Training intelligence networks.
The Problems of Information and Knowledge
On the first day of the Military Intelligence Basic Officer Leader's Course (MIBOLC), the students discuss the natural bias to believe that more information means better analysis and better decisions. This belief has proven repeatedly to be false. In fact, the only result of more information is more confidence in one's analysis but not more accuracy. (1) However, small pieces of information have proven repeatedly to be crucial to the outcomes of battles and key to commanders' decisions. What would have happened at the Civil War Battle of Antietam if a Union private had not found the Confederate battle plans wrapped around three cigars? What would have happened at Normandy if the famous agent Garbo had not convinced Hitler that Normandy was a feint and Hitler had reinforced Normandy with the quarter of a million German soldiers that were waiting at Calais? More information does not mean better analysis, but the right information could mean the difference between victory and defeat. This situation is made infinitely more difficult when analysts realize that to find the right information they must determine what the information means.
The greatest challenge that information presents is determining what the information means. Once an analyst determines the significance of the information, and how it relates to other information, the analyst crosses the invisible boundary from information to knowledge. (2) The same piece of message traffic could be given to an analyst from World War II, Vietnam, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and each one based on their understanding of tactics, technology, cultural understanding, and education would interpret its significance differently. In fact, analysts within the same MIBOLC class will interpret the same piece of information differently, based on myriad of different factors. Instructors at MIBOLC use a simple vignette to illustrate how perspective and knowledge can influence understanding and action. The vignette is as follows:
Information and knowledge are the realm of intelligence analysis. Information and knowledge have three overlapping and sometimes paradoxical characteristics that dramatically affect analysis. First, more information does not improve analysis, it only makes the analyst more confident even if the analyst is wrong. Second, one small piece of information can prove critical to victory or defeat. Third, the subtle nuances of information and how it is filtered as it is transitioned from a piece of information to a piece of knowledge through the mind of the analyst is infinitely complex. Analysts have developed numerous methods to minimize this daunting situation. Tactically, analysts rely on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) as a method to organize the complexity of the battlefield and determine what options the enemy has available. However, the added complexity of counterinsurgency, the rapidly globalizing and technological world means that analysts must also be prepared to analyze situations that expand their understanding of what factors can contribute to IPB. The major problem analysts face is they do not know what they do not know, and undoubtedly, the great threats to America or their unit will be the threat that no one anticipated. No matter how sophisticated the method or technique someone uses to conduct analysis, much of what is learned comes through trial and error. (3) The flattening of information and knowledge through the Internet and other tools of communication provides analysts with an incredible tool to minimize their ignorance by leveraging the knowledge of the MI Corps.
The MIBOLC Strategy
Knowledge networks provide intelligence analysts amazing tools to rapidly adapt to any threat they face. However, it is only an amazing tool if the analysts use it. The challenge of MIBOLC is to train the new intelligence officers to leverage every tool at their disposal to be the best analyst possible. They must steal experiences and ideas shamelessly. They must realize it is the MI Corps fighting the enemy and no one is as smart as all of us, and every Soldier from private to general can have the eureka moment that provides them with the keen insights required to destroy the enemy. To embed this knowledge-sharing trait within their analytical culture, MIBOLC is attempting a two-prong strategy. The first part of the strategy is the most difficult: training lieutenants to leverage knowledge networks. The other part of the strategy is training lieutenants to use the knowledge tools available. The four tools MIBOLC trains are: Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A); Nonclassifed Internet Protocol Routing (NIPR) and Secret Internet Protocol Routing (SIPR) resources; MI Net, and the Intelligence Center Online Network Document Management System (ICON DMS). This strategy will undoubtedly develop and mature over time, but it is a good place to start.
The first prong of the MIBOLC knowledge network training strategy, training lieutenants to use the knowledge management (KM) tools at their disposal, is the most difficult. The approach MIBOLC is attempting is to sell the value of each of the KM tools as an essential part of analysis. To do this each KM training event must have value added to the students and help them examine or think about a problem more rapidly than they would without the KM tools. However, this statement is more easily said than done. MIBOLC is a sanitized environment where all the answers to successfully complete the mission are held within its walls. The challenge MIBOLC faces is why should students be concerned with complex, unsolved problems of the real world when it is challenging enough to complete the tests and briefs as part of the program of instruction? Why should students log onto ICON when one can simply walk over to the cadre area and talk to the expert who will be grading the assignment and knows exactly what they are looking for? The goal of MIBOLC is to mix the critical tasks that are known and must be trained with the intangible realities of the operations that are currently being conducted. If the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command schools knew exactly what to teach then the problem would already be solved. MIBOLC, when training students to leverage KM networks, works to couple basic and proven tools with unsolved problems that are more rapidly addressed with the KM tools. Incorporating KM tools to address reality in combination with training critical tasks is the cornerstone of the MIBOLC KM strategy.
