient models, integrate systems within systems, collaborate and share knowledge across domains, form strategic partnerships, build agile infrastructures, transform organizational cultures and mindsets, and win the war for talent.

So how, apart from adapting to a new vocabulary, is the intelligence community going to achieve the transformation it so vehemently advocates? How is a largely static government enterprise to turn into a dynamic business enterprise? What is actually happening in the process of transforming the culture and mindset of the intelligence community so it may accomplish its mission to create decision advantages? What kind of education is needed to kick start the transformation? Is descriptive qualitative analysis obsolete and should the intuition-led approach be substituted with formal structured methodologies?

Vision 2015 proposes that in order for the intelligence community to transform into an enterprise able to provide decision advantage to policymakers, it must transform from a government enterprise into a “globally networked and integrated intelligence enterprise.” In other words, the intelligence community must start thinking and acting like a business. How well does the business metaphor hold in the government/national security context?

Government, critics of the business analogy have argued, is not comparable to business because it cannot be responsive to market forces since it has a higher purpose: public welfare. These critics also see the competitive advantage of intelligence in the community’s ability to “steal secrets”, which further implies a stronger emphasis on collection over analysis. Such an argument epitomizes the mentality and culture that the new vision is trying to counter. It is a snapshot, a still life if you will, of the Cold War mindset as to what characterizes intelligence. This mindset envisages a centralized national customer, promotes the obsession with secrecy, places value on the finished intelligence product rather than the process of intelligence, and treats flexibility as a foreign word.

Applying a business metaphor to intelligence processes in the national security context is not only valid; it is highly desirable. What the market is to business, international relations is to government. Are we to believe that government should not pay attention to the forces driving the developments on the international arena and respond accordingly? With globalization, where once particular domains were immune to changes outside their immediate environment, and cause-effect analysis had a more linear dimension, the interconnectedness and resulting complexity of drivers cutting across disciplines, calls for non-linear approaches both in terms of collection and analysis.

For at least two decades now it has widely been acknowledged that the so-called intelligence cycle (the process of collection, analysis and dissemination) is an idealized Platonic model that is not only obsolete in today’s environment, but also dangerous and misleading. The first step toward transforming the intelligence community from a creeping and decrepit government apparatus to a dynamic enterprise is providing whatever education necessary to curb the old mindset. Business and national security intelligence share the same strategic objectives: avoid surprises, identify threats and opportunities, gain competitive advantage by decreasing reaction time, and improve long- and short-term planning. With this in mind, the intelligence community should most certainly be responsive to market forces. It should allow for the formation and dismantlement of processes on a need basis. If a process is recognized to be “unprofitable”, it should not be allowed let to drag on for decades because government institutions have a “higher calling”!

Vision 2015 recognizes that the most difficult part of implementing the envisaged transformation is cultural change:

“The first and most significant impediment to implementation is internal and cultural: we are challenging an operating model of this vision that worked, and proponents of that model will resist change on the basis that it is unnecessary, risky, or faddish.”

Yet the real challenge of transforming the culture lies neither at the top (the Cold War veterans of the intelligence community who by the sheer force of nature are on their way out) nor at the bottom (the fresh-off-college Generation Y recruits who may have the “right” attitude and ideas but too little real world experience to know how to best apply them). The challenge lies in the lack of mid-level leadership as this is the level at which bottom-up generated ideas are filtered to form strategic direction at the top and get the buy-in from the customer. Inability to recruit and sustain competent middle management will translate into either empty rhetoric and a hodge-podge of recycled vocabulary, or in stagnation, lack of flexibility, and death by a thousand paper cuts.

If the intelligence community is serious about winning “the war for talent” (an expression around which its human capital strategy  is fixed), it should aim at developing its mid-level capabilities. “Investing in our people” is a nice enough sounding cliché. This does not mean, however, ensuring competitive compensation and providing competitive benefits because in the war for talent, there will always be someone ready to offer bigger, better, more competitive compensation packages. Adequate compensation should not be a strategic human capital goal. It should be a given. Strategically speaking, investing in people should translate into offering them the opportunity to grow their potential through continuous learning, which in turn, will increase their sense of ownership and loyalty. True, one can change a culture by throwing money at it, but the resulting culture is hardly the type that is likely to stand up to the values set in Vision 2015: commitment, courage, and collaboration.

