Cyber War - Ten Years Ago

Washington, DC May 3rd, 2008 -- Ten years ago I warned of the dangers of relying on computer generated intelligence. The Intelligence Community had laid off thousands of spies, and analysts and were relying instead on sophisticated computer programs to track communications from their programmed targets. The computers, obedient as ever, just looked at the Usual Suspects and completely missed the looming problems. Industry, following this trend began developing sophisticated Business Intelligence programs, and downsizing their sales force, the traditional source of intelligence. This piece was written in 1998 and updated in 2002 with bin Laden reference!

Blindsided!

by Alan Simpson

Taking a leaf out of the playbook for the US Intelligence Community, US Industry is creating  state-of-the-art resources to allow itself to be blind sided by anyone out there, especially in an underdeveloped, yet technically advanced country.

They are investing millions in software programs which focus their corporate attention on what they already know, and divert their attention from "What's over the horizon."

The CIA, and other organizations, costing the US taxpayer $30,000,000,000 a year, were brilliant at projecting the path of the mighty Soviet Union. Although they were amazed at the collapse, and fire sale of their assets, as they went out of business. When competitors, such as Pakistan, and India, exploded nuclear weapons, they were amazed, and found themselves glued to CNN, watching in awe the mountainsides crumble, at the unknown force. Oh to have such insight, to have a camera crew at the scene, and record those historic events. How does CNN do it?

Across town, the NRO, with some of the most advanced satellite technology, which can read the names on the credentials of CNN camera crews, also missed the event. They were busy looking at something else, highly classified, and compartmentalized of course. Were they looking in completely the wrong place. Sorry that is classified!

The NSA, with enough computer power to crack even the most difficult computer code, did not do any better. They were far too busy playing "Where in the world is Bin Laden" to worry about two warring nations developing nuclear bombs, in a very unstable part of the world. Their ultra-sophisticated software would probably have ignored a  voice in English say 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1- Boom!, over the communication circuits, for the world's media. "Stand by to detonate" probably isn't in the Echelon software package.

For those in industry,feeling smug about the intelligence agencies being blindsided, don't! Look at the business intelligence software that most of you are using. It does just the same, has inherited all the bad habits of the Intelligence Agencies, with none of the benefits. (These include not having to account to anyone for your failures, and the ability to classify your screw-ups!)

Let us look at history, and find out why the Intelligence Agencies got themselves in this mess. Look and learn, for private industry is following, like Lemmings!

In the 1960's technology allowed us to gain unprecedented insight into the mighty Soviet Union. Thousands of miles into the forbidden, closed society, technology peeled back the Iron Curtain. From the U2, through Blackbird, Corona, to Keyhole and Lacrosse. Technology saved us using Agents to penetrate the vast expanse of the Soviet Union. Information delivery became faster, and faster. Speed compensated for lack of forward planning. One huge competitors, all the other players allied to one supplier, or the other. They either used their products, or ours.

Today there are so many players, with competing ideologies, products and technologies, and countries willing to sell to anyone, and everyone, friend or foe. (Funny how Israel springs to mind here.)

It is physically impossible to track hundreds "potential adversaries" with software, and techniques built and designed to track one major foe. Yet industry has embraced an intelligence philosophy that does just that.

Much of the so called "intelligence" software out there is worse than useless. It is "sales forecasting" not "intelligence" for it only looks at what you already know, and ignores the forces, and technologies,  that can put you out of business tomorrow! Companies are turning themselves into "Corporate Soviet Unions", helped by armies of overpaid MBA's from some of the worlds best business schools. I appreciate the value of quantitative analysis, and the benefits of mining every piece of silver out of the customer lode, but if there is a world glut of silver, that additional cost of extraction, instead of looking elsewhere, can bring down the company.

Nothing beats leg work by humans, and expert intelligence analysis. For example, one day many years ago I visited a TV studio, with a veteran TV producer. We needed their facilities, urgently. I had all their literature, demo tapes, and their proposals. We liked the proposal, but the cost was a bit exorbitant. I was impressed with their facilities, and being new into the industry, accepted their pitch.Not so my mentor. He shook his head, and said "Far too expensive. Way outside of the ball park."  They immediately dropped their price, and we saved a lot of money. On the way back home I asked why he gambled. "No gamble" said he, "they're hurting. Have no production."

For hours I strained my brain cells, trying to figure out what had changed the old Fox's mind. After letting me stew, he came over smiling, and let me into his observation. "Remember the cameras at the back of the studio. They had Plumbicon tubes in their cameras, which were switched off. It takes days to stabilize a camera for color balance. You don't switch them off if you have work scheduled, you keep the heaters on, and them on standby."

While I was busy looking at the lighting rig, chroma background, and all the features being eagerly pointed out by the studio manager, he quietly glanced at the pointers that mattered. Years later the owner of that studio confessed that we saved his business, even at the rock bottom price,  for although they had a great facility, and lots of clients, none were giving them business. Along with the rest of the industry, they were running on empty, and putting out lots of misleading information to save face.

Television is a interesting case study in gathering Business Intelligence. Following  a TV crew around a trade exhibition can be a very revealing exercise. Many times I have correctly called problems with products, by the reaction of sales people to the media presence. If they are organized, confident, and all is going well, they fight each other to be on camera. If they are scurrying to hide in any available hole in the carpeting, you know they have problems. Also if only "Ms. Smith" is allowed to speak to the camera. You know she is the one coached to deflect the probing questions.

Back to the Intelligence Agencies. The Saddam Husseins, and other assorted "Bad Guys" must have seen the History Channel programs on deception of Nazi Germany, prior to the D-Day landings, for that is exactly what they did to the US, and allies. They created phony tanks, radar installations, and other military hardware, which we dutifully blasted into oblivion with million dollar laser precision guided weapons. They have learned that technology is devastating in the beginning, but with some thought, can be easily fooled.

Many years ago I attended the extensively publicized launch of a "World Shattering" computer in London. I won't give its name, but it's easy to work it out. The inventor amazed the assembled media with it's capabilities, and that it was so secret it could only be seen from a suitable distance. The media eagerly stood back, wrote copy, filmed, taped, and photographed every movement of the great guru, with computer in hand.

His hand movements did not look right, considering the published weight of the device. Taking a gamble I quietly asked a lowly tech, I had met before, clear of the assembled admirers:

"Psst, for my info. Nice launch, but when will you have the real item, instead of a Balsawood model."

"Shh! In about three to six months. We need the money from advance orders to develop it. Who told you, we are not supposed to tell anyone."

Months later, people wondered how I knew this company would eventually face financial problems, and would lie to their investors.

Same with the De Lorean Car company. All indicators looked good to London, they had crunched the numbers, run the projections. They were singing their praises. I asked a shrewd leading politician in Dublin, why they had turned them down. He tapped his nose. "Just the smell Alan, just the smell. Trust your nose." The rest is history.

We have got rid of the experienced executives, with a nose for that faint smell of something being not quite right, and replaced them with young, eager, computer-literate data miners, extrapolating the future from computer software programs.

Now a lot of these computer companies are in deep doo dah! Wouldn't you think, if they are so great at forward looking, and business intelligence, they would have all been great financial, and marketing successes?

It takes years to develop a reliable nose! Invest in reliable human experts, not just fallible computer programs. They are great tools, but only in the right hands.

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