The network makes writing more accessible, in that it reduces the barriers to acquisition while similarly diminishing the challenges to contributions. This is why I am celebrating three new books by old friends already this year. Jim McGinty started it with a powerful drama called “Right to Kill; A Brooklyn Tale” (read my review on Amazon). Myer Kutz followed, turning away from heavyweight tomes on materials science and engineering to contribute “In the Grip”, a clever psychodrama with a twist that gave me real pleasure crossing the Atlantic Order these on Amazon! But the book I will put on the shelf and value long after the first two have become TV scripts and earnt their authors untold millions comes from Alfred Rolington (former CEO of Jane’s Publishing and Oxford Analytica) who will never get rich with “Strategic Intelligence for the Twenty First Century: The Mosaic Method” (Oxford University Press, 2013) but who fills a real gap for professionals in this field. Having always assumed that the intelligence community knew more than the rest of us and been disappointed, I see now why they knew less, and why a new way of viewing strategic intelligence is vitally necessary.

Have you read anything about defense intelligence since the great wave of books about Bletchley Park that suggested that any defense intelligence agency anywhere knew enough about the present, let alone the future, to effectively suggest what might happen next? Alfred quotes Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge historian who is the acknowledged authority here to great effect, and I would add a further rider: Andrew’s big MI5 book is depressing on several levels, but one is the reflection that it prompts that the strategic intelligence operatives employed on both sides of the Atlantic were either not the sharpest knives in the box, or were so constrained by the sclerotic selection of pre-ordained intelligence methodologies available to them that they could only report on the views that they were able to take of the scenery, not the whole panorama.

Alfred’s analysis of current working methods in intelligence services bears reading by anyone who thinks that business intelligence is very much better. Why didn’t we predict the Arab Spring? Because we were not reading the blogs and the social media and the network unrest, not only in the countries concerned, but, more importantly, in the Arabic-speaking world as a whole. The answer here is the Mosaic Method – Big Data analytics for the defense industry – which looks at both historical and personal perspectives over time. Being able to to search vast tracts of data to present the evolving views of representative individuals, to see the intelligence picture through the eyes of the other side or the several concerned parties, becomes a vital extra component alongside the very straight-jacketed and traditional methodologies currently used.

So my surprise here was the relatively unsophisticated nature of much defense intelligence work. Helpful techniques which would drive a predictive analysis approach are already widely deployed in industry. I reflect that Lexis Seisint (clue in the last 3 letters) was originally deployed in the Department of Homeland Securities, and that Thomson Reuters’ ClearForest was passed through the fence by the the Israeli defense Agency to allow it to be exploited commercially. In addition few major Big Data software players – Palantir would be a critical example – do not have a large slug of defense related expenditure in their growth graphs.

So our conclusion must be that while huge amounts of data are gathered and sifted, the ability to construct predictive analysis from them is in its infancy. Alfred remarks that SOCMINT, for social media intelligence, is a relatively new coinage. My first thought was that inadequate intelligence might be conducive to world peace, but on reflection I share Alfred’s view that an overhaul is needed, and one which acknowledges that we are living in a networked world. If McDonald’s can be expected by their shareholders to be able to predict from blogs and social media amidst the firestorm on obesity when the optimum point arrives to launch the salt/fat/sugar free VeggieBurger, then we should as mature nations be able to predict the Arab Spring.

And to do that we need to be watching the right things. I respond very much to Alfred’s suggestion that we are not looking at the right countries – BRICS are important, but it may be yet more important to monitor and know more than we do about Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran (just look at the demographics) or Egypt. Very large countries with high proportions of their populations under the age of 21. They are like Europe in the Fifteenth century. Which leads to the other thing that I like about this book – it at least discusses the primacy of history for prediction. There is a class of intellectual dangerously roaming our universities who seem to believe that history began with Vin Cerf or Bob Kahn or even Tim Berners Lee. The truth is, as I see it, the exact opposite. Because we are moving into the unknown space of a networked society, we need to know more not less about how that society may react to change. Alfred reminds us, in his section on the Dark Web and elsewhere, that we have not yet fully explored what we refer to as the Web. This is the beginning of a story, not an ending.

Meanwhile, the OUP series is to be extended to cover cyber-security and cybercrime and Alfred has been blogging about this on the OUP blog:

Here again is a critical area of intelligence, and reading this blog I reflected that by attacking Iranian nuclear installations with trojans the West may, as it has so often, be providing knowledge (in cracking cyber-attacks) which may one day be used against them. Like supplying training and guns to Saddam Hussein? Whatever the outcome, the importance of the subject matter – especially to those of us working on peaceful economic applications – cannot be ignored.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind


1 Comment so far

  1. P U B L I S H I N G » Blog Archive » Mosaic Method and SOCMINT on March 6, 2013 09:07

    […] more:   […]