(Administrivia: Forward Observer Magazine is looking for a new associate editor. If you have any experience in editing or design, and you’re interested in contributing to a pro-Liberty, Veteran-Patriot publication, please get in touch with us at: editor (AT) fwd-observer.com.)
I had a couple really good questions this past weekend about looking for indicators signaling a SHTF situation. How can we tell an emergency event is going to happen before it happens? What can we look for? Those are very good questions but they’re not easily answered. We’ll work on breaking it down here. I want each of you to have a way forward to start developing your own Early Warning Indicators (EWI) for whatever threats you may be expecting.
To best describe EWIs, I’ll start with an analogy. Intelligence analysts identifying EWIs are a lot like insider trading. Inside traders who buy or sell a company’s stock do so because they learn sensitive information signaling a shift in the real or perceived value of that company. Inside traders sell off a company’s stock before news comes out that the company didn’t meet analysts’ earnings expectations. Alternatively, they buy a company’s stocks because they learn that a company will exceed earnings expectations, and then they stand to profit once that news is published and the stock price increases shortly after.
Another fitting analogy is a warning from a fire alarm or tornado siren. The ‘intelligence analyst’ in this case smells or sees smoke and then pulls the fire alarm (or the smoke sensor goes off automatically). Meteorologists or eye-witnesses confirm that a tornado or tornadic activity is in the area, and then the sirens go off, alerting nearby residents of the need to get to cover.
Governments around the world encourage (pay) intelligence analysts to identify EWIs in order to predict future ‘moves in the market’ of conflict and geopolitics. But identification of EWIs is only one part of the equation. Without the ability to ‘see’ the battlespace, intelligence analysts aren’t effective. We need the brain (the analyst) in order to identify EWIs, and we need the eyes and ears (the collector) to inform the brain about the environment. Developing eyes and ears is a critical step but we won’t talk about that now (go to the Collection category of this blog to read all the intelligence gathering articles).
So once intelligence analysts have all this information coming in, we start to get a good picture of the full spectrum of threats in the battlespace. Now there are four types of threats: Conventional, Irregular, Catastrophic, and Disruptive.
The conventional threat is the standing, uniformed army; the police state; the occupation, the tyrant, the powers that be. The conventional threat has doctrine and authority. They don’t need to hide because their strength is partly in their visibility and presence. The US patrol in Muqdadiyah, the FOB in Musa Qaleh District, the police outpost in Ghazni City. It’s the force that carries out the APPLICATION of law, and the force that defends the interests of the political power.
The irregular threat is the near-opposite of the conventional. The irregular threat is marked by blurred lines. Those blurred lines form along soldier/civilian, political/military, organized/disorganized, centralized/decentralized, among others. The irregular threat are gangs, insurgents, guerrillas, and terrorists. The irregular threat’s power is typicallyde facto; they’re here, therefore they wield power and influence. The irregular threat typically doesn’t hold de jurepolitical authority, and if they do, it’s manifest in shadow governance. The irregular threat is marked by civilian clothes and military weaponry; and most typically favor opportunistic targeting and remaining hidden over long-term, open maneuver operations and shows of presence.
The catastrophic threat is existential: natural and man-made disasters. Threats like tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes; nuclear meltdowns, weapons of mass destruction, and national/financial/monetary collapses. Unlike conventional and irregular threats, you can’t defeat catastrophic threats. Once conflict beings, conventional and irregular threats can be stopped. You can’t stop a tornado, you can’t stop a nuclear explosion once it’s begun, and there’s nothing you can do to stop a nation or SOCIETY in collapse.
Disruptive threats aren’t necessarily direct threats like the previous three. If you are a target or in the way of a conventional, irregular or catastrophic threat, then you are facing an existential threat. A disruptive threat disrupts (spoiler alert); it can be considered a ‘strategic shock’. Technology developed at the NSA or Google that assaults privacy and the Fourth Amendment is an example of a disruptive threat. Biometrics and collection of biometrics is a disruptive threat. A COMPUTER virus is a disruptive threat. Identity thieves are disruptive threats. Electric cars manufactured by Tesla and others are disruptive to large combustion engine vehicle manufacturers (if not today, then certainly in the years to come). The Chinese ability to target US aircraft carriers (the so-called “carrier killer” missile) is a disruptive threat; it changes the balance of geopolitical or military power. It may never be put to use but the mere ability is disruptive. Disruptive threats won’t necessarily kill you, but they will ‘disrupt’ your life, organization, or mission.
So in order to identify potential EWIs, we first need to look at the specific threat. One of the threats pointed out previously was martial law. One of the most helpful exercises we, as intelligence analysts, can do is to start from the end state and backwards plan out all the possibilities. (If you’re interested in these and other advanced structured analytic techniques, sign up for one my Intelligence Analysis courses. Email me and let’s set up a course in your area. It’s one of the most practical weekends you’ll spend as a prepper or patriot.)
