EIA Blog

Our View:  A Timely Scholarly Event on Postwar Afghan Security

[18 October 2021] Founded in 2016, the International Centre for Policing and Security (ICPS) at the University of South Wales (USW) is a think tank that concentrates on the European and international dimensions of policing and security. Although it specifically focuses on European Union institutions and agencies, as well as relevant policies and the law, it frequently extends its reach beyond the European borders. That was precisely the intention behind the ICPS’ recent online event entitled “Afghanistan: 20 Years After 9/11”, which was held throughout the day on Friday, October 15, 2021.

Over a dozen government officials, researchers and academics were brought together under the ICPS umbrella to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, under two parallel themes: first, “Missteps and Lessons Learned After Two Decades of Military Occupation”; and second, “Counter-Terrorism Cooperation and the Challenges Ahead”. Among the event’s speakers were EIA’s Deputy Director in the United States, Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, and the EIA’s Director, John Nomikos, who delivered the keynote speech, entitled “From Syrian (2015) to Afghan (2021) Refugees: Lessons the EU Member States Must Learn”.

In his keynote speech, Dr. Nomikos urged the international community to ensure that any humanitarian assistance funds given to the new Afghan government are appropriately audited and do not feed a new corrupt regime, as we saw in the past 20 years in Afghanistan. He also urged European and American law enforcement agencies and intelligence services to build trust and increase multinational collaboration, with the aim of combating new security threats emanating from Afghanistan. Dr. Nomikos ended his presentation by highlighting some of the lessons that the international community learned from Syria, which he said may prove critical in helping us avoid similar errors in the case of Afghanistan.

The presentation by Dr. Fitsanakis was entitled: “Intelligence Collection in Denied Areas: The Lessons of Afghanistan”. He discussed the record of human intelligence collection by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Afghan campaign of 2001-2021, with reference to changes in intelligence collection systems that were brought upon the agency by the events of September 11, 2001. Dr. Fitsanakis argued that the CIA has yet to fully adapt to the needs of recruiting sub-state assets, which present different sets of challenges from human intelligence operations focusing state assets.

The EIA salutes the ICPS and thanks its leadership, as well as the leadership of the USW, for their innovative and pro-active scholarly endeavors in the service of security studies in Europe and beyond. [EIA]


 

Our View:  Intelligence Cooperation and EU Strategic Autonomy

[30 September 2021] The timing is highly fortuitous for the latest report of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, otherwise known as Clingendael. Entitled “Sharing the Burden, Sharing the Secrets: The future of European Intelligence Cooperation”, the white paper is authored by Danny Pronk and Claire Korteweg. It tackles a pan-European security issue of paramount importance, at a time when continent-wide intelligence cooperation is crucial than ever before.

The authors, who work at Clingendael’s Security Unit, point out that, over the years, the European Union has developed a number of institutions that today facilitate intelligence sharing between its member states. Additionally, there have been established numerous agencies across the European Union that “collect, analyse and operationalise intelligence in view of key security threats”. These developments are all positive, state the authors. They go on to suggest, however, that there is still ample opportunity to increase “both the scope and depth” of European intelligence cooperation in the coming years.

The report focuses on the need for European states to increase intelligence cooperation as a means of realizing European strategic autonomy —a concept of crucial significance for the future of European security. But intelligence cooperation must also increase between the European Union and other regions of the world, including Asia, says the report. One example is Japan, which, like the European Union is a democratic entity and shares the same values on issues such as human rights. The two entities are “natural cooperation partners” in the field of intelligence, and there is indeed “untapped potential for cooperation” in this area.

The authors also delve into the issue of Brexit and discuss the complications posed for intelligence cooperation by a post-Brexit Europe. They conclude that Brexit must not be allowed to disrupt the cross-engagement of British and European Union intelligence and security services on several areas that fall within existing European cooperative arrangements —such as the smuggling of drugs. They add that a post-Brexit Britain should remain heavily involved as a key participant in European-wide intelligence cooperation, “even though it is no longer part of the Union”.

This very timely and well-written report can be accessed here. [EIA]


 

Our View:  Intelligence Studies and the Disaster in Afghanistan

[31 August 2021] August 30th marked the inglorious demise of Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT and the end of the NATO-led multinational mission in Afghanistan. For several weeks now, some of the “bread-and-butter” terms of intelligence analysis, such as “optimism bias”, “critical thinking”, and even “strategic surprise”, have been appearing with uncommon frequency in the headlines. Obviously, this rare phase will not last long, as the Memento-like nature of the neurotic news cycle will soon draw the media’s attention to other spectacles.

