Searching for information… just got easier

The Google Toolbar has just gotten better w/ enhanced search add-ons. Information becomes knowledge if its timely. Making information retrieval easier across disparate silos of content is key in the knowledge economy. This is a great step forward. Unfortunately, I primarily use Firefox and these buttons are not available for Firefox, just IE. (BTW – IE7 is apparently taken cues from Firefox.)

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Blogging’s Six Pillars

News brief on blogging (which could / is leveraged in the media diplomacy sphere). Robert Scoble is perhaps Microsoft’s chief evangelist, promoting new tech. He’s just published a blogging book, Naked Conversations, in which he describes "six pillars" that distinguish blogging from every other communication channel:

  1. Publishable
  2. Findable
  3. Social
  4. Viral
  5. Syndicatable
  6. Linkable

If you’re reading this, you probably agree with all six above. No further editorial from me on this, at least not right now…

CIA: new FBIS for DNI OSC

News brief on repositioning the useful FBIS (Foreign Broadcast Information Service), available these days through World News Connection, among others. A great tool to read non-English and non-US journals, CIA is apparently looking to better leverage OSI (open source intelligence). The WashingtonPost, back in 25 November 05, (ok, so I’ve got a backlog) noted:

By the 1990s, the office [FBIS] had fallen on hard times. Some advocated abolishing FBIS, saying it was irrelevant in the age of 24-hour cable news. It survived, but had its personnel slashed 60 percent, according to Naquin. Sept. 11 gave it new purpose, as "open source" became an intelligence buzzword. Across government, policymakers began to debate how to find the nuggets of genuine information hidden in the Internet avalanche.

Other interesting news in the article, but mostly old news as far as an institutional appreciation of open vs clandestine sources. Reading Silent Warfare, For the President’s Eyes Only, Imperial Hubris, or a myriad of other books will confirm infomation flow "issues" in the intelligence services (not just in the CIA).  

Congressional Staffers messing w/ Wiki?

News brief from Slashdot – Wikipedia vs Congressional Staffers [Update]:

There has been quite a bit of recent reporting on the recent troubles between Wikipedia and certain Congressional staffers. In response, abdulzis mentions that "an RFC, Wikipedia’s mediation method to deal with ‘disharmonious users’, has been opened to take action against US Congressional staffers who repeatedly blank content and engage in revert wars and slanderous or libelous behavior which violates Wikiepdia code. The IP ranges of US Congress have been currently blocked, but only for a week until the issue can be addressed more directly."

What is commonly used as the reference of first resort by many, Wikipedia, is being tweaked and modified by Congressional staffers?

According to the Lowell Sun, U.S. Rep Marty Meehan’s staff has been heavily editing his Wikipedia bio, among other things removing criticisms. In total, more than one thousand Wikipedia edits in various articles have been traced back to congressional staffers at the U.S. House of Representatives in the past six months.

If you’re curious what Wikipedia will do… check out their Request for Comment here.

African oil is an American security challenge

News brief from David Wood at Newhouse News Service. David writes about the Gulf of Guinea security problem, which is becoming appearing in the headlines more often these days.

The United States is becoming increasingly dependent on oil from a region beset by official corruption, tottering governments, violent criminal syndicates and religious and ethnic strife: West Africa….

"We can’t afford to have a ship there 365 days a year," said Rear Adm. D.C. Curtis of the U.S. 6th Fleet, which oversees naval responsibilities in Europe and Africa from its headquarters in Naples, Italy. "The days of getting an aircraft carrier off the coast are gone."

That leaves most security in the hands of local forces clearly not up to the job. U.S. officials said thieves each year steal at least $1 billion worth of oil from Nigeria’s coastal pipelines; perhaps twice that much is siphoned off by official government corruption.

In one recent case, two Nigerian admirals — since fired — arranged for the hijacking of the African Pride, a rust-streaked, Greek-registered coastal tanker laden with 11,000 tons of Nigerian crude worth some $4 million. The ship was seized by the Nigerian navy on suspicion that its cargo had been stolen. But the navy escorted the African Pride to sea, where its cargo was pumped to another tanker, which disappeared.

Using URL typos for political gain

Surfing to the German journal Internationale Politik, I found an (outdated) Kurdish independence website. Registering domain names that closely resemble another is an old trick, usually used by savvy marketers for competiting or less ethical redirects. I remember that when AT&T held a promotion in the United States for long distance based on calling 1-800-OPERATOR, a competitor registered 1-800-OPERATER. All those that didn’t know how to spell were directed not to AT&T but to someone else, MCI was it? Sprint?

Returning to Internationale Politik, the proper URL is http://www.internationalepolitik.de/. However, if you insert a hypen between Internationale and Politik, you get the Kurdish site. Clever and old.

