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Monday, February 1, 2016

Data Assessment - How Intelligence Data Assessment can help you to see through Fog of Disinformation

In today's world full of information and disinformation, it is not easy for us to determine if what we are reading is true, or untrue. Many a times, we thought what we had read is true. Yet, turns of event proved us otherwise.

What I am going to share today is a information-verifying technic that is used by our intelligence community.

The system, which is called as the Admiralty system, was inherited from the British, had served our country well.

The system is also known as the NATO system, most probably because NATO had adopted it.

While it was used by our intelligence community, the technic itself is very simple and is not a secret. Thus, it can be shared openly.

What is this Admiralty System?
More often than not, in the business of intelligence, there would be a lot of information flowing to the intelligence agency. Not all of these information is reliable and some are actually disinformation that is dropped by their opponents to divert their attention.

Hence, the need of a system to grade these information for reliability and accuracy.
The Admiralty system does exactly just that.

How does the Admiralty system does that?
The system recognises that there are 2 components to an information; reliability and credibility.

Reliability refers to the trustworthiness of the source. This is usually determined by several factors;

1. How long does the case officer has known the source? Trust is built over time, and how long the case officer, or in this case you, have known the person who had provided the information to you.

2. What is the position of the source? This is a highly critical information that need usually make or break a case. The reliability of a source informing on a strategic matter will be higher if the source is located high in the organizational chart of an organization. However, the same source would be graded lower if he comments on operational matters that is far from his view.

Conversely, an information shared by a lower rank official would be more reliable on operational matters compared to a higher ranked official.

3. Is the information primary data or secondary data?

Primary data means the information comes straight from the horse mouth, or rather the people who were involved in the event. Therefore, they are very reliable. While biasness may exist, it is likely due to their individual perspective of the incident.

Secondary data means the data had came from an intermediary source. Biasness will exist because there are bound to be information that had been left out to fit into the view of the person who had received it from the primary data source. The best examples will be media agencies and blogs, myself included. When you consider how the data will be used, this distorts even further the reliability of secondary data.

4. What is the intention of the source? Vested interest or motivation of the source needs to be determined. Are they in it for the money? Or are they in it for ideological reason? An example of vested interest that had destroyed the reliability of source information is that shared by an Iraqi defector who claimed that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

How is Reliability Graded?
In Admiralty system, reliability is divided into 6 categories. They are;
A - Completely reliable
B - Usually reliable
C - Fairly reliable
D - Not usually reliable
E - Unreliable
F - Reliability cannot be judged
(Source : wikipedia)

Credibility refers to whether the information is logical and whether the information can be corroborated with other sources.

Logical refers to the probability of the information shared by the source. This is tempered with ability to corroborate the information with other sources.

Using an example from our history.

During the war against communism, our intelligence services had received numerous information on the enemy's plan and movement. Some information came from the public. But most of these information came from the enemy themselves, be it from surrendered enemy personnel (SEP) or captured enemy personnel (CEP).

There were many reasons for these SEP/CEP to share information to our security forces. It could be a change of heart, money, or even intrigue.

As there were many SEP/CEP, the intelligence agency would just need to see if the information shared by say, Ah Chong would be corroborated by Ah Lim, Muthu, and Ali. If there is a special government agent within the area, the information would be shared with them to see if it is logical and can be further corroborated.

How is Credibility Graded?
Similar to reliability, credibility is divided into 6 categories. They are:
1 - Confirmed by other sources
2 - Probably True
3 - Possibly True
4 - Doubtful
5 - Improbable
6 - Truth cannot be judged
(Source : wikipedia)

So How Do We Use These Together?
Let me share an example.

Let's use this article itself as an example.

Large part of this article is actually an expanded version of the source found in wikipedia.

Wikipedia is a good source of secondary information. But it is fraught with amendments made by its contributors whom we do not know and probably have their own intention. I know because there's a few pages that I had updated myself before in the past. But that's an old story.
Therefore, wikipedia as a source would be graded as C.

On the other hand, the information in wikipedia has been corroborated by not one, but four other sources. The first is the reference in the article. The second is a Star reporter, Philip Golinggai who recently wrote how he graded information that was shared to him, which was basically the Admiralty system. The third source is a book by Professor Leon Comber, a historian and subject matter expert for Malayan Emergency where he had served as a Chinese-speaking Special Branch officer. Thus he had used the system before. And the fourth source, a former intelligence officer who had taught me how to use the system.

Therefore, this article can be given a C1 grading.

Another Example
During the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Army had invaded Kuwait. While there were generally objections against the invasion, the world largely saw this as not a matter of their concern. It was not their country that was being invaded by the Iraqis.

Then, a young girl who had claimed that she was a nurse at Kuwait City when the Iraqi Army invaded the city. She claimed that Iraqi Army had switched off the incubators holding Kuwaiti babies and threw out the babies so they can bring the incubator back to Iraq. Some incubators that could not be brought back were left outside the hospital and this was photographed and beemed to the world media. The world was outraged. Bad enough that Iraq has invaded Kuwait, but they could not allow such destruction of innocent lives. The world mobilised for war.

It was after the Iraqi Army was vanquished that the world found out while the incubators did being switched off, but it was not done by the Iraqi Army. It was done by the Kuwaiti themselves so that the city could be darkened, at the detriment of the babies.

And they found out too that the girl was never a nurse and was never at Kuwait City during the invasion. She was the daughter of the then Kuwaiti Ambassador to US and was safely in the western world during the invasion. And she was too young to be a nurse.

If the grading was used to determine the usefulness of this information, the reliability of the girl would be F, as she was too young to be a nurse and there was no information of her background other than she was a Kuwaiti nurse. Her credibility would also be graded at 6 as there were no other corroborative evidence other than the photographs or video that was beemed by US media.

Thus, the grading would have rendered the girl's testimony as F6 and is not actionable.

Age of Information Technology
Information technology has made social media accessible to all. Today, most of us has different types of social media access; blogs, Facebook, twitters, whatsapp.

The anonymity that these platforms had afforded many of us to stab another person's image without fear of repercussions. Therefore, today we have seen the rise of many fake Facebook and anonymous blogs.

These spread rumours, mostly for their political masters with the hope this would translate to people deciding not to vote for their master's opponents in the next general election, or worse, to foment unrest.
It is actually quite easy to identify them. They usually use Click-bait type title for their articles.

The context of their blogs are also unverifiable. You would not be able to identify the writer and the information could not be corroborated with other sources.

I am very tempted to name these blogs, but I think I gave enough hints for you to decide yourselves. Lest I be seen of doing my political master's bidding. (Yes, I have my own political view but I will not impose mine on you. You need to decide yours).

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