Winning the war for talent is not a silver bullet for a successful cultural transformation. If we think of information as the currency in the world of intelligence affairs, then surely we must observe fluctuations in this currency as the external environment changes. The relative scarcity of information during the Cold War era resulted in putting a high price tag on information. Not only was there a lot less information available in contrast to today’s web- and telecommunications-networked world, but this information was collected secretly by means of human intelligence (HUMINT). Hence the culture in which the intelligence community operated was one that first, placed far greater emphasis on collection than analysis; and second, created a glamourous, cult-like image of secrecy.

The “information tsunami” as information overload is figuratively referred to, together with proliferation of telecommunication and media technology, has clearly devaluated not only information as a currency, but also its attribute – “secret”, thereby creating a shift from the emphasis on collection to that of analysis. More value is now placed on sorting out relevant information from the ubiquitous noise, which has resulted in the creation of a grey area somewhere between collection and analysis, namely synthesis. Yet synthesis is no new fad. It is an analytic process that every person in academia, from a freshmen to a graduate researcher to an established professor engages in daily. While some more progressive elements of the intelligence community have supported “outsourcing” the synthesis of open source information (the most voluminous type of information) to knowledge workers outside the community, be that academic institutions, think tanks, or in some ultra-progressive cases – crowdsourcing, such initiatives are still in the single digit count.

There is some evidence of cultural change in the intelligence community of acknowledging the value of open source intelligence (OSINT) such as the creation of an Open Source Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the ODNI sponsored Open Source conferences in 2007 and 2008, which served as an outreach activity to bring together intelligence professionals, academic institutions, think tanks, private sector intelligence providers and the media. Nevertheless, a successful cultural transformation from obsession with classified information to a wider use (not just acknowledgement) of OSINT has not been achieved.

While one of the key design principles upon which Vision 2015 rests is adaptability and the document duly declares: “The keys to adaptability are active engagement and openness to outside ideas and influences.” The implementation plan fails to mention either OSINT exploitation or openness to collaboration and contribution by non-community members, such as think tanks and academia, where a large volume of vetted OSINT resides. Failure to take actionable steps in this regard will not serve the community well in its attempts at cultural transformation. Promoting ideas without an actionable plan is like taking one step forward and two steps back; worse – it creates a “cry-wolf” image.

All that said, it should be acknowledged that the United States is a pioneer in promoting the use of OSINT among intelligence professionals. The OSINT discussion at  the EU-level is lagging behind. As for countries with alternative understanding of democracy, transparency and accountability, such a discussion is not only non-existent, but very likely sends ripples of cynical laughter in the midst of planning the next black PR campaign.

Another due acknowledgement in this discussion should be the fact that cultural transformation rarely occurs with a swipe of a blade, but undergoes various phases over a period of time. Following a re-evaluation of the definition of intelligence in the post-Cold War environment, the type of human capital the community wants to attract and retain and a makeover of inward and outward-looking operation models, is a re-evaluation of what constitutes quality intelligence products and the development of quality benchmarks. In this respect, Vision 2015 provides a bullet point under the section of adaptability actions, which reads as follows:

• Build the organic capability to conduct exercises and modeling and simulations throughout our processes (e.g., analytics, collection, mission management, etc.) to innovate and test new concepts and technologies.

For the reader unfamiliar with the intelligence community’s internal debates, the above provision might sound somewhat surprising. What? Doesn’t the community already have such capabilities? Aren’t collection and analysis done according to structured methodologies? Stephen Marrin, a CIA analyst from 1996 to 2000, reveals a different picture. In an article for the American Intelligence Journal (Summer 2007), he clearly outlines what is known in the community as the “intuition vs. structured methods” debate:

“Even though there are over 200 analytic methods that intelligence analysts could choose from, the intelligence analysis process frequently involves intuition rather than structured methods. As someone who worked at the CIA from 1996 to 2000, I possess firsthand knowledge of the kind of analytic approaches used at the time. While I was there, the reigning analytic paradigm was based on generalized intuition; an analyst would read a lot, come up with some analytic judgment, and send that judgment up the line without much focus on either the process involved in coming to that judgment, or making that process transparent to others. No one I knew – except for maybe the economic analysts – used any form of structured analytic process that was transparent to others. No quantitative methods; no special software; no analysis of competing hypotheses; not even link charts.”