US Navy captures Somali ‘Pirate’

The BBC reports the USS Winston S. Churchill captured a Somali pirate ship. This followed a report of piracy in the area. Notable about the BBC report is, in addition to the standard background, was the fact the are still referencing the Top Cat Marine Security contract to provide anti-piracy services, implying it is current (a few weeks back the BBC reported TopCat was “in mobilization” for the gig). What about the US Navy being the world maritime police?

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Pentagon “roadmap” calls for “boundaries”…

Heads up on a report just acquired by FOIA by National Security Archive: Information Operations Roadmap. The National Security Archive headline describes it thus:

A secret Pentagon "roadmap" on war propaganda, personally approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2003, calls for "boundaries" between information operations abroad and the news media at home, but provides for no such limits and claims that as long as the American public is not "targeted," any leakage of PSYOP to the American public does not matter.

Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and posted on the Web today, the 74-page "Information Operations Roadmap" admits that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa," but argues that "the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices."

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, amended in 1972 and 1998, prohibits the U.S. government from propagandizing the American public with information and psychological operations directed at foreign audiences; and several presidential directives, including Reagan’s NSD-77 in 1983, Clinton’s PDD-68 in 1999, and Bush’s NSPD-16 in July 2002 (the latter two still classified), have set up specific structures to carry out public diplomacy and information operations. These and other documents relating to U.S. PSYOP programs were posted today as part of a new Archive Electronic Breifing Book.

Several press accounts have referred to the 2003 Pentagon document but today’s posting is the first time the text has been publicly available. Sections of the document relating to computer network attack (CNA) and "offensive cyber operations" remain classified under black highlighting.

There is a lot to digest in this and related documents. Other priorities prevent me from diving deep right now, but I’ll return to this later.

UPDATE 1 Feb 06 See ZenPundit’s posting on same (but with a different title and 3 days after this post :).

Humor: Updating U.S. Military Oaths

From a bit of surfing comes this. As with all humor, there’s a bit of truth in each stereotype.

All persons, upon entering Military Service and upon reenlistment, are required to take the Oath of Enlistment. At one time, the Oath of Enlistment was the same for all services. Due to changes in both society and the differing Military Branches, the Oath has undergone marked change and has been specifically tailored to each branch of the Military and their specific function. Here are the latest versions of the Oath of Enlistment as recently released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

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Peacekeeping and Cultural Diplomacy – unofficial mil videos

After reading more on insurgent’s use of video propaganda in Iraq, I thought it might be interesting to look at a few bored soldier "home" movies… First, there is this video by those crazy Norwegians, filmed in Kosovo. It is a few years old now and is a great example of how not to conduct civil affairs… listen carefully to the lyrics. I don’t suppose the Joint Public Affairs Support Element would recommend this method of outreach. The Serbs were apparently not thrilled when they found out about this movie.

Somalia, Grenada, or rescuing Kuwait-ah; We screwed ya; Rwanda; Wished we coulda helped ya; Iraqi embargo, how it is we don’t know…."

Clearly this movie is a political statement. Which is not what this next movie is about at all. This one is about moral of the troops. WindsOfChange.net has the lyrics and info on a Royal Dragoon Guards video that crashed the Minstry of Defense servers. But the MoD wasn’t upset, but rather proud over the quality of the video, according to the BBC, spoofing "This is the Way to Armadillo" (26.2mb).

The UK Royal Navy apparently has its own video, Bohemian Rhapsody (12.9mb)

Then there’s always the Japanese Maritime SDF recruiting video which doesn’t quite rank as high as the above flicks…

More fun is Born to Raise Hell which I’d hazard has a very different audience than the vids above. In fact, I know it does. The impact on cultural diplomacy of the BtRH video is, to understate it, a little different than Armadillo or Kosovo…

And then there’s the unmilitary but still fun video of the race across Manhattan

McDonald’s, Google, and glocalization

Yesterday I overheard a discussion about comparing McDonald’s and Google and how their outreach to the international community differs. This is an interesting idea. How do two very prominent American companies operating in local spaces conduct cultural diplomacy? The more I thought about it, however, the more I thought this was a huge mismatch. It’s not quite as bad as say, apples and oranges. At least not on its face. So let’s say it is like apples and honeydew mellons.

Now I’m not very good at picking produce, so bear with my analogy. Let’s say Google is the apple, perhaps a granny smith apple. This is a fairly innocuous piece of fruit. Seemingly universal. Most people have seen an apple in the media, heard of one in books (Western imported books at least), or perhaps even tasted one of the hundreds (thousands?) of varieties. Google’s ability to morph into a local product is interesting. Note their recent launch of Google in Bangla (however, as of this writing, the Google logo is styled to promote Mozart’s birthday…doesn’t help my point here).

