The headline article in the London Times for 25 January 2011 (print edition), Gunrunner Security Fiasco, reports how a security consultant named Steven Greenoe had smuggled numerous weapons into the UK – subsequently sold to UK criminals and gangs. At least one gun is known to have been used in a drive-by shooting.
This story raises several issues – not least the problem of airport security and how to ensure passenger safety, both on the ground and in the air. The news appeared to break on the same day that a suicide bomber killed three dozen people at the Moscow arrivals lounge.
I’ve often felt that the current paranoia over airport security was “overkill” (pardon the word-use). When I first started flying it was an adventure, but since September 2001 it has become more and more unpleasant. The security checks – although necessary – are becoming increasingly intrusive, yet the terrorists and criminals continually find new ways to get round them. Each time they are caught, new barriers are put in front of the innocent travelling public, to the extent that the average traveller is now so nervous that it would be almost impossible to differentiate between the genuinely nervous innocent and the person exhibiting nervousness due to their plans to blow up a plane.
Just as an example of how easy it is to blow up a plane if you really wanted to, I did some quick research prior to writing this post. For a few hundred US$ it is possible to purchase a few grams of a chemical and package it in a way that would not arouse suspicion if taken on a plane. With the addition of further chemicals available to all passengers on the plane, this could be turned into a bomb that would cause substantial damage. I’m not going to identify the chemicals for obvious reasons and not having tested this, I can’t say whether this bomb would be sufficient to blow a hole in the plane’s fuselage. However videos of the two chemicals in combination are available on the Internet, and the reaction is always highly explosive, completely destroying the reaction container. (One described the reaction of just 2 grams of a similar less-reactive chemical as like letting off a hand-grenade in a bath tub, and the resulting video confirmed this as the bath was destroyed).
The point is that if you want to kill and cause mayhem, it is possible. The job of security is to spot those people who are acting suspiciously or where intelligence suggests that they may be up to no good. This is how El Al caught Nezar Hindawi when he persuaded his pregnant girlfriend to carry a bomb onto a plane for him. The girlfriend was innocent and knew nothing about the suitcase with semtex hidden inside. It was only due to excellent intelligence, prior to reaching check-in, that a massacre was stopped.
The problem today is that everybody is likely to act suspiciously due to nervousness – and so make the job of picking up the genuine criminal more difficult. I believe that this is the first problem with airline security. The second is the laxness of checks at some smaller airports. Both are examples of intelligence failures. The first adds “noise” to the security problem, and uses staff that just go through procedures rather than depend on intelligence skills. The second is potentially worse in that it fails to use intelligence at all, and just hopes that the fact that the airport is small / regional means that the risk will be much lower. Of course, any potential terrorist can spot this from a long way off.
The US has long felt relatively safe, so long as the terrorist is kept out. As a result, checks on domestic flights are minimal or ineffective. This means that it is relatively easy to pack guns in domestic luggage – that then gets transferred to an international flight. Part of the problem here is the US obsession with gun ownership as a right (with the right saying that guns don’t kill people – people kill people, and ignoring the fact that guns make it easier for people to kill people). As long as the gun is in stored luggage there is less of an incentive to stop the passenger – even if detected. In the case of Steven Greenoe, he was reportedly stopped on at least one occasion – but managed to justify himself and so was allowed to fly, rather than get arrested. (I find it strange that in America – driving at 95mph or smoking cannabis – both generally less dangerous than owning and using a loaded gun are more likely to result in a criminal record).
The Times newspaper article mentioned that the gun smuggler concerned, Steven Greenoe, described himself as a security consultant. I did a brief search and up popped Greenoe’s LinkedIn page. Greenoe describes himself as the CEO of Jolie Rouge (which to me sounds a bit like the name given to the Pirate Flag – the Jolly Roger: surely not a coincidence). One part of Jolie Rouge’s business appears to be competitive intelligence – although the company doesn’t actually seem to use this term. Nevertheless Jolie Rouge Consulting states:
JRC uses public and private sources to unearth information critical to accurately valuing business and financial transactions. JRC uses an established network of legal, political, business, and military thought leaders to rapidly compile up-to-date and difficult-to-acquire information. Our clients use JRC’s oral and written reports to validate and sharpen their investment strategies and long-term business planning.
