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Revelatur Newsletter Volume 3
December 11, 2020
Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear - Amy Ray and Emily Saliers
In this edition we continue to unpack and elaborate on our 2020 Election Report. There are four articles. The first characterizes the American Republican Party from an empirical viewpoint, and indicates that we should be much more concerned and proactive about the threat it poses to our future than we already are. The second addresses the historical and theoretical bases from which Americans draw their political rights and responsibilities, and outlines practical steps we can take to reclaim those rights and thereby ‘reboot’ American Democracy. In the third we detail the important differences between intelligence as a structured approach to actionable knowledge — vice simply “staying on top of things” via the news. In the final article we outline the need for a strategy for all aspects of modern professional life, and outline an easy-to-implement strategic approach. We also included a list of “must reads” in this piece for you.
Making Sense of The Republican Party
It’s easy to get inured to and overwhelmed by the continuous reporting of one Republican Party outrage after another. Their failure to protect and support lifelong Republican election officials in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania from intimidation and physical harm is just the latest, and shows how close the party has become to the very Communist regimes they are theoretically implacably opposed to.
This “eating your young,” the intimidation and orthodoxy-reinforcing tactic of methodically eliminating all potential opposition to the “Dear Leader,” generates its own internal logic with no real stopping point. To justify this tactic to themselves and their followers, Republicans have taken hypocrisy to an art form. In fact, in lieu of enlightened principles, hypocrisy has become the defining behavioral trait of the party and its leaders. It is also the defining characteristic of American Evangelical Christianity, which is actually why they are such cozy fellow travelers.
The amount, pace and utter banality of Republican norm transgressions create an ‘outrage overload’ that overwhelms Democrats’ ability to mobilize effective opposition and deploy counter-measures. To gain perspective, it often helps to get a viewpoint from outside the system altogether — to get an empirically valid, evidence-based comparison with similar systems. Fortunately, the V-Dem Institute recently released (October 26, 2020) a Briefing Paper: “New Global Data on Political Parties: V-Party.” The following are the most alarming conclusions from V-Dem’s data-driven analysis:
“The Republican party has moved strongly in an illiberal direction. In this sense it is now more similar to autocratic ruling parties such as the Turkish AKP, and Fidesz in Hungary than to typical center-right governing parties in democracies such as the Conservatives in the UK or CDU in Germany.”
“The data shows that the Republican Party in 2018 was far more illiberal than almost all other governing parties in democracies. Only very few governing parties in democracies in this millennium (15%) were considered more illiberal than the Republican Party in the US.”
“In a significant shift since 2000, the GOP has taken to demonising and encouraging violence against its opponents, adopting attitudes and tactics comparable to ruling nationalist parties in Hungary, India, Poland and Turkey. The shift has both led to and been driven by the rise of Donald Trump.”
“This rise of illiberalism is not like mere disagreement about policy issues. Lacking commitment to democratic norms signals a willingness to also erode these norms once in power.” https://www.v-dem.net/media/filer_public/b6/55/b6553f85-5c5d-45ec-be63-a48a2abe3f62/briefing_paper_9.pdf
So an objective, data-driven third-party comparative analysis of political parties within global democracies characterizes the U.S. Republican Party as authoritarian and increasingly so, as well as likely to continue to erode Democracy whenever and wherever they hold power. It is comparable to ruling parties in nations that are now most charitably characterized as “managed Democracies.” This led me to a startling hypothesis: if Americans – including the more educated Trump voters -- read this same news but it applied to one of our Western European allies vice the U.S., then we would be at least dismayed and likely alarmed. Why then do we imagine that it is acceptable when it’s us?
At Revelatur we recently conducted our own structured analysis of the American Political System, using two analytical approaches: ‘intelligence analysis’ and ‘system dynamics.’ Here is a subset of our equally alarming conclusions about the Republican Party:
• We assess that Trump and the Republican Party, enabled by a powerful ecosystem, is conducting hybrid warfare against American citizens and state institutions through: information warfare operations; collaboration with foreign powers; violations of oaths of office; dereliction of Constitutionally designated duties (e.g., criminally-negligent response to the Covid-19 pandemic, among others); intimidation and threats; and the violation of citizens’ constitutionally-protected rights. “Hybrid warfare is a military strategy which employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention.” Wikipedia.
• We assess that the Republican ecosystem is: executing a long-term plan through integrated strategy, campaigns and tactics with a principle objective of creating asymmetric conditions to maximize their power at the expense of their perceived and declared enemies (Democrats, liberals, progressives); constraining their enemies from fully deploying their strengths; simultaneously obscuring their intent behind a wall of lies and contradictions, confusion, communications overload, propaganda, projection, hypocrisy, degradation of public discourse and critical thinking; and protecting their ecosystem assets with an ever-more powerful System of Impunity.
• Notably, Trump and the current Republican Party operate exactly as do authoritarian nations and their protected transnational criminal organizations -- a fact we pointed out some 18 months ago, as has Gaslit Nation and Seth Abramson. Merely being in the same ecosystem with organized criminals results in ever-increasing levels of corruption as it sets in place a vicious cycle of accumulating violations of law that must in turn be covered up, and an ever-increasing number of ecosystem players that must be both bought off and protected.
• We assess it likely that Trump is a decades-long customer, fellow traveler and/or outright active member of one or more organized criminal networks -- which is an under-appreciated reason he is so attracted to Putin and Russia. For an in-depth discussion of this subject, see Seth Abramson, “Proof of Conspiracy,” 2019.