The apple is easily stuffed in a briefcase, satchel, pocket, or put on a teacher’s desk. Eating one is simple too. Just take a bite. Simple, lightweight, portable, inconspicuous.

McDonald’s is more like a honeydew melon. The physical presence creates an impact that constantly reminds. In France, for example, the food "purists" ("fundamentalists"?) decry the generification of food that the Golden Arches brings. McDonald’s is successful at glocalization. But here’s the rub. Like the honeydew, McDonald’s is not inconspicuous. In fact, it is very visible. It must be to compete with other restaurants and eating options. The French farmer’s, for example, are constantly reminded by the site of the arches on a building or in window. On a bag being carried by a customer. Trash on the side of the road or in a rubbish bin. McDonald’s impacts the prices of downstream goods as it buys up meat (from where?) and potatoes and lettuce and ketchup and on and on. Then there are trucks moving McDonald’s goods to the stores. The honeydew does not sit neatly in a satchel (at least not mine). The honeydew isn’t sitting in your desk drawer. The skin may feel like an apple (remember I’m not good at picking produce so if they don’t feel the same to you…), and if you squint your eyes, they look similar. Eating a honeydew is a far different experience requiring more involvement from the user than a quick nash of the teeth on fruit flesh.

If the unfortunate were to happen and somebody threw one of these at you, which would you rather not be hit with? Which might make a bigger impact?

Analyzing how Google reacts to local populations, how it engages in cultural diplomacy is such a different creature (fruit) than how McDonald’s does it. When looking at the impact, we need to fully understand the thing making the impact. We need to understand how it operates in the real world, who uses the good, who sees it, and how they see it, if it is seen at all. Perhaps it is only heard.

Just some meandering thoughts…

Picking ICT Targets

Space65What do we mean when we want to use information communication technology? Do we want to bring light to the dark areas? This metaphor from colonial times brings with it certain implications that may or may not mean progress.

Consider UK’s Digital Strategy and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s leading statement: “Universal internet access is vital if we are not only to avoid social divisions over the new economy but to create a knowledge economy of the future which is for everyone. Because it’s likely that the internet will be as ubiquitous and as normal as electricity is today. For business. Or for individuals.”

Is this a portable desire? What does this do to solve core-gap problems, as described by Dr Thomas Barnett? Is the goal to connect all the networks ala Castells? How, as Younghusband at ComingAnarchy asked me, can we use ICT to defeat terrorist networks? ICT seems like it should be able to short-circuit the supply of recruits to the other side. Do wind-up laptops for teachers and/or students contribute to the development of social awareness, including human rights, and the importance of the environment? If people "upgrade", will the dark go away?

U.S. Rebuilding in Iraq Found to Fall Short

News brief on a story in the NYT tomorrow: U.S. Rebuilding in Iraq Found to Fall Short. Highlights:

Because of unforeseen security costs, haphazard planning and shifting priorities, the American-financed reconstruction program in Iraq will not complete scores of projects that were promised to help rebuild the country, a federal oversight agency reported yesterday….Only 49 of the 136 projects that were originally pledged to improve Iraq’s water and sanitation will be finished, with about 300 of an initial 425 projects to provide electricity, the report says….The planners of the rebuilding effort did not take into account hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative costs, and mostly did not realize that the United States would have to spend money to keep things like power plants and sewage treatment plants running once they had been built, the report says. That ultimately forced the United States to pare the list of projects to cover such expenses….Beyond the huge cost of protecting reconstruction projects, which the report says the planners did not foresee, billions of dollars were shifted from the rebuilding effort to things like training Iraqi police and guarding Iraq’s borders. The report, by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, adds that the overall rebuilding plan was also devised without a clear understanding of the decrepit state of Iraq’s infrastructure after decades of war, United Nations-imposed penalties and sheer neglect….The report was released only days after a separate audit of American financial practices in Iraq uncovered irregularities including millions of reconstruction dollars stuffed casually into footlockers and filing cabinets, an American soldier in the Philippines who gambled away cash belonging to Iraq, and three Iraqis who plunged to their deaths in a rebuilt hospital elevator that had been improperly certified as safe….But in contrast to that earlier audit, which focused on rebuilding projects financed by money from Iraqi oil proceeds and assets seized from Saddam Hussein’s regime, the latest report covers projects underwritten with American taxpayer money.

Veteran’s Benefits

News brief on how we treat some of our veterans. Highlights are below from this WaPo story: Who Can Fight for the Soldiers?.