For the sake of clarity, it should be said that “intuition” is meant here not in the sense of some extrasensory paranormal activity. It simply refers to arriving at a judgment by means of extensive experience that cannot be clearly demonstrated. Another word commonly used to describe this process is heuristics, or a rule of thumb. The preference of old school intelligence analysts for using intuition rather than structured methodologies stems from the historical Cold War mindset that was described above, and the reasons for its perpetuation are to be found in…human nature.

During the Cold War, the intelligence community operated in an environment characterized by opposing ideologies, the bulk of analysis constituted political analysis: political situation assessments, profiling of political leaders, etc. To attempt to quantify such analysis would rightly be considered pseudo-science. Qualitative analysis, which is often based on intuition (that is opinion vs. fact) is suitable to such an environment and to the problems it is tasked to analyze. However, with the securitization of domains previously not on the agenda of national security professionals such as energy security, environmental issues, proliferation of networked non-state actors, qualitative analysis falls short in its ability to provide the type of rigorous analysis the new vision outlines. Perhaps even more importantly, in the aftermath of 11 September, analysis based on non-structured methodologies evades both the transparency of how the analytic judgment was formed and the ensuing accountability.

Significantly, a number of academic intelligence programs have sprung up during the past decade offering advanced education in the field of Intelligence Studies. It is interesting to note that most of the advanced degrees they offer are Master of Arts degrees rather than Master of Science degrees. This indicates that the debate whether intelligence is an art or a science persists. A cultural change will not follow until people in the community stop thinking along black and white lines. Intelligence is both an art and a science. Resistance to implement structured methodologies stems from habit, from “this is not the way we do things around here” mentality, from the numerical illiteracy inherent in the Humanities and many Social Sciences, and a “if it were so great, why do you have to always prove it to me” attitude. Countering such deeply ingrained habits will take time and there are no quick fixes to this problem other than investing in people’s learning on the job. The intelligence community’s return on investment will be nothing short of realizing its lofty vision.

How Literature Can Enhance Intelligence Analysis

Some months ago while watching a televised performance of the Scottish play, it occurred to me that dramaturgy would be an interesting potential to explore in relation to alternative intelligence analysis. Here was a staging of a whole host of issues that the intelligence analyst is confronted with on the job: early warning, denial and deception, human leadership profiling, and assassination to name but a few. From the very first scene of the three witches providing “early warning” and nature foreshadowing the impeding gloom and doom of the story to the self-reflections of a king (and queen) losing the power of their title to the subtle change in patterns of light vs. dark in all their metaphorical expressions, the play is full of lessons and analogies that the intelligence analyst could use as a prompt to boost his/her critical thinking skills.

What a pleasant surprise then, to discover last week a paper by Jeffrey White, “Shakespeare for Analysts: Literature and Intelligence”, published by the Joint Military Intelligence College. In this paper White makes a powerful argument for the value of reading literature both in terms of teaching new analysts ways to expand their imagination in order to be able to better discover patterns and make sound interpretations and also aiding seasoned analysts gain more multifaceted perspectives on human behavior in complex situations.

In Shakespeare’s historical and tragic plays, White finds a wealth of resources pertaining to human behavior that he claims is of enduring interest to intelligence analysis: conspiracy, treason, assassination, moral corruption, poisoning, civil war, inner-circle behavior, political relationships, the effects of asymmetry in culture, power, and personality, succession, rivalry and faction, loyalty, political violence, the analysis of motives, and the handling of ambiguity and uncertainty.

The paper is not only an intellectual reading exercise; it also provides concrete sets of questions that the author has developed through his reading of Shakespeare to aid the analyst frame the issue he/she is tasked to analyze.

Here is a crunched exerpt:

Questions to examine when looking at a leader in a position of great power
Source: Shakespeare’s Henry V

  • How did he prepare for his future role?
    How did he exercise leadership?
    Was he self-aware in doing this?
    How did others – allies, enemies and subordinates – see him?
    What was his response to the possibility of failure and defeat?
    How did he manage the uncertainty he faced?
    How did he weigh the responsibility that he had to carry?

Questions to examine when looking at a weak leader in a position of great power
Source: Shakespeare’s Henry II

  • What are the dimensions of leadership failure?
    What is it like to lose power?
    What is it like to believe yourself to be in charge, but to actually be failing?
    What is it like to see yourself as a failure, and know it’s your fault?
    What is it like to see your opponent win?
    How do your supporters see you as you lose?
    What is it like to usurp a crown?
    Is success ever final?

