Our View: China Upgrading its Spy Services Faster Than the PLA
[12 August 2023] A new report by a British parliamentary body warns that the modernization of China’s intelligence community is without parallel in recent history and has even outpaced the funding increases given to the Chinese military. According to the same report, the Chinese government spends more on what it perceives as domestic threats than on external targets involving Western countries and their allies.
The redacted version of the report was issued in late July by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees the activities of the British intelligence community. The report concentrates on China’s domestic and global ambitions and discusses the role of the Chinese intelligence services in these pursuits.
A theme that permeates the report is that China’s domestic and international ambitions are interconnected, as Beijing does not distinguish between its key national interests in the domestic and foreign domains. Moreover, the report notes that the Chinese intelligence community plays a central role in both facets. The report notes that China “almost certainly maintains the largest state intelligence apparatus in the world”, dwarfing those of its Western rivals. The latter are forced to concentrate their counterintelligence work “on those aspects that are most demanding”.
The official Chinese intelligence agencies are three, the report notes; nevertheless, the Chinese state’s “whole-of-government” approach on matters of security means that almost every government agency fulfils some type of intelligence-related role. This makes it difficult to calculate with accuracy the full extent of the Chinese intelligence apparatus, the report notes.
Notably, Chinese intelligence agencies are focused primarily on what the Chinese government perceives as domestic threats to its rule, which Beijing has termed “the five poisons”. According to the report, these consist of: the Taiwanese independence movement; the separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang; the Falun Gong religious movement; and pro-democracy activism inside China. Intelligence collection and other operations that relate to the so-called “five poisons” include intelligence activities that take place abroad and target Chinese expatriate communities.
It is also worth noting that, according to the report, Beijing spends “almost 20% more on domestic security than on external defence”. Moreover, the rise in expenditures for intelligence infrastructure and operations is impressive by any standards of assessment and “has outpaced even China’s recent dramatic military modernization” of recent years, the report notes. The increase in spending “appears to have led to an improvement in capability”, the report concludes.
Western governments must carefully assess the implications of China's intelligence modernization and develop comprehensive strategies to safeguard their economic, political, and national security interests. This includes enhancing cybersecurity measures, strengthening counterintelligence efforts, fostering international cooperation, and promoting transparency in addressing China's actions in the intelligence realm. [EIA]
Our View: Is Switzerland Europe’s Spy Center?
[20 July 2023] In a report published a few days ago, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) notes that Switzerland has turned into an international espionage battlefield, as more foreign spies are probably active there than in most other European countries. This phenomenon has been partly caused by intensifying competition between the superpowers, the FIS says in its report.
According to the FIS, Russian operatives are particularly active in the alpine country. Many Russian intelligence officers relocated there after being expelled by a host of European countries in the past 18 months, according to the FIS report. Indeed, traditionally neutral Switzerland has not joined most other European countries in expelling Russian intelligence officers —posing as diplomats— following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Therefore, as Moscow tries to rebuild its shattered intelligence-gathering networks in Europe, it is using Switzerland as a forward-operating base, according to the FIS. As of 2023, the number of Russian intelligence personnel stationed on Swiss soil, and the ensuing espionage activity, “is notably high”, states the report. It also points out that the lion’s share of Russian intelligence officers —“several dozen”— are stationed “at the Russian diplomatic and consular missions in Geneva”. A major international diplomatic hub, Geneva is an “ideal operational environment” for foreign intelligence agencies. It hosts a significant number of international organizations —including one of the four major offices of the United Nations. Additionally, it is situated close to the largely unmonitored French border. This allows intelligence operatives to move seamlessly in and out of European Union soil.
Furthermore, as Western intelligence agencies increase their presence in Switzerland, in order to counter Russian intelligence activities there, “espionage levels […] are continuously rising”, according to the FIS report. This situation is unlikely to change in the coming year, as “intensifying competition between superpowers” is expected to continue to involve Switzerland as an espionage battlefield that draws in rival intelligence agencies, the FIS report concludes.