When I first looked at Greenoe’s profile he’d included the Business Strategy & Competitive Strategy forum within his LinkedIn profile. When I next looked this had disappeared. I don’t know whether Greenoe dropped the group, or the group dropped him – scared about adverse publicity linking a gun runner to competitive strategy. Nevertheless, it highlights how important it is for the competitive intelligence community to police their own and ensure that anybody linked to the profession behaves ethically and morally. (This wouldn’t be the first time. There is a well-known and erudite CI consultant and author who many years ago, got caught up similarly, causing a scandal that is still remembered by long-time competitive intelligence professionals). Gun-running – especially where the guns are then sold on illegally is a lucrative business. (The guns cost $500 each but were reported to be selling at 10x that amount – meaning that the consignment he was arrested over would have netted him $360,000 profit for a little over $40,000 expenditure).
However the really odd thing about this news story is the date. Although the reports reached the press today (January 2011), Greenoe was first stopped on May 3, 2010, and arrested in July 2010. I wonder why it has taken six months for this story to hit the headlines. It’s another example of how care needs to be taken when doing competitive intelligence analyses – as what may look like a new news story could actually be quite old.
A week ago I was travelling – first to Jakarta in Indonesia and then on to Mumbai in India. I left Jakarta just as President Obama was arriving, and flew to India where he’d spent a few days before moving on to Indonesia.
I’d never been to Indonesia before and hadn’t been in India for a few decades so my take on both countries may be subjective. However there were some things that were impossible to ignore.
In both hotels I stayed in, security was high. I had to pass my luggage through a scanner and pass through one each time I entered the hotel. The same applied to a shopping mall I visited in Jakarta. I’m familiar with this in Israel – and expect it. It’s the way to protect public places from terrorist attack. I was not surprised to see it in Mumbai, considering the atrocities carried out over the last few years in India. However I was surprised to see it in Jakarta – the largest Muslim nation in the world. I know that there was an attack in Bali in 2002 but Bali was a target as it was a way to hit so-called decadent Westerners (or so I thought). Jakarta, conversely, is a business centre and unlike Bali, mostly Moslem. Yet, security was tight – and it wasn’t just because Obama was visiting.
In London there is no overt security in hotels – you walk in without being stopped. The same applies in mainland Europe (or at least in the countries I’ve visited recently) and in the USA. However I suspect that over time, this will change as the terrorists inflict their damage on the ways of life and the freedom we expect. The plague that is terrorism does not distinguish between nations and religions – and it is ironic that so many terrorists claim to be followers of Islam, yet still target Moslems, as was so evident in Indonesia.
|Another thing I noticed – especially in Indonesia was the gap between rich and poor. My hotel – a beautiful five-star hotel – was directly outside a road packed with shacks and small roadside shops. I took a walk down a lane – that would have been a downmarket slum in London. The lane joined the Intercontinental hotel that I was staying in, and the Shangri-La that Obama was booked into. Although I felt safe, I could see how resentment over the wealth that was so visible compared to what the majority survived on could spill over and destabilise the country. Whether this will happen, of course, will depend on the efforts the government makes to close the gap and allow the aspirations of the majority to be fulfilled. Without any effort I foresee trouble within a few years – either via violence, or political upheaval. Either will not be pleasant for those with the money, and potentially for those without.|
|In contrast, in India, even though I saw poverty, I also saw hope. People smiled and looked happy – even those with almost nothing. Children played cricket on the streets and there wasn’t the poverty of spirit you see in the West. Instead, there was an optimism that I’ve also seen in China but you need to search for in the US and Europe.|
I was speaking to a colleague today and he commented that the terrorists who tried to send a bomb from the Yemen to a Chicago synagogue were pretty stupid. His view was that any package sent from the Yemen to a synagogue in the US would be suspect – and so the terrorists had to be stupid.
