The Vietnam War: Unstructured data reporting and counterinsurgency

After reading No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War I could not help but think about the consequences failed data reporting by MACV can serve a historical lesson for re-implementing or adjusting campus data reporting systems.

data reporting during Vietnam War

Data report tickets used by MACV in the early stages of The Vietnam War

Key stakeholders on campus should easily state their reasons for data collection and reporting. No Sure Victory benefits campus units by revealing an early, dare I say Big Data approach to unstructured data reporting and delivering actionable data.

Today we immediately understand Google’s Compute Engine or an Amazon Elastic MapReduce cloud for this demand.

Universities can thrive with diverse reporting teams. Working with Institutional Research and striving to improve enrollment and retention efforts are key goals. Yet important roles are filled with student workers. Here unstructured data often fragments over mismanagement. Many ad hoc Microsoft Excel documents are created without data governance and become silo’d from the campus data warehouse. Key stakeholders on any campus including CIOs, IR Directors, Research staff, Program Directors, campus data reporter writers and student workers. Even seasoned campus data report writers are not leveraged to streamline actionable data insights.

No Sure Victory brings to light a tragic failed data reporting implementation by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in addressing a war in Vietnam. The was his reputation as one of The Wiz Kids, the World War II Statistical Control unit that analyzed operational and logistical data to manage war.

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Latest read: No Sure Victory

In many ways my desire to understand the US failure in Vietnam has been a long difficult road stretching many years. No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War by Gregory Daddis answers many long held questions.
no sure victoryAfter digesting so many resources in reading, watching documentaries and listening to interviews with veterans, politicians and social leaders during the long duration of the war I believe No Sure Victory brings together strong indicators regarding our nation’s failure in Vietnam. The focus is the failure of MACV to gather and process data against an established set of goals (KPIs) over the long stretch of this war.

Daddis documents McNamara’s injection of data gathering when LBJ increased the American commitment to South Vietnam. McNamara’s experience as one of The Wiz Kids set the stage in his role as Secretary of Defense.

Our enemy was determined and battle tested. America was fighting a larger, strategic cold war with an emerging China and established Soviet Union in both Europe and Asia.

Daddis sheds light throughout No Sure Victory not only on the lack of White House direction but how MACV leadership could not adapt to fighting a war of counterinsurgency. Johnson, McNamara nor Westmoreland were able to establish measurable KPIs for reporting progress in the war. The impact of this television war confused the US government, media and population. At the same time Daddis points to key failures in not understanding the affects of the French Indo-China war regarding counterinsurgency. This lack of understanding established a crippling third leg the US consistently fought to balance against the cold war political spectrum.

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Last Days in Vietnam

It should be no surprise in all of my reading focusing on The Vietnam War that I would of course take full advantage of PBS’s offer to watch a free stream of the broadcast of Last Days in Vietnam. This was a 2015 Emmy nominated documentary that did not win last night.
Last Days in VietnamAmerica made a generational investment in both Vietnam and Southeast Asia. We today reflect and measure that commitment in blood and money. It is still difficult to watch two democracies struggled to fight a dedicated communist enemy.

I hope anyone can appreciate the difficult position American soldiers and staff at the US Embassy faced in the days of the war. Their interviews about the experience they faced in light of our Ambassador’s delusion that the south could establish an outcome similar to a South Korean truce two years after US troops departed.
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No Sure Victory

No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War by West Point instructor and military historian Colonel Greg Daddis appears to detail a much needed analysis to fighting counterinsurgency in Vietnam. I am very interested to learn how the military began implementing data collection for battlefield analysis.
no sure victoryNo Sure Victory may offer lessons for data collection today as we combat the war on terror. Daddis opens No Sure Victory with views that our early leadership in the 1950s including General Paul Harkins took an outdated, World War II approach to fighting communism in Southeast Asia.

Harkins was appointed the first commander of US Military Assistance Command in Vietnam(MACV) and his lack of understanding counterinsurgency looks to be a chief contributor to early failures in Vietnam.

In chapter two “Measurements without Objectives” Daddis reveals how President Eisenhower and the US Military failed to establish clear objectives in supporting South Vietnam following the 1954 Geneva Convention that split the country at the 17° parallel. This apparent lack of establishing key, measurable objectives remained unchanged even after sending military advisors. Daddis also sheds light on the apparent same inability to reach an attainable focus by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon never changed even after General Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams. Why no changes to data collection or reporting after Abrams took control of fighting the war?

At just 87 pages into the book I feel that this is one of a very few books that finally helps learn how and why we failed not only win but an obvious inability to adapt fighting a war that was not improving over a long time. How was the impact of Body Count and Kill Ratio and Search and Destroy impacting the change to Hearts and Minds that emerged later in the war as we moved to pacification efforts after 1966.

It is very frustrating to see how our legacy military and political leaders were unaware of their need to adopt counterinsurgency following the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu, especially as Daddis reveals US Military learned much from the French approach to counterinsurgency in Algeria.

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Latest read: The Data Science Handbook

The recent pre-release of The Data Science Handbook is a fast, easy read. There is nothing better in business today than the still exploding market of data science. While some marketing statements indicate many are trying data science, here are the voices of recognized data science leaders. I have read my share of data science and big data books as well but like the direction of this pre-release.
The Data Science Handbook Pre-ReleaseMaturing technologies like Hadoop and even MapReduce prove yesterday was the time for every organization, business unit and non-profit to understand how data science is fundamentally changing the game.

Data Science hits your data sweet spot due to the ability of large systems to process your data in real-time. Notice how Microsoft is acquiring data science companies?