If American soldiers are mature and responsible enough to choose torisk their lives for their country, shouldn’t they be consideredcompetent to hire a lawyer? No, not if that lawyer is going to pursuetheir veterans’ benefits claims before the Department of VeteransAffairs. That’s the flabbergasting answer from Congress and theSupreme Court….

…But later the Board ofVeterans’ Appeals said that Myers didn’t use the precise words thatare required for what is known as a “notice of disagreement” (or NOD).Without that, the board rejected his appeal.

The exclusion of lawyers has also been a cause for the huge delaysthroughout the benefits system. It is common for a VA proceeding tolast more than a decade. Many claims are recycled over and over.Whereas ethical rules prohibit lawyers from filing frivolous claims,there are no such rules constraining service representatives. Manyveterans have died of old age before their claims were resolved. Theirclaims die with them, since widows and orphans by statute have noright to pursue the claims.

“Cronyism and Kickbacks”

Briefly, where did the money go? Cronyism and Kickbacks?

There is a ‘reconstruction gap’ in Iraq. According to the US Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), ‘in the coming year, the amount of money needed by the Iraqi government to carry out the daily operations of its existing health, water, oil and electrical infrastructure, as well as to complete and sustain planned reconstruction projects, will outstrip the available revenue.’ The US General Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress that the Iraqis still need ‘additional training and preparation to operate and maintain the power plants, water and sewage treatment facilities, and healthcare centres . . . to ensure that the billions of dollars . . . already invested in Iraq’s infrastructure are not wasted’.

The sums are simple. Reconstruction will cost considerably more than originally imagined. The American administration has committed most of its funds. The Iraqis have neither the money nor the expertise to run the projects that have been completed. There’s little transparency or accountability. To judge from the audits published so far, at least $12 billion spent by the Americans and by the Iraqi interim and transitional governments has not been properly accounted for. Almost three years after the fall of Saddam, the GAO reports, ‘it is unclear how US efforts are helping the Iraqi people obtain clean water, reliable electricity or competent healthcare.’ The Bush administration has decided to provide no more reconstruction funds.

Army working dogs

News brief on Army dogs just because I want to. There could a public / cultural diplomacy connection — public affairs as the military calls it because the State conducts diplomacy — but I’m not looking into it.

The 67th Engineering Detachment adopted the program, began by the British Army, using dogs to find explosives and contraband almost three years ago. Most of the dogs are found in pounds or donated to the program. They undergo a training period of about three months before being placed with a handler…

Each dog is awarded rank in the Army system and receives special treatment by the system and their handler.

“The dogs are always one step higher in rank than their handler in case of abuse,” said Broda. “If a handler abuses the animal, he’s subject to UCMJ action. If I get promoted, she gets promoted as well.”

Interesting point on the rank of the dog…

G W Quote from 2005 Inaugural Address

"From the perspective of a single day…the issues and questions before our country are many.  From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few.  Did our generation advance the cause of freedom?  And did our character bring credit to that cause?"

–George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005

Democratizing of Intelligence

Back when the news of the alleged CIA prisons broke, Wired News asked: Can Satellites ID CIA Prisons?.

Satellite images could help determine if the CIA ran secret prisons in Europe, according to a Swiss lawmaker who is drawing up a report on the issue for the Council of Europe human rights watchdog.

The idea was commercially available satellite imagery, like that from Google Earth and Microsoft Local, could provide detailed analysis on the cheap. The problem with these services is the timeliness of the imagery. GoogleEarth pics are 3 – 5 years out of date. Microsoft Local apparently has the same age, but is taken at a lower altitude and includes various viewing angles.

The democratization of IMGINT is significant and one more brick out of the wall separating state secrets from Citizen X.

DefenseTech has a thread about Google Earth originating from about
when it came out. Pictures of Area 51 drew a lot of attention, as did
some other areas, including the fact Cheney’s residence was obscured
but other prominent locations were not (adding further fuel to the
Legend of Cheney).

From elsewhere…

This is of an AT&T command and control center for east coast military communications, its anyones guess what is going on there now… Rather a quaint little place, with about 180 parking spaces, I wonder if the neighbors know what goes on there.

And this from The Register, a contest to find odd things in geo-pics, such as a flying car captured on Google Earth.

And when DefenseTech.org comes back online, go here for their GoogleEarth commentary (apparently the Area51 pics are now obscured based on a comment I saw somewhere).

ICRC and PMCs

News brief as I continue to clear out the drafts linking in the to be posted file. This one is an item off the ICRC website from 2004.  

Private security firms are an established feature of the 21st century war landscape, working for states, corporations and even NGOs. The ICRC is stepping up contacts with these companies, to ensure that they know and respect international humanitarian law.