Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cool OSINT Tools on Arms and Freedom

I've checked out a few more analytical tools for my bag of tricks.  These links are cool because they help me understand the world we live in today.  They appear in the Intelligence Links in the column on the right-hand side of this blog.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute tracks military spending and arms shipments worldwide.  Check out their database links.  They even track subnational groups.  I plan to use this site to cross-reference military spending with other categories of military activity to see which country's military gets the most bang for the buck when influencing world affairs.

Reporters Without Borders publishes the Press Freedom Index that ranks countries by how much they respect their fourth estate (read up on the legacy of the French Revolution of you need that term defined).  I'm disappointed that the US is ranked #32 in 2013.  I'm doing my part to move the needle higher by blogging as much as possible in honor of the First Amendment.

The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes a bunch of good stuff, but their annual Democracy Index just plain rocks.  A lot of EIU's services cost serious bucks but the Democracy Index is free.  I like freebies.  I don't like paying for other things I can get for free just by searching the web.

Big Data isn't just for big corporations.  Anyone in free societies can use it to make better policy and hold governments accountable for their actions.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 07/20/13

Turkey on the brink
Islamist faction rising
Second Caliphate

Turkey's Identity Crisis On The Brink

Turkey is clearly at a cultural crossroads.  On one hand, its political elite has clearly moved the country in a more Islamic direction and taken steps to mute the military's role as guardian of the government's secular orientation.  On the other hand, the recent demonstrations against development of Taksim Gezi Park reveal that a remnant of the society is not willing to go peacefully into an ultra-conservative future.

Modern Turkey had all of the outward trappings of a tolerant society and reliable Western security partner throughout the second half of the 20th century.  Turkey has sought EU membership for over a quarter-century.  The Erdogan government's embrace of conservative moral codes that align explicitly with Islam jeopardize its pursuit of that membership.  Turkey even developed security ties with Israel; it threw that productive relationship away with tacit support for Gaza blockade runners.  Turkish-Israeli reconciliation is still a possibility, and unofficial cooperation against common threats (Syria, Iran) is always a possibility.

The reconstruction plans for the park involve erecting a shopping mall modeled after the Halil Pasha Artillery Barracks.  This is more than a post-modern tribute to Turkey's Ottoman past.  Every major policy initiative of the Erdogan government, from its stance on public morals to its support for anti-Assad rebels in Syria, is a step towards Turkey's reassertion of its pre-Ataturk identity as the center of the Caliphate.  Turkey's political elite is ready to embrace Islam and regional interventionism and is willing to drag its secular professionals along for the ride.  The national identity crisis is ready for resolution, one way or the other.

The Erdogan government's forceful handling of the protestors has not yet carried the day for order.  It remains to be seen just how much of Istanbul's educated, secular middle class will continue to suspend their economic lives and risk arrest or injury.  Sustained popular uprisings usually begin with widespread labor or bourgeoisie economic grievances in provincial areas and eventually encroach upon a national capital.  These protestors have cultural grievances but are economically secure.  There is some evidence their protests are spreading to the rest of Turkey.  Arab Spring protestors wanted cheaper food staples and more jobs.  This protest has little in common with the Arab Spring.  Turkey ranks higher than the world average on the Heritage Index and Turkey's GDP growth in recent years has been very healthy, although FDI is dropping precipitously and inflation is rising.

Erdogan's statesmanship on peacefully resolving the Kurdish issue has probably endeared him to many Turks who are weary of years of unrest.  Turkey's international standing and internal business climate will be enhanced by stability in its Kurdish regions, park protests notwithstanding.  Secular Turks outside Istanbul would be hard-pressed to ignore this significant diplomatic progress just to continue sympathizing with protestors.

The protestors in Istanbul have a limited window of opportunity to make their case for moderation to the rest of Turkey's secular middle class.  The Erdogan government has demonstrated its willingness to disperse the protestors and the rest of Turkey probably won't mind so long as the economy delivers prosperity.  The race between worsening economic data and a government determined to bring order is still on.  The Erdogan government can make non-fatal concessions on cultural issues that would address several of the capital protestors' grievances and split much of the national opposition.  That may be enough to calm things down without a hard crackdown that would further damage the economy.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Infectious Disease Preparedness for Cheap Countries

Pandemics are problems for nation-state legitimacy.  Strong states with mature public health programs can handle them well.  Weak states distracted by poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation, social unrest, and insurgencies could destabilize or even disintegrate in the face of a pandemic.  States need early warning systems for disease outbreaks and road maps for consequence management.

Early warning systems already exist.  CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) is a model for national organization of medical threat data.  WHO's Global Alert and Response (GAR) Disease Outbreak News (DONs) is free for any national health service to use as a monitoring tool.

The US already leads the way in pandemic mitigation.  The US National Intelligence Council published National Intelligence Estimate 99-17D, The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the United States in January 2000.  Analysis is the foundation for action.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up with its publication Protecting the Nation's Health in an Era of Globalization:  CDC's Global Infectious Disease Strategy in 2002.  Wealthy countries with strong central states can afford to make detailed plans.  Poorer countries are at a disadvantage but all is not lost.  Developing countries can follow the US's lead.