Data Science was just in its early stages not more than 10 years ago. Yahoo and Google helped move this forward. Even “legacy” companies like Sears Holdings understands the impact ofMapReduce and Hadoop, they are well outside Silicon Valley. Just wait until some great advancements for public health are established by non-profits as a result of implement data science to forecast their business.

There is a great deal of excitement as the full release publication date inches closer. Cannot wait to see this book ship.

Latest read: Rework

Rework is a welcomed aggressive view of business today. Last year 37signals reorganized. Today the company is simply known as BaseCamp, their top selling product management cloud service. Rework is proven look at business in the Age of Attention.
ReworkThe best line in Rework that made me laugh out loud was Jason describing how you can get by with small things…he described how inmates carve shivs in prison. Perfect example but his follow up statement “I’m not telling you to carve a shiv” Hilarious.

Goodreads maintains a quote page for Rework. If your considering the book take a look for the little nudge to get you over the edge.

And yes Jason nails it: Meetings are toxic, He suggests a few proven solutions.

This is an energizing read for millennials who need to understand that mature business models and the people who drive them come from a different time, have invested in ‘the system’ and are now using it to their advantage regardless of how the world works today. While the book is also clearly aimed at entrepreneurs, Jason addresses them as Starters instead.  He has a good idea about that term. This book is a quick read packed with lots of common sense that we forget in our busy lives.  Jason helps refocus your efforts.  Its worth the read.

CIA torture of innocent captives

This report has parallels to the Pentagon Papers. The CIA torture of innocent captives is well documented. It reminds me of the book Chain of Command which I read back in 2006. Remember the photographs of detained prisoners that caused a media sensation? Wow by comparison to the forced rectal feedings in the CIA report those photos really were just the tip of the iceberg.

tortureThe report turns out to be a series of blunders one right after another. Questionable evidence that enhanced torture resulted in deeper intelligence vs. ‘normal’ torture. And of course one type of “torture” forcing someone to stand for more than 72 hours. Yet the Senate report indicates less than 72 hours is ‘normal’ torture. Forcing prisoners to stand for three consecutive days is torture especially when normal torture is repeated on a weekly basis.

Beyond the obvious black eye, the report reveals horrifically cruel actions. A short passage on page 110 sums up the ineffectiveness of the program. CIA reveals they were holding prisoners determined to be confined by mistake. Yes innocent civilians were abducted, flown to secret prisons and tortured. As in all wars innocent people were at the wrong place at the wrong time:

A Year After DETENTION SITE COBALT Opens, the CIA Reports “Unsettling Discovery That We Are Holding a Number of Detainees About Whom We Know Very Little”

In the fall of 2003, CIA officers began to take a closer look at the CIA detainees being held in Country raising concerns about both the number and types of detainees being held by the CIA. CIA officers in Country X provided a list of CIA detainees to CIA Headquarters, resulting in the observation by CIA Headquarters that they had not previously had the names of all 44 CIA detainees being held in that country. At the direction of CIA Headquarters, the Station in Country X “completed an exhaustive search of all available records in an attempt to develop a clearer understanding of the [CIA] detainees.” A December 2003 cable from the Station in Country X to CIA Headquarters stated that; “In the process of this research, we have made the unsettling discovery that we are holding a number of detainees about whom we know very little. The majority of [CIA] detainees in [Country X] have not been debriefed for months and, in some cases, for over a year. Many of them appear to us to have no further intelligence value for [the CIAl and should more properly be turned over to the [U.S. military], to [Country X ] authorities or to third countries for further investigation and possibly prosecution. In a few cases, there does not appear to be enough evidence to continue incarceration, and, if this is in fact the case, the detainees should be released.”

The CIA knew they held and tortured innocent people but the band played on:

Records indicate that all of these CIA detainees had been kept in solitary confinement. The vast majority of these detainees were later released, with some receiving CIA payments for having been held in detention.

Cash payments? Were they paid more than college students who volunteer for sleep deprivation studies at local hospitals?
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CIA torture modeled from The Vietnam War

The CIA’s Torture report has quickly left the nightly news and Sunday talk shows.

tortureContinuing my read of the full report I was somewhat intrigued the CIA enhanced interrogation techniques were sourced from the North Vietnamese in a war fought over 40 years ago.

Have our intelligence teams not evaluated more recent torture programs from the former Soviet Union, East Germany or Chile?

With the revelations of the NSA high tech spying from Edward Snowden its somewhat surprising that more efficient forms of intelligence gathering were not deployed against Al Qaeda in order to capture high level leaders.

Abu Zubaydah’s capture and subsequent torture by the CIA is a key focus on the early CIA Torture report. It appears that most of the intelligence gained from Abu Zubaydah was a result of standard interrogation techniques, not the enhanced torture that serves has a source for the Senate’s report:

In May 2003, a senior CIA interrogator would tell personnel from the CIA’s Office of Inspector General that SWIGERT and DUNBAR’s SERE school model was based on resisting North Vietnamese “physical torture” and was designed to extract “confessions for propaganda purposes” from U.S. airmen “who possessed little actionable intelligence.” The CIA, he believed “need[ed] a different working model for interrogating terrorists where confessions are not the ultimate goal” 139

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program
Exec Summary Background and History Part I and II – Page 33

While this page serves as merely a sidenote to history, seemingly forever linking our military actions to Vietnam, there are more concerns regarding the actions taken by the CIA, The White House and the FBI in regards to withholding informaiton on the torture program from our elected leaders.