• The core value of the Republican ecosystem is power, and as Lord Acton said: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There are fewer barriers to the amassing of power by unprincipled people and organizations than there are those constrained by principle. This is not a normative judgment; it is a systems effect and dynamic. It is simpler and less costly to create vicious cycles than virtuous, and to execute tactics that constrain their opponents and keep them on the defensive. Thus this value is driving increasingly unprincipled behavior across the ecosystem, resulting in a vicious cycle that has accelerated -- but did not begin -- under Trump.
• Much has been made of the fact that the Right’s messaging is simple, visceral, emotional and effective -- and in fact meets the textbook definition of propaganda. As scary as that sounds, it is far from the whole story. The right has sought and achieved, through deliberate strategy -- the warfare objective of information superiority -- which enables it to shape the operational environment to its advantage. By continually flooding communications channels with content (what media term “dominating the news cycle,” and Steve Bannon calls “flooding the zone”), much of it erroneous and/or irrelevant, Republicans take advantage of progressives’ proclivities to analyze, temporize, rationalize and search for “the truth” before acting. This keeps Democrats on the defensive and renders their responses a day late and dollar short.
In the final analysis though, we have survived as a species by observing, accounting for and appropriately addressing the behavior of others “in the moment” and without the benefit of structured analysis. Sometimes all the analysis in the world is a poor substitute at best -- and potentially life threatening at worst -- when it overrides common sense and self-preservation instincts and provides us well-supported rationale to play for time, to hope against hope, to temporize, to override our autonomic response system and avoid acting even when we “know” better. In life or death situations, it is necessary to react viscerally and to respond proportionally and appropriately to threats and provocations. America finds itself in this position now -- voting and outrage are necessary but insufficient responses to the threats emanating from the Republican Party and its supporters.
Here is a small subset of recent Republican Party acts that should have generated more immediate and a magnitude stronger citizen resistance and collective response:
➢ SC Congressman Joe Wilson shouting “you lie” during Obama’s address to Congress
➢ Blatant Gerrymandering following the 2010 Census
➢ Birther Accusations against Candidate, and then President, Obama
➢ Merrick Garland not getting a Supreme Court confirmation vote
➢ Trump stalking Hillary Clinton during the Presidential debates
➢ Trump Colluding with Foreign Governments to influence the 2016 elections
➢ Campaign Spending Violations
➢ Violations of the Hatch Act
➢ Violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause
➢ Violations of the Human and Civil Rights of Immigrants by the Trump Administration
➢ Violations of the Human and Civil Rights of African Americans by the Police and Criminal Justice System
➢ Family Separation Policy/Kids in Cages
➢ Mass Incarceration
➢ Incitement to Violence
➢ Inducement to Commit Election Fraud
➢ Fraudulent Claims and Propaganda
➢ Insider Trading
➢ Suborning Perjury
➢ Witness Intimidation
➢ Obstruction of Justice
➢ Withholding of Military Aid
➢ Dereliction of Duty/Violations of Oath of Office
As with any other bully -- failure to respond swiftly and in proportion to the first of these led inevitably to the others. This non-proportional response represents a particularly American version of appeasement that is still ongoing. Democrats are themselves eating their own young by: fighting over why they under-performed against expectations in the 2020 elections; seriously considering Biden appointing Republicans to his Cabinet and “reaching across the aisle;” discussion of not prosecuting Trump and his henchmen because it might anger the Republican base -- it’s as if Democrats all have Stockholm Syndrome!
How did we get here? We have been endeavoring through analyses to come to grips with why many things are occurring. One that has remained a mystery is why do conservative voters -- known now primarily as Trumpists -- support politicians whose actions and policies are not in their best interests as we perceive those interests -- in other words -- why do they do what appears irrational?
1. Republicans have figured out that a certain core of their natural supporters - the 40% if you will, are much less interested in "what" the thing (policy, law, political decision and action) is that a politician does, they are first and primarily concerned with "who" is doing it. If that "who" is "their guy," indicated by party, what they represent and who else they associate with, they support it, and even in situations when the other party does the same thing, the fact that is the other party doing it is sufficient cause for them to reject or ridicule. Republicans have morphed from a recognizable major political party as recently as eight years ago into an ideological “movement” that is a mix of leader cult, totalitariansm, fascism, authoritarianism, and nihilism.
Thus what we consider hypocrisy does not even come into play for Trumpists -- it's loyalty first -- so there is no cognitive dissonance for them. Cognitive dissonance is a function of critical reasoning, and they don't exercise that skill as a rule. Republican officials, on discovering this, realize that they can do no wrong. And here's the kicker -- because they can do no wrong, they can boldly advance absurdities and still retain their supporters. The cumulative effect of their doing so is the increasing degradation of discourse and a race to the bottom in terms of policy. Dems feel they have no recourse but to keep tacking right in the vain hope of capturing some of these folks with policy, but this is in vain.
2. Since this is true, Republicans came to realize that they didn't have to have policies per se. In fact they realize that they are better off without them, because: policies attract unwanted scrutiny and enable their supporter's outside influencers (family members, co-workers) to engage them substantively and make them look foolish by supporting obviously bad policy; it is more effective to have Dems take on the burden of policy and legislation, knowing that Dems will compromise with themselves and propose center-right policy just to feel that they're doing something. We saw this with Clinton and criminal justice and Obama with protection of banks/Wall Street and counter-terrorism.