If Switzerland has indeed become a spy center in Europe, it could potentially undermine trust, cooperation, and stability in the region. European countries need to collaborate closely to address the security implications of the FIS report and respond effectively to the challenges posed by the increased presence of foreign intelligence operatives in one of Europe’s most important financial and political centers. [EIA]
Our View: We Need More Meetings Like the Shangri-La Dialogue
[7 June 2023] It was reported earlier this month that senior representatives of more than 20 intelligence agencies from around the world participated in a secret meeting in Singapore. The meeting, which included representatives from American and Chinese intelligence agencies, allegedly took place in parallel to the Shangri-La Dialogue, a high-level security conference held annually in Singapore. The conference focuses on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. It has been organized since 2002 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based think-tank.
The Shangri-La Dialogue is typically attended by defense ministers of major Western powers and regional Asian powers, along with security and intelligence representatives from participating nations. However, the existence of a separate closed-door meeting of intelligence officials has never been reported before. On Saturday, the Reuters news agency cited discussions with “five sources”, who claimed that such a meeting occurred between June 2 and 4.
According to Reuters, the meeting was discreetly organized by the Singaporean government and held at a separate venue alongside the security summit. This type of meeting has reportedly been taking place annually for several years, but was previously undisclosed. The secret meeting is believed to have included representatives from approximately two dozen major intelligence agencies from countries such as the United States, China, and India. The United States intelligence community was reportedly represented by Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence.
When asked about the alleged secret meeting, a spokesperson from the Singapore Ministry of Defense said that participants at the Shangri-La Dialogue included “senior officials from intelligence agencies”, who “also take the opportunity to meet their counterparts”. The spokesperson added that the Singapore Ministry of Defense “may facilitate some of these bilateral or multilateral meetings”, because “participants have found such meetings held on the sidelines of the [main event] beneficial”.
The EIA agrees with the above statement. While the world's intelligence agencies may operate according to differing national interests and priorities, engaging in occasional meetings and exchanging views can provide a platform for reducing misunderstandings and clarifying intentions. Sharing insights on common threats, challenges, and emerging security issues can contribute to collaborative efforts in addressing global issues such as terrorism, climate change, and transnational crime. By promoting dialogue, these exchanges might also create opportunities for confidence-building measures, de-escalation of tensions, and the potential for diplomatic solutions, ultimately enhancing stability and security on a broader international scale. [EIA]
Our View: Taiwan’s Spy Chief Speaks Out. Is the West Listening?
[6 May 2023] Tsai Ming-yen had not spoken in public since assuming assumed the post of Director-General of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) in February of this year. His public silence ended last Thursday, when he spoke to an audience of graduating students at Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung City. According to reports, it was the first time in a quarter of a century that an NSB director-general had addressed a university audience.
In addition to his speech at the Chung Hsing University, Director-General Tsai, a former deputy foreign minister and diplomat, gave a rare interview to the United States-based Bloomberg news agency. He refused to weigh in on the ongoing discussion about a timeframe for a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. But he singled out the year 2027 as a significant one for Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s plans to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The Chinese leader first introduced his “PLA Modernization 2035” plan in 2017, describing it as a whole-of-government effort to significantly improve the PLA’s combat capabilities as a step toward achieving China’s long-term goal of becoming a major global military power. Tsai pointed out that the year 2027 will be the 10-year mark into President Xi’s 18-year program of military reforms. Additionally, Xi will most likely be campaigning for a fourth presidential term that year, Tsai said.
In his interview with Bloomberg, Tsai said that President Xi “doesn’t allow any kind of different voice in the Chinese political system”. In essence, therefore, the Chinese leader has been surrounding himself with “a coterie of like-minded officials”. This resulting ‘groupthink’ means that “the risk of making a wrong decision” on pressing issues like Taiwan “will become much higher” in the coming years, he warned. To counter that threat, and to monitor China’s military intentions, Tsai said Taiwan is systematically deepening its real-time cooperation with its “international friends”, especially with the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance, an intelligence-sharing coalition comprising of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The potential developments surrounding China's PLA modernization and President Xi Jinping's political ambitions in 2027 could significantly impact the geopolitical landscape, challenging the West's position and prompting strategic recalibrations to address the evolving dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. A more capable and technologically advanced Chinese military could potentially challenge Western military dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, leading to a shift in the global balance of power.
It follows that a more assertive and capable Chinese military could enhance China's ability to project power and influence beyond its immediate region. The West has strong alliances and partnerships that have been critical to maintaining stability and security in Southeast Asia. If the PLA's modernization efforts lead to increased regional assertiveness or potential conflict scenarios, the West's alliance relationships may be tested, requiring careful diplomacy and coordination.