The US has been generous enough to suggest optimal funding levels and project directions for global health programs.  NIH published The Impact of Globalization on Infectious Disease Emergence and Control via the National Academies Press.  Developing countries that are too cheap to pay the $45 for a hard copy are welcome to download the PDF for free from the NIH's NCBI.  The opportunity cost of inaction is huge, as outlined in EMBO's "Pricing infectious disease." 

Weak states have all of these free resources courtesy of Uncle Sam.  Use them before the next sequester hits federal spending.  Poverty is no excuse for unpreparedness if developing countries wish to avoid destabilizing pandemics.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 07/10/13

Power Africa
So many small agencies
Doing the same work

Uncle Sam's Proliferating Development Agencies Will "Power Africa"

I have read the fact sheet on Power Africa, the Administration's new effort to bring economic development to a long-neglected part of the world.  I am totally in favor of a smart US development effort in Africa to counter China's huge influence.  Power Africa is interagency and leverages the private sector; so far so good.  Reading the list of agencies involved has started to make me wonder how the US got so many.

US Agency for International Development (USAID):  This is the oldest official home for foreign aid in the US Government and used to be part of the State Department.  I never understood why it was carved out into a separate agency.  The Executive Office of the President and National Security Council have a span of control that is not infinitely wide.  Every separate agency complicates Cabinet-level accountability, appropriations, reporting, auditing, you name it.  If I could wave a magic wand over Washington DC, I'd put USAID back in State so the White House can more easily pin the rose on a lead agency for an interagency development project.

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC):  This one's been around a while too.  I'm assuming it's involved to reduce the cost of capital for those private companies named as participants in Power Africa. The one private participant that doesn't need any more such breaks is General Electric.  Its GE Capital unit has been tagged "systemically important" and will not be allowed to fail anyway.

U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im):  I'm glad this one is on board but I'd prefer that it target its help to small and medium-size US businesses that want to export to Africa.  The named businesses are all heavy hitters.  Smaller businesses need to attend the Corporate Council on Africa's 9th Biennial US-Africa Business Summit this coming October so they know how to open doors over there.

Millennium Challenge Corporation:  This one is the youngest of the agencies, less than a decade old and designed exclusively to fight poverty.  I just don't understand why it's not part of USAID.  It has the same mission!

US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA):  Here's another miscellaneous independent agency that does the same thing as OPIC and Ex-Im!  It needs to be merged with one of those agencies.

US African Development Foundation (USADF):  Wow, here's another one I've never heard of until now.    It's been around for three decades and now has a clear role to play thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  It's nice to conceive of these kinds of agencies as entrepreneurial because of their small size and limited oversight, but I just wonder how many others are out there and whether they duplicate something a larger agency does.

BTW, I've also never heard of Africa Finance Corporation but it's in this project too.  They must be the most reputable local partner Uncle Sam could find.  Its multilateral nature means Africans can handle African affairs quite well.

I want Power Africa to succeed.  I also want its enabling agencies to support their private sector partners effectively.  IMHO that will require, at some point, a review of whether some of the federal executive agencies involved are duplicative and need to be merged.  That in itself would set a good example for our African partners who look to the US as a model of transparency and efficiency.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 07/06/13

Trade diplomacy
Many programs and meetings
Ask who profited

Effectiveness of State Department Business Initiatives

The US government makes an earnest effort to reach out to potential enablers of our country's strategic interests.  The Department of State has multiple organs that support this effort.  The Office of Commercial and Business Affairs has a role to play in developing business contacts overseas.  Given the broad scope of its mission, I wonder how the office measures its effectiveness.

The CBA is charged with supporting the President's National Export Initiative.  I analyzed the results of the US's export strategy in March 2013.  Whatever the CBA plans to do to push exports needs to be done at an accelerated pace.  The CBA also runs plenty of entrepreneurial programs but it's important to evaluate them on valid business metrics.  The OPIC and Ex-Im Bank have dollar-based metrics to gauge the success of their investments.  CBA needs more than just a roster of participants in its Global Entrepreneurship Program's delegations and summits.

I also wonder about the effectiveness of small outreach efforts that partner with DOS.  Business for Diplomatic Action (parent of the World Citizens Guide) closed in 2010 but played a leading role in partnering with DOS on programs such as an exchange program that benefited exactly 28 non-US entrepreneurs.  I'd like to compare this achievement to the workload of a typical big-city SBA office that helps hundreds of entrepreneurs each year.  I just don't have the data.  This is all food for thought.

I do not have a firm grasp of how well DOS integrates its commercial support mission with other federal agencies.  If DOS targets its commercial outreach efforts in support of goals outlined in the National Security Strategy for 2010, then policymakers will know those programs are at least headed in the correct direction.

BTW, those Americans who wish to engage in their own entrepreneurial diplomacy have plenty of options.  The US Center for Citizen Diplomacy has a searchable database of international affairs organizations that accept volunteers.