In competitive intelligence it is important not to make assumptions – and assuming that your competitor is stupid is one of the most dangerous assumptions you can make. It is possible that they are stupid. Alternatively, it is also feasible that they see things differently from you – and their viewpoint may be rational and logical from their perspective. Effective competitive intelligence should always involve you trying to see things from the perspective of your competitor rather than from your own, possibly subjective and biased standpoint.
I cannot really understand the rationale of the Yemeni terrorists sending their bomb, presumably intended to blow up en-route, with an address of a synagogue. It does seem stupid – but that is because I am not an Islamist terrorist. However trying to see things from that perspective I could envisage a conversation such as this:
Terrorist 1: So what address shall we use – something that would not be suspicious?” Terrorist 2: How about a synagogue – the Jews control the USA / World so they must get lots of mail. Also they need to print their subversive material so won’t suspect our fake printer cartridges packed with explosives. Terrorist 1: Good idea – which synagogue? Terrorist 2: Obama came from Chicago. Let’s find the synagogue that he would take orders from….
Of course belief in a Jewish world conspiracy is nonsense, as is the idea that President Obama takes orders from a Jewish cabal. However that is not the opinion of large parts of the Moslem world – who sincerely believe in this, and that the 9-11 destruction of the Twin Towers was a Jewish plot, etc. If that is your world view, then sending suspect packages to a synagogue probably is completely logical and rational and the best way to ensure that they don’t raise suspicion.
The point is, that even if your enemy IS stupid, they will act based on their own warped rationale. In order to anticipate their actions you need to try and see things as they see them. This is even more important if in fact you are the one who is wrong – as in that case, switching your viewpoint should allow you to spot where your mistakes actually are.
There is a great story that illustrates this point – that what seems crazy may in fact not be. The story is apocryphal – and may be true.
Several years ago, the Pontiac Division of General Motors received a complaint:
This is the second time that I have written to you. I don’t blame
you for not answering my first letter as I must have sounded crazy.
In our family, we have a tradition of having ice cream for desert after
dinner each night. Every night, after we’ve eaten, we vote on which
kind of ice cream to have – and I drive down to our local store to
buy it. I recently purchased a new Pontiac and since then I’ve had a
problem when I go to the ice cream store. Every time I buy vanilla
ice cream and go back to my car it won’t start. If I buy any other
type it starts first time. I realise this sounds insane but it’s true.
Please help me understand what it is that makes my Pontiac fail
to start when I purchase vanilla ice cream and easy to start with
any other type.
The complaints department was naturally skeptical about this letter. However it was obviously written by somebody educated who knew how to write clearly and lucidly. Furthermore the area the writer came from was an affluent area – and a Pontiac is not a cheap car. They decided to take it seriously and an engineer was sent to investigate. The engineer arranged to meet the man just after dinner time – and the two drove to the ice cream store. That night, the vote had been for vanilla ice cream – and just as the man had said, the car wouldn’t start. Bemused, the engineer returned the following night – and the night after that. The car started first time – the votes had been for chocolate on the first night, and strawberry the second night. The fourth night, the choice was again for vanilla – and the car failed to start.
The engineer now realised that there was a problem that needed identification and fixing. He started to log what happened from the moment they arrived at the store – arrival time, time taken to make the purchase, and several other factors. Soon he had a clue – purchases of vanilla ice cream took less time than the other flavours. The reason was that the freezer containing vanilla ice cream was at the front of the store near a quick purchase till, while other flavours were at the back and required lining up to get checked out.
Quickly the engineer realised that this was the answer to the problem – not the ice cream flavour, but the time required. When purchasing vanilla ice cream there was a vapour lock which prevented the car restarting. With the other flavours, there was sufficient time for the engine to cool down, allowing vapour to dissipate and the car to restart.
Of course the moral of the story is that even if something sounds crazy it may not be. Competitive Intelligence analysts should always bear this in mind when they look at a competitor and fail to understand why they are doing something that seems stupid.
