October 11, 2011


Defense innovation through openness (Lorry M. Fenner, 10/11/11, The Washington Times

[The Minerva Initiative] is designed to improve our understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, economic and political forces that shape strategically important areas of the world. A component piece of this initiative was to establish the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) at the National Defense University. The CRRC makes primary records from al Qaeda and affiliated movements, as well as Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, available to civilian researchers. As an example of what can be gained, the CRRC collaborated with Johns Hopkins University on a conference on al Qaeda and Associated Movements on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that included both international scholars and policymakers. It will partner with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this month to examine the Iran-Iraq war from Baghdad's perspective. Unique documents and audio recordings have been and will be made public in conjunction with these events.

Like the DARPA collaborations that emerged in the 1960s, the CRRC serves as a public resource able to partner with a diverse group of universities and researchers, thus enabling them to contribute more fully to national security. By providing access to electronic copies of both the original records and their English translations, the CRRC enables scholars in the social sciences and humanities to discover previously unavailable insights into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to better understand authoritarian regimes and terrorism from the adversaries' perspectives.

Gaining a deeper understanding of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East will help inform America's response to the Arab Spring, and although al Qaeda has been on the ropes in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, the threat from other terrorists and lone-wolf actors remains very real.

A number of prominent scholars already have used these captured records at the CRRC for cutting-edge research into authoritarian regimes, nonstate actors, deterrence practices and counterterrorism policy effectiveness, among other important areas of concern. These and other research collaborations are important to national security for a number of reasons.

They bring in a diverse set of perspectives and outside expertise that sharpens overall analysis. They free up Defense Department personnel, both uniformed military and civilian, to perform other mission-critical duties for which they are highly trained. Most important, they are an inexpensive way to achieve important results; the yearly operating budget for the center, most of which goes to translation of captured records, is about one-quarter the cost of a single predator drone. Given that a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the opponent might diminish the need to rely as much on weaponry and force, the center and other Minerva projects have the potential to save millions of dollars and many lives over the long term.

The problem is that you're still selecting in too narrow a range of "expertise."  Experts are, by their very nature, a closed circle. Only non-experts can inject genuine diversity and new perspectives.

Posted by at October 11, 2011 5:11 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus