Does Mass Violence Unfold Randomly and Chaotic or is There Hidden Order We Can Leverage in Our Prevention Efforts?

“Newton’s laws describe the motion of everything under the Sun and give physics great power in its ability to relate cause and effect. Yet the path of a ball in a pin ball machine seems to defy human control, it seems chaotic.” ~Chaos, Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University

Chaotic, a word often used to describe, the acts of mass killings we see happening all too frequently as of late and over the past couple of decades. Although still rare statistically, the randomness, unpredictability, chaos and sheer rage and deliberate violence and lives taken, involved in these acts has us with a laser like focus on, questioning, WHY would someone be so evil and do something like this, something so senseless, seemingly random and unpredictable? Yet when we dig deeper into these seemingly chaotic and random acts there seems to be some determinism, something’s in common, that strangely attracts these killers, towards rage filled outbursts that leads to these horrific and violent acts. Within these acts of violence is there some semblance of hidden order we can harness in the prevention of violent encounters? If so, what are these strange attractors that lead to chaos, hidden within the mind of a mass killer as stress, anxiety, motive and intent? When and how do they manifest themselves in the signs and signals we can read and interpret helping us exploit an opportunity in a timely way to prevent the violence and the chaos that ensues?

The science of chaos asks a critical question I think relevant to these violent acts. How can something be chaotic and random yet follow deterministic laws? I am a non-scientist but I am an avid explorer into violent acts and the people that commit them, who asks critical questions, how does chaos relate to violence and what are the commonalties in these tragedies that can help us prevent more violence from occurring and bring order to disorder? Can we predict violence in its chaotic and disordered form or is there something hidden or fail to see or, see and fail to act on in those who would commit violence in its ugliest form, that can help us prevent violent acts and if so, how?

What is chaos? The ancient Greeks summarized the tension between order and disorder with two opposing words cosmos and chaos. Cosmos means order. Chaos initially meant chasm, the abyss, the bottomless pit. Later, it came to mean the primeval state before creation, a state of utter disorder. This sense of “chaos” as utter confusion persisted into the modern era. Over the past few decades scientist began finding strange, unexpected connections between different forms of chaos. Geologist noticed surprising patterns in the frequency of earthquakes. The same patterns appeared in the variability of human heart rates and bursts of traffic on the internet. The rules of chaos were turning out to be universal, independent of the stuff behaving chaotically, the same for electronic circuits, lasers, chemical reactions, or nerve cells. It was if disorder was a thing in itself. It didn’t matter what was behaving chaotically; the process of becoming chaotic was turning out to be lawful, but the laws were like nothing science had ever seen before. (Chaos, Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University, 2008) Continue reading

Take Small Steps, Towards, Lifelong Learning In 2013

“The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder.” ~Jacob Bronowski

Professional trainers/developers will tell you they are sometimes a teacher, but always a student. This is a very important attribute we cops must make an effort to continuously “build” and improve upon. There is a constant ebb and flow of conflict in our world and we need to be able to cope with the diverse conditions and adapt sound tactical options towards them in a way that makes sense. What we must develop is a way to respond to these diverse situations without taking a dogmatic closed-minded approach. Our responses need to be executed with strategic and tactical mindsets versus the all too prevalent emotional responses basked in a false sense of urgency or the, this is the only way we do it mentality.

The key to mastering our craft is learning. Learning is something I consider to be a lifelong building process of continuous improvement. If we are to succeed in continuous improvement and become, better than good, we must, take an interest in our own learning and in how, what we learn applies to, what we do. This does not come from a sole training class or even a full academy. It does come from making every effort to better ourselves throughout our lives. Continue reading

In Mastering Tactics Shouldn’t We Be Blending Policy and Procedures with People and Ideas?

“In complex settings in which we have to take the context into account, we can’t codify all the work in a set of procedures. No matter how comprehensive the procedures, people probably will run into something unexpected and will have to use their judgment.” ~Gary Klein

Much of this post comes from an outstanding book, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, written by Gary Klein. Klein is a leading researcher on recognized primed decision making and experiential learning that has culminated in two other books, “Sources of Power” and “Intuition at Work,” as well, as, countless research papers. The information in this topic of decision making and how to create and nurture it, is beneficial to every cop in their quest to mastering tactics and tactical decision making and are a must read for every cop wanting to be more effective and safe on the street. My purpose is to get cops thinking about this Critical question: In mastering tactics shouldn’t we be blending policy and procedure with people and ideas?

