Blog Archives

Olof Palme and intelligence analysis training

It’s the end of summer which means it’s time for my unintentional yet seemingly annual review of academic journals for articles about the intelligence and analysis. Over the coming week or two I’ll be posting about a number of articles that have caught my eye and what, if anything, I make of them.

I’ll kick off with this one which was able to scratch both my intelligence AND Nordic itches.

Was Olof Palme Killed by an Intelligence Agency? Ralf Lillbacka. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. Volume 24, Number 1. (oh…and don’t expect any sort of consistency in how I cite these articles…I’m too much of a slacker for that. TwS.)

Just in case you have no idea who Olof Palme was a bit of a recap. Palme was the Swedish Prime Minister and head of the Social Democratic Party in the mid-1980s. He held a number of controversial views (he was a strong supporter of the PLO and the ANC), was active in attempting to broker a peace deal between the Iraqis and Iranians (two nations not widely recognized at the time for their moderation and willingness to see someone else’s point of view), and enjoyed playing up his nation’s independent status by criticizing both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In addition, Palme was notorious for disregarding personal security procedures and would often ditch his security detachment for significant periods of time.

So, it may not be particularly surprising to learn that late one evening in 1986, while Palme and his wife were walking home from a movie, he was shot and killed.

The murder has remained a cultural touchstone ever since and even though a suspect was found, tried and arrested (a drug addict with violent tendencies – the crime being decared a random act of violence), the Swedish public (and much of the political class) have not been satisfied with those results. Conspiracy theories began circulating almost immediately and continue to swirl in many, many variations. One theme that runs through most of theories is that the Palme murder was a professional assassination by a state or terrorist group and that is the subject of Lillbacka’s article.

He goes through a lengthy review of the case and then examines three competing hypotheses: Palme’s murder was a professional ‘hit’; it was a non-professional killing; it was an act of deception designed to make a professional killing appear unprofessional.

I have some issues with the formulations of Lillbacka’s hypotheses but still recommend this article highly for several reasons.

First, his explanation of his methodology and limitations is top notch and should serve as an example of how analysts may want to consider explaining their work to their audiences, particularly a subject which may be new or complicated for their intended audience. He lays out his assumptions clearly and allows the reader to follow along with his train of thought and agree or disagree without having to engage in a great deal of crystal ball reading to figure out how Lillbacka came to his conclusions.

Second, while he doesn’t mention it specifically, Lillbacka central effort revolves around Analysis of Competing Hypothesis. While he doesn’t use the exact same methodology many of us are used to, it should be immediately familiar and its incorporation within a work like this provides another example of how analysts can use it in their own products (and, unfortunately, there are few enough examples to draw upon).

Finally, it occurred to me as I was reading this article that the murder of Palme fits many of the criteria I set forth when identifying characteristics of a good intelligence training scenario. Few people outside of Scandinavia are familiar with the event, the ‘solution’ to the case remains ambiguous, and information is incomplete. At first I was a bit reluctant to include a murder because I’m not sure it would be profitable to go too far down the crime investigation road but if one were to look at the murder from a potential terrorism/espionage/organized crime angle I think it would work quite well.

The most challenging aspect to developing a training scenario around this case would be making sure you provided students with sufficient context and background information that they could make reasonable hypotheses and assumptions without bogging them down in lengthy lectures about late 20th century Swedish politics and international relations. Still, I suppose a starting point might be to work with existing conspiracy theories, each of which you could build an event matrix, timeline and/or association matrix and ask the analysts to evaluate them and then move forward with their own ACH.

I suppose this could also be a longer exercise that would allow analysts to do some independent research as well. Since it was a real-world event, there’s no reason to prevent students from bringing in outside information. In that case, you could use the critical thinking training I wrote about earlier (using John Carpenter’s The Thing as source material) as an introduction to some of the concepts and methodologies (made easier because it is a self-contained universe) and then give this as a larger, more self-directed project.

Hmmmm….another thing to add to the ‘to do’ list.


Kickstarter, analytical training and a bit of fun

I’m a huge fan of the idea behind Kickstarter. Never heard of it? It goes like this:

Kickstarter provides a forum for people to pitch ‘projects’ to the great masses on the internet. If people like your pitch and project (maybe a film, a book, or putting together a ‘plasma speaker’ whatever that is) they contribute money to you. If you meet a funding goal, determine by you at the outset, then you get the money and your donors almost always get some sort of gifts (also predetermined by you) based on their donation level. So, if you’re writing a book maybe someone donating $15 gets a pdf copy. Someone donating $500 gets you to cook them dinner and they can eat while you read some passages to them and some of their closest friends. Whatever.

The New York Times has a story about what separates the winners from the losers in Kickstarter campaigns:

Getting heard about entails a second creative project to drive the central one. You don’t have to make a video, but most money seekers do, and the successful ones avoid making it too slickly ad-like or blatantly amateurish; lighthearted hints that the creator is a little uncomfortable asking for money are a recurring trope. Taking the time to come up with creative, memorable rewards is more likely to get results.

So, I’ve been thinking about Kickstarter and how incredibly cool AND totally reliant on the social/collaborative/user generated aspects of the interwebs it is and, at the same time, thinking about the rather staid and unexciting landscape of analytical training today. Much of the training out there (even the good stuff) is prepared, packaged and fed to analysts with the students having little input or say in the course other than whether to attend or not when the circus rolls into town.

Or, I should say ‘if’ the circus rolls into town because let’s not kid ourselves here. There are a lot of agencies that don’t provide their analysts with training and even some organization that might be interested in such training but because they aren’t part of the security/public safety industry can’t get it or aren’t big enough.

But, what if you had people (oh, I don’t know…a group of brilliant do-gooders with experience in the field, for example) who developed training for analysts and funded it with Kickstarter? I’m not talking the same old, tired and well trod ground of ‘what’s a link matrix’ sort of course, but more specific and practical.

Kickstarter could be a great way to find out if there’s a niche out there for such a course AND make it relevant to analysts. How?

Well, take this project for example. It’s for a new game called The Demolished Ones. The interesting thing is that at a certain level of funding ($75 here) the contributor actually has input in the game. That may be plot points, rules, whatever (within boundaries of the game designers to keep the think coherent). So, a project like this could allow contributors of a certain level have input in the final course (perhaps in terms of subject matter, delivery system -audio, video, written-, who knows?)

Such a project could also reflect the needs of analysts quicker than the existing course creation regime which has to wait a very long time for needs to bubble to the surface of the community, (usually) wait for a grant to be issued, approve of the material and then slowly spread out.

Of course, this system would have a serious (?) drawback of not being plugged into any ‘official’ approval process but that’s not really the point, is it? I suspect that analysts are more concerned about learning skills while administrative weenies can do their thing and arrange whatever required training is called for.

So, what say you? Is there any interest in small, quickly produced (but hopefully high quality) intelligence courses that would be marketed to individual analysts (rather than to agencies)?