CSINT Conversations: Information Technology and Military Power with Jon Lindsay

CSINT Conversations: Information Technology and Military Power with Jon Lindsay

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Evening! Welcome to the Center for  Security, Innovation and New Technologies   CSINT Conversations. We're very excited  because we have Professor Jon Lindsay visiting   with us today and we're going to be talking  about his new book which I will show you  - Information Technology and Military  Power. Have a good look - great book. I'd like to introduce Jon Lindsay first. He is an  Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global  

Affairs at the Munk School of Global Affairs  and Public Policy and also has an appointment   in the Department of Political Science at  the University of Toronto in Toronto Canada.   Again, today we'll be talking about his most  recent book - Information Technology and Military   Power which was published by Cornell University  press in 2020, but Jon has two earlier edited   books beginning with China and Cyber Security: Espionage Strategy and Politics in the Digital   Domain which came out in 2015 and Cross-Domain  Deterrence Strategy in an Era of Complexity which   came out in 2019 and both of them were published  with Oxford University Press. I should probably   also tell you that I am Audrey Kurth Cronin - I left  that out - the Director of the Center. Jon Lindsay   has a PhD in Political Science from MIT, a master's  in Computer Science and a bachelor's in Symbolic   Systems from Stanford University. He served in  the US Navy assigned to Europe, Latin America and   the Middle East - assignments that he may be willing to tell us a little bit about in a few minutes   and I should tell you Jon, that that makes us  siblings because I come from a US Navy family   and my father always said that the Navy is one  big family. So I'm glad to know that we're related. 

Currently, Jon is working on a new book project  called Age of Deception: Technology Intelligence   and Control in International Relations which I  think sounds really interesting and I can't wait   to see the new one. Our plan this evening is for  Jon to talk for a short while about the argument   in his book and then he and I will converse  a little bit about it and then we'll open the   floor for questions from the audience ending  the program at about seven o'clock. So I would   encourage you as you are listening to Professor  Lindsay to enter questions into the QA function   because I'll be watching those questions go by  and I'll be fielding them when the time comes.  

So thank you so much for coming Jon, we're  delighted to have you as our guest. We feel   truly honored and very excited about your book and  over to you. Well, great. Thank you so much Audrey, it is   really a privilege to be here. Thanks to you  and the Center for Security, Innovation and New   Technology, which I think has a great acronym  CSINT - since I'll maybe be talking a little   bit about intelligence collection and analysis in  this talk and it's particularly a pleasure because   you know as we'll talk about this book focuses  on what war fighters do with open technologies   that are available in the commercial commercial  market of how they adapt and reconfigure it to   try and improve operations as they understand it.  Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it goes  

not so well and that really overlaps nicely  with work Audrey that you've done and has just   been published in your own book which is  just terrific. So thanks very much.   Now this book has a title which is both  very short and maybe overly broad - Information   Technology and Military Power - maybe that's  just because I'm not creative enough to come up   with something else but also because it was  the simplest way that I could think of to   encapsulate the tremendous amount of complexity  that the book deals with and in many ways the   complexity of modern information systems and their interaction with military organizations in the   operational environment is the theme that the book  is grappling with. So the book tries to impose some simplicity - hopefully not simplistic - concepts on this tremendous complexity to   understand how people are are dealing with this in  real time. Now I'll try and hit on three themes or three contributions that I hope the  book makes. One is a negative contribution and this   is a critique of what I'll call the technology  theory of victory. Then there's a more positive   aim which is to try and provide a few comments  on the micro foundations of military power   if you will and then thirdly maybe we can talk a  little bit about the methodological approach of   the book which uses ethnographic methods as a way of building understanding in this space. So let's  

go ahead and start with the negative argument. This is a critique of what I call the technology theory   of victory. Now this is my own name for a general  set of ideas that I've been kicking around out there   and been kicking around for decades that  hold that better intelligence - more sensors, more precise weapons and more sophisticated  digital networks that tie them all together -  will make military forces faster, more efficient,  and more effective. Now this general set of claims  

is most associated with a set of ideas that really  emerge in the 1980s, but really are popularized in   the 1990s known as the revolution in military  affairs and it was sort of associated with the   American victory in the first Gulf War, the dot-com  bubble, and just sort of this heady millennial   excitement that we are in a new information  economy and therefore should also be in a new   military reality. So for example Admiral  William Owens who did a lot of work to kind of   push the US military in this direction wrote  this infamous book called Lifting the Fog   of War in which he argued that technology gives  us the ability to see a battlefield as large as   Iraq with unprecedented fidelity comprehension and timeliness by night or day in any kind of weather   all the time, but I think we can all agree that  US experience in Iraq over the last two decades   in Afghanistan have been anything but. These have been wars marked by perennial confusion   and frustration. They've been long and protracted  and have been anything but decisive so these  

RMA ideas generated lots and lots of criticism  and scholarship most of it well deserved - the   kind of bottom line a lot of this work was that  it's not the technology, but social factors like   doctrine and organization and civil military  relations that make the difference and yet   this idea has a perennial attraction, right? So  here's the Chinese in 2017 - they're   talking about artificial intelligence, talking  about in the future intelligent battlefield,   networks of robots on land, sea, air will be  supported by big data and cloud computing   that will allow us to acquire data in a useful  orderly prompt and accurate manner, which will   enable the striking of targets and the evaluation  of losses more effectively than ever before. This is echoed as well in kind of US claims.  There's a positive version of this that says new   technology will make our military stronger. There's  a pessimistic version that says the same   technology will empower hackers to at very low  cost strike our digital systems and create all   kinds of havoc and destruction - so there are  many different varieties of the technology theory   of victory and the historical context changes and  the technological vintage changes, but these claims   and these great expectations tend to be evergreen  even though you have sort of enduring experiences   of fog, friction, right? The way that clouds describe  the battlefield - friendly fire incidents,   targeting errors that kill civilians and cause  other tragedies, right ? These are also perennial   experiences of war not just in the information  age, but particularly in the information age,   and it's a little mysterious and that these  technologies are often adopted to improve   perception and reduce friction and yet those same  technologies often get in the way of seeing they   often create new sources of uncertainty. So   part of the book is wanting to to highlight  