In 1979 I visited Turkey for the first time. I like Turkey – it’s a great and beautiful country with lots of history. It also shows how Islam and extremism don’t go hand-in-hand and how an Islamic country can also be a liberal democracy. Like all free countries, it has its share of extremists who spout forth nonsense that would guarantee a jail sentence or death in the autocracies that govern most of the world. However that is not what this post is about – although Turkey is the seed for the post.
- what their editors view as of interest to their readership
- news when they have sufficient information for a story.
@Jnoubiyeh the second we lost andalus we lost dignity. wars came 2 remind us again. We lost it was when we chose this life over hereafter
Unfortunately publicising such views are unfashionable and often suppressed – so instead we draw incorrect conclusions and victimise the victim (e.g. Israel) and praise the oppressor (e.g. Hamas).
I’ve not posted anything for months – not because I’ve not had things to post, but because of work pressures, and perhaps also not having anything I thought worth posting.
That’s not to say that things haven’t happened – but others will have posted on the London Online conference, the SCIP annual and European conferences in San Diego and Bad Nauheim, Germany, and the AIIP annual conference in Pittsburgh. I attended all – and each was worthwhile in its own way. (My favorite was AIIP – but then this is such a great organisation anyway!).
In the last few months I’ve also been to China where I led a workshop on CI, and on a personal level, celebrated my oldest nephew’s wedding in Jerusalem and saw the loss of my father a month later.
So what has prompted this post?
Well I try and link ideas to marketing and competitive intelligence. Those who know me will know that one of the areas I specialise in is competitive intelligence analysis and game theory. My talk at SCIP Europe (and also at the SCIP 2007 conference) was on Game Theory.
One of the areas I emphasise is that when looking at a competitor you should try and look at things from their perspective. Just because something looks stupid or illogical to you doesn’t neccssarily mean that it is stupid and illogical. It could also be that the competitor is viewing something from a different angle to you – and that if you switched viewpoints it would make perfect sense. Developing an ability to switch perspectives could save you $, £, €, or ¥ as it should lead to greater anticipation of how competitors are likely to respond and thus better and more effective strategies. The assumption is that competitors behave logically, and choose strategies based on the information and knowledge they currently have.
There is, however, an exception to this. Sometimes a competitor can be blinded by hatred, greed, fear, or another strong emotion. In such cases their decisions are likely to be stupid and illogical as they can’t see reality and instead, they base what they do on their emotionally biased view of the world.
As a result, when looking at a competitor it is also important to look for any emotional aspect in their decision making. Is this leading to how they behave or react? If it is, then you can use it against them to win out. Of course the same applies to you – and it’s important that you make decisions that are not based on emotional reasons. Decisions need to be made based on facts, evidence and logic – anything else will lead to vulnerabilities that can be attacked by a competitor.
There are many examples of companies that have made poor decisions based on emotion: a classic is the failure of the 2000 Time Warner – AOL merger, which was partly driven by Time Warner management’s fear of being left behind in a digital world. In fact many mergers fail as they are not really motivated by logic but more by fear of being left behind or greed – seeing acquisition as the best way to grow.
So when looking at a competitor, you need to
- assume that they are behaving logically – try to see things from their perspective
- consider that they may be acting emotionally, and not basing decisions on fact and logic.
Which of these two applies will depend on the pattern of decision making, the decisions made, and the competitor’s management. Part of the job of the CI analyst is to step back from their own emotional perspectives and, dispassionately, look at the competitor and decide what has led to their decisions and strategies: logic or emotion.
I still haven’t answered what prompted these thoughts.
Generally I try to understand the opinions and views of people with whom I disagree – and accept that often there is a valid rationale to these views. I fervently disagree with Islamic terrorist groups, and I totally support Israel. At the same time, I understand the view of the Palestinians and believe that they have a case. I understand the Islamic religious view of Hamas that Israel is occupied Islamic land and that only Islamic rule is valid. I don’t personally agree with this – but I accept that from some Islamic perspectives (not all) this is logical as it follows some Koranic precepts. So I’m applying my rule above of trying to understand the other side, and looking at things from their perspective.
I can even apply this (with difficulty) to some terrorist actions in Europe and the USA. The attacks on 911 were reprehensible, evil and criminal. However using the above principles I can understand these actions – as they fall into a logical pattern.