Ultimately, China's increasing military prowess could have implications for international norms and rules governing security and conflict. Obviously, neither the NSB nor its director-general determine policy. That is the realm of political decision-makers in Taiwan and beyond. We do hope these decision-makers are paying attention. The West may need to engage on numerous fronts, to ensure that the PLA's actions align with established norms and to prevent potential destabilization. [EIA]
Our View: AI is Here to Stay; let's Make it Safe to Use
[28 April 2023] There is clearly no shortage of notable developments in the field of intelligence. However, the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (MI) to support intelligence operations is likely to prove the most pervasive in the long-run. Over the past few years, intelligence agencies around the world have been investing heavily in developing AI and ML capabilities in support of their mission.
On the one hand, the use of AI and ML in intelligence and security operations has the potential to revolutionize these fields. These technologies can analyze vast amounts of data much faster and more accurately than humans, which can help to identify patterns and anomalies that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, AI algorithms can sift through large amounts of social media data to identify potential terrorist threats, or analyze satellite imagery to detect military activities in remote locations.
However, the use of AI and ML in intelligence and security operations also raises a number of serious concerns. One major concern is that these technologies can be used to automate decision-making processes, which could have serious consequences if they are not properly regulated. For example, if an AI system is used to identify potential terrorist threats, but the system is not properly calibrated or tested, it could lead to false positives or false negatives, which could have serious implications for national and international security.
Another concern is that the use of AI and ML in intelligence and security operations could lead to the loss of privacy and civil liberties. For example, if an AI system is used to monitor social media activity or analyze CCTV footage, it could inadvertently capture data about individuals who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. This could lead to concerns about mass surveillance and the potential for government overreach.
To address these concerns, it is essential that governments and intelligence agencies establish clear guidelines and regulations for the use of AI and ML in intelligence and security operations. These guidelines should ensure that AI and ML systems are properly calibrated and tested, and that decisions made by these systems are subject to stringent human oversight and review. In addition, governments and intelligence agencies should be transparent about their use of these technologies, and should be accountable to the public for any decisions made as a result of AI and ML analysis.
The increasing use of AI and ML in intelligence and security operations is a major current event that has both potential benefits and significant risks. While these technologies can improve our ability to detect and prevent threats, they also raise concerns about privacy, civil liberties, and the potential for errors and biases in decision-making. To mitigate these risks, it is essential that governments establish clear guidelines and regulations for the use of AI and ML in these fields, and that they are transparent and accountable to the public about their use of these technologies. Only by doing so can we ensure that the benefits of AI and ML in intelligence and security operations are fully realized, while minimizing the potential risks. [EIA]
Our View: US and China Must Share COVID-19 Intelligence
[26 March 2023] Earlier this month, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray said during a television interview that COVID-19 “most likely” originated from a Chinese government laboratory. “For quite some time now”, said Wray, the FBI has “assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan”. Wuhan, a city in central China, hosts the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which includes laboratories that specialize on biosecurity and the study of newly emerging infectious diseases. Wray added that Beijing has “been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work” of the United States in trying to determine the precise origins of the virus.
The view that the COVID-19 virus originated in a Chinese government laboratory is by no means commonplace. The view that COVID-19 was deliberately weaponized by a state entity is even less common. In fact, leading scientists have long argued that such views are not supported by the available scientific evidence. This is clear from numerous analyses of the genomes of the virus, as well as examinations of its nucleic acids sequence that is responsible for attaching to cells. None of these analyses shows any evidence of human design or any other form of weaponization. If anything, they indicate that COVID-19 is the product of natural selection, rather than of bioengineering.
However, the virus could have originated from a laboratory in a natural state, without having been weaponized. That is most likely what Wray had in mind when he spoke publicly on the topic. China, of course, has angrily dismissed the FBI director’s comments, and has called on the United States to “look to its own biological laboratories scattered across the world when searching for the virus’s source”. This statement reflects Beijing’s absurd view—which flies in the face of every statistical analysis conducted by experts, including leading Chinese scientists— that the COVID-19’s originated in the United States, rather than in China.