Is it really as bad as we’ve portrayed it here? No, it’s much, much worse. Democrats are situated much like the U.S. Military when we declared war on the Germans and Japanese -- we had strategic advantages in demographics, geography and industrial capacity -- but lacked a strategy and then required years to bring our advantages to bear decisively. But that situation is instructive -- Roosevelt decided to take the battle to our enemies before the military was “ready,” first, because that’s the best way to get ready, and second, because that’s the best way to keep your coalition together and engaged.
What I suggest is not that Republicans are not culpable -- they are that as well as being execrable, loathsome and — the majority of them -- irredeemable. What I am suggesting is that is takes two to tango, and Republican transgressions have been abetted by Democrats’ failure to respond appropriately, which opened up “impunity spaces” in which Republicans have operated with increasing strategic effectiveness. Within a society, it is individual and collective acceptance of/acquiescence to a sub-optimal state of affairs that is the major cause of the persistence of those maladies.
So in the end, how do we characterize the Republican Party most accurately from the standpoint of competing most effectively with them? They are an adversary in the harshest sense of the term, an adversary that is engaging in a type of warfare with Democrats and American institutions, an adversary that poses an immediate and existential threat to American Democracy, and one that does not bound itself by a code of conduct, rules of engagement, norms or laws. It is in fact not “Conservative” as it likes to self-describe, it is the most politically radical major Party in the history of the nation, and it will not self-correct (tack back towards mainstream Democratic principles) no matter how fervently we wish it would. Concerted, vigorous, intense and prolonged action at individual and collective levels aligned to a long-term strategy and animated by aggressive counter-measures is required for Democrats and progressives to win this existential fight. It’s a damn shame that “the last best hope of earth” finds itself in this situation — but more so if it continues to pretend otherwise.
American Citizen Power
“That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
That's just the way it is
Ah, but don't you believe them” Bruce Hornsby
Americans have forfeited the certain and equal -- albeit limited -- individual political power intended for them by the Nation’s Founders, in exchange for lottery tickets towards relatively higher purchasing and social power than their fellow citizens. Unfortunately for most of us, the national lottery of which we speak is not random, and previous winners have increasingly higher probabilities of winning subsequent lotteries. Lottery winners are then able to “buy back” many times more political power than they gave up as individual voters, which they use to enhance the lottery algorithm increasingly in their favor. The inherent unfairness of the lottery is obscured by multiple interlocking myths, policy misdirection and, increasingly, propaganda and information warfare.
This dynamic is not the result of a conspiracy, nor is it teleological, nor is it “the way it is.” Granted, it is a vicious cycle that will be damnably difficult to arrest. But our current situation was generated by the confluence of: 200+ years of failure to address structural problems with American governance; dozens of policy choices that could have been made differently; the co-optation of much of the Democratic Party; and the acquiescence of millions of citizens. That said, we can still choose and enact a different future than a linear projection of this race to the bottom we’re in now.
This paper attempts to cut a cube out of the fog shrouding the American Political system, and point the way towards re-establishing the power individual citizens were intended to enjoy and exercise. It is our conclusion that the leverage for change rests with “civil discourse:” individual American citizen political engagement; the coalitions they form to advocate more powerfully than can be done individually; and the participative Democratic mechanisms they engage with. These efforts must lead, and the subsequent actions of representative Democratic institutions such as Congress must lag, like a “Slinky” making its way down the stairs. Otherwise legislatures will continue to co-opt, delay and pervert the intentions of the majority of their citizens in favor of lottery winners. Enabling this new framework requires the introduction (in some cases, the re-introduction) of participative and deliberative Democratic mechanisms to augment, provide oversight to, guide the actions of, and communicate with representative Democratic institutions. Only through these mechanisms -- which collectively constitute an “infrastructure for civil discourse” -- can the collective will of the people compete with the power of entrenched interests and be “heard” over the shouts of lobbyists.
Founders Intent - It is clear that the Founders deliberately established the United States as a Democratic Republic, acknowledged that the people are the ultimate source of power within the polity, and that the people had certain inalienable rights as well as inescapable responsibilities. The people’s power was to be exercised as well as mediated through representative governmental instrumentalities that were themselves to be counter-balanced by each other. It is equally clear that they did not understand the system established by the Constitution to be perfect or enshrine their concepts of government in a fixed concept. They would have rejected the textualism, originalism and legal constitutionalism approaches so favored by American conservatives out of hand because they were, in the end, practical people determined above all to protect the people’s rights vis a vis the state. This was the point of the whole exercise, and these approaches -- among other methods lottery winners use to encroach on intended citizen power, are antithetical to the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, the War of Independence, and the Constitution.
Political Theory – The People’s Role in a Democracy does not change because our form of government is a Republic -- and our type of Democracy “representative.” Those designations simply mean that the people’s individual and collective will and points of view are “mediated” -- not ameliorated -- by, our elected representatives. In our form and type of government, elected officials work “for us” in an “at will” employee-employer relationship -- regardless of how perverted this conception has become over time and regardless of the fact that in most cases we can only terminate their employment contract at fixed time intervals.
Actual Current State – most American citizens have very little relative political power, and are reluctant to exercise that which they do have. In the past 100 years at most 72% of eligible voters voted in Presidential elections, with the average less than 60%. Numbers are lower for state and local elections. The officials they elect supposedly “represent” their collective interests, yet U.S. laws, policies and programs are far to the right politically than majority viewpoints. Don’t believe that? The following is a concise capture of rather well known information in this regard, excerpted from: “America is a Center-Left Country,” Max, August 11, 2017.
