Saturday, September 7, 2013

250: Statistical Tradecraft

ENTRY 250: Statistical Tradecraft

In the spy game, human intelligence is almost dead. HUMINT is slow, subjective, inefficient, and unreliable. All major intelligence communities, militaries, and hypercorps rely on technical intelligence-gathering, focusing on intercepting and decoding signals, analyzing massive Mesh-based databases of statistics and metadata to identify trends, key phrases, patterns, and other vital information, often branching out into obscure keyword-coded super-specialized subdisciplines looking at electronic signatures, time stamps, image analysis, and other minutiae. Yet spy organizations have also grown decentralized from the bloated bureaucracies of the past, now more closely resembling the cell-like networks of resistance movements and linked peer-to-peer networks; number-crunching nerds devoted to their own arts, processing Big Data, and passing it on to the next group for analysis and discussion.

Yet there is still work to be done, clandestine and public. Agents that represent the spy orgs, their eyes and ears and tongues and voices in the narrow hallways of the habitats and on the vast reaches of Mars and Luna, Titan and Europa. Yet if HUMINT is dead, it still has its analogues and parallels in new forms of tradecraft: transhuman intelligence (TRANSINT), posthuman intelligence (POSTINT), and extraterrestrial intelligence derived from the Factors (XINT), each of which deals with entities so far beyond the statistical models that interpreting their raw data is fraught with difficulties and misunderstandings. When the signal-to-noise ratio is too high, the results must be independently confirmed by agents in the field—through cultivating relationships, espionage, and even interrogation. These field operations are categorized as a form of statistical tradecraft, seeking to confirm or deny the findings of analysts because the data is too wonky for them to extract reliable information.

Counterintelligence also has its place in statistical tradecraft: manipulating the numbers to hide correlations in masses of data. These operations seek to throw off rival organizations’ analyses and predictions by manufacturing artificial extreme data points which distort their opponents’ projections and defeat their models, protecting their own secrets at the same time. Sometimes that requires a well-placed murder, but most of the time it involves subtle manipulation to increase the average height of a group of morphs, or the formation and promulgation of bizarre organizations that make use of known key words and search terms to help throw search analysis off. A tricky business where the ultimate results are hard to judge, but the effectiveness is always quantifiable.

Using Statistical Tradecraft

It’s hard to be James Bond in the panopticon. While great cinema, as files become declassified the ultimate effectiveness of a lot of Cold War-era tradecraft is debatable, and the shift to more reliable and quantifiable results in technical intelligence-gathering becomes understandable. That said, there is a place for Jason Bourne in Eclipse Phase, but you may be stuck with the question of how to seduce a posthuman and get them to pillow-talk, social engineer your way into a brinker outpost, or figure out how exactly to get a Factor inebriated. Statistical tradecraft means that the PCs, if they want to be useful parts of the intelligence-gathering apparatus, need to be prepared to go to the weirdest places and interact with the weirdest people, because that’s where the mathematical models break down.

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