Review: Strategic Intelligence for the 21st Century: The Mosaic Method

5 Star, Intelligence (Commercial), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Uncategorized
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Alfred Rolington

5.0 out of 5 stars One of four essential books on the future of intelligence, February 2, 2013

I have been holding a gift copy of this book for over a month, waiting for it to be available on Amazon so I could post my review, and as a result have also read — and also recommend as an essential book — Sir David Omand’s book Securing the State. I am rating both books at 5, both books are as erudite and perceptive as it gets.

Alfred Rolington can reasonably be considered “P” or the Public counterpart to “M” in the UK, as I have been to the secret world in the US.  He is the master of BOTH the secret process of intelligence and its purposes, AND the very broad multi-lingual multi-cultural world of open sources in unpublished, analog, and digital form that the secret world is — to be blunt — arrogantly ignorant of.  This book is one of a handful truly relevant to the future of intelligence (decision-support) done properly — which is to say, as decision-support for ALL threats and challenges, not as surveillance secrets protecting the few.

This book by Alfred Rolington, former CEO of Janes and someone I have known for over fifteen years — and whom I will testify has been the single most accomplished and imaginative speaker in my conference on international intelligence from 1992-2006, among over 750 speakers — is the better book for students and I strongly recommend it as required reading at the university level.

As I am one of the arch-critics of expensive secret “intelligence” that is done badly, and do not mince my own words, it is with some awe that I read strong critical views articulated in such a graceful manner that I can just see the US Director of National Intelligence with his pants down saying “Thank you, Sir, may I please have three more?” Naturally nothing in this book should be taken to be critical of the British intelligence community that is without peer.

Early on in one of a few but thankfully present graphics, the author illustrates the differences between the old world of intelligence and the new. The old has been structured, moderate in volume, after the fact, with static technologies, and mannually intensive. The new is the opposite, and the Industrial Era communities have not adapted: largely unstructured (and multi-media, multi-lingual) content, massive volume, real-time, with a constant range of emerging technologies as available to the opposition as to the home team, and an automated process that some might say is quite stupid.

More so than other books in this literature, this one does a fine job of discussing the broad changes to the information environment within which the government intelligence communities operate, and I particularly appreciate the author’s dedicated focus to the side of the profession often neglected, counterintelligence, conspiracy, covert action, and propaganda. In brief, the author correctly observes that the new information environment is at least as corrupt as the old with regard to manipulation, lies, and all manner of deceit, at the same time that the new technologies allow one to reach only a fraction of the available information, most of it not online to begin with, and that which is online, most of it not indexed at all (deep web, C-drives).

The book serves very well as a primer, reviewing the intelligence cycle, the relationships among collectors, analysts, and policymakers. It falls short–as does Sir Omand’s book–in not confronting the abject corruption that is so typical of both US and UK “consumers” of intelligence, and in not recognizing that intelligence is less about surveillance and more about decision-support across ALL matters, not just national security matters. It also does not address the importance of intelligence to acquisition, and to whole of government budgetary sanity and balance.

The book concludes with the author’s seven step mosaic model for re-reinventing intelligence, integrating the best of his learned and managed practices from Janes, Oxford Analytica, and his study of the literature on secret intelligence. There is no bibliography, something I would have very much liked to see, but in fairness there is no other commercial practitioner so well equipped to present a personal essay of this scope, rooted in decades of direct access and support to the secret world, and direct exploitation of the non-secret world as it has evolved.

The book benefits from some contributions by others, notably Sir Colin McColl, James Woolsey, Sir David Phillips and Sam Wilkin, but it limits itself in scope to secret intelligence for the government, business intelligence, and police intelligence (in which I am pleased to say Scotland Yard has led the way, and Sir David Vaness and Detective Steve Edwards, MBE are to be saluted for their exemplary use of open sources, not just to put bad people in jail faster, bester, cheaper, but also — to our shared surprise — increasing by 100 fold the global assets that could be seized post-conviction.

Two other UK-based books I recommend are Intelligence in an Insecure World and the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Intelligence Studies.

My very large list of over 300 of my reviews of books on intelligence, each leading back to its Amazon page, can be found by searching for the phrase

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)

I will end with three observations.

First, intelligence right now is mis-understood, at least in the UK-US, as surveillance in all its forms. That is incorrect. Intelligence is decision-support, and 90% or more of the sources, methods, and conclusions needed to support decisions by ALL strategy, policy, acquisition, and operations nodes are not secret, not expensive, not online, and not in English. No one in government gets that yet.

Second, there are eight “tribes” of intelligence, and 183 languages that matter (33 of them critical, including 12 dialects of Arabic), and no national intelligence community can be considered competent if it has failed to harness the distributed intelligence of all eight tribes at all levels (academic, civil society including labor and religion, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit.

Third, both the US and the UK have rushed into the technical rabbit hole, collecting too much, processing very little of it, and knowing all too little about the real world for lack of a globally distributed human network truly able to pulse the bazaars in real time. The Embassies have become bunkers, and access outside the cocktail party circuit all too limited. Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is going to be central to the craft of intelligence in the 21st Century, but it will be non-governmental, mid-career, third country, open, networked, and deeply rooted in historical, cultural, and linguistic understanding, something that a “pure blood” Englishman or American cannot, in a hundred lifetimes, achieve. Multinational Station are the future. China gets this, the US and UK do not.

This is a very fine book, easily one of the top ten in the field right now, my critical comments notwithstanding.

With best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
2012 INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

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