To fix intelligence analysis you have to decide what’s broken

“More and more, Xmas Day failure looks to be wheat v. chaff issue, not info sharing issue.” – Marc Ambinder, politics editor for The Atlantic, on Twitter last night.

Marc Ambinder, a casual friend and solid reporter, has boiled down two likely avenues of intelligence “failure” relevant to the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his attempted Christmas Day bombing on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.  In his telling, they’re apparently binary – one is true, not the other, at least for this case.

The two areas were originally signalled by President Obama in his remarks on Tuesday, when he discussed the preliminary findings of “a review of our terrorist watch list system …  so we can find out what went wrong, fix it and prevent future attacks.” 

Let’s examine these two areas of failure briefly – and what can and should be done to address them.

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Intel and AMD Think Outside the Box

Everyone in Washington DC is indoors today because of the season’s first snow, or venturing only within an easy snow-shovel’s carry from the front door. DC always comes to a near-halt with even a dusting of snow, so with a foot or more last night and today, folks are immobile.  Here are my photos of our snow fun today, and below to entertain the snowbound I have three separate videos of innovation from Intel, Microsoft, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

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Stop by Tuesday for dinner or a drink with a great guy (and me)

I’m taking up my duties as a public-spirited citizen next week on Tuesday evening, by hosting a fun little fundraiser for my local Congressman – and if you’re going to be in Washington DC the evening of 10/27 I hope you’ll join me (click here for the invitation and details). It’ll be a fun evening; we’ll be at the ultra-cool Johnny’s Half-Shell on Capitol Hill after all.

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Departure of the Pentagon CISO

I’ve had the good fortune to work with talented folks in my (short) time in Washington, since moving back East in 2002, particularly in the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense.  And one such fellow at DoD has been Bob Lentz, the outgoing deputy assistant secretary of Defense for information and identity assurance – the Chief Information Assurance Officer and equivalent to a private-sector CISO.

I gave an interview this afternoon to Federal News Radio (AM 1500 in the DC area, worldwide at www.FederalNewsRadio.com), on Bob’s tenure, and what will come next for DoD in the wake of his departure. You can read the news story about the interview here, or listen to the entire 15-minute interview as an mp3:

Shepherd interview on Federal News Radio, 10/13/2009

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Webcast interview from the Government 2.0 Summit

I’ve been attending the Government 2.0 Summit in Washington this week, along with a lot of friends and colleagues from various spots in Silicon Valley, the international tech world, and federal, state, or local government agencies. If you want to follow along on Twitter, there’s a great number of attendees posting real-time notes and comments throughout the sessions.

Over the past couple of months I’ve participated with many colleagues planning the kick-off Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase, which highlighted fantastic new-technology projects from government agencies across the country. One of the great projects showcased is www.NeighborsforNeighbors.org, a collaborative website of rich services run by Joseph Porcelli (on Twitter he’s @josephporcelli). Among the other services on the site is a webcast series of great interviewst all levels, from across the country. , and this afternoon I sat down for a chat.

You can watch it below, on their site, or over on the archived kyte.tv site  – lots of laughs as we talk about my varied experiences in government, and why Microsoft is focusing intently on enabling enterprise Government 2.0 capabilities.  Fun stuff!

[kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/202174/553690&tbid=k_168&p=p/s&height=436&width=416]

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Seeking Semantics in Government

Anyone who uses Twitter and has to cram thoughts in to 140 characters knows that technology doesn’t always mix well with “semantic meaning.” That reminds me of an old Hollywood story (here’s a version from Wikipedia):

Cary Grant is said to have been reluctant to reveal his age to the public, having played the youthful lover for more years than would have been appropriate. One day, while he was sorting out some business with his agent, a telegram arrived from a journalist who was desperate to learn how old the actor was. It read: HOW OLD CARY GRANT?

Grant, who happened to open it himself, immediately cabled back: OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?

WashTechWashington Technology magazine has a long (overly long) feature today about semantic computing, entitled “Open Government Looks for New Technologies.”  It has nothing to do with Cary Grant, but I have a few minor quibbles with the article (written by a freelancer from New York).

The premise is in the subhead: “Web 3.0 could help make Obama’s dream of government transparency a reality.”  The article goes on to give a basic – very basic – primer on semantic tagging and its potential application in government uses. Underline that word, “potential.”

Aside from the new Data.gov website’s use of minimal Dublin-Core metadata, there’s no actual government use cited. In fact, despite the premise, the article actually contains more evidence that government agencies are actively shying away from adopting semantic approaches. A spokesperson for GSA is typical, saying only that ““We are monitoring the situation as the technology matures; it is not factoring into our business requirements at this point.”  And a spokesperson for the site at www.Recovery.gov, now controversial for the manner in which it was contracted out, says they are “focusing on other priorities.” 

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A few words about a few great Pentagon leaders

I was thinking about the Pentagon over the long weekend – appropos, given the Memorial Day celebration. But my thoughts were also sparked by viewing a 9/11 documentary, reviving all the memories of that dark day’s attacks on New York and Washington – which ultimately led to my joining the ranks of defense intelligence for a while.

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