this technology theory of victory which is sort of  the gift that keeps on giving. To problematize it a   little bit and ask why is it so enduring, right? Is  it just a matter that practitioners are naïve?   They haven't read enough history? Okay, maybe they need to spend more time at the War College. Are they just cynical, right? Are they trying to  sell an organizational theory that will give   them more resources and manpower? That's  possible, but it may also be possible that there   really is something fundamental happening with  with military power - certain transformations that   are going on that we need to pay attention to. Then  I think brings us to the second more positive   object of the book, which is to think  about the micro foundations and military power.  

What do I mean by micro foundations? That's just  a fancy social science way of talking about   what people are actually doing. What motivates  people in their interactions with technologies   and with one another to generate military  power or to undermine it and what conditions   leads to one outcome or another. Can we  understand that by looking at what practitioners   actually do? One goal of the book really is to just  kind of call attention to what I call information   practice, which is just you know intuitively what  people actually do with information technology.   If you go into any complex military organization  today you'll find that people are looking at and   arguing about representations of the world, right?  Digital models, symbols, maps, diagrams - right - their perception is mediated by technology. You'll  also see that that technology is constantly  

breaking down. There are constant glitches, constant operability problems, problems getting data,   constant negotiations and outright  arguments amongst organizations about   access to data and the meaning of data. So there  are constant minor breakdowns and frictions, but   you also see constant repair and debugging - working through all of that friction. Some of this   involves service members leveraging commercially  available technologies to come up with creative   solutions and band-aids and sometimes even more  sophisticated creative solutions for dealing   with some of these problems. So you know, one  way to to think about this is may be to repackage  

the old saw and say that amateurs will talk  cyber strategy, but professionals are really   debugging information systems and no matter how  sophisticated the engineering, no matter how able   the engineers and careful the designs, this kind  of ongoing breakdown friction and debugging and   adaptation is just fundamental to the nature  of large-scale complex information systems.   Now I'm not even talking at this point about enemy cyber attacks if you will - that certainly   could be a major source of friction - I just  want to point out that a considerable amount   of organizational friction in the information  age is self-created and it is critical that we   understand what practitioners are dealing with  on a daily basis. If you want to go to the next   level and understand how cyber operations work  and what kind of frictions attackers themselves   may be experiencing. Now this is a bit  of a perpetual motion machine right? Well-meaning attempts to reduce friction  often end up creating more friction. Amateur repairs end up being amateurish - they  cause security problems and they're not scalable   and they're not interoperable, but the managerial  reforms that are supposed to prevent those   amateurs mistakes end up being really  bureaucratized and slowed down by red tape.  

They don't adapt to changes by the enemy  or the technological state of the art   and there's no way out right? This is one of the  big messages here, okay. There is no way out of this   problem because continuous breakdown and repair  and these cycles of exploitation and reform   are just fundamental to the nature of complex  digital systems. Now the book makes two   arguments about information practice, you know,  because it wants to say hey this is constantly   going on in organizations, but we would also  like to know under what conditions does   it actually improve military performance on the  battlefield and under what conditions does it make   mistakes and fracture size and targeting errors  more likely. So the first argument I make is that   if the performance of or - excuse me - the effectiveness of information practice and   its contribution to military effectiveness is  not a function purely of technology, but more   importantly it's a function of an interaction  between organizations and their environments. You can think about environments as being more  or less structured right? So environments can have   lots of constraints they can have a set number of  things that you are worried about. Organizations  

likewise can be very institutionalized and  formalized and when you have an organization   that fits hand in glove with its environment then  you can have very efficient information practices   and systems that are really well aligned with the  problem you're trying to solve. At the opposite   extreme, maybe you have a very dynamic fluid  changing problem. In that case it would be best   to have an organization that has a more organic  bottom-up adaptive way of interacting. That's not   going to be the best outcome, but it may be the  best you can do under those circumstances - freeing   individuals to explore the problem and come up  with creative solutions. But then there's these   mismatches that are going to be problematic, right?  One is going to be when an organization is so   set in its ways that it's unable to perceive and  adjust to these more dynamic ambiguous changing   environments/. And the other case would be when you have people making all kinds of changes that end   up interfering and conflicting with other parts  of a more stable structured environmental problem. 

So the second argument then is that because  you have these four different outcomes   organizations often get caught in a tail chase,  right? Whereas they come up with a way to solve one   particular problem and they've let out contracts  and they built particular systems and then lo and   behold the enemy changes right or allies change or  politicians decide they want to do another mission   and suddenly you have an organization that  is adapted for one kind of solution, but the   problem is different. In that situation people  start defecting from the bureaucratic scheme   and they come up with really creative solutions.  Unfortunately those creative solutions cause   problems for the organization. Managers move in.  They start trying to reform the organization. It  

becomes more complex. That's good for a little  bit, but strategic competition tends to then   change the problem yet again. So you go around  and around and around where organizations and   problems tend to get more and more complex without actually having long-term performance advantages.   So that's the - in a nutshell - the general argument  of the book and it tries to go into detail with   a couple of historical and ethnographic cases  which brings me to the third point. I'll make this   really really briefly, so we can get onto the  more exciting conversation. This book really draws  