One of the biggest and most long enduring political legends of the time is the ever-present notion that the United States is a centre-right country. Time and time again we are told by figures in the media and politicians, even liberal ones, that the country leans to the right.
On election night as results came in, CNN’s John King told viewers that, “America is a centre-right country, it’s a lot more conservative, especially out in the heartland, than Democrats think.” In 2015, Politico magazine ran an article with the headline: “No, America Isn’t moving Left.”
This often repeated tale largely stems from polling data from Gallup on political identification. The current numbers reveal that 36% of Americans identify as conservatives, 34% identify as moderates, while just 25% identify as liberals. Based on that, Americans tend to be mostly conservative or moderate or a combination of both. Thus the narrative that America is a centre-right country is created.
However, that’s just what people self identify as. As anyone who has ever faced the dreaded interview question ‘tell me about yourself’ will attest to, Americans are not always best at describing themselves.
To that, it would be best to look at specific policies and issues to see if America is still a “centre-right country.”
On the issue of healthcare which has recently been one of the most important issues to the American people, the public seems to strongly back leftist positions on healthcare. A Quinnipiac poll from June found that 60% of Americans support expanding Medicare to cover every American, otherwise known as ‘Medicare for all.’ A Pew Poll from the same month found that 60% of Americans believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare to Americans.
Concerning taxes, most Americans believe in raising taxes on the rich and corporations. According to a Gallup poll from earlier this year, 63% say the rich pay too little in taxes and 67% say that corporations pay too little in taxes. Obviously if you believe that some people pay too little in taxes, you presumably think they should be paying more, i.e. tax the rich. A Vox poll from last year found that 73% of Americans favour raising taxes on the rich.
On education, Americans again seem to support leftist policies. A BankRate poll from 2016, shows that 62% of Americans support making public universities tuition free.
When it comes to the federal minimum wage, Americans strongly back increasing it. According to a YouGov poll, 66% support raising it to $10.10/hour, 59% support raising it to $12 and 48% support raising it to $15. In conclusion, raising the minimum wage is a very popular idea. When it comes to how the minimum wage should be set however, an overwhelming 63% agree that it should be tied to inflation via a University of Maryland poll.
That in addition to the 61% of Americans who support legalising marijuana, the 64% who support same-sex marriage, or the 57% who support legal abortion in most cases, and a host of other issues, America seems to be quite progressive.
Despite the repeated claims that America is a “centre-right” country, when actually asked about the issues, Americans are actually strongly progressive for the most part. If anything, America is actually a centre-left country. In order to create real change and make progress, we as a country need to abandon this tired meme that America is a centre-right country, when on the issues, all the evidence points in the opposite direction.
Political candidates are not selected by citizen majorities, so choice -- and therefore power -- is restricted from the get-go. Presidential candidates are chosen in far-from-representative primaries, and the candidate pool is limited by the massive amounts of money required to wage successful campaigns. Gerrymandered Congressional, state and local districts distort and limit individual voting power of progressives and marginalized people. The Electoral College nullifies the electoral power of all voters who do not vote for the eventual winner in their states. And the Supreme Court does not even pretend to represent the People’s interests. Its rulings disenfranchise citizen majorities and negate hard-won political victories by anti-democratic fiat vice serving a “bounding” function and advisory role as their European Democracy analogs do.
Comparison with other Democracies – Parliamentary Democracies empower citizens more effectively than do two-party systems, and they significantly reduce the “worst of two choices” scenarios many American voters feel boxed into -- in turn producing higher voting percentages and levels of citizen engagement. It is likely that elevated levels of political engagement lead to enhanced feelings of agency and increased levels of health and happiness.
European Democracies promote and resource civil discourse, civic engagement and participative government, and experience higher levels of citizen satisfaction with government as well as other positive outcomes. They demonstrate a much stronger commitment to the protection of Democracy as a basic value and societal organizing principle in addition to form of Government, whereas Americans posit capitalism and “the economy” as our organizing principle. The authors hypothesize that this difference is the primary reason for comparatively limited political engagement in the U.S. and much of our health pathology.
European Democracies limit via structure or law the amount and/or utility of campaign contributions, with the result that “big” and “dark” money play no direct role in the electoral process. Of course there is still corruption and none of those systems are perfect. But European systems empower individual voters indirectly by reducing the power of wealthy and PACs to influence policy, whereas Citizens United essentially institutionalized electoral corruption, in turn “laundering” it and rendering it into “free speech.” Hitler and Stalin would both have been proud to come up with that idea!
What constrains Change and Progress – What are the primary obstacles to making progress? We see them as falling into two categories. The first, encroachment from the Right, including the people, power centers and mechanisms that have collectivized into an ecosystem and increasingly invaded individual citizens’ political space and power, and who will wage war (literally) to retain the power they’ve stolen. The inner circle is the money masters, the next circle are the politicians and judges they’ve bought, the next are the enablers such as Fox News, the next are the corporations that benefit from the status quo such as Google and Facebook, and in the outer circle, the “useful idiot” Trump supporters who willingly continue to impoverish themselves, die young and stupid, and pass on their “knowledge” to future generations, all so they can feel they are at least superior to brown people.
The second is the real bad news, best captured in the Pogo cartoon caption: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Democrats, progressives, and disempowered citizens exhibit “learned helplessness” (“a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed” – Oxford Languages) relative to their loss of political power. For example, Trump’s transgressions (enumerated in a companion piece in this newsletter) should have resulted in much more immediate and aggressive counter-measures. The warehousing of minor children in cages and separating them for their parents by itself should have resulted in a national shutdown. That it was accepted through inaction is a result of learned helplessness, and indicates that many of us are suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.”
