Building the COIN Facebook

I ran across an interesting study published by the RAND Corporation that took a look at how the United States could best leverage its current communications and intelligence networks to wage an effective information operations campaign in a counterinsurgency.iraqi-cell-phone.jpg

The study, aptly titled Byting Back: Regaining Information Superiority Against 21st Century Insurgents, takes a novel, web 2.0 approach to the problem of gaining information to fight an insurgency. RAND rightly states that the information requirements for conventional war the basis upon which most of the Pentagons intelligence apparatus is based are very different from those of a counterinsurgency.

If winning war requires understanding the terrain, winning counterinsurgency requires understanding the human terrain: the population, from its top-level political structure to the individual citizen. A thorough and current understanding of individuals and their community can help rally support of the government by allowing the government to meet the needs of the local population. Because insurgents do not identify themselves as such on sight, knowledge at the individual level is often what it takes to make such necessary distinctions.

The study suggests utilizing local wikis compiled by the population, security services and government officials; leveraging cell phone networks to push information and to potentially track insurgents; incorporating the use of video and voice recorders on individual weapons to compile information and lessons learned and the institution of a detailed government census of the population.

The RAND analysts call this an integrated counterinsurgency operating network, or ICON.

Interestingly, the authors developed a metric of 160 information requirements in a counterinsurgency. From their analysis, the RAND authors found that only 13 of those bits of information required covert sources, while 90 could be obtained by troops on patrol and 57 come from the population itself. How do you think the military views this balance now? I betcha its weighted heavily toward the covert operative side of things.

What the RAND study also reveals is that the ICON benefits from openness.

By contrast, security tended to be the least stringent desideratum. Only 2 requirements were of the sort that could not be shared with indigenous forces, while 28 could be shared with anyone.

Though RAND admits the technologies to build such an intel network are well within reach, linking them together could pose significant challenges.

In addition to designing and engineering work, DoD and leading IT firms will have to work together as they never have before to crack such problems as providing selective security in an open search-collaborative environment. With proper incentives, market forces will provide most of the drive needed. But an abundance of creativity and common purpose will also be needed.

It seems to me, though, that all the tools are out there to do this. We dont need ungainly weapons cameras developed by some billion dollar defense contractor, for example, when most cell phones come with one embedded in their wafer-thin mechanics. The key is to form a sort of intelligence community that interweaves these different streams into one easily accessible database...a counterinsurgency Myspace, maybe?

-- Christian

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