by Alan Simpson
After spending many years in the wonderful world of SIGINT it was natural that the fledgling European Telecommunications Intelligence field would interest me in the late 1970's. What I found in those days would have made John Cleese happy, and scripts for several episodes of Monty Python.
The company in question was a world leader because of it's size. It did pioneer many innovative systems and products, usually too late, and too expensive. But the problem of course was the consumer, for they did not appreciate the time, effort, and brains that went into producing them.
The whole concept of having a corporate intelligence department was considered by many in top management as akin to having a Root Canal without anesthetic. The disdain was hardly disguised and the whole output was restricted to a heavily edited newsletter produced on a duplicating machine. The editing was required so as not to offend anyone when copies were read by the competitors.
The key analysts were not directly employed by the two person department, for no self respecting manager would want their name associated with intelligence. The daily joke about military intelligence oxymoron's became stale after the first ten thousand times.
But for four years I learned a lot as this loose team came up again and again with accurate industry trends, competitor warnings, and warnings of moles in the company. All this was instantly ignored, and the newsletter became regular reading by competitors worldwide, who often called and corrected mistakes.
Many pleasant evenings were spent comparing global trends and sipping the local brew with a very informed and smart Motorola watcher. He used to sigh and compare the European telecommunications industry with the US, and talk about AT&T and Western Union as if they were religions, worthy of dedicating temples in their honor.
The highly regulated European environment was seen as the Dark Ages when compared with Citizens Band Radios, making communications as free as the herds of Buffalos roaming the great prairies.10-4 Good Buddy what's your handle!
Usually the next morning I would be meeting with the Home Office in London, which at that time regulated the telecommunications. The would, when appropriate, allow us mere mortals to be told what would be their decisions on the future trends, assuming they decided to lift the veil of secrecy over everything to do with telecommunications.
There was a good reason for tight lipped security, and draconian legislation in the early 1980's to prevent anyone knowing frequency allocations and technical specifications. It was to prevent the Kaiser spying on the Island and planning an invasion. That legislation had protected Great Britain since the Great War of 1914-1918 and again in 1939-45 and was working well in 1980 to prevent subversives find out what the government was up to.
Today in Washington, DC it seems like deja vu except it is the FCC and the US industry that is lagging behind. There are no icons such as AT&T or Western Union to hold up as examples of excellence. In fact the major players are either bankrupt, heading for bankruptcy, or under investigation for fraud on a massive scale.
I have my Motorola expensive advanced cellphone on the AT&T Network, but haven't been able to download photographs, or video because they can't get me a cable. This $100 cable must be hand crafted in gold and is only made in one Mongolian village.
In the meantime several thousand more employees are being laid off in New Jersey, and around the USA.
But here in Washington you would think time stopped back in those Halcyon days of the late 1970's when we looked on the US with envy.
There are some huge advances in the telecommunications pipeline and to watch the FCC you would tend to believe that Mel Brooks is now in charge. But no this is not a comedy, it is a tragedy.
Bribery is the way of life in modern Washington politics. There is no nicer way of putting it.
The whole decision making apparatus has been seduced by special interests, and swayed by well funded lobbyists. In fact many of the laws are drafted by these lobbying organizations, the politicians do not have to work at it any more.
Telecommunications is an area where these special interests abound. It is like the World Series and SuperBowl of vested interests combined. Managing, if that word can be used, this disgraceful feeding frenzy of corruption is the FCC, which like the FDA in the other great lobbyist stronghold, the pharmaceutical industry, makes sure the best funded campaign wins.
Over the years we have seen some great games, satellites, fiber optics, cellular and many more. Today teams are preparing for another great game, the VoIP Cup. The two teams are the Bell Heads and the Net Heads.
The Bell Heads of course have a long tradition going back to Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone. They believe in perfection, and insist on 99.999% attendance in all their practices to be on their team. Their team is very expensive to run, and not everyone can participate.
The Net Heads are a new team, undisciplined and often missing shots. They are getting better with practice. They have an interesting team policy that anyone can join in.
The problem is that although this match is one of the biggest draws in history, but the referees can't decide where to play it, the kind of field to use, or even the admission charge.
In fact they are not sure who is a referee.
And like most decisions in Washington, except invading sovereign countries, any local Judge can overturn it, if the lobbyists don't like it.
The FCC is quick to act with strength and resolve when Janet Jackson had a Wardrobe Malfunction, yet when billions of dollars in business, and millions of jobs are on the line, they do the Headless Chicken dance.
But worse still in a land far, far away the telecommunications intelligence analysts make projections in grand isolation of decisions in Washington, which influence investment decisions, and employment opportunities.
So we have the blind leading the blind.
The problem at corporate level is a malady that is infesting US industry as a whole, that of institutionalized intelligence. The same people, belonging to the same organizations, reading the same books, and attending the same conferences. In the end they think within the same box!
Washington on the other hand has an even worse problem.
There is something fundamentally wrong with our management of telecommunications here in the nations capital. The whole question of what is free, what is regulated, and what is open for grabs by States, even cities and counties needs to be fixed. The entire field of information management and the ability to move information around, safely and securely should be more of a priority than phantom WMD's half a world away.
The power of "friendly" local judges to derail a nations telecommunications policy, and infrastructure is madness.
It's no good trying to fight terrorism, create a seamless intelligence network, and create well paying jobs in technology based industries when the flow of information is piecemeal, and subject to so many obstacles.
The whole process at both the national and corporate level should be a priority to create alternatives to having to lay off so many tens of thousands through bad management decisions.
And as I ponder the past and think about the global industry twenty five years ago I wonder if maybe the intelligence departments of these mega corporations still put out newsletters on an old duplicator, and crack stupid jokes about military intelligence being an oxymoron!
Their track records haven't been that stellar over those 25 years, and maybe it's time to start making corporate intelligence look more closely at the world of military intelligence, their methods, techniques and processes of handling information, and scenarios.