What Can be Done by Individuals and Coalitions - Since this is a long-running problem, a vicious cycle with momentum to spare, and the status quo has multiple high-powered beneficiaries, what can we hope to do? First, stop hoping and do. Doing any of the following helps the cause:
• Put your money where mouth is – boycott all possible Republican-supporting product and service providers, and exhibit positive preferences for progressive-supporting and minority-owned businesses. In the U.S., money talks, and bullshit walks. This is a very neglected lever for change. One real easy call -- get off of Facebook. They’re monetizing your data, using it to support authoritarians, and causing massive societal increases in anxiety and depression. I’ve been off the platform for years and haven’t missed a best. Here’s the link to the firms you should boycott: Boycott These Firms...
• Establish and/or participate in Community-based mechanisms such as local councils and zoning hearings. These have been turned into rubber-stamp exercises for the lottery winners primarily because Democrats and progressives have ceded the space to them.
• Participate in Participative Government/Deliberative Democracy mechanisms that interest you.
• Get knowledgeable and Teach Your Children – the Founders expected this and therefore built our governance concepts around this expectation. There is a correlation, and likely a causation, between citizen education, form of government, and strength of Democracy. Get involved in PTA and school boards; insist on robust and mandatory civics courses and “good citizenship” standards to evaluate them.
• Vote, and get out the vote, in every election, not just Presidential elections. Republicans have inordinate sway in local and state legislatures because they prioritize participation and voting. In turn, this enables them to gerrymander state Congressional boundaries and generate inordinate power in Congress.
• Run for office – here’s a link to your support group: Support for Local Progressive Candidates
• Support the right candidates -- do your research and vote the entire ballot.
• Join and support progressive organizations -- there is one or more for every cause.
• Support Collective Labor Efforts. American unions have been problematic historically, acknowledged, but their absence has been infinitely worse. Germany has a great labor-management system; we can modify it to suit.
• Contact your elected representatives regularly with issues of substance.
• Conduct Civil Protest. Historically major societal, form of government and legal changes have been driven through mass protest. That said, if you are not willing to participate, you really don’t care that much.
Conclusion – We are not out of the woods because Biden won. The underlying power trends, or political “fundamentals” if you will, are all negative. Demographics, the one potential power advantage Democrats like to claim, is more than neutralized now by the combination of gerrymandering, the Electoral College, Senate apportionment, social-geographic “sorting,” the Supreme Court conservative majority, and an under-educated citizenry. Republicans continue to amass power, tilt the playing field, and pull up the ladder behind them; and individual citizens continue to bleed out the little power they yet retain. The road to progress is strewn with obstacles, and we are our own worst enemy. The United States is teetering on the precipice of an autocracy euphemistically termed “managed Democracy.” By some indicators we have already crossed over. Is this and Trump isn’t enough, what will be? What is our your red line, and what is ours as a nation?
Intelligence: What it is and Why You Need It
Introduction: At Revelatur we use intelligence as a primary lens, methodology and modeling tool to add value for customers. Previously the exclusive province of governments and large organizations, intelligence has emerged as an essential requirement for individual competiveness and career success across more and more domains. We thought it worthwhile to provide a primer for our subscribers so they can derive maximum value from our intelligence-based products, and so they can levy their critical information requirements (intelligence term of art) on us to enhance the value of future products.
We’re defining “intelligence” as: 1. The discipline, value stream and business processes in which people integrate structured analytic techniques, tradecraft, technology, teams, means and tools to discern the intentions and capabilities of adversaries -- to enable their stakeholders to understand their operating environment with sufficient precision to achieve meaningful objectives across all levels of action; 2. The output or “product” of the intelligence process that is provided to customers.
Not much in either of those definitions about “Clandestine Services,” “NOC” operatives, satellites, code breaking, double agents, right? It’s not because those cool things only exist in James Bond fantasy depictions of intelligence; they are very real features of the intelligence landscape. But the effective consumers of intelligence are not those who best understand the latest collection methods and technologies. Rather, they are the people most prepared to live day in and day out in the much more mundane world of “targets,” “requirements,” “capabilities” “exploitation,” and “feedback.” This is why intelligence is defined as a discipline. In intelligence, there’s very little fun and even less glory; few definitive victories; mostly it’s just a methodical march towards ever-increasing effectiveness in the satisfaction of customer requirements. And there is no “peacetime” — much less downtime — for the intelligence practitioner -- just varying degrees of conflict with an unending stream of threats all requiring 24/7 care and feeding.
We deploy a structured yet extensible trans-disciplinary intelligence methodology honed over a lifetime of intelligence work in the military, Federal Government and commercial sector -- augmented by commercial sector and government experience in design, knowledge management, systems thinking, Lean and Translational Research. Our firm’s Intelligence experience includes being part of teams that: decrypted purportedly undecipherable Soviet strategic communications; obtained and exploited imagery of Top Secret facilities in China, North Korea and the Soviet Bloc; prevented several Islamic Terrorist attacks on the United States; located and captured multiple Mexican Drug Cartel leaders; substantially reduced the cartel-related violence in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico; developed multiple technology tools to enable probabilistic forecasting of future competitor or adversarial actions.