An easy example: a burned grilled cheese sandwich is our SHTF event (First World Problems). What could have gone wrong? Off the top of my head, (A) the chef could have left the bread on the skillet for too long, or (B) the skillet could have been too hot. Here we start a tree. Why would the chef have left the bread on the skillet too long? (A1) He was distracted. (A2) He’s poorly trained. (A3) He died. Why was the skillet too hot? (B1) The chef is poorly trained. (B2) The stove eye malfunctioned. (B3) The knob is fitted incorrectly. We CONTINUE so on and so forth until we exhaust all possible options, regardless of likelihood. We’re brainstorming here; attempting to find the widest range of options. Remember that without knowing the circumstances or context of a situation, even outliers are possible explanations. The low likelihood of an event doesn’t mean that the event didn’t or won’t happen. In 1904, the Japanese launched a preemptive, surprise attack against a Russian fleet during the Battle of Port Arthur. Knowing the context of this battle should lead a good intelligence analyst to make a similar assessment about the possibility of a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor nearly forty years later. Of course hindsight is 20/20, however, seemingly unimportant information paid due diligence could have made all the difference.
Moving forward, we wake up tomorrow with news reports of martial law in the metropolitan area closest to us. That’s our starting point. We ask ourselves, “What caused martial law?” We identify all the potential causes, all highly dependent on many factors such as region, year, political leaders, and others. We create as long a list of causes as possible and then we start looking for our indicators.
An indicator is an observable or potentially observable piece of evidence that leads to a logical conclusion. A stack of newspapers piling up in a driveway and a lack of lights on inside the home at dusk when every other home on the street has its lights on has a logical conclusion: no one’s home, and no one’s been home for a few days. The stack of newspapers and the lack of lights are our two indicators. Tom and Laura loading up the minivan on Friday morning with the kids, beach chairs, floats, and a couple suitcases is an indicator that they’re going on vacation to the beach.
If I was to ask you – the intelligence analyst – when Tom and Laura were going on vacation, then ‘packing up’ should definitely be an indicator we look for in determining when they’re leaving. In this case, you’d report back to me that Tom and Laura have been observed packing and that their vacation is imminent. That’s not much of an early warning, but when talking SHTF scenarios, three seconds, three minutes or three hours could make all the difference. (If this was a real life scenario, we’d be employing all the techniques I teach in the HUMAN Intelligence Collectors Course. If you’d like to collect intelligence information from human sources, then sign up for a future course.)
Back to martial law, identify all the potential contributing causes. Ask yourself, “What would I expect to precipitate martial law in X city?” My list would start with riots, civil unrest, terrorist attack, and monetary collapse. If any of those things become observable, then I’m going to be on alert for martial law. Taking it one step further, I’m going to start looking for indicators of those contributing causes. A white police officer shooting a black man could start a riot. A humanitarian crisis or extreme political event could cause civil unrest. “Increased chatter” or the publication of a credible threat could indicate a terrorist threat is expected. Large swings in the market, a failed Treasury bond auction, or a public announcement of dumping the dollar from a large country or a confederation of large countries could precipitate a monetary collapse.
In BUSINESS we use Y3 or Y5 analysis – Why?, Why?, Why? It’s our way of investigating the underlying cause of symptoms in order to find the root cause (also called Root Cause Analysis). Event A occurred because of Cause B, Cause B happened Cause C failed, and Cause C failed because Event D happened.
A real world example:
Millions of illegal immigrants are pouring over the border.
Why? Because the Obama Administration’s border policy is not to stop illegal immigration.
Why? Because the administration wants illegal immigrants so the illegal immigrants can be amnestied and granted citizenship.
Why? Because the newly naturalized citizens are MORE likely to vote for the Democrat Party in places like Texas and Arizona.
Why? Because the Democrat Party wants to turn Texas and Arizona blue from top to bottom so a Republican presidential candidate is unlikely to ever win another election.
Why? Because the progressive, Marxist wing of the Democrat Party wants to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America into the United Socialist States of America.
We could go on for a few more steps until we finally arrive at a global coalition of Marxist nations, one world government, depopulation, whatever theory to which you subscribe. The point is that we’re attributing an individual action to a strategic objective. (Kind of getting off course here, but hopefully you see the value of Root Cause Analysis.)
In the same way, we’re looking at individual components of an end state. Martial law is a culmination of a series of events, and the better job we do at identifying those events and their causes, the better EWIs we form. As long as we’ve developed the ability to observe those EWIs, the better we can do at anticipating future events. Text book stuff.
If you have any questions or want to delve deeper into a specific issue and form some practical EWIs, just email me or post a comment below.