It should be understandable that teaching people, procedures helps them perform tasks more skillfully doesn’t always apply. Procedures are most useful in well-ordered situations when they can substitute for skill, not augment it. In complex situations, in the shadows of the unknown, uncertain and unpredictable and complex world of law enforcement conflict, procedures are less likely to substitute for expertise and may even stifle its development. Continue reading

Book Review: Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

Guerrilla Leader,I read last year and have been meaning to do a review.  T.E. Lawrence in my humble opinion was the epitome of what a leader should be. As you read the book you will find it is much more than a lesson in history and that it is in fact, a lesson in leadership. T.E. Lawrence took the principle of know yourself and no your enemy to a level I have not read of anywhere before. He dug in and learned all he could about the Arab culture and adapted his leadership style to meet the task at hand.

Think about it a British officer becomes liaison officer to the Arabs during the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule. He is able to gain their trust which forms into mutual trust and inspires them to action in campaigns of insurgency distracting the Ottoman Turks.

The book covers the campaigns, his ideas on strategy and tactics, his triumphs and troubles and my favorite part his leadership style which is adaptive and relevant today.

The next couple of pages are straight from the book Chapter 7: “The Grief of Leaders” which ultimately discusses the toll combat, combat leadership, betrayal and distrust can take on an individual and talks of Lawrence’s internal struggles within himself and the British Army. I found this particular section on what the author describes as Heroic verses Autonomous Leadership very intriguing. Continue reading

Mutual Trust, Unity and Cohesion Underlie Everything

“The challenge for every organization is to build a feeling of oneness of dependence one another because the question is usually not how well each person works, but how well they work together.” ~Vince Lombardi

Cohesion is the message of Coach Lombardi in the quote above. Cohesion means sticking together. It is hard to underrate it. So how do we create and nurture it?

I read an interesting article, which mentioned S.L.A. Marshall, who was a military historian who developed a unique way of doing historical research. He went to the front lines and interviewed everyone from private soldiers to their sergeants and officers, right after the action. He frequently came under fire in doing his research. Afterwards he analyzed his results.

One of the most amazing things he discovered was that when it was a life and death situation in battle, soldiers soon forgot about their idealism or patriotic reasons for fighting. If things were tough enough, even unit pride lost much of its power. But there was one emotion which never slipped. It was such a strong motivator that soldiers would frequently give up their lives because of it. What was this great motivator? It was not to let their buddies down. Everything else might vanish under the stresses and strains of combat, but not this one feeling. That feeling made all the difference in sticking together, in cohesion. No wonder that the idea of an army constituting a “band of brothers” should be shared by cops. It is the wise leader who fosters cohesion for with it; any organization is many times stronger than an organization that lacks it.

Cohesion is one of the most important elements of organizational productivity. Cohesion means that every member of the organization bears a responsibility for success or failure. Cohesion helps motivate members to put the organization needs above their individual needs. If we focus on sowing cohesion verses sowing discord how much more effective an organization would we be? How much better servants would we be? How much better prepared would we be for handling crisis situations? How much more respect would we garner from one another, from the community? How much stress and anxiety would be relieved if cohesion out weighed individualism?

Cohesion will help the organization attain great achievements. Police departments are organizations that can create and nurture this group feeling of unity also known as cohesion or esprit de corps. Yes it takes work. Yes it takes self reflection and self-awareness and learning to focus on the important issues, like each other and those we serve. Yes it takes getting out of the past and moving forward! For example; if you feel you have been wronged professionally in some way that’s ok…for a short period of time, but then you must pick yourself up and carry on! I have seen too many folks in our profession let an ass chewing or some other grievance ruin there careers and or more critically ruin their attitudes toward other officers and the public they serve. To quote the character Rocky Balboa: “It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” In other words being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.

“Know yourself and seek self improvement” is a leadership principle I have never forgotten since my days in the Marine Corps and it is applicable to us cops of all ranks as well. There are 16 traits that we should focus on when we put the principle “Know yourself and seek self improvement” to work creating and nurturing a cohesive environment.

