Milwaukee Biz Blog: The right way to gather intelligence

Seek the truth, not information that supports your viewpoint

Are you familiar with Sun Tzu’s the “Art of War”? Written in the 5th Century B.C., his advice on war is still fresh.

In the book, Tzu said that “he who does not understand himself or his enemy is doomed to fail.”

This principal is the core to intelligence collection and analysis in business as well as in the military. You often fail when you get the answers you want rather than answers that address reality.

Dick Cheney decimated the Pentagon’s Near East & South Asia Section shortly after becoming vice president. He forced into retirement, transferred or fired skilled staff and replaced them with those who would give him the answers he wished. This tainted intelligence resulted in an unneeded war, in my opinion.

History is filled with “made as required” intelligence. LBJ and McNamara wanted body count in Vietnam, and Westmoreland produced false numbers. Trump claims “alternative facts” for large crowds at his swearing in ceremony. Aerial photography and ground observers dispute him. The Japanese in World War II refused to accept facts that they had lost the war.

When you seek intelligence that reinforces your own views, you begin to believe it. This is deadly. It leads to lost battles, failed peace and horrid business decisions.

This brings me to my topic- the positives and negatives of current U.S. intelligence.

The U.S. has a slew of named and secret agencies that gather and analyze intelligence.

Naturally each agency has its own perspective and targets. Al Capone was convicted of tax fraud by the IRS, not for bootlegging or murder. The FBI concentrated on communists and Nazis, not white supremists groups. The CIA pursued communism primarily in Europe.

Today we are threatened by white extremists, Middle East terrorist groups, animal rights and environmental organizations, anti-abortion groups, friends (such as Israel) that spy on us, cyber terrorists from Russia and China, drug gangs, money laundering, to name but a few.

Each agency has competing goals and approaches. Some believe this is bad and that we need to have a single agency. I disagree. Competing approaches often can bring in surprising intelligence harvests!

The problem is not what you are gathering, but how to use it. This has been America’s biggest challenge in a world of massive data and protocols that are slow to react.

The boomer generation criticize the young because of their short attention span and their habit of scanning data, but actually these young folk are adjusting to the overload they see. They might have it “right” after all.

This massive data presents a problem in analysis whether one evaluates human collection or mechanical intel such as drones to cyber-spying or even published open data.

The problem? How do you analyze this data? And once analyzed, how intelligence is moved up the bureaucratic ladder to someone who will act. This is true if you are in the government or business

I recall an experience I had when I was at the G-2 at 1st Division in Vietnam. I created a system to analyze intelligence using spread patterns combining military and political data. This proved quite successful and we suggested to Saigon that it be implemented elsewhere. The word came back that our approach could not work since politics had no influence on military action. This was false since the Viet Cong used dual leadership with a political officer and a tactical officer. Blindness of reality in Saigon would not allow the use of our system.

A successful way to use intelligence is through task forces where representatives from different agencies come together to work on a specific task. There is a heathy exchange of ideas and most often, little political infighting. In business, a task force committee from different divisions might be a route you could take.

The government has created a sort of central clearing section to triage intelligence in reaction to the problems I mentioned. This office must be staffed with knowledgeable professional who are continually briefed. This is not a long term solution.

In business, you might consider a committee to review the intelligence you are gathering. Include managers with different functions, but try as well to include a few folk from the field.

Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman. He was a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, served at the JFK Special Forces Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina), at the G-2 for 1st Division (Vietnam) and in the field as an agent recruiter. He is a graduate of the Phoenix Program and has written and spoken on the nature of terrorism and the future of combating it.

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