Tradecraft in the Long Tail

Fact: Chris Anderson, WIRED editor in chief and author of the Internet-era classic book “The Long Tail,” also runs a couple of Ning social networks focusing on what the intelligence community would call IMINT, or imagery intelligence – specifically DIY Drones, “a site for all things about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): How-to’s, videos, discussion and more,” and PictEarth, “a Social Network used to collect, link and geotag RC, UAV/UAS or Kite derived Earth imagery for use in 3D Globe Programs including Google Earth, Virtual Earth, World Wind and ArcGIS Explorer.”

Analysis:  With these sites, Chris Anderson is promoting what he calls “Crowdsourced Aerial Imagery.”  In the mission statement for DIY Drones, he writes that “Reasons to make your own UAV range from a fun technical challenge, student contests, aerial photography and mapping (what we call “GeoCrawling”), and scientific sensing. We are primarily interested in civilian, not military, UAV uses here.” (Emphasis is in the original.)

Let’s presume that individual DoD or intelligence-agency personnel have an interest in such issues, and maybe even in spending their personal time by keeping current and following the crowd’s interest in such topics, by participating in these new social networks.  One can then assume that others from foreign intelligence might have some interest in tracking those very IC personnel, by observing their activities within social networks (and not just Ning ones).  No spectacular logic needed for that.

The CIA has had some challenges in understanding their field presence within the Long Tail. 

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How to Run a State-of-the-Art Technology Program – Quietly

FACT: In the new movie “Iron Man,” defense-contracting billionaire and engineering genius Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) designs and builds a suit capable of individual flight (highly engineered control surfaces powered by an “arc-reactor” – it is Hollywood after all). During his first test flight, zooming straight up from Malibu and stressing the system to its max, he asks his onboard computer, “What’s the altitude record for the SR-71?” His computer responds back, “85,000 feet,” whereupon he zooms past that ceiling.

ANALYSIS: Funny moment, and excellent movie.  In its honor, below I’m going to give you access to a remarkable, recently declassified document describing one of America’s boldest Cold War technical achievements.  If you’ve ever run (or wanted to run) a high-tech company or program, like Tony Stark in the movie, you’ll appreciate the startling scope of the work – and if you’ve recently worked in DoD or the Intelligence Community you’ll marvel at how they did it “in the good old days.”

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