heavily on ethnographic methods or participant  observation methods. Now these are really common   in comparative politics or other parts of the  sociology of technology, but there may be less   widely used in national security  studies and the reasons may be obvious -   right. We're dealing with classified information  in dangerous environments that are hard to access   with conflicts that are inherently rare events.  Okay, so simply getting into the field to observe  

these things could be difficult. But if you  buy my argument that information practice  - what people actually do with technology in  time of war - is important, then you need to have   some ability to actually go and see you know  what's actually going on. So I was able to   leverage my own experience in the United States  Navy active duty before defecting to academia and   also as a reservist, while I was thinking about  this book and the issues that were associated with.   And I mobilized to active duty and I got  permission from both the Navy and from - I was   working on a dissertation at the time at MIT - and  my advisors thought this was a little strange, but   both sides agreed - okay as long as this  doesn't interfere with your actual job   you can go ahead and think about this. And what  was interesting is that because I was interested  

in how information systems worked in complex  organizations and because part of my findings   slash argument where that practitioners are  always having to pay attention to these workings -    that the same kinds of questions that i would  ask as an academic researcher interested   in information practice were very similar kinds  of issues that i would deal with as a practitioner   right. Actually dealing with the constant  breakdown and repair of systems in this   particular case systems that were supporting  special operations in western Iraq in 2007   and 2008. So that'll kind of just give you  a flavor of where this book is coming from,   where the ideas came from, and how I tried to  really flesh them out and help you to see   this I think fundamental problem that exists in  all organizations. And I also tried to to pair   it with a couple of historical cases and other  cases that we could see similar issues arising   with very very very different technologies and  different interactions between organizations   and the problems that they're trying to solve, but  still generating familiar patterns of information   practice. So I think I'll go ahead and pause there. We can take this in whatever direction you and   the audience would like to. Well great - I would  like to exercise my prerogative as chairs always  

say and engage you in a little conversation  first and then I see a bunch of great questions   coming in. So I'll be turning to the questions  in just a few minutes audience. So one   thing I wanted to ask you Jon, because my own  training has been in a kind of a broader context,   looking not just at the military level, but  also at success as a broader societal question -   political economic social impact on the  outcomes of wars. So is there a tendency - your   book says that it's about military, you know  military power, so you're specifically looking   at that level of analysis - this is not a criticism,  I'm just trying to understand - how do you go from   that level of analysis which is very oriented  toward the organization and what it is doing -  and it doesn't really talk a lot about what  the enemy is doing either because most of the   cases are oriented toward situations where the  united states was very dominant - how do you go from   that to the question of success in a war? Because  a success in a battle is not the same as success   in an overall war. And just - you know, managing the  practice effectively, adapting effectively, that may  

work very well for the military organization, but  what does that really have to do with the outcome?   Yeah, absolutely. So - you know this this goes  back to this question of kind of wrestling with   complexity and how really to scope this. You  know, I tried to pitch the argument generally   enough that information practice and information  practice theory could be applicable at a lot of   different levels of analysis and it can be  applicable outside the military environment   as well. And military operations at the operational  level have a feature that is very very useful for   thinking about this particular problem and that  is that it is extreme conflict between extreme   cooperators, okay? So you have an organization that ostensibly is working together so that it can   defeat or disrupt or degrade - all those wonderful D  words - the adversary, okay. So extreme cooperation   and extreme competition and these polls - right - pull on all information processes in kind of   two opposite directions and it creates these two  very very different problems the practitioners   are trying to solve at the same time. Trying  to say hey I need to understand what's going  

on in the environment and what's relevant and  what are our effects going to be and what the   unintended consequences are going to be, but then  I also need to understand how my organization   is cooperating and solving collective  action problems that are needed to solve   that first order problem. So in the military  environment those are such extreme contrasts   that you really see the fundamental tensions of  all information practice which I think manifests   in lots of different places really cast in  stark relief so that's one answer. Now there is this tendency as you mentioned, kind  of in the strategic studies and certainly   the way that kind of War Colleges like to teach  their students - that you can nicely separate the   strategic from the operational from the tactical  level and most historians would hotly contest   this, right? They would say hey when you're doing  operations, right, you're making lots of strategic   assumptions. You're designing operations that can  work for particular strategies and not others, okay,  

and so this is really really a false dichotomy.  It works if there is an alignment between   strategy and a particular concept of war then this  engineering optimization problem can proceed and   you can have operational optimization be really  really good for political outcomes, but if you have   a mismatch that can be hugely problematic. So in  many ways this is what the Iraq chapter was about   and it focuses on one particular special  operations organization that was run by a Navy   Seal team and Navy Seals you know - you've  watched the movie, you've read the books, right? You know these - this is a very very action-oriented  organization with kind of a very proud   commando history and it really wants to see the  world in terms of targets that can be actioned. 

And this was in Anbar Province in 2007, so after  the awakening, before the surge, in an environment   that is transitioning from intensive combat to  stabilization and reconstruction, okay. So counter   insurgency and stabilization is arguably the  strategic point of being there at that point and   yet you have an organization that was very very  focused on this particular concept of operations.   And what was interesting was that these cycles of  friction and breakdown, rather than improving the   ability of that unit to do counter insurgency and  stabilization, actually tended to further lock in   this operational fixation on the fine fix and  finish targeting mission. So this was an example   where the nature of the problem at the strategic  and the political level had changed, right? It had   become something else - because you know external problems in competitive environments tend   to do that and yet you had an organization that  was very very fixed on optimized - optimizing the   world as it understood it and so yeah  there really really was this disjunction.  