Yet there should be no doubt that the victory of the Taliban in the 20-year Afghan War was a momentous occasion, which will be with us for years to come. At the strategic level, it symbolizes the eternal vanity of America —this lumbering behemoth whose actions are fueled by virtuous ideals and myopic foolishness in almost equal measure. It seems to be the fate of empires to squander their might in ways that puzzle strategists and bewilder historians. In this sense, the predictability of America, as illustrated in its failed 20-year effort to tame the “graveyard of empires” is as unmistakable as it is depressing.

But the defeat of America in Afghanistan will also shape the future of intelligence —and intelligence studies— in our lifetime. Intelligence studies are primarily concerned with the dark “nooks and corners” of tactics and strategy, and seek to shed light on the missing dimensions of security, diplomacy and foreign policy. Therefore, the forensic analysis of the 20-year Afghan campaign will become a laboratory, in which future generations of intelligence scholars and practitioners will —hopefully— sharpen their observational and cognitive skills.

It has been argued by some observers that the Afghan debacle was not an intelligence failure, but rather a disaster of decision-making. Even if that is true, it does not shield the intelligence establishment from the massive and inevitable fallout. Did decision-makers ignore intelligence products that warned them about this impending disaster? If so, why? And what does this mean about the role of intelligence in modern-day decision-making? These are questions that all of us, who are concerned with the present and future of intelligence studies as a discipline, ought to pursue with increasing intensity in these troubled times. [EIA]


 

Our View: Learning from Taiwan's Experience with COVID-19

[28 July 2021] Every country has faced serious challenges associated with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2) pandemic. But not every country has fared in equal measure during this trying time. Observers have noted repeatedly that a number of countries in Southeast Asia —among them South Korea, Taiwan and Japan— have been able to withstand the force of COVID-19 far more effectively than others.

Why? Yi Chen Chang, a promising young researcher from Taiwan, who is currently undertaking postgraduate research in Europe through the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree program, offers some answers. Writing this month for the European Intelligence Academy’s Research Paper Series, Yi recognizes that the island nation’s response to the pandemic has not been perfect. Indeed, she writes that, “while other countries started their vaccination program for the majority of their population [...], Taiwan closed its doors and suffered from the sudden rise of cases and the vaccine shortage”. The nation is only now waking up to the need to think one step ahead in regards to its pandemic response.

Despite such shortcomings, however, Taiwan’s overall performance in the ongoing battle against COVID-19 can be descried as nothing short of exemplary. At the moment, while much of “the rest of the world was struggling with lockdowns and healthcare-system breakdowns, the Taiwanese people [are] enjoying a relatively normal life within their comfort zone”. This, says Yi, is due to three things: first, Taiwan’s collectivist culture, which encourages the voluntary compliance of citizens to regulations; second, the country’s prior experience with SARS in 2003, which prompted its government to develop a comprehensive strategy for disease containment early on; and, finally, the ability of Taiwanese leaders to present COVID-19 to their citizens as an existential threat, thus securitizing the pandemic in a way that justified extreme emergency measures.

It is important to note, adds Yi, that Taiwan has been able to successfully combat the pandemic while resting on democratic governance and transparency as the main pillars of its mitigation strategy. In this sense, she writes, “the country has shown the world that governments can fight against COVID-19 without sacrificing the tenets of democracy. Unlike the authoritarian regime across the Strait, Taiwan’s successful practices against COVID-19 did not result from severe means imposed by the authorities that result in the violation of human rights, the imposition of censorship, restricting public access to information, and so on”.

The author concludes her paper with a recommendation worth considering: Taiwan’s success against the pandemic should be studied by the World Health Organization and the World Health Assembly, for the benefit of the world. These organizations should ensure that “everyone should be included” in the fight against COVID-19, “especially countries like Taiwan, which are capable and willing to provide vital support to countries in need, whether in the time of the coronavirus, or any future challenge for the global health system”. The paper can be accessed here. [EIA]


 

Our View: Scholars Can Make a Difference in Intelligence Work

[05 June 2021] In a specially themed issue that came out in April of this year, the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism explores the topic of “cooperation between academia and national security practitioners”. Entitled “Navigating the Divide”, this issue of the journal (volume 16, issue 1) hosts a collection of informative articles that examine the relations between academics and practitioners of intelligence. The European Intelligence Academy welcomes this noteworthy effort to explore an important topic, and commends the journal’s editors and authors for adding their voices to, and sharing their views on, a theme of critical importance.