- Western Values represent an attack on Islamic values.
- Western Values are winning out – even in Islamic society.
- For Islamic values to triumph, Western values must be destroyed, so that the world realises that it’s only true Islamic values that will lead to human peace and happiness.
- What the West calls terrorism is actually a misnomer – and is, in fact, an attempt by true Muslim believers to alert their own governments to how they’ve been led astray, while at the same time to destroy the forces that are doing this – leading to a growth in Islamic values and beliefs.
What I fail to understand however, is how a follower of any religion can take advantage of people with mental problems and use them for terrorist activity. One of the basic principles behind all religions: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist… is the protection of less-well-off and weaker members of society. They teach that it is a major sin to take advantage of such people.
The recent bomb attempt in Exeter, England, when an Islamic convert who was reportedly mentally ill, with low IQ and suffering from Aspergers, was so radicalised that he was preparing bombs to use to maim and kill people, suggests that the people behind him were not acting under any religious framework at all – but were driven by emotions only: hatred and fear. Worse, they bring shame on true Islamic believers, and through their actions will lead even more people to see Islam as an evil creed that only destroys and has no respect for the poor, sick and down-trodden. This is false! So called “Imams” who believe that they can recruit victims like poor Nicky Reilly have desecrated Islam and the teachings in the Koran and Hadith, and should be denounced by all true Muslims as false.
The London bombings shocked the world – perhaps more than they shocked most Londoners. It is not as if Londoners are not worried about terrorism on their front door – they are. Rather, it is that we’ve seen it before. The IRA frequently bombed London and security alerts, when everybody was asked to vacate a train or a bus were not uncommon.
What is difference is the nature of the enemy. The IRA might have hated the British government, but they didn’t hate the British people. Generally there was a warning – allowing for people to be evacuated. The current enemy doesn’t care if people die – in fact, the higher the body count the better. After all, most will be infidels – perhaps a few Zionists (aka Jews) will die which makes it even better. And any followers of Allah will have achieved martyrdom, whether they liked it or not – whether they leave grieving spouses and orphans. And if they did not want to die a martyr’s death then they were not true followers of Islam and so deserved to die as heretics.
It is easy to dehumanise the perpetrators of such terrorism – to say that they are inhuman, animals, beasts and so on. However this makes us like the enemy – as it is only be defining another human being as “non-human” or sub-human that such atrocities can occur. And yes – the enemy does view everybody else as not equivalent to their elevated “holy” status. We are infidels, monkeys, doomed – so it is valid to help us on our way.
So, defeating such an enemy has to be two-fold: intelligence to catch and lock away the terrorists accompanied by actions to ensure that their communities are educated in human values. And their communities also include those in the Middle-East that allow crimes like Darfur to continue, or the dehumanisation of women (as in Saudia where women are banned from many things men expect – driving cars for instance), and the lack of choice of all the peoples. Democracy will help – but education is also needed. So that all see our shared humanity and stop defining people as “the other”.
As for Intelligence – which will be one focus of this blog in future. The IRA once said that the UK government needed to be lucky 100% of the time, while they only needed luck once! The same applies today. The London bombings were an intelligence failure in that the terrorists were not stopped. But in reality, to be 100% successful would have had other consequences – as to ensure 100% intelligence would have meant that we would be living in a police state without any of the freedoms we value, and which were attacked so wickedly on Thursday, 7th July.
The same applies for competitive intelligence – you cannot get 100% intelligence without an unreasonably high cost. Which is why companies and organisations need to have contingencies for when the unthinkable does occur. Contingency planning should be part of CI – as you cannot predict when something will happen with total confidence. Frederick the Great once said: It is pardonable to be defeated, but never to be surprised. The aim of intelligence should be to anticipate and not be surprised when something happens – even if it was not possible to prevent.
This was London on July 7th, 2005. Londoners were not surprised – what happened was expected. We did not know when, how or where. But we did know what we would do straight afterwards – and that is what we did. Which is why the stock market recovered so quickly, and everybody was back at work on Monday.