And you know a very different case that I  look at in the book is the historical case of   the Battle of Britain, right? Where Britain was  playing defense. The whole goal was to like stop   the strategic bombing campaign or actually the  goal was to keep the royal air force alive as a fighting force long enough for  a German seaborne invasion to not be viable   and because that's the strategic goal the  operational goal of identifying and intercepting   incoming raids and preserving and husbanding  your fighter forces, right were really really   aligned with the strategic objectives. So in this  case that process of information practice tended   to be really nicely lined up with the  strategic goals. So the key is to be in fear of your survival and then the strategy tends  to match the operational and tactical practices.   It's hard when you're the dominant  party in a way - I mean according to the   examples that you give in your book. I would  actually like for you to talk a little bit about  

FalconView because your discussion about bottom up innovation is very rich - so would you mind   telling our audience about that because I'd love  to ask you a couple of questions about that too.   Yeah absolutely. So this is a case that  looks at the 1980s and 1990s practices   of automation in primarily, but not exclusively  as we'll see in a second. The aviation community  - and the aviation community is interesting because  it's full of pilots and these pilots tend to   have engineering backgrounds - and through you  know, most of the history of aviation pilots were   responsible for doing their own flight planning so  they would get paper maps and they would get out   grease pencils and they would kind of draw  their routes and they would file their flight   plans and they would do their calculations and  how much fuel this is going to take and where   the targets were going to be and they'd overlap  threats and all this kind of stuff like the pilots   just did this. So when, you know, electronic  calculators and PCs started to emerge - like a  

lot of these guys were like hey cool I can do this,  you know, a better way right? So they start writing   their own routines to do flight planning and  this is in the 80s, right? At the same time we're   kind of like Microsoft and you know Apple are  sort of forming out of garages in Silicon Valley   and - no kidding- these guys, you know, were  basically getting together with their friends and   even had their wives getting kind of the notice  to aviators to put in all the information about   weather and flight events and things that were  going on into this database and they would put   the database on floppy disks and as they flew  around from airbase to airbase they would   distribute these floppy disks around. And so you  kind of had this vibrant bottom up kind of like   garage startup culture happening in  the middle of a military bureaucracy.   And we're used to that kind of mythical story in  the Silicon Valley context right? Which is often   told as this freewheeling kind of alternative to  a big government and top down control of which   militaries are sort of the apotheosis of and yet  even there you had kind of this this surge of kind   of bottom-up activity and so FalconView  sort of inherited this tradition and because   you had a bunch of aviators that wanted to do this - and in fact there were aviators that were in the   Air National Guard and the Reserves and so they  weren't getting the same funding as the Active   Duty Air Force - they got together with a couple  of graduate students at Georgia Tech and they   put together this basic Windows graphical  application. Think of it like Google Maps today  - that would run on a PC and it had to run really  fast and really efficiently because PCs were low   powered in that day and you would never do this  on Windows, right? You could only do it on a Unix   box - so they created this software that ran fast -  it was super popular and it started to outperform   the very expensive Unix-based applications that  the program offices were funding and then - so we   kind of entered this interesting decade of like  back and forth where the program offices said hey   pilots in the Air Force - and now increasingly in  the Navy and the Marine Corps and trickle off into   special operations and even the ground services  - they said hey we know you like this, but   we can't control it, we can't manage it, we  can't deal with the cyber security - so we're   going to build something better. And they would  try and build something better, but meanwhile the   users would keep hacking and reconfiguring  and extending this. So this was this very  

very interesting moment where like the kind  of leading graphical planning application   that is used kind of, you know, to this day  in many places for planning, but certainly, you   know, for intelligence analysis, for planning, for  special operations planning - is this product of   a community of kind of smart hackers that weren't  put in that position. They just found a need.... --- TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES --- Jon your screen has frozen. --- TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES --- Jess, I think we're having technical difficulties.  We are having technical difficulties  at the moment and I'm going to try to   contact our speaker offline to see if we can get  him to at least come in on audio right now. He has   unplugged and we're going to get him  back on. So, Audrey if you could make some  

general chatter - maybe about the topics he's been  talking about? Sure, sure - just let me know how   things are going. So ladies and gentlemen I'm  sorry we have a little bit of a break - you know   how these things work. This is almost like a live  demonstration of why computers and you know the   theory of victory that computational networks  will determine success or failure is probably   not something we should be depending upon entirely because here we are. I see some wonderful questions   in the Q and A, so I thank you for that. I am not um ignoring you by any means, I just would like to   have our speaker come back because I'd rather  he answer them than - than mine. I see a good  

one that's starting out - has the concept of victory  changed, and we will talk about that questioner,   but let's see if we can find our speaker  once again and hope that he's dialing back in. The concept of victory is a  complicated question because of course   the question of a military outcome is not the  same as the question of a victory in war and   technological determinism is centuries old  and we have to be careful to - not to directly   draw a line between effectiveness and winning  in a war. Effectiveness can win in a battle, but uh having a good strategy and having  it aligned just as Professor Lindsay   was saying, having it aligned with what your  organization is doing is absolutely crucial.   So, I'm sure he'll be right back and talk  about this. I have to say that this particular   case study on FalconView is my favorite part of  his book, so I hope you were enjoying that. I'm   hoping he's going to come back and finish this  story because Professor Lindsay talks about how   FalconView was very insecure and they had to in  the end - he will tell you this - but, in the end they   had to put in place a different system because  they felt that it was too vulnerable to hacking   and the other system was not nearly as effective  and so what I want to ask him when he comes back   and what I'm hoping we'll begin with is - you know,  what is the policy solution if you have this   wonderful bottom-up innovation? Ah here he comes. Good - it'll just be a few more minutes I hope,