The second part of the strategy is to train the lieutenants on the KM tools available to them, specifically MI Net and ICON DMS. Not unlike online Learning Team discussion forums employed by major universities, MI Net allows MI officers to interact in a threaded discussion forum and discuss issues relevant to MI officers. The underlying principle MIBOLC works to instill is the power of the intelligence team. Each Teach, Assess, and Counsel (TAC) identifies a relevant problem in the current operations that is customized to the knowledge and interests of the class. The TAC then leads an MI net discussion on that topic, eliciting ideas from the lieutenants on ways to overcome this problem. This discussion has the added benefit of instilling within the students that they are the future leaders of the MI Corps and they must find solutions to the problems they face. In addition to the mandatory discussion MIBOLC is also encouraging students to use MI Net to find topics they can discuss in their morning TAC Briefs, as well as using it to find knowledge for their insurgency case studies and other POI assignments. MI Net provides students with the ability to expand beyond the MIBOLC to find knowledge concerning MI issues. More importantly it works to train MI officers to find solutions as a team and leverage the entire Corps to solve the problems they will face in combat.
The second tool is the ICON Document Management System (DMS). The major problem with the Internet and all the knowledge available within it is that there is too much. The difficulty is not finding items, but finding what one is looking for. MIBOLC has an advantage in this case because it synchronizes the lieutenants' understanding of intelligence issues. As students go through the course they are required to conduct their own research on issues from terrorist threat profiles to counterinsurgency issues to battle analysis. A major trend that the cadre has noticed is that students spend the majority of their time trying to find the information to analyze versus analyzing the information. Therefore, MIBOLC is standing up, within the MIBOLC workgroups, the MIBOLC knowledge center. This folder and its subcomponents will provide students the ability to rapidly find the material they need to focus on and analyze the material, not just find it. In addition, as students move forward to the force, if the folders are truly providing information that is critical, students will return to the workgroups to reference these items and use their knowledge when deployed. The workgroups have the added bonus of giving permissions to access information to cadre, allowing them to see the number of people who access each folder. This will inform the cadre of which folders and areas are the most needed or most used, allowing the cadre to refine their knowledge and improve their instruction. The ICON DMS provides a consolidated location of knowledge that the students will use over the 13 week course, and in doing so become proficient at locating the content they need. This familiarity will provide the students with an easy to use reference as they transition to the force and invariably are required to find or reference training they received through MIBOLC.
Training second lieutenants to use KM tools available to them is essential for improving their analysis. These officers will face new analytical problems as they transition to the force and into combat theaters. The problems will be solved more rapidly and with greater accuracy if they leverage the knowledge and experience of the rest of the MI Corps. KM tools provide these officers with that ability. The goal of MIBOLC is to train officers to leverage these tools to conduct more rapid accurate analysis. In order to accomplish this objective MIBOLC is pursuing a two prong strategy. The first part of this strategy is to train officers to understand the value of using the tools to improve their knowledge and understanding and in doing so improve the analysis and support of their decision makers. The second part of this strategy is training officers in using the predominant tools that can assist them in leveraging the knowledge within the Corps. The goal of MIBOLC is to train its students to create and use intelligence networks to be more effective analysts.
(1.) Richards J. Heuer, Jr., Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 53-55; Malcolm Gladwell, Blink, (New York: Back Bay Books, 2005), 139-140. The authors in both books cite psychological experiments in which more information only improved confidence and not accuracy.
(2.) Battle Command Knowledge System, BCKS Knowledge Manager Course What is Knowledge? Module One, December 1, 2005.
(3.) Nissam Taleb, Black Swan (New York: Random House, 2007). Mr. Taleb, a financial analyst specializing quantitative trading, exposes how poor experts are at prediction. He cites many experiments as well as many failures of financial companies that use the best and brightest mathematical tools and analytical methods of risk management and prediction and still end up completely bankrupt due to their failure to predict.
Captain Tom Pike is the Course Manager for MIBOLC. He has served as a Rifle Company Platoon Leader, Rifle Company Executive officer, Bradley Platoon Leader, Scout Platoon Leader, Intelligence Officer, AIT Company Commander and MIBOLC Instructor.