Wikistrat and the crowdsourcing intelligence concept

Mihail Păduraru



The new paradigm of the 21st century Intelligence

The trend of globalization, technology transfer, intellectual abilities, know-how and the need for real-time operational intelligence led to the development of new approaches in the Virtual World and necessity to create collaborative platforms.
In reality, the collaborative model is considered to be, a usual model in the intelligence field. It represents one of the instruments that ensures through a work interface the possibility to take part in the development of the intelligence product, in order to counteract any threats and risks to national security.


Wikistrat Inc. is a geostrategic analysis and business consultancy founded in Australia in 2009 and headquartered in the United States.
It describes itself as the world's first crowdsourced consultancy leveraging a global network of over 2,200 subject-matter experts.
Wikistrat operates a global network of over 2,200 subject-matter experts working collaboratively via online platform to help decision-makers to identify solutions for complex strategic challenges.[1]
The company was founded in 2009 by Joel Zamel and Daniel Green.
After studying counter-terrorism, Zamel founded Wikistrat Inc. and became CEO, while Green came aboard as the company's Chief Technology Officer.
Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett[2] joined the firm as Chief Analyst a year later but nowadays Barnett is no longer with the firm.[3]
In January 2014, Wikistrat analysts predicted the rise of a separatist movement in Crimea seeking Russian annexation. This process unfolded in March 2014, quite similarly to how Wikistrat had projected.
As such, Wikistrat gained acclaim for being one of the first consultancies to produce an accurate forecast of the situation.

Some analyzing the situation went as far as to proclaim that Wikistrat "beat the CIA."[4]


Introduction

The 21st century distinguishes itself through a multitude of complex problems that determine contemporary intelligence agencies to expand their activity area beyond the traditional limits. 
This comes as a direct consequence of the increase in the volume of public intelligence that influences the political, economic and military intelligence.
The linking capacity of the collaborative networks, in the context of the importance given to trust, reciprocity and exchange, ensures a mechanism that allows reunion under collective initiative of previously distinct entities and even ones that were in a competition with each other.

David T. Moore provides a very interesting perspective on this subject in his paper, „Sensemaking”.[5]
In his proposed paradigm of intelligence analysis, to reach analytical conclusions,  collaboration between science and scientific inquiry is needed.
This collaboration confers the simultaneous use of critical thinking and multimethod to realize the analysis, synthesis and interpretation of the subject (Moore, 2011, p. 131). 
According to Moore, the multimethod implies the simultaneous or consecutive use of several analytical methods and techniques, so that the result allows the viewing of the analyzed subject from different angles.[6]
Moreover, in the current society, based on knowledge, the collaborative platforms represent a promising mechanism to facilitate intelligence dissemination, to create knowledge resources through the increase of interactions and synergies.

From this point of view, Wikistrat developed the first crowdsourcing intelligence platform, designed and updated to help individuals to reach common goals.

The current changes at the communication level - particularly the large-scale use of mobile devices and socialization websites - generated new realities and challenges and offered new opportunities to develop common interests in the intelligence field, in order to promote global security.
The present realities, shaped by challenges to the security environment, the technological level, the effects of progress in the research and innovation areas led to new approaches, to the implementation of online platforms that facilitate and accelerate collaboration.
These contribute to the consolidation of the responsibility of taking part to the development of the intelligence product in order to neutralize threats and risks to international security.
As such, the IT/AI ERA and the expansion of global communication brought open sources to the attention of the experts in the field.
The majority of the theories on the learning process start with the assumption that people learn through the assimilation of information. The most significant challenge of this century is the information exchange with different entities and “the need for intelligence exchange”[7]



The main characteristics of the collaborative Wikistrat platform

The aim of collaboration is often that of exchanging competencies and abilities in order to create a synergic effect under the guise of a product or analysis.
This cooperation entails intelligence transfer, know-how and expertise exchange, the increase and consolidation of flexibility and capacity to react to real-time operational intelligence.
The collaboration is tied, first of all, to behaviors and interactions among individuals that make efforts to reach a common objective, with the support of electronic instruments that allow a synchronized and asynchronous communication between users.

The main characteristic of the Wikistrat platform is that all the elements are connected, and focus on organizing the resources of a structure with the aim to fulfill the objectives efficiently.
The first manner to realize the collaboration is through the creation of a collaborative culture, based on the belief that, as opposed to competition, collaboration is the best approach, if the goal is a common one, as well as on the commitment to cooperate to reach that goal.

According to a study realized at the Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) within MIT, titled “Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence”, a valuable collective intelligence platform must possess the following characteristics:

-Objectives- that refer to the desired result;
-Stimulants- motivational factors;
-Structure/Process- the business model and organizational structured needed to fulfill the task;
-Personnel- the human resources needed to support the business model;
-Sustainability of the collective intelligence within the organization.