  • Courage or strength of character, demonstrated by taking calculated risks on the street and with your boss back at the station. Acting calmly in stressful situations. Standing up for what’s right, regardless of what others might think. Accepting personal responsibility for your mistakes. Making full-bore effort towards, mission accomplishment, even in the face of obstacles and problems.
  • Bearing demonstrated by setting and maintaining high standards of professionalism.
  • Decisiveness is demonstrated by studying alternatives and carefully selecting the best course of action when time permits. Picking alternatives and making decision quickly when there is no time for careful study. Knowing when not to make a decision.
  • Dependability, demonstrated by being places on time when you’re told to be there or when you say you will. Doing those tasks that you have been told to do and those tasks that you’ve promised to do in a complete and timely manner.
  • Endurance, demonstrated by maintaining the physical and mental stamina to perform your duties under stress conditions and for extended periods of time.
  • Enthusiasm, demonstrated by consistently communicating a positive attitude. Emphasizing each others successes. Encouraging officers to take the initiative to overcome obstacles to performance.
  • Humility, demonstrated by ensuring officers receives credit due them when they perform well. Emphasizing to one another how important they are to the unit. Describing performance in terms of “what WE did” instead of “what I did.”
  • Humor, demonstrated by having fun doing your job. Joking when the going gets tough.
  • Initiative, demonstrated by taking action in situations where something must be done, even in the absence of direction from a superior. Looking for and figuring out better ways to do things. Planning ahead.
  • Integrity, demonstrated by telling the truth, to both your superiors and your fellow officers.
  • Judgment, demonstrated by closely considering a range of alternatives before you act. Thinking out the possible effects of what you’re about to do before you do it.
  • Justice, demonstrated by consistent application of rewards and punishments to all in your unit. Making decision that support mission accomplishment and that also take into account the needs of officers. Listening to all sides of an issue before making a decision that affects all.
  • Knowledge, demonstrated by making sound tactical decisions. Performing administrative and technical duties well. Recognizing and correcting inadequate performance.
  • Tact, demonstrated by speaking to others with the same kind of respect that you expect yourself.
  • Loyalty, demonstrated by passing on and carrying out the tough orders of superiors without expressing personal criticism. Defending officers against unfair treatment from outside or above. Discussing problems in your unit and the problems of your officers only with those individuals who can help solve the problems.
  • Selflessness, demonstrated by ensuring that the needs of your officers are met before attending to your own needs. Sharing hardship, danger and discomfort. Taking every action possible to provide for the welfare of one another.

The responsibility for developing our abilities and the type of organization we want rest squarely on each and every one of our shoulders. Like good leaders cops are made not born. But the making of a good cop, the making of a good law enforcement agency involves dedication, hard work, and a willingness to try out new skills and techniques, new attitudes as we grow and develop.

There is warmth in being part of a cohesive group which comforts and helps when the environment is hostile and that this comradeship means that each individual is one of the whole, bearing part of the responsibility for either success or failure. If we want to build an organization that will last, one that can grow in good times and bad, we must develop a shared feeling of accomplishment. We must continually develop strategic wins for our organizations, our communities, and not just for our own personal and private gain.

Our own band of brothers, “the brotherhood in blue” has slipped into individualism of the past few decades. It is time we begin to understand the benefits of unity and mutual trust which lubricate the OODA cycle and reduce friction and builds confidence in our abilities to execute. Let’s bring that comradeship back into the ranks of law enforcement with strength and honor.

Sun Tzu said; “you must control your soldiers with esprit de corps. You must bring them together by winning victories. You must get them to believe in you.” Hell this quote is 2500 hundred years old and I often find it humorous that we often struggle with its simple message. I believe we are more than capable of attaining this if we focus outward on our mission to protect and serve and focus outward on others verses inward and solely on ourselves. It is the positive attribute of selflessness that is the key to obtaining this. As cops we are public servants but we must also treat and serve ourselves with integrity while holding each other accountable in a candid and fair way. Trust is the cornerstone of cooperation. It is a function of awareness and respect.

I have heard it said; moral accountability is the foundation, either solid or crumbling, upon which our legacies stand. Let’s make ours a solid foundation based in unity and supported on earned trust.

Stay Oriented!


Foreign Policy Bake Sales. Or, be Careful What You Wish For.

Maybe it won’t be a great day for you–be careful what you wish for… In recognition of the success that Kony2012 had in rasing money for a niche geopolitical cause, students at MIT created a faux webpage “Kick Starter” pretending to raise money for things on the opposite side of use of force continuum – a mobile black site for intensive interrogations, among other things.

The reason for doing this was to demonstrate the ability to crowsource funding for initiatives that are championed by ideologies that are on the hard-power end of foreign policy.

As the last blog I posted demonstrates, the ability for motivated individuals to become active in a conflict exists and is very real.  What amounts to DIY intervention can have an impact upon the course of World events (similar to the warning given to us service members from the SECDEF).  To me, what this says is that citizens no longer only vote for a foreign policy with their ballots, but they can also–directly–do so with their wallets, time and skill-sets.

The conditions are right, and the historical precedent is now set for the ‘memetic stew’ to bring forth a Non-Governmental Organization as a third option that takes elements from Kony2012, private security firms, and Kiva for those who wish to see some sort of change in the World.