Questions to examine the pure exercise of force
Source: Shakespeare’s Richard III

  • What is it like to covet the throne?
    What is it like to be willing to do anything to win it?
    Can one enjoy oneself in the gaining of it?
    Can a person be evil and still have admirable qualities?
    What are the limits on the exercise of power and the use of force?
    What are the implications of evil at the pinnacle of leadership?

Questions to examine civil war
Source: Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy

  • What are the key dynamics of a civil war?
    How does violence expand?
    How does violence become personal?
    How does the use of violence evolve as a civil war emerges?
    How is violence justified, to the self and to the group?
    What kinds of behavior and actions does it produce?
    What do the leaders see as the civil war process begins and progresses?
    What do they do in response?

Questions to examine plotting a coup
Source: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

  • When is a coup justified?
    What rationalizations are employed?
    When is the right time?
    How do the plotters see one another?
    How does opposition arise?
    What are the internal dynamics?
    What is the range of behaviors among the principals?
    What are the consequences, intended and unintended?

Questions to examine family matters, the behavior of members of small groups or “inner circles” – could be particularly useful when looking at clans, tribes and some organized crime groups
Source: Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI

  • Is “family” important in the politics of “tribal” or “lineal” societies?
    How do the relatives of leaders affect the political situation?
    Are family and political power inseparable in dynastic or traditional societies?
    What are the consequences of poor family political management?

Questions to examine the role of women in politics
Source: Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI

  • Can women play important political roles in traditional societies?
    What are these roles and what are their limits?
    What tools and methods do women have available?
    How do they actually exert power and influence?
    Under what circumstances can they emerge as political players in their own right?
    Do women have any special advantages?

Questions to examine loyalty and honor
Source: Shakespeare’s King John

  • Are loyalty and honor absolute or contingent?
    What is the basis for loyalty to political leaders?
    How is loyalty won and kept?
    What are the boundaries of loyalty?
    Is anyone totally loyal or completely honorable?
    Why do people break oaths or change sides in a political contest?
    What justifications do they employ?
    What are the political and military consequences of dishonorable actions?

White concludes with the sound observation that literature, and the works of Shakespeare in particular, is a good starting point for examining political psychology. It helps the analyst with pattern recognition on a basic human level that transcends cultural differences. I find this argument particularly viable and would add that, the reading of myths has a similar power to evoke patterns that are universally applicable even if the particular mythological hero is associated with specific geo-cultural characteristics. There is a difference between how an individual and a group would react to particular circumstances. Where the group reaction might help define certain cultural peculiarities, the individual reaction to a situation of fear, power coveting, revenge, loyalty, etc., in my view, follows a more general line, one not specific to culture, ethnicity and/or religion, but specific to the “human condition”.

Finally, in terms of concrete application of literature to the process of intelligence analysis, I must fully voice my support for White’s argument that reading good literature contributes to the analyst’s ability to write better – a largely undervalued and underestimated skill in intelligence analysis. In White’s words:

“As we go down the road to “digital production” and “knowledge packets”, concepts that are fundamentally antithetical to story telling and sense making, it will be increasingly important that quality writing continue to be one of the essential elements by which we measure quality analysis. As his skills as a playwright matured, Shakespeare hardly wasted a word. ”

See here Perseus resources on Shakespeare.

Victor Davis Hanson’s blog

A friend tipped me off to the blog of Mr Victor Davis Hanson. I am grateful and eager to pass on this excellent recommendation to anyone with an interest in the classics, foreign affiars, and military history.

Quoting from Victor Hanson’s bio, he is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor emeritus at California University, Fresno, a columnist for Tribune Media Services, and teaches military history and classics at Hillside College.

Hanson is a breath of fresh air from the staleness indicative of all that I personally find unpalatable with leftist ideology and propaganda. His observations on the upcoming U.S. elections are full of (clearly non-common) common sense.

Also, for readers in Europe, Euromania? Some Thoughts from Ground Zero should be an eye-opener to everything that’s wrong with Euro-anti-Americanism.

Ancient Greek Astronomical Dial Keeping Track of the Olympics

An interesting article in the Scientific American on an astronomical device, known as the Antikythera mechanism, complete with graphics and a slideshow, throws light into how the ancients used instruments to predict eclipses and keep track of recurrent (sports) events.