Gustavo Diaz Matey (MA in Intelligence and Security Studies at Salford University, UK, Researcher at the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, and in the Research Unit of International Security and Cooperation-UNISCI), underlined that technology constitutes the main responsible factor for the intelligence revolution in this century.

In an analysis on the impact of new technologies on society, Libor Benes relates that the rapid progress of the new technologies transform society, intelligence, OSINT and the preparation in the intelligence field, and this innovation process can only lead to a integrated collaborative approach.

The most modern and advanced information management discipline is competitive intelligence, which appeared during the last decades in the business environment and it includes an arsenal of procedures, methodologies and technologies transferred from the OSINT area.
At present, the virtual environment is an immense “net” of resources to be disseminated by users, in such a way that is not necessarily hierarchical or structured by nature.


The Wikistrat Community is focused on academic expertise to establish contacts with experts and publish strategic perspectives on future security problems.
Professor William J. Lahneman, an assistant at the Political Science Department of the Tawson University in Maryland developed the idea that a large part of the expertise within the intelligence field comes from other areas than intelligence agencies.
He presents a series of convincing arguments that explains why, in some cases, the Intelligence Community (IC) must revise its procedures and collection efforts.

Providing intelligence and warnings on current threats such as transnational terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the development of bio-threat pathogens, as well as the response to emerging threats needs “the intelligence exchange through collaborative networks, with an emphasis on teamwork”.

Evidently, the extent of this challenge calls for an intelligence exchange between - the analysts within an intelligence agency, - with analysts from other sectors of the intelligence community - and with external organizations - to produce precise information on complex problems.


According to the expert, a significant change necessary to increase the response capacity to intelligence tasks and to launched warnings is represented by a new type of collaboration - the author introduced the concept of “credible” sources and the paradigm of “collaborative intelligence” that it requires.
Moreover, he states that “the need to exchange intelligence efficiently is the most important transformation factor for the competences of the intelligence community employees”.

The new collaborative paradigm is more than a simple model of open source intelligence collection.
While the traditional paradigm is focused on specific targets (known also as plans, intentions and capabilities), “the collaborative model follows the interconnections relevant between problems, which, in the traditional paradigm would be considered irrelevant or too conventional to be used”.

This point of view is approached by other authors as well. Hamilton Bean underscores that the community of intelligence services should externalize its activity to think tanks, academic research centers and companies.
This technique brings different perspectives, methodologies and expertise to fundament the analytical process.
There is no doubt that the Information Revolution, based on an unprecedented development of information technologies and, thus, of the quantity, quality and rapid pace of the information flows, generated a unitary approach; heterogeneous and unstructured groups appear, formed by people that act intelligently and efficiently due to a premises (group intelligence) and a catalyst of knowledge that acts bidirectional (from social actors towards security structures and vice-versa).


The term used to describe this second generation of the World Wide Web, focused on the ability of individuals to cooperate and exchange information online is called Web 2.0.
The characteristics of Web 2.0 include a multitude of advantages such as cost efficiency, enhanced communication and an improved moral of the employees.
In order to maintain relevancy in the complex strategic context, Wikistrat must become more than a data and information provider. It must become a knowledge provider, considering the increased need for new types of analysis, structured, collaborative and auditable.


The strong points of the Wikistrat platform stand in its notoriety to provide quality analytical products and the collaborative characteristics mentioned previously.
The capacity to answer the needs of some beneficiaries in a short timeframe with a comprehensive product, based on a sum of ideas generated by master students, PHDs, professors and experts in various fields, consolidate the credibility position of this platform.

The weak points of Wikistrat platform are manifested through the lack of a constant integrated system for financial stimulants, based on the quantification of the efforts generated by the active involvement of the analysts in the simulations or discussions in which they partake.
The financial motivation would encourage active participation and would attract high quality intellectual resource.
In this way, the motivation of the analysts increases, as opposed to the current situation.
At present time, the arguments that support individual initiatives to take part on the activities, are determinated by the "time"(that analyst has available to get involved); and by the analyst "ideological desire" and "free will" to bring his knowledge within the platform, based mainly on "personal ego".

Moreover, the lack to establish advanced AI mechanisms into the platform, to "search by criterias" for information in the 2.0 web resources, create a huge disadvantage in intelligence process.
Selection of intell on categories and analyze them with Artificial Intelligence instruments could raise the standards and align  the company to the requirements of the dynamic security environment.

As well it can be said that, it is imperative for Wikistrat to develop a mobile application, on IOS and Android platform, with specific features like "search for intell" and country "real time updates", which can provide reports on multiple countries or events, for those who travel alot.
Every country should have its own specific topic on Wikistrat platform, where analysts can, and should contribute, with "real time specific news" and "constant updates" from every point of the world.
The mobile application should be free for Wikistrat analysts, and should have paid content and features for the rest of society.
This features can be easy implemented to Wikistrat web platform as well !