but you have this wonderful bottom-up innovation  and you have to have security. Ah, there you are. Can you hear me? I can and I was just doing a little  tap dancing talking about how much I love your   FalconView case study. So I'm sorry that somehow  the system went down, but it sort of is a real-time example of why we can't just depend  upon computational systems for victory, right? That's true. The book develops this  idea of information friction and so this is the  

performative dance example of that. And look how  well you've adapted - so adaptive innovation there   Jon. So may I ask you if you don't mind if you can  manage - I think you must be using your phone. Yeah. Okay. Can you start we lost you  when you were getting to the meaty part about  

the FalconView system and how it was showing  itself to be too vulnerable, so if you could pick   up that story there I think we'd we'd love  to hear the rest of it. Okay - sure. So FalconView was very popular throughout  the Air Force and at this time it had developed   acolytes and fans throughout the Navy, but  people in the program offices in particular   were very very concerned that this effort  was ultimately not going to be scalable or   supportable and there would be some  applications that you really wouldn't want   users tinkering around with, right? So safety and  flight weapons release, you know, functions all of   these sorts of things that you know a large-scale  planning system would also interface with. So the   idea was okay, we need to shut this down, but  we know that it's popular with users and one   thing was very interesting is that - so this kind  of story there are little versions of this that   happen all over the place - usually the bureaucracy  wins, right? It's easy to say hey Lieutenant that is   a neat little hobby shop project you have, but it  doesn't meet these different, you know, requirements   or breaks these regulations - we're going to pull  it off the network. But several FalconView

proponents actually got themselves working in the  program offices and this was interesting in that   they were working both sides. They were both kind  of keeping this project alive as a stop gap until   the larger systems could provide this  functionality and trying to create the   same systems that were going to replace it. So  while it was really easy to kind of have this   morality tale of you know wonderful adaptive live  user innovation efforts versus the slow ponderous   systems bureaucracy - in reality, you had this more  complicated symbiosis where there was top cover   for user innovation efforts and an attempt to  try and build that on a more stable platform that   would leave it open to users to come up with new  applications, extensions, and customizations without   then kind of interfering with its large-scale  stability and sustainability. What was   interesting is that there were at least two cycles  that this went through where there was a large   system that was designed to replace FalconView and by the time it came out FalconView had already   moved beyond. That system struggled to meet the  requirements that had been specified two or   three years earlier and already requirements  had changed as warfighters went out explored new possibilities and new functions and dealt with  new requirements. Because let's face it the US  

was kind of a hyperactive superpower in the 1990s  and that's tended to put people into contact with   you know slightly new data processing  problems that they needed to interact with.   Wonderful, okay. Well I'm grateful to you  for finishing that story. I'm sure that our   audience will have questions about it and  we have about 50 minutes and a lot of great   questions already. So if it's all right with you  Jon, I'm going to turn to their questions.  

Okay. All righ, let's start with Christopher Basson and he asks has the concept   of victory changed as a result of the use of  information technology by military organizations? So you know, the concept of victory is  really really fraught in, you know, military   effectiveness studies and I think this  really came up in the conversation you were   having about - do you mean victory  at the political level where you actually   accomplish your objectives - accomplish your  objectives within, you know, an acceptable level of cost - whether the human cost or financial  costs - or other political opportunities. Or are we going   to speak more narrowly about keeping the other  military organization from doing what it wants or   destroying that other organization or  occupying territory - I think even that very   concept kind of at the strategic political level  really kind of varies depending on the   conflict that you're looking at, right? This kind of  takes us back to kind of Clausewitz 101 right?   Understand the kind of conflict that you're  involved in because whether it's a war - a total   war of annihilation - or whether it's just an armed  reconnaissance you're going to organize strategy   differently to deal with it. So I guess  I'm going to dodge that question a little bit and   I wanted to focus on information practice because  I think no matter how you define victory you're   going to have to figure out what kinds of things  matter in the world. Figure out where your own   forces are. Figure out how to get your forces into  contact with those or avoid contact - if you're   playing defense or trying to be stealthy, right? So they're going to be kind of these operational   problems that you're going to need to solve.  Those don't add up to victory, but they may add  

up to some degree of operational effectiveness.  Now maybe your larger question is - a person   didn't ask this, but I'll just maybe kind of guess  a little bit - if you're talking about different   kinds of conflicts that we're now thinking about  in terms of cyber security, cyber operations, cyber warfare, right? That looks like a totally  different set of interactions than kind of the   traditional clash of arms on the battlefield and  so if there are no militaries involved at all then   what meaning could military victory even have?  Certainly the cyber influence interaction between,   you know, Russia wants to sway an election  and cyber security professionals want to   prevent that, right? That is a very very different  conversation than might be happening otherwise   and that's actually one reason why I decided to pull the entire cyber conflict discussion   out of this book altogether and have you know a  larger conversation about it. I think no matter   what kind of political interaction you're looking  at information practice itself is going to either   help or or hinder it hopefully in the way that  I describe. That's what I mean. Yeah that makes   sense - that's a great point. So Jon, did you have  a big part of this book that you pulled out of it? 