The intelligence system or model we use includes the following top-level elements:
➢ Customer – technically, the entity that will “action” the product. In the government, intelligence products typically have multiple customers, which makes satisfying each customer’s requirements challenging. Regardless of the environment or domain though, the customers and their requirements drive the intelligence value stream.
➢ Target – a description of the purpose or intent of the product from the customer’s perspective; a target ranges from a discrete entity such as a person, place or capability that will be adversarially engaged in some manner by the customer, to a detailed situational understanding of a complex situation enabling optimal decision-making.
➢ Requirements – intelligence term of art for the process and precise language used to convey a customer’s information gaps to the functional entity that will satisfy them.
➢ Capability – a detailed (ideally both quantitative and qualitative) functional and technical description of an intelligence organization, process, or value stream, or an intelligence collection asset (such as a sensor).
➢ Sense-making – the process of rendering environmental and/or domain-relevant information into actionable intelligence by enabling a customer to achieve a pre-determined threshold of situational understanding, via a structured methodology.
➢ Feedback and Continuous Improvement.
Case Study I – How we confirmed empirically that the Drug War Was Unwinnable – U.S. Government Example
Mark Hill, a Revelatur Founder, was directed to design and deploy a new joint government counter-trafficking capability. The challenge as presented by Government stakeholders: provide sufficient “operational” (level and type) intelligence to enable the US and Mexican governments to stem the cartel-driven violence within Mexico, and reduce the flow of illegal drugs flowing relatively unimpeded over the U.S. Southwest Border (SWB) into the U.S. Quick facts: 3111 people were killed in the city of Juarez alone in 2010, the peak year to that point and the year we began building the capability to reverse the tide; >90% -- the percentage of their product that the Sinaloa Cartel successfully moved across the SWB that year.
How hard was the task? Multiple previous attempts had been made by individual U.S. Agencies and joint intergovernmental efforts; with hundreds of billions spent in interdiction, investigative and intelligence efforts to address this issue over a forty-year period. But other than a brief period in the 1990s when we dented the cocaine flow from South America into Florida and the Gulf Coast, all had been miserable failures.
Design was the Meta methodology we used to frame the challenge. When building a capability to deal with a complex environment, it is important to keep ever present that every element in the design is impacted by every other in a systems manner -- and that therefore the process of design is necessarily recursive -- and the resultant feeling often one of frustration for results–oriented people like us! Systems thinking plays a unique role in organizational design and effectiveness because it: allows practitioners to account for and relate multiple environmental elements with each other in a logical frame; is a mature domain replete with useful tools; and enables computational models and probability-based simulations.
An often used but poorly understood term -- target-centric -- was critical to our success. What we meant by the principle was that all resources, activities, business processes and value streams had to be aligned with each other but most importantly with a discrete set of outputs. Intelligence being a support service, these outputs were in turn determined by our customer’s outcome targets. Our customer’s targets ran from national and international policy development to strategic and operational level resourcing to the tactical resource deployment of people, sensors and inspection equipment. We supported operations ranging from the tactical targeting of illegal drug shipments, to criminal investigations, to capture operations of Mexican drug cartel leaders.
You might think that this is all axiomatic -- that all organizations are target-centric, or they do not survive. In fact, there is a great deal written about being customer-centric and using good performance measures and it is easy to confuse “target-centric” with those concepts. But our experience indicates that Government agencies (and frankly, many commercial enterprises as well) are usually resource centric and linear process oriented.
What we mean by “target-centric intelligence:”
• The target-centric intelligence process is a non-linear, extensible, network process with all contributors focused first on the target or objective -- vice their individual technical responsibilities. Unlike the classic intelligence cycle where targets “emerge” or are discovered from rigorous adherence to a linear intelligence cycle, target-centric intelligence begins with one or more hypotheses of the target and the approaches to servicing it. With hypothesis in mind, resources and approaches are applied using design as a frame, with the target(s) being addressed through a process of successive approximation leveraging modern metrics such as Lean target conditions;
• Customers and other stakeholders co-create intelligence capability, outputs and a shared picture of the target with analysts;
• Operational customer leadership “owns” the intelligence function and is responsible for its performance. While the DoD has been adhering to this point since the late 1970s, and as a principle it applies to all support functions vice just intelligence, we feel it is so critical to effective target-centric intelligence that we include it here.
Armed with these experiences, we tossed around various approaches for months -- after hours, on weekends, at the end of long days in our Tactical Operations Center. We had enough experience with complex problems and intelligence challenges to know that the key was not coming up with the right answer, rather, it was coming up with the right set of questions. In the end, these were those:
1. Of all aspects of the environment, what single factor is causing the most harm to the United States? We called this the “relative harm” problem.
2. If you could only set up one value stream to feed all the required outputs to satisfy all customer priority requirements, what would it look like?
3. What data, information and knowledge management models would most effectively animate the value stream?
What intelligence assessments told us the war was unwinnable?
1. Despite our best efforts and billions of dollars, the Sinaloa Carter was routinely experiencing >90% success rate moving drugs across the border.
2. Capturing cartel leaders – our primary strategy -- actually increased levels of violence within Mexico.
3. On measuring the potential drug flow through just one tunnel we discovered in California, we determined that the entire U.S. annual cocaine consumption could have moved through that tunnel in 36 hours. There are estimated to be hundreds of undiscovered tunnels, dozens of the size we used to estimate flow. They routinely operate for months or even years before being discovered. Even if you shut down the entire border with an effective wall, you would not even dent the flow of drugs due to the existence of tunnels.