The threats that the company will face on the medium and long term derive from the business environment and manifest through an increased competition, which will determine a decrease of the intelligence demands from the beneficiaries and could lead to loss of clients.
Today the collaborative potential is externalized to a great extent towards the private environment. 
The collaborative platforms are no longer a novelty to companies or strategic-provider organizations.
Aside from the capabilities mentioned above, intelligence platforms come with mechanisms that integrate the analysis of a large number of : qualitative and quantitative data, the creation of mental models, social media analysis, semantic analysis, network or emotional analysis, and last but not least the radiography of the dark web.
Most intelligence platforms offer the option for smart searches based on selected criteria, with a scanning capacity of minimum 60.000 pages of internet by the second.


All these functions converge towards an analytical product that is created by the human factor under different shapes or through different type of simulations.
This platforms are created for the private business environment but are made available as well for law enforcement and government agencies and also for the private security industry or for those large organizations which are interested in the analysis of a large volume of data.
The rise of a large number of  IT companies that offer more sophisticated platforms based on AI for  collecting and analyzing of Open Source Intelligence(OSINT), represents a risk that demands a careful monitoring. 
As well the company needs to adopt specific measures to counter accordingly this threat and to improve Wikistrat features.

Develop and modernization of the Wikistrat platform must be responsible, oriented towards the future and derived from the Wikistrat obligation to get in line with the competitors on a competitive market.

At the same time, the needs of the analysts to track a large number of sources and to perform  quantitative and qualitative research, reflects the necessity of such demands, that will offer higher quality products.


As an example, we can follow the Singapore based company, S2T.
S2T was founded in 2002 by former Israeli military intelligence officers. 
Its headquarter was establish in Singapore, along with its R&D team.
Since then, S2T's GoldenSpear solutions are deployed to the most demanding customers, and support the analysis of large scale, datasets.
S2T is an integrator system that provides specific complete turnkey solutions, including hardware, networking, and network security when required.[8]


The opportunities that arise with upgrade of the Wikistrat platform, should be focused towards the development of a a diverse set of AI features that can consolidate the trustworthiness, precision and accuracy of the analysis.

Another way to attract qualitative and renowned intellectual resource is by developing partnerships with NGO's and government organizations that could offer projects and financial stimulants for the analysts along with  project-based job offers.

The involvement in projects with government, think tanks, chambers of commerce and various companies, NGOs or prestigious universities can attract additional funding that would ensure a stustainable budget for development and stable income for Wikistrat platform.

The progress initiatives through investment banks could also represent a sustainable resource to expand the platform and create new features and mobile applications in order to reach the ideal stage of becoming a global frame of reference, for providing intelligence products on strategic, tactical and operational level.


Conclusions

Today, the complexity of the security environment contributes to the creation of superior cooperation and teamwork mechanisms between sectors responsible with strategic, tactic and daily analysis. 
In such a way a series of special interest groups were created under the shape of virtual communities to exchange interests and knowledge.

The collaborative environment within a team contributes in large part to its success. 
To create such an environment, the members of the team must have a purpose and common objective and must be aware of the necessity to evaluate and monitor the products and services offered by the team, as well as its internal dynamics and internal relations.

According to Daphne R. Raban, PHD at Haifa University, collaborative intelligence networks surpass the internal organizational limitations and bring together experts that hold fundamental information. These constitute a relatively easy, fast and efficient manner to form a community geared towards informing, as part of an extended plan of an intelligence (management/providing) company.

The technological developments, led to the necessity of the projection and implementation of a new systems and intelligence solutions, capable to handle new information environments, that can be easly understanded, accesed and used by any person, social group or organism.(that belongs to an organization or nation-state coalition)

Intelligence leads to collaborative decentralized knowledge. This generates a balanced transit from individual experts to a series of qualified individuals in a certain field, and Wikistrat is the first collaborative platform that managed to bring under the same knowledge umbrella an impressive number of global experts.



[1] http://www.wikistrat.com/about/
[2] http://thomaspmbarnett.com/globlogization/2012/3/27/interview-about-wikistrat-in-rod-beckstroms-starfish-report.html
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikistrat
[4] http://www.informationweek.com/government/big-data-analytics/crowdsourcing-the-future-of-consulting/a/d-id/1278614?piddl_msgid=223949#msg_223949
[5] http://ni-u.edu/ni_press/pdf/Sensemaking.pdf
[6]http://www.nos.iem.ro/bitstream/handle/123456789/173/Mitu%20Daniela%20Elena.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
[7] http://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/bitstream/handle/document/37840/ssoar-annunivbuch-2011-2-sebe-Why_Intelligence_Why_do_We.pdf?sequence=1
[8] http://www.simulation.com.sg/index.html
[9] Platforme colaborative: Transformari Profunde in Activitatea de Intelligence - Ioana Martin, Adelina Andrei, Ionela Socol - Revista Romana de Studii de Intelligence - National Institute for Intelligence Studies  

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