I did. Right, so you know, it may seem  strange that the book is called information   technology and military power and yet there is  very little discussion - in fact no discussion -   of cyber conflict, which is probably the greatest  manifestation of information technology and   military power in the 21st century, right? We  have this entire new domain of conflict. We've   got new military organizations, a four-star  unified command in the United States that can   manage cyber warfare, every joint task force now  has a cyber component commander - so how the heck   could I possibly leave that out, right ? And so  you know, I had originally written up something   about this but the key point that I think  makes cyber conflict different and in many ways   more complex, although not necessarily more  dangerous - and that's an important point,   is that in the classic military case you have  two feuding organizations and each of them have a   command and control system. They have intelligence sources, they have to integrate it, they have to   communicate with all their people - and it may be  very very complex and distributed. At the end of   the day each side largely controls its own stuff  and that's different from the cyber case where you   have common tools, common networks, common protocols, right? Both competitors are interacting in the same   organization and that's very interesting because  now you have a strategic conflict between - in a very real sense - members of the same  organization. So while I think that we can think   about information practice as an input and  a constraint on cyber conflict, that makes it more   complex because cyber conflict, right, is both  targeting and protecting, exploiting, undermining   and reinforcing information practice itself. So  I thought it was important first to up and say - 

well what's going on inside of organizations to  begin with right, in the best of situation when   people are ostensibly working together - what kinds  of frictions and breakdowns are they encountering   and then later on we can add in - oh now  what happens when you're actually sharing   an organization with your adversary. When your  adversary is a source of the frictions that you   are dealing with in the information systems itself.  Fascinating and I think my Co-Director Josh, as you   know well Jon, would probably say that it's all  about espionage right? But I'll give Josh his own   ability to talk. I think he has a question up here  in a minute okay. By the way let me just check  technical - I noticed my internet has has recovered. I unplugged my router and put it back in  - if the sound and everything is okay we'll just  continue this otherwise I could go back to the   other one. I think it's okay and okay so if you  don't mind. I mean the the visual isn't quite as  

good as it was before, but it's good. So we're fine  with it if you're fine with it. Okay. All right - so   next question from Scott Crawl - wait a second, now I'm having problems. Okay - how much autonomy do   you think the DOD will give to AI based management systems in the everyday analysis and decision   making at the Pentagon and how will that impact  human employment at the Pentagon? You know, so   here the big looming question of AI yeah. Okay ,that's a great question. So,

maybe to back up and contextualize I think  the AI conversation that we're having today   is definitely a new manifestation of this  tendency that I was talking about as the   technology theory of victory - the idea that will  be able to have information technologies that   substitute for what militaries are doing and  will be able to do it so quickly and efficiently   that you have a radical step function  change in military performance. So there is a real rhyming familiarity in the way  that we talk about AI and I would say I agree.   Okay, now the robust finding in  the kind of economics and organizational   sociology of information technology is that  these technologies are never pure substitutes.  While they can substitute for some functions they  also end up generating all kinds of new tasks   and positions or complements that are needed to  manage those informational interactions. So the   more you add in information technology to try and  substitute for what you already understand, what   you're doing in order to improve your performance,  the more you start creating this overhead of kind   of complementary, kind of human interactions. And I think that we are going to see - and we are seeing   exactly that happening with AI, right? AI is not  a pure substitute for human decision making.  

It can do some things well, right? It can provide  predictions when you have lots and lots of really   good data about fairly well understood problems. And that's not the operational warfight problem.   We have terrible partial fragmentary data about,  you know, ambiguous evolving problems so AI in that   situation is going to create a huge demand for  human compliments, for human interactions, for   people that can interact with and debug these  these systems. So I think that, you know, in all   our talk about where do we get AI autonomy and  should we be concerned about killer robots and   where do we put the man in the loop? It's kind of  losing sight of this very very pragmatic fact that   organizational complexity is going to increase and  that complexity cannot just be you know automated   away with AI - because AI is going to be part of  what's driving this more intensive interaction.   But it will tend to pull people more and more  into this information processing debugging and   sense-making role that makes judgment really really complicated and you know and the   questions that you're asking before Audrey about  like how do we, you know, just entangle strategy   and politics - like AI is going to amplify exactly  that, right? I mean like that's the key compliment   is why are you doing what you're doing. And that's  going to become more ambiguous more distributed  

throughout the force in the society, right. So  there'll be kind of this change maybe in the way   that you're thinking about conflict precisely  because these are not substituting technologies. That's very thought-provoking. Wonderful. Okay,  let's see. Katherine Urban - we've heard a  

lot lately about the prospect  for public-private partnerships   to develop cutting-edge military technology  - she wants to know about the different   organizational cultures between the Pentagon  and Silicon Valley and how can that work. Yeah, this is - this is definitely real, right? So this is kind of what I was getting at   with the FalconView story. There, you know, on  the one hand the stereotype is absolutely   true, right? Silicon Valley wants to move fast and  break things and it's got, you know, all of these   people that are starting things up and attracting  venture capital and you know, making things, you   know, move at internet speed etc. etc. And that's a  little bit of a stereotype because some things in   Silicon Valley actually don't move very quickly  and some things do get locked in and are a little   bit resistance to change, but okay that's there. And  then there's this story of military bureaucracies   as kind of these ponderous beasts that have to  write up these requirements and they have to then   you know deconflict them and they have to go  through all this committee process everybody likes   to make fun of this defense acquisition chart that  maybe some of you have seen which is just this   incredibly painful, you know, research  development test and evaluation process you have   to go through to invent weapons. Okay so like  how the heck could you possibly put those together? And what I was trying to argue with the FalconView  piece is that actually it's more complicated this   you see this ferment of innovation already  happening within military organizations, but   not necessarily formally blessed and sanctioned by  military organizations um and you know you don't   have to spend much time in a military organization  or start reading for this before you start to see   example after example of you know somebody that  you know came up with a way of using a drone   in their iphone in some creative way or a unit  that solves some problem that you know their   command and control systems  administrators weren't able to solve, you know.  

On and on and on - so this is a very very kind of  typical problem so maybe the the distance between   these two cultures is not as great as we actually  think it is, except that these public-private   partnerships I think too rarely are actually  really focusing on that firmament of innovation   itself. There's still this idea that we're going  to tap Silicon Valley for its innovative potential   to come up with the new technology in this  widget and then we're going to throw it over   to the transom and then the military will implement  and operationalize it and that's a little bit   backwards, right? If we thought of this as less of  a technology problem more of an organizational   problem then the question would be well how  do you make sure that technical expertise   is forward, right? That the technical expertise  that is already forward is supported, right? That   they have the ability to adapt and innovate and  those adaptations and innovations are being kind   of folded back into existing, you know, command  and control systems - that'll be a very very   different approach to I think public-private  partnership. That would focus on the people   less than the technology. Because you know, again  like you don't ever get the command and control   system working the way that you would like it to  it is perpetually in a state of breakdown, right? And so attending to that repair I think  is going to be an inherent part of of increasing   military capability in this more complex  environment. Great. Okay, actually on that   point, I'm always arguing with my friends that  the military promotion system that keeps people   in vertically is so 19th century. It's going  to be very difficult to be that agile until  

we fix that. All right, let's go to Josh Rovner.  He says he's interested in the implications of   the argument for civil military relations should  civilians take a hands-off approach given that the   modern battlefield is information dense  and full of fast moving unstructured problems? Yeah - wells okay. So my first answer is  is no, definitely not. In fact I would think   you know, exactly the opposite, right? The battlefield is sometimes full of, you   know, really fast-moving problems. That doesn't  necessarily mean they're fast-moving problems  - that are problems that strategically you want  to really solve. We talked about, you know,   militaries that solve these, you know, quickly  moving problems but end up solving them in a   way that's strategically inimical to what you  want to accomplish politically. You could certainly   tell yourself stories in a China scenario  right, where you freed the military to -   innovate in a very very aggressive way that ended  up starting to build in some escalatory risks with   Chinese and especially with kind of Chinese  conventional and military systems that may or   may not share command and control systems etc. etc. Those are exactly the situations where you kind of  

would want civilians deeply embedded with those  interactions to understand what kind   of the technical consequences might be. I think the  larger question here is that, you know, this   larger historical trend that we're starting to  discuss - which in the book I call the informational   turn in military practice - which is this shift  from military practitioners being, you know, on the battlefield - physically fighting in blood,  on deck plates washed by the ocean, right? To   living in these remote command and control  spaces where they're still frustrated dealing   with lots and lots of things, but they're  physically removed from the pointy end of   the sphere - which is increasingly automated,  right? And so - these organizations get more   and more complex which means that the content of military labor actually is becoming more and more   civilianized, right? What do military practitioners  do? Well, you know, they work in offices and they go   to video teleconferences and they work on reports  and build powerpoint briefs and you know -   write word documents, right? I mean like  it is very very similar to what's happening in   the civilian world, but it's connected to these  fast moving parts. So you have kind of military   practitioners that are more and more involved in  civilian type tasks doing things that are still   leveraged because of the automation linked to the  to the pointy end, which means that they're going   to be more and more politically consequential.  So I think this speaks to needing to have   kind of a robust two-way conversation - if anything,  you know - I think one implication would be, you know, a strong endorsement of the Eliot  Cohen view of civil military relations where   you should have a robust conversation between  politicians that are really really sensitive to   objectives and competing political tradeoffs and  military professionals that understand the tactics.   Because those tactics have political consequences  and they're going to be different political objectives that they're trying to meet. So. That  makes sense. Okay, I'm going to give you two  

questions and I'll paraphrase them, but I want  to make sure we get - there are a lot of questions   here and I want to make sure we get as many in  as we want. You can answer whatever aspects you   want Jon. The first one - has the United States  learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that it requires a   shift in information systems or do many of the bad  habits of the RMA framework still linger? So that's   question A - hold that for a moment. And then from one of our PhD students - ethnographic studies, as   you mentioned, aren't all that common with respect  to national security and technology - do you think   your work opens up more avenues to such research  and how do you go about writing up the final draft   - balancing the possible classification issues  with telling an accurate empirical story? You   can tell that he has some connection to  the military. Yeah, great. Thank you. Okay. 

The first one which was, you know, does  military culture - and I think the question was   specifically about army culture - does it just sort  of persist throughout these conflicts or are   there changes? Am I getting that right? Okay. One  thing that I think is well - there are many things   that have managed to, but one aspect of these wars and the conversation about technology that's been   very very interesting is that there was sort of  this morality tale that emerged that the   RMA was all about network-centric operations and  then we found ourselves in this population-centric   fight and the attempt to apply network-centric  warfare to a population-centric counter insurgency   was a terrible idea, right? And you were looking  at networks, but the real networks were the social   networks and by not understanding that we ended  up getting ourselves into a terrible mess. And it   took, you know, many many years of reform until we finally, you know, figured out counter insurgency   theory and surge...yadda yadda yadda. Okay, that's true to an extent, but what's interesting is that in the  

process of learning how to do counter insurgency  the US military had a voracious aptitude - appetite  - for new technologies and there was massive kind  of sustaining low-level innovation where they   figured out all kinds of different ways to - yes do  the targeting mission - but also to do population   surveys and also to do social network analysis  and also to figure out, you know, the relationship   between, you know, economic performance and  small grants and military, you know, violence   levels. Okay, so you had the kind of technology  being applied across the board so that morality   tale really was too simplistic, right? It wasn't  that technology is only good in one place. No,   technology can be used in a lot of different  places even when you know a military is now   having to look in a very very different direction.  That said I do think that kind of, you know, deep  

in their DNA, you know, military organizations do  have kind of styles or types of wars that really   accord with their, you know, core identity and  they're probably embedded deep in their history   right? Scholars like Austin Long make this argument - and I certainly found this with kind of a Navy   Seal team that I was focusing on, right? That there  was just such a strong kind of historically based   identity that really shaped the way  that they were going to be innovating - and   therefore perceiving and actually influencing the  battlefield. So I tried to tease this out a little   bit by, you know, in Anbar comparing the  special operations task force that I was with   with Marine Corps units in the same battle  space that were also innovating with technology,   but doing it in a very very different way. They  had a much more kind of population policing   mentality that they brought to it rather than  you know, the Navy Seal counterterrorism mentality. And I also tried to compare it - even though  this is very very hard to do with open sources  - compare it with the JSOC mission which is a much  more highly resourced version of counterterrorism.  

