One of our friends at ANSO on "Popping the Military's Classification Bubble"

I traveled to Afghanistan in the late fall of 2005 (limping badly due to just getting out of a walking cast due to a broken leg) to study how the Afghanistan Nongovernmental Security Organization (ANSO) collected and disseminated security information for humanitarian NGOs working in Afghanistan, (report here).

It was clear to me then, and it is apparent from this story in Foreign Policy, that the conditions and issues I witnessed and experienced in 2005 still exist. Nothing has changed in any substantial way, even though four years of learning opportunity have passed. Why?

My guess is a combination of:

1) The deployment tempo of staff at ISAF and US command, embassies, UN organizations and NGOs mean that once people "figure out" the reality on the ground in Afghanistan, they rotate out.

2) There was little incentive under the Bush administration to collaborate with anyone, even troops in ISAF. That incentive has changed a little under the Obama administration, but the learning curve, changes in strategy, and increase focus on military operations has shifted focus away from potential collaborative efforts.

3) Old guard resistance to new ideas. Obama's administration employs a lot of former Clinton administration senior officials who missed the opportunities in the first place and failed to take any substantial action to improve information sharing between collaborative organizations at the tactical and operational levels. Those officials lacked the temperament and incentive to figure out how to make inter-organizational information exchange work. The efforts I participated in were done quietly, under-the-radar, so as not to draw the attention and wrath of people higher up on the food chain.

These same officials have resisted opportunities to question the fundamental underpinnings of our national security and foreign policy architecture for political reasons (they're coasting on a good gig), and because they lack the necessary imagination and fortitude to remake our national security and foreign policy institutions because it would threaten a lot of existing relationships between individuals, organizations, institutions, and nations.

The new people that Obama has brought in lack experience, but have energy. But they are still responding primarily to the demands of status quo administrators, generals, and diplomats. And the current status quo isn't functioning effectively. Dedication to how things work now is a guarantee of long-term failure. Our current defense and foreign policy architecture is geared to a pre-information age dynamic. An age where collaboration was difficult, where secrets could be kept, where transparency was the exception, not the rule.

The internet has ushered in expectations of institutional collaboration and transparency unknown, unthinkable, unachievable prior to the last decade. We now have over 20 years of knowledge about what works, what doesn't, how to fund it, how to staff it, how to build, monitor and maintain working, effective, collaborative structures. But our defense and foreign policy institutions are still taking tiny baby steps because of fear of political retribution by ignorant lawmakers, an apathetic public, and antipathetic complex of defense industries and "security" contractors.

Then, there's that whole "classification" thing to deal with.

It's depressing to see that very little has changed since I left DC to learn more about local politics and the "real" America. Stories like this one underscore my hunch that there are opportunities to be exploited to raise the profile of these issues, but no institutions who are interested in exploiting these opportunities.