Nevertheless, we need an answer for the sake of human security on our planet. A few days after Wray’s interview, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, said the WHO had contacted the United States to inquire about the information that informed the FBI’s assessment. She was echoed by WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called for “any country [with] information about the origins of the pandemic”, including China, to come forward. The WHO Director-General went on to say that “it’s essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community”.
The emergence of the next highly infectious respiratory virus is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”. If there is one thing that we learned from the experience of COVID-19 is that intelligence sharing and intelligence cooperation lie at the heart of biosecurity. Despite their political, economic and ideological differences, the United States and China owe it to their world —and to their own citizens— to work in concert on this issue of critical importance. [EIA]
Our View: US Classification Doctrine is in Need of Overhaul
[12 January 2023] First it was former President Donald Trump, whose private residence in Florida was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because of a large number of classified documents that had apparently been stored there. But the plot thickened in the past week, when classified government documents from the administration of United States President Barack Obama were also found stored in private property. This time, the property belonged to President Joe Biden.
What is going on here? In observing the media coverage of this imbroglio, it is apparent that the two major American political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, are seeking to use this affair in order to score cheap political points against each other. But the issue is far bigger than Trump and Biden, or Democratic and Republican politics. Perhaps it is worth listening to the wise words of Leon Panetta, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of Defense under President Obama.
In an interview on National Public Radio, Panetta raised the question of “whether or not we over-classify certain documents”. The issue of over-classification is something that many have considered in the past. Panetta added, however, that, “what all of this is pointing out is a much bigger problem, with regards to both the labeling and handling of classified material”. The question is, said Panetta, how are these documents protected, and how are they filed in the White House?
Panetta shared his own experience in the White House, which was that classified documents were only allowed to be accessed in specially designated, secure areas. In rare instances when the documents were removed from these areas, they had to be returned there. There was always someone checking to ensure that was the case. But, obviously, said Panetta, “that system has broken down”. The break-down of the system of document classification is at the heart of this embarrassing series of revelations that have rocked American politics in recent months. The system must be fixed if American political leaders are to be spared further embarrassment in the coming months. [EIA]
Our View: Ukraine War Made 2022 a Year to Remember
[22 December 2022] In February of this year, the largest country in the world invaded the largest country in Europe, marking the opening salvo of the most extensive military conflict in Europe since World War II. Cascading domino effects have since ensued, which include the most expensive refugee crisis in Europe’s postwar history, as well as a series of global inflationary pressure waves, which are unprecedented for a generation.
As the war continues to unfold, it has become clear that intelligence, in addition to a stiff and well-armed physical resistance, is Europe’s way out of this nightmare that has engulfed Ukraine and threatens to destabilize the entire continent. The United States, with the help of its allies, has played a major role in this effort, as Ukraine’s intelligence partner. Washington warned about the impending war as early as November of 2021, when almost no-one believed it could happen. Even Putin’s own generals were kept in the dark until the last minute. It appears that the Central Intelligence Agency knew more about Russia’s intentions than its Russian equivalent.
The United States and its allies have the will, the capacity, and an extensive intelligence arsenal, to help Ukraine push back against Russia’s political and military advances. Intelligence can save the day for Ukraine and for all of Europe. At this time of peril, it is time to unleash its full power. [EIA]
Our View: Intelligence in a New Era of Instability
[27 November 2022] The firm Standard & Poor's needs no introduction. Founded in 1868, S&P, as it is known today, has a worldwide reputation for building and maintaining accurate financial market indices. The latter are widely viewed as points of reference across the world. In addition to issuing credit ratings for companies, as well as evaluating debt obligations, S&P issues periodic forecasts about the state of the global economy and its many parameters.
Last week, the company unveiled its most recent forecast, as part of the latest installment of its Global Market Intelligence report series. Titled A World Rebalancing, the report makes for unsettling reading. It describes with stark language what the S&P analysts refer to as “a new era of uncertainty and instability.” This highly pessimistic view rests on a handful of overarching themes, which, according to the authors of the report, are expected to continue to drive political and economic developments in the coming year.
Among these themes are a growing number of unresolved conflicts, principal among them being the Russo-Ukrainian war. Every single day this war continues, global instability increases, fed by worries about a potential nuclear accident, growing energy instability, as well as the continuing drop in food production and the global inflationary pressures that this war has been generating. Without doubt, the issue of energy security will remain at the top of the economic and political agenda in the coming year, the report notes.