You could argue that both of those alternatives  had a fair degree of success in their local scoped   operational mission, whereas the organization that  I was looking at kind of did both of them poorly.   Now to the second methods question, right. That is a fantastic   one - you know, ethnographic methods are very  very different than the, you know, kind of KKV causal inference things that we learn about in  our normal political science education, right?   Where you know, you come up with a deductive  theory and then you go and get some data and you   pick it on the independent - dependent  variables. All these sorts of things. Whereas every single ethnography that you  read has this weird idiosyncratic story   about how the researcher happened upon, got  involved with, developed the trust of this   community that they were working with and you know they developed this very very   kind of seemingly narrow story about - often  kind of a historically insignificant case and yet   done with a mind of trying to say something  broader about culture, about social practices.  

So I think there's kind of two different  questions here - one is how is that even possible?   Like, how can ethnography - how can you trust  anything an ethnographer says given that their   access to this group is so circumstantial and so  highly personalized, right? In my case, right - you   know, I mean I happened to be a reservist that had  access to this particular unit copacetic with me,    you know, doing this and this that the other thing.  I had been steeped in, you know, while I was   in active duty -I had been um tinkering with and  developing some FalcoView applications myself, so that meant that I was able to develop some  trust with developers and program managers, you   know that went on. So like a very very personalized  particular story. Like, why should you trust   anything that I have to say? And I think the answer  is that ethnography tends to work in this more   sort of Bayesian conversation if you will, with the  literature - where you're like, this is what lots of   people have said about organizations. This is the  experience that I have. Does it make sense? If not,   what do we need to update? Do we go back? And you go back and forth between this very very richly   described casework and this very very general  theory to try and get theory that stabilizes   to the point that it can then be applicable for understanding other similarly originally described   cases. And so you know that's kind of where you get to the point you're like okay I'm now through this   very particular experience that I have recognizing  kind of enduring patterns that seem to emerge   in lots of other different places. So I think that  ethnography is less of a theory testing than  

a theory generation mechanism that gives you some confidence that what you're seeing may make sense. And so what I tried to do was use this as a  way of kind of laying out this more general   theory which then I think would have kind of  implications that could - that you could go and test.  Now as far as like doing this in the military  again - like it worked in this case, but it was so difficult and so frustrating that you  know I finished my dissertation, put it aside   and worked on cyber conflict and cyber warfare for  the next six or seven years because I wasn't   sure kind of how to bring this back into the  realm of security studies and you know, make it fit   better with other theories. So that's kind  of a cautionary tale - I'm like if you go down this  

road right, it is weird and strange and different  and it may not actually fit really well   with kind of the the discourse and conversation  that people you know are used to having about   testing and evaluating theories about kind  of security. As far as the classification   realms that's a great question. Okay, so - you know part of the deal with this was  - hey if you're gonna write about Naval special  warfare in a combat environment then yeah your   manuscript is going to have to be reviewed and  it was and they found you know nothing wrong with   it - although they didn't like my conclusions,  you know - there was nothing classified about it.  But part of that is because I specifically was  interested in things that were tacit, that were   cultural, that were not being explicitly written  down, right? Things that are explicitly written down   are the things that are explicitly classified - right? Those are the categories of information   that get embargoed for 10 or 25 years, but I was  more interested in kind of how people were making   sense of the world, right? Exactly the things that  didn't get written down. So it was kind of that -

kind of, you know, more general, but slightly  abstracted work that I was looking at and I  kind of found this sweet spot where I could be in  a classified environment and yet describe kind of   more general tacit organizational interactions that were general enough that they didn't kind of   like run afoul of the classifications. How  interesting. Jon, one thing that is happening is   that your hand is wiggling and it's making me a  little dizzy when you talk. So, set it on something -   otherwise we can see you. Yeah that's better. Can I  just say - calling this targeting   approach counterterrorism has always driven  me crazy. Not you, I mean - the way that  

is the case in the military, because what  the Marines were doing - that kind of practical   house-to-house understanding of collecting  information and data - that's closer to   traditional counterterrorism that integrates  a lot of different types of information   and capabilities rather than just targeting.  Oh there you are. Oh good you're back. Okay,   good. Can you hear us? Yes, yes. Perfect.  Yeah, that is a little bit better.   All right, well thanks Jon. Let's keep going.  We have another one of our wonderful PhD students - his name is Ian as well Ian Campbell  and let me see - get to the meat of this question  - did you find certain organizational doctrinal  practices and structures are more effective in   dealing with friction associated with competition, either in conventional wartime situations   or even in gray zone scenarios, for example  do flatter or more hierarchical organizations   perform better in different situations, thank you. Yeah. That's a complicated question. Can you generalize on that? I'm not sure I could.  Yeah, before - let me - your previous comment, I just  

really wanted to pick up on because I think it's so important. You're absolutely right. Right? I mean - when special operations  says counterterrorism they mean find, fix, finish,   evalu

2021-02-26 10:41

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