What strikes me as ironic, is that the words typically espoused towards supporting World peace, are now the intellectual foundation under which we may see a new method for hard power applied in the World.  This is not to say that the end goals of those who see the utility of hard power is all that different from those who see greater utility in soft power.

Rather, in the long-term, I am interested to see if the potential I’ve outlined here coalesces to incorporate both hard and soft power elements.  Such a coalescing would amount to a private sector analog to a nation’s foreign policy.  Which would, arguably, be the tipping point for the replacement of the Westphalian era, where an organizational paradigm like a government is no longer required to bring together the ends, ways and means to execute foreign policy.

[Cross-posted at USNI]

Drones and the false allure of impunity

CFR’s Micah Zenko has a new piece in the Atlantic looking at what U.S. drone campaigns would look like in the wake of U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan:

Yesterday, Al Jazeerainterviewed Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool on the prospect of U.S. drone strikes after 2014. He responded:

“Afghan soil will not be used against any country in the region. The presence of the remaining forces in Afghanistan is for training, equipping and securing Afghanistan’s security. It has been mentioned, it is going to be mentioned, that this force is not for use against any neighbors in the region.”

The Afghan government’s final decision on whether to permit U.S. drone strikes and/or special operations raids could change several times over the next twenty months. If Rasool’s statement becomes official Afghan policy, however, it will be extremely difficult for the United States to sustain drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan in the future.

This shift could have serious consequences for CIA drone operations. It is hard to envision the Pakistani government re-permitting drone strikes from its territory. Last summer, Pakistan evictedthe remaining U.S. personnel from Shamsi Airbase in the Balochistan province, where drones were based since as early as 2006. In recent months, the prime minister, foreign minister, and aparliamentary committee on national security have repeatedly condemned U.S. drone strikes as violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

Zenko then assesses alternative basing options for the U.S. drone programs directed against Pakistan, namely India and China. I largely agree with him about why these options are unrealistic, and that the implications of a loss of a neighboring state as a drone base for operations in Pakistan would have a significant impact on the campaign. Contrary to many assertions that drones allow the U.S. to strike with impunity or overcome geographic distance, drones remain dependent on basing in-theater to maintain high operational tempos.

The ability of the United States to conduct drone campaigns and other so-called standoff strikes is in fact heavily constrained by geopolitical and logistical considerations. Continue reading

It’ll Do You Damage: Proxies & Covert War

Recently, several members of the Syrian National Council threatened or began the process of resignation from the body, marking new fractures as government forces continue their bloody, brutal crackdown against Syrian rebels in Hama, Idlib, and Deraa. Notably, Idlib, located along the Turkish border, and Deraa, near the Jordanian border, would have been some of the more ideal conduits for arms and supplies into Syria, or even safe zones within the country. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian government appears to be trying to nip such a possibility in the bud by expanding their crackdown, dispelling hopes that Syria’s military might not have the strength or will to broaden its campaign of repression. The New York Times describes the consequent fracturing of the SNC:

The main Syrian exile opposition group suffered a serious fracture on Wednesday as several prominent members resigned, calling the group autocratic, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and powerless to help Syrian rebels as government forces, having flushed insurgent strongholds in the north, swept into the rebellious southern city of Dara’a.

The council, [Kamal al-Labwani] added, was in danger of causing splits in Syrian society by failing to create a single rebel military command under its control, leaving individual militias to seek their own sources of help.

On Tuesday, the Syrian National Council had taken steps to bring the Free Syrian Army under its umbrella. But Mr. Labwani, the council member who is resigning, said the exiles had few ties to the fighters inside. “The Free Syrian Army is the people who are inside Syria,” he said.

The tension and difficulty of coordinating the activities of exile groups and local militias is hardly a new one in covert warfare. As Labwani notes, the absence of a unified command structure leaves the rebel movement open to fracturing. But interestingly, Labwani simultaneously complains of  “Muslim Brotherhood members within the exile opposition of ‘monopolizing funding and military support.'” In other words, Labwani wants the ability to create a unified military command structure but opposes monopolization within the political structure. This arrangement would approximate the nature of a democratic government (not dominated by any one party or clique) with normal civil military relations (a subordinate and unified military command structure) – but unfortunately for Labwani and the SNC, such things do not come about easily. Continue reading

The View From Broken Windows

The passing of of eminent political scientist James Q. Wilson has brought renewed attention and almost universal praise to his most famous work, Broken Windows Theory. While Wilson will certainly be missed and Broken Windows was a rare and valuable fresh addition to police doctrine, now that his theory has been put to the test for 30 years, it’s time to reevaluate its success and some of its assumptions just as Wilson began to do later in his life. Continue reading