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Ed Note

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Editor’s Note: How Assessments Frame Intelligence

The truth sometimes relies not on fact, but on context. This is crucial to comprehending how facts and statistics influence our lives and in determining whether these measurements add value to our understanding of the world, according to Tim Harford’s new book, The Data Detective. As a thought experiment, Harford suggested thinking about how daily news outlets report the news as compared to magazines. “Bloomberg might pick up on sharp market moves over the past hour. The same moves won’t merit a mention in The Economist,” he noted.

Harford next invited readers to imagine news during a much longer period of time—decades, or even centuries. What would the headlines be? A newspaper published in 2018 covering the past 50 years might be a declaration of something that never occurred: “Phew! World Avoids Nuclear Armageddon!”

A reader from 1968 would consider this incredibly newsworthy. Harford wrote: “It would be big news that the Cold War had simply ended without a nuclear exchange of any kind—even if no daily newspaper would have been tempted in the meantime to run with the headline ‘No H-Bombs Dropped Today.’”

The 100-year headline—“Child Mortality Falls by a Factor of Eight”—and the 200-year headline—“Most People Aren’t Poor”—bear little resemblance to the issues we regularly ponder because the news that catches our attention is surprising, negative, and often misleading.

In this month’s cover story, “Open Secrets,” author Mark Ashford discusses how open-source intelligence (OSINT) can provide valuable information to security professionals if approached in the correct context. Ashford, who specializes in risk analysis in the financial industry, notes that actionable intelligence is ubiquitous, but it must be approached through analysis and assessment.

As evidenced by numerous global events that captured comments, details, and even changes recommended to accommodate space for signature below photos on social media, OSINT can be useful in making security decisions, but pitfalls abound. Ashford notes that OSINT must be an active process, not a one-time collection of data.

“There is a need to regularly and actively re-evaluate intelligence as new questions arise, assumptions are challenged, and new information comes to light,” he writes.

Ashford also warns about the threat of bias in making assessments about OSINT. Biases, he adds, “can lead to the wrong conclusions, so the information, our views, and our statements should constantly be challenged to identify what is actually important.”

Determining what is actually important to security professionals is a key mission for ASIS International and Security Management. And context is key in our coverage, meaning that stories are delivered differently depending on the type of information. For the news of the day, we continue to expand our digital offerings to provide more timely stories and online exclusives. In-depth articles that require research and analysis will remain in the pages of the print magazine to provide context straight from your bookshelf for years to come.




Teresa Anderson