The risk environment has undoubtedly become progressively unmanageable since 2016. It will become even more so in 2023, prompting leaders in the public and private sectors to resort to intelligence professionals, in order to reduce the possibility of error in their decision-making. In other words, 2023 will be a heck of a time to be in the field of intelligence. As this tumultuous year is about to end, we need to prepare for what is to come in our field of work and study. This may be one for the history books. [EIA]
Our View: Breaking Bread at the IAFIE Conference
[30 October 2022] Future historians are likely to assess the impact of COVID-19 on scholarly inquiry as mixed. The pandemic compelled an unparalleled growth in mRNA medicines and pharmaceutical science more broadly. It also forced a re-evaluation of the use of emergency medicine practices in public health. At the same time, however, COVID-19 hampered scholarly cooperation by preventing experts from gathering and sharing ideas through discussion. Yes, a host of emerging teleconferencing technologies helped us to partly address the need to confer. On balance, however, we were left to our own devices, and had to do our work as best we could during those unpleasant and stagnant years.
That is why the recent conference of the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE), which took place from October 20 to 22 in South Carolina, was such a significant event. It was the first face-to-face gathering of the IAFIE scholarly community in the United States since 2019. In a sense, it bridged the gap caused by the pandemic and, in doing so, brought back the sense of optimism that is inherent in scholarly inquiry. Dozens of intelligence studies scholars, current and former practitioners, as well as graduate and undergraduate students, came together at the Citadel in South Carolina, to break bread and re-connect.
Much of the success of the conference is owed to the dedicated work of its organizers, among them Dr. Larry Valero (IAFIE Events Chair), Dr. Melissa Graves and Dr. Jan Goldman, as well the administration of the Citadel, whose leaders actively backed this important gathering. We were especially pleased to hear from a diverse and knowledgeable team of keynote speakers from both the military and civilian intelligence domains. Equally importantly, the scholarly standard of the panel presentations was high, as were the exchanges among the participating experts. The IAFIE leadership, led by IAFIE President Dr. Barry Zulauf, is to be congratulated for its work for this conference.
The European Intelligence Academy is grateful to all those who organized this event. We thank them for facilitating the free exchange of ideas in the field of intelligence studies, which, like so many other fields of scholarly inquiry, suffered under COVID-19. We missed these gatherings during the pandemic, and we are so glad to have them back. We look forward to seeing everyone at the next IAFIE conference, which will take place at Mercyhurst University in June of 2023. [EIA]
Our View: Listen to the Doyen of Intelligence Studies
[26 September 2022] Arguably no individual deserves the title of ‘doyen’ of intelligence studies more than Loch Johnson. An active participant in the management of intelligence in the 1970s, as well as a thinker and scholar in subsequent decades, Johnson’s meticulous work has shaped the thinking of countless students, practitioners and academics in our field.
The most recent issue of Intelligence and National Security contains an extensive interview with Loch Johnson, which was conducted by Mark Phythian, Professor of Politics at the University of Leicester. Phythian asks Johnson questions that span the length of his career, ranging from his days as research assistant for Senator Frank Church, who headed the Church Committee’s investigation of the United States Intelligence Community, to his prior and subsequent academic pursuits.
Among several topics in this interview, Johnson touches on the subject of accountability of intelligence activities, which is a central theme of his research. He posits that, in order to be effective, accountability measures for intelligence activities must be based on a number of key pillars. First, those with executive power must be “especially honest”. Second, legislators who review the activities of the executive branch must be steadfast in their oversight. This must include oversight of the budget of intelligence agencies. Third, the media must be “vibrant [and] inquisitive” when examining the exercise of governmental powers. Finally, the public must understand and take “all of these requirements seriously”. Moreover, it must be a public that “punishes at the polls those in office who legally or ethically violate America’s law and moral traditions”.
Johnson goes on to say that, if those ingredients are not present in the affairs of state, even a country with “a vaunted Constitution” and a strong body of laws, like the United States, is susceptible to illegality by its intelligence apparatus.