4. We conducted a network analysis that determined that the Mexican Government was indistinguishable from the drug traffickers -- collectively they constituted one large organization with one purpose that differed from one another only by role in the enterprise. This finding was suppressed at the time but has been proven by subsequent events and arrests.
Case Study II – How we figured out the Republicans’ Strategy – Revelatur Example
For this effort we used the full trans-disciplinary approach, undertook a massive and ongoing environmental scan, and performed a comprehensive system analysis, in addition to the intelligence analysis. We’ll focus in this article on just the intelligence analysis.
While we used all the processes, tools and mechanisms we detailed in the Government case study, in this case study we’ll focus on an underutilized tool called “Key Intelligence Questions,” or KIQ; and our Revelatur intelligence process.
KIQ are the meta-unknowns in the domain of action and transactional environment whose pursuit has two major purposes: 1. They define and bound the data and information you need to acquire to animate the intelligence analysis, saving time and money; 2. Resolving these particular questions provides the highest value content for sensemaking and situational understanding. Generally it’s a best practice to maintain about 10 KIQs at any one time, and to replace them as they are individually resolved.
Here are the KIQ we started the U.S. 2020 Political Environment Analysis with:
• Why do Republican officials do and say outrageous things?
• How do Republican officials do and say outrageous things with impunity and without apparent accountability?
• Why do long-term Republican politicians -- such as Susan Collins -- fall in line with Trump at great political and legacy risks?
• Why would any American, much less a substantial minority of them, support Donald Trump for President?
• Why would a reliably large percentage of the population continually vote for politicians whose policies mitigate against their interests?
• Why does the press hesitate to portray Trumpists and the national socio-political situation comprehensively and accurately?
• Why do Democrats respond so late and ineffectively to Republican actions?
• How do Republicans wield so much more power than their voter base would indicate?
• Why is Trump able to compel high levels of loyalty and risk-taking in an apparently non-reciprocal manner?
• How can Republican legislators thrive with a policy-free political platform?
You may recognize these as relatively common questions now – but they were not being widely explored – or explored at all in most cases -- when we first laid them out for our analysis.
With the KIQs as a frame, we put our structured yet extensible and recursive analysis process into play. Here is the process we follow:
1. Define KIQ
2. Conduct Environmental Scan
3. Develop Testable Hypotheses
4. Define Indicators
5. Collect Information
6. Conduct Structured Sensemaking Activities
7. Evaluate Hypotheses
As we moved through the process methodically we were able to eliminate fact-unsupportable hypotheses such as: “Donald Trump is a once in a century political genius,” “Republican politicians are trapped by Trump’s popularity and really don’t agree with his actions and policies,” “Republican voters were fooled into voting for Trump once but wouldn’t so a second time,” “Trump is an aberration and outlier as a human being, as a politician, as a Republican whose election reveals little of substance about the nation,” and dozens more as we zeroed in on the ugly truths and came to grips with the depth of the challenge to our Democracy.
Key point: The beauty of the structured intelligence process is that it demands and rewards objectivity and the systematic elimination of bias. When you follow it rigorously your customers can “take it to the bank” -- they can act on it with a much-increased probability of success than would otherwise be the case. Democrats and progressives must begin to use rigorous, structured intelligence analysis to chart their path forward, vice relying on infantile, fact-free internal arguments that only support and enable finger pointing.
1. If you systematically augment your consumption of news and topical information with “intelligence” product you will be able to forecast and in some cases predict future trends and events. You will be more competitive within -- and useful to -- your organization.
2. Customer-focused organizations like Revelatur will serve your needs specifically vice randomly if you provide them your feedback and information requirements.
3. If you incorporate a structured intelligence process to support problem solving you’ll be a hero and influence others, creating a cascade of rationality within your network.
4. You will experience more career success and job/life satisfaction when you incorporate a rigorous and structured intelligence into your own decision-making.
Let us know what your intelligence requirements are and we’ll add them to our research, analysis and production where possible.
Strategic Approach –The Only Way to Win
You want to help your team and organization thrive, establish differential advantage in the marketplace, defeat adversaries, and win, and you want to best the competition and achieve your own personal goals in life, right? Well, you can bet that your most effective competition and/or adversaries are taking a strategic approach -- and if you don’t compete at that level you will lose, fail to achieve your objectives and potential, and be perpetually wondering what you “did wrong.”
We are in an arms race where the old weapons -- qualifications, certifications, domain knowledge, industry experience -- while still valuable and required -- are being rapidly overpowered by strategic combinations of networks (social, neural, etc.), frameworks (systems and design thinking, for instance) trans-disciplinary approaches (crowdsourcing and Translational Research are but two applications of these), and rapidly-scaling capabilities and systems.
Because of the inter-connected, systemic nature of our domains and environments -- and the complexity undergirding the entirety of our world, it is not possible any longer to “focus in,” “specialize,” shut off the outside world and concentrate, or fill up whiteboards in a conference room and emerge with “THE answer.” Most everything you’ve been taught and practiced won’t “work” in the sense of generating sustainable, generative results, and meet the ROI expectations of stakeholders -- regardless of your field of endeavor.
What will work then? We posit that an extensible, three-pronged strategic approach consisting of:
1. An Actionable Understanding of the Utility and Application of the new weapons;
2. A Situational Understanding of your Domain(s) and Transactional Environment;
3. A Strategic Plan;
is sufficient to win consistently, provide you and your organization an enduring competitive advantage, and satisfy stakeholders. Further, the capability to deploy such an approach can be achieved within three years regardless of your current state, with critical pieces being applied within six months -- regardless of domain -- with concerted effort. The path requires: a shitload of reading and learning; structured analysis and sensemaking process; prudent, data-informed risk-taking; network building; a willingness to trade certainty for hypothesis; a stronger desire to win than a fear of losing.