Among the articles published in this issue of the journal, we note with interest the contribution of Canadian researcher Stéphane Lefebvre. In his article entitled “Academic-Intelligence Relationships: Opportunities, Strengths, Weaknesses and Threats”, Lefebvre acknowledges that intelligence practitioners and academics do differ on several areas of their work, including access, scope, and even pace. The author notes, for example, that intelligence analysts tend to “work under considerable time constraints on topics required by decision makers”. Academics, on the other hand, have the luxury to select their own subject matters for research, and to “sets their research, analysis and production schedule at their own discretion”.

Nevertheless, writes Lefebvre, academics are “well positioned to make a marked difference” in the practice of intelligence. This is because, even though intelligence agencies do have access to “exclusive sources of information” and even a wide range of specialists, they cannot possibly incorporate every current and/or future threat and contingency into their gamut of work. In fact, they often lack crucial knowledge in several critical areas, including medicine, geology, demography and environmental science, not to mention epidemiology. These areas are all becoming increasingly central in assessing and forecasting national and global trends.

Ultimately, according to Lefebvre, it makes no sense for intelligence organizations to isolate themselves from academia in those areas of knowledge where scholars and researchers “have a comparative advantage over intelligence professionals”. In such areas, academics “are well positioned to offer valuable contributions” with rewards that are sizeable for all concerned: “the nation is safer and knowledge creation is significantly facilitated”, the author concludes. We cannot agree more emphatically with this statement. [EIA]


 

Our View: Ransomware is now a national security threat

[23 May 2021] The first attempt —albeit failed— to use malware in order to extort a victim took place in 1989, with the appearance of the so-called “AIDS Trojan”. In the second half of the 1990s, many hackers continued to experiment with these methods of illicit money-making, and by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, the term “ransomware” was being used in the hacker lexicon.

But these were the good old days. Now there are hacker syndicates that use sophisticated ransomware methods to extort their victims —usually corporations or state-owned enterprises— of millions of dollars. The largest ransom payment ever facilitated for the return of kidnapped data is $10 million. The average target or corporate ransomware attacks pays in excess of $300,000. This is big business.

Colonial Pipeline, the energy distribution company that was attacked earlier this month by a Russian-based hacker syndicate, forked over nearly $4.5 million. By the time it did so, panic among consumers had cause significant gas shortages in the eastern coast of the United States, while petroleum supplies came to a halt for several days.

In an article published last week, Michael Daniel, president and CEO of Cyber Threat Alliance, put it plainly: Ransomware attacks have “moved from being an economic nuisance” and are now “not putting just an economic burden on society, but imposing a real public health and safety threat, and essentially a national security threat”. Earlier this month it was gas supplies. Next time it could be air travel, electric power, water supply, telecommunications networks, or an endless list of essential infrastructure.

What does this mean for intelligence studies? Intelligence studies scholars have traditionally excluded organized crime from the realm of national security. The argument goes, organized crime, which is money-oriented and has no political impetus, does not pose large-scale threats to the security of the state (by the way, Mexico might disagree with that). But in the post-Colonial Pipeline security environment, we can no longer afford to place organized crime in a lesser place in the overall hierarchy of national security threats. Our syllabi should begin to reflect that without delay. [EIA]


 

Our View: No such thing as ‘return to normal’ after COVID-19

[22 April 2021] The coronavirus pandemic has left an indelible mark on the intelligence profession. The pandemic marked the first time in history that intelligence agencies monitored, in real time, an unfolding national security calamity that could not be kept at bay from their own ranks. Not only have they had to keep track of the social, political, economic and security effects of the virus, but they have had to do so while monitoring the impact of the virus on their own personnel, who were subjected to serious personal risk in the work environment.

Intelligence agencies across continents, from Japan to Tunisia, and from Chile to Finland, had to quickly apply their own understanding of this highly infectious respiratory virus to their own work practices. In other words, they had to make decisions about their own security, while at the same time providing relevant information to national-level decision-makers. This dual-motion way of thinking is not inherent among intelligence organizations —certainly not at headquarters. It has been a learning curve with numerous challenges and shortcomings along the way.

