The hardest part of staying informed as citizens of the U.S. or wherever your home happens to be is whether you can rely on the validity of the information that you’re given. And that’s the first rule of what I call “Pedestrian Intelligence”, or in other words, intelligence for the rest of us.

Rule 1: Only infants are spoon-fed

Go out and get your information. Don’t rely on others to give it to you. This applies to all sources, regardless of your political affiliation. Do not rely on Fox, CNN, NPR, CBS or any other outfit. They all must make editing decisions to fit a number of parameters (scheduling, editorial, etc.), none of which support your need for reliable information (aka intelligence) that you need in order to make sound judgments.

Rule #2: Google is your friend

Google Search, Google Reader, and Google Translate are three key applications that should be in your Pedestrian Intelligence (PI) toolkit.

If your areas of interest are Russia, China or the Middle East, then you need three more tools: a Russian search engine (Runet.ru), a Chinese search engine (Baidu.cn), and an Arabic search engine (Yamli.com).

Yamli actually uses Google search, however its advantage is that you can type your search request in English and it will automatically translate it into Arabic. Runet and Baidu require that you use Google Translate to convert your English search terms into Cyrillic or Traditional Chinese, and then copy and paste them into their respective search boxes. The search results will come back in that same language but if you use Chrome as your Internet browser, it will automatically ask if you want to translate the page into English. If you don’t use Chrome, you can simply copy and paste the URL of the search results page into Google Translate and it will translate the page for you.

Rule #3: Trust no one, including yourself

Our brains are funny things and are subject to all kinds of cognitive biases. There have been plenty of university studies (like the white gorilla test) which demonstrate how much we miss even when we’re sure that we see the entire picture.

One way to overcome these biases is to never rely on only one source. And by that I mean original sources. For instance, Fox, CNN, and NPR all reporting on the same incident is not an example of three sources. What you want to find using your Google toolkit is more information about the incident from eye witnesses, from local news in the region where it happened, from official or non-official sources, and from trusted associates who are in-the-know (like some of SOFREP’s experts). Then you’ll compile all of that information, ingest it, discuss it, sleep on it, and review it again. At that point you’ll have a solid base from which to make a judgment, initiate an action, and defend it if asked.

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I mentioned Google Reader earlier. It’s a terrific way to pull English and foreign language news sources into one convenient place. It offers a feature which automatically translates a foreign language feed into English. I use about 70 of them but here are a few of my personal favorites as a starting point. Feel free to post your suggestions in the comments.

As a cyber security consultant to some very large corporations, and both U.S. and foreign government agencies, I’ve seen first-hand what happens when poorly-informed decisions are made. Applying these PI rules is fun, free, and takes no more time than what you’re spending now ingesting what the mainstream media is spoon-feeding you. Check it out for yourself and let me know how it goes.

(Featured Image Courtesy: vaticanus)