Johnson’s comments are incredibly wise. They come at a time when numerous democratic governments, including Spain, Denmark, Greece, Switzerland, and others, are facing crises of varying magnitudes that relate to the activities of their intelligence agencies. Johnson goes on to warn that intelligence accountability is becoming increasingly crucial, as “we find ourselves living in a world where democratic norms are challenged by leaders around the world”. We hope that Johnson’s warning echoes across the democratic world. [EIA]
Our View: Greek Wiretap Scandal Underpins Case for Reform
[31 August 2022] In late July, Nikos Androulakis, leader of Greece’s center-left PASOK opposition party, who is also a serving member of the European Parliament, revealed someone had tried to bug his mobile telephone in 2021. A few days later, the director of Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP), Panagiotis Kontoleon, told a parliamentary committee that the EYP had bugged a telephone belonging to Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who works for CNN Greece. From then on, developments cascaded at a fast pace, as the Greek government, headed by center-right Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, acknowledged that the EYP had wiretapped Androulakis’s telephone. Kontoleon was sacked, and Prime Minister Mitsotakis has spent the last month insisting that he had no idea that EYP had spied on journalists and politicians. Meanwhile, the Greek Parliament has voted to initiate a formal investigation into the affair, which will last a month.
It also brings to mind a recent article, published in the latest issue of the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, titled “Greek Intelligence Service (NIS-EYP): New Wine, Old Bottles”. Co-authored by EIA Director Dr. John Nomikos and Anthony Ioannidis, of the Athens University of Economics and Business, the article outlines the present-day challenges faced by the EYP. The authors summarize the recent evolution of the organization, focusing especially on the periodic reforms that have shaped its current institutional form. They argue, however, that these reforms have led to chronic imbalances in the EYP, which must be corrected if the agency is to break away from its over-bureaucratization, its endemic factionalism and —ultimately— its inability to provide timely and actionable intelligence support to civilian decision-makers. Clearly, their wise words were not heeded by the Greek government, which now finds itself in grave peril due to the chronic inefficiencies and neglect of this most critical component of national security. [EIA]
Our View: Intelligence Failures or Executive Failures?
[17 July 2022] Few terms in intelligence studies are used as often as “intelligence failure”. The fear of faulty information somehow being at the root of a wrong decision with far-reaching consequences haunts intelligence analysts and the agencies that employ them. And yet, relatively little attention has been paid to the responsibility of decision-makers to take into account the views of intelligence experts.
In an article published on July 3 in the Daily Beast, military writer and former Brown University visiting scholar James A. Warren argues that some of the most destructive intelligence failures in recent American history were in fact failures of intelligence consumers —principally the White House— to take into account informed intelligence estimates in making decisions. These consumers routinely engage in “wishful thinking, disregards professional analysis” and are guided by preconceptions that often damage national security. That view, according to Warren, represents a growing consensus among scholars of intelligence.
Warren illustrates his argument with a number of examples from America’s recent military history, including the disastrous Vietnam War. For years during that war, American intelligence agencies —principally the Central Intelligence Agency— warned against the perils of a prolonged military conflict in Indochina. And yet they were ignored by the Executive Branch. Why? Because, argues Warren, America’s decision-makers could not break free from the —now bankrupt— domino theory, according to which the fall of Vietnam to the communists would lead to the eventual Sovietization of all of Asia.
Ultimately, America failed in Vietnam for the same reason it failed in Iraq and in Afghanistan. In the words of George W. Allen, quoted by Warren, “America failed [...] not because intelligence was lacking, or wrong, but because it was not in accord with what its consumers wanted to believe, and because its relevance was outweighed by other factors in the minds of those who made national security policy decisions”.
American decision-makers need to realize that the solution to the problems of terrorism and interstate rivalry are rarely military. Rather, they depend on the wisdom afforded by good intelligence. In Warren’s own words, American decision makers “have been overly enamored by the power of the U.S. military machine, but obtuse in failing to recognize the limits of military power alone to shape politics in foreign societies”. Amen to that. [EIA]
Our View: Bringing Some Emotion into Intelligence Analysis
[15 June 2022] For generations, intelligence analysts have been instructed to shroud their products in empiricism and the scientific process, and to shield them from emotions. The latter are associated with sentimentality, excitement and feelings, which, by their very nature, are opposed to analytical logic. But that dichotomy is false, and is not necessarily the key to arriving at successful analysis products