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It’s no exaggeration to say that America’s involvement in Afghanistan was the work of a lifetime. For many of those my age and younger who work in national security, it’s been literally our entire careers. To see that work crumble to dust and turn to ash so quickly is bitter, to say the least. Our generation gave the years of our youth to the cause of Afghanistan. Too many also gave up marriages, families, limbs, their mental wellbeing, and, of course — their very lives.

So I understand the argument that withdrawal was better than the alternative — the alternative…

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Wharton organizational psychologist Adam Grant caused a stir when giving testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said the “Department of Defense’s culture is a threat to national security.” Grant went on to describe that culture as one simultaneously overconfident and risk-averse, whose entrenched habits, values, and practices stifle the very innovation successive Secretaries of Defense have said the Department so urgently needs. …

U.S. Spy Agencies Must Adapt to an Open-Source World

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For nearly three-quarters of a century, the United States intelligence community has supplied American military and political leaders with information and analysis intended to help them make better decisions about critical national security concerns. During the Cold War — when the United States and the Soviet Union went to extraordinary lengths to reveal as little as possible about themselves and learn as much as possible about each other — the most valuable information was inevitably secret information. …

Five Traits to Cultivate

People ask me, every now and again, to give them a list of the top methods “good” intelligence analysts should use, or what subjects are most important for an aspirant analyst to study. The truth, however, is that there are no perfect methods to use or universal subjects. …

Agencies Must Adapt, or Risk Losing the Future

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It’s often said that government work isn’t glamorous. But pre-pandemic government work in the national security realm was at least one step beyond. Back in the before times, tens of thousands of national security employees — both civil servants and their much more numerous contractor counterparts — would arrive each and every morning to nondescript office buildings scattered across the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Maryland. Many of these workers had to first endure a maddening commute, sometimes lasting an hour or more, and could look forward to an even more…

American Strategy Needs to be Thawed Out

I hear a lot of people these days declaring 21st-century competition with China a new “Cold War.” Whenever I do, my eyes just about roll out of my damn head, because that sentiment reflects what is in my view a profound misunderstanding of both contemporary America and the reality of the modern world.

I suspect some commentators prefer the frankly lazy comparison because they find it comforting — we’ve been here before, they think, we know how to win this. They believe that if the nation’s leaders looked to the Cold War for guidance, they could better wrap their hands…

Americans Must Learn Again to Make the Future, Not Fear It

For some, the future is terra incognita, foreign land that we cannot know until we arrive there — or rather, until it arrives here. But that’s not quite right, is it? Because while you can’t predict the future, you can catch glimpses of it right here in the present if you know where to look.

Optimists like to imagine a future in which today’s problems, difficult as they are, have been solved — and maybe we finally get our flying cars. …

Growing Competition and an Abundance of Information Negates the IC’s Founding Value Proposition

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The U.S Intelligence Community needs a new business model, one that’s better suited for an era inundated with useful information and characterized by the demand for radical transparency. The next generation of national security leaders will, quite simply, expect more — more personalization, more collaboration, and more convenience.

Intelligence officers will likely bristle at the metaphor — intelligence isn’t a business, after all. But borrowing a few concepts from the private sector can help intelligence leaders better understand the successive waves of disruption that are right now undermining the very foundations of their vital institution.

Business models are stories about…

How to Think About the Future, Part III

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“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson

In the introduction to this series, I described how the future is created by a continuous interplay between forces of continuity and forces of change. ‘Forces’ may sound mysterious, but that’s really just a word I use as a catchall for the underlying factors — whether social, economic, technological, or ecological — that encourage or discourage behavior in people — that is, in us.

Although the world is changing constantly, the status quo has its own inertia. That inertia is sufficient, usually, to prevent all that…

How to Think About the Future, Part II

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“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov

We all make assumptions.

We do so automatically, even unconsciously. Assumptions are the premises that we hold to be true, often without much evidence. Moreover, they’re the premises that we expect to remain true. We make big assumptions and little assumptions, benign assumptions, and potentially dangerous assumptions. Each time we make a judgment without complete information — which is practically every single time— we buttress those judgments with one or more underlying assumptions. Some of…

Zachery Tyson Brown

A strategic futurist contemplating the intersection of national security, defense, and disruptive technologies with empathy, skepticism, and hopefully, insight.

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