Intelligence agencies have been forced to become learning organizations, by shifting their security mindset in ways that have not been utilized in the past. Intelligence workforces had to inter-connect —perhaps more than ever before in recent history— while not being physically present. This operational hybridity imposed administrative and bureaucratic changes that have not been seen in decades. Can one go back to how things used to be after this experience? It seems unlikely. In a recent online forum entitled “Beyond COVID-19: Insights for the IC Going Forward”, Truman National Security Project Fellow Zachery Tyson Brown noted: “It’s not a binary choice between ‘no return to normal’ and ‘new normal [...]. It’s got to be a hybrid solution that puts people first”. We couldn’t agree more. [EIA]


 

Our View: European school of intelligence studies takes shape

[12 March 2021] In a recent article in The International Journal of Intelligence, Security, and Public Affairs, two well-read intelligence scholars argue that the European school of intelligence studies is quickly taking shape. The article, “Shaping the European School of Intelligence Studies”, was authored by Władysław Bułhak, assistant professor at the Office for Historical Research at the Institute for National Remembrance in Warsaw, Poland, and Thomas Wegener Friis, associate professor and network coordinator at Center for Cold War Studies of the University of Southern Denmark.

The authors argue that intelligence studies have very quickly established themselves in continental Europe, within the period of one generation —an impressive feat. What is more, according to Bułhak and Friis, although they have strong ties to British, American and Israeli research, European intelligence studies “differ from the traditional British and American research”. In fact, the authors state that the differences between continental European intelligence studies on the one hand, and British/American intelligence studies on the other, are sufficiently pronounced to justify a new description for European intelligence studies: the European School of Intelligence Studies (ESIS).

Later on in the article, the authors delineate the interdisciplinary nature of ESIS and explore the leading scholarships —and scholars— within ESIS. They also outline some sub-schools within ESIS —notably what they refer to as “a North-South divide”. Interestingly, ESIS research is characterized by significant interest in counterintelligence, as well as a strong awareness of the fundamental differences between democratic and authoritarian intelligence systems, according to the paper.

The EIA welcomes this exploration of the possible emergence of a new methodological framework for intelligence research, which Bułhak and Friis refer to as ESIS. If true, we view this development as a positive step, and not —as some would have it— as a sign of fragmentation within the discipline of intelligence studies. Indeed, intelligence studies is a broad tent, which is in need of differing research approaches, thematic concentrations, and even contrasting conclusions. In academic research, such disparities are signs of vigor, not decay. [EIA]


 

Our View: Coronavirus is changing the nature of surveillance

[02 February 2021] The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the nature of surveillance —and by extension surveillance studies, an area of scholarship with which intelligence studies has interacted for decades. There is no question that, in almost every country, the need to track and trace the coronavirus disease has triggered an unprecedented growth in the techniques of surveillance. There is also little question that these surveillance techniques —which are primarily based on smartphone applications— have been instrumental in enabling governments to monitor, and in many cases control, the pandemic in their respective territories.

But, as Rose Bernard, Gemma Bowsher and Richard Sullivan (of Conflict and Health Research Group at Kings College London) recently wrote in The American Journal of Public Health, these new participatory or voluntary surveillance techniques are rapidly “obscuring the relationship between health information and traditional government surveillance techniques”. What is more, they pose critical questions relating to effective oversight, as the latter appears to be non-existent for the time being.

In their article, entitled “COVID-19 and the Rise of Participatory SIGINT: An Examination of the Rise in Government Surveillance Through Mobile Applications”, the three authors remind readers that public health measures have traditionally resisted the incorporation of government-led intelligence techniques, such as signals intelligence (SIGINT). But the usefulness of such methods in containing pandemics is now changing that trajectory and is pushing it toward potentially unpredictable directions.

The implications of these developments for intelligence and intelligence studies are apparent. In their paper, Bernard, Bowsher and Sullivan suggest that the rise of participatory SIGINT is a new phenomenon that must be explored as an extension of historical bio-surveillance through the prism of surveillance capitalism, as well as a political, moral and security imperative. The question for intelligence studies is not whether these mechanisms are successful in tracking and containing epidemics and pandemics. Rather the question should be, how quickly can oversight and regulation mechanisms be put in place, given that these are essentially government-sponsored intelligence collection systems? The answer to this question is a pressing one, and must be prioritized by scholars in our field. [EIA]