This paper provides you some principles, best practices and direction -- a high-level strategic approach tool kit if you will – sufficient to get you started and keep you from false starts and wasted time.
First, if you have more fear of losing than desire to win, put this aside and get some coaching. If/when you flip the equation, revisit this. Tools help sustain motivation but don’t provide it.
OK, what do I need to read? These books are a must:
• “Maslow on Management,” Abraham H. Maslow
• “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge
• “Leadership and the New Science, Margaret J. Wheatley
• “The Execution Premium,” Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
• “Systems Thinking,” Jamshid Gharajedaghi
• “Innovation on Demand,” Victor Fey and Eugene Rivin
• “Learning From Data,” Yaser S. Abu-Mostafe, Malik Mgdon-Ismail, Hsuan-Tien Lin (Technical)
• “Complex Adaptive Systems” John H. Miller and Scott E. Page
• “The Executive in Action,” Peter F. Drucker
• “Business Dynamics,” John D. Sterman (Technical)
• “Systems Thinking Made Simple,” Derek Cabrera and Laura Cabrera
• “Envisioning Information,” Edward R. Tufte
• “The Innovator’s Method,” Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer
• “The Model Thinker,” Scott E. Page
• “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Shoshana Zuboff
Also, read the top four books within your domain as recommended by subject matter experts, and subscribe to at least the top peer-reviewed journal. Then leapfrog from these works to others based on their notes/bibliographies. Spend some money -- it’s worth it. You should consider sprinkling in free on-line courses --2-3 per year -- this accelerates your learning and beefs up your resume at the same time. Whenever possible, opt for the courses that include a certification. When you’ve done this you’ll have an actionable understanding of the new weapons -- and voila -- one-third of the approach under your belt already!
How do I analyze and make sense of my environment? Ah, the hard one. At the organizational level, we recommend using two or more structured analytic frameworks -- at least one that has emerged from within your domain, and one that was developed for a different problem set altogether. So for instance if you’re talking about business, your domain frame could be Porter’s Five Forces Model or Lean/Value Stream Mapping. You could augment that with a rigorous intelligence analysis frame such as Robert Clark’s “Target-Centric Approach,” or System Dynamics if you are more ambitious and technically adept. On a personal level, it is critical to understand your organization’s culture, and compare its imperatives to your goals, behaviors, skills and competencies. If they are mismatched, find another place to work. If they are sub-optimally aligned, undertake a structured self-development effort guided by your supervisor, the performance planning process, and your network partners.
How do I know which risks are prudent? First, all those with only upside and no downside -- those for which you’re no worse off in the end than you were when you started. This might seem obvious, but most people don’t apply this filter, yet it’s the right way to get your toes in the water as you’re learning to swim. Second, you can establish an index to evaluate Courses of Action – there are multiple you could use off the shelf or modify to suit. What you are looking for is an optimization index with weighted factors based on the best Subject Matter Expertise you can access – even if that’s your own -- based on three primary evaluation factors:
1. Highest probability of success, empirically-determined;
2. Lowest Overall Cost and highest ROI;
3. Minimal achievable negative 2nd and 3rd order effects
The optimal method for evaluating risk is to develop a computational model of your environment and simulate the outcomes of Courses of Action and decisions, but doing so is not always possible due to cost, time and technical constraints.
How do I build my network most effectively? Join a professional organization in your domain; tell your current network partners what you’re trying to do and ask each of them to introduce you to one person who can help; create a Community of Practice; write a newsletter and create a community around it.
How do I develop testable hypotheses? Here’s a simple best practice: First, posit a key question you need to know the answer to. This could something like: how do I best position myself for promotion? Then, collect information relevant to the issue, which could come from published data internal and external to your organization, interviews with organizational leaders, mentor and rating chain, and personal observations and experience. Bucket the information into categories, such as: relevant skills; network strength; relevant behaviors; breadth of work experience; competencies; qualifications; peer evaluations, etc. Rank the categories by number of mentions in your research – this is called “Subjective Factor Analysis” – a tool used to render qualitative information as quantitative as possible when insufficient quantitative information is available. Then take this categorization back to your network and ask their opinions on your categorizations and rankings. Adjust per feedback. This step is a method called “mini-Delphi,” which takes maximum advantage of relevant subject matter expertise with minimal effort. Then develop a testable proposition based on your findings, using the steps below:
1. Write the hypothesis as an if-then statement. For our example: “If an Acme employee has more documented technical certifications than his/her peers, then -- on average -- he/she will be promoted in less time.”
2. Identify the independent and dependent variable in the hypothesis.
3. Write the hypothesis in such a way that you can prove or disprove it.
4. Make sure you are proposing a hypothesis you can test with reproducible results. (Thoughtco.com)
How do I know when I’ve reached an “actionable” understanding of my domain and environment? When you can fill out an executable strategic plan.
How do I build and execute a strategic plan? Read “The Execution Premium;”use its tools and processes tailored to your environment and requirements.
Did you order any of those books yet? Best practice: I go to Amazon.com and Alibris and order the right books as soon as I identify them – that works. Waiting to triage amongst them for cost and prioritization, not so much.
Let us know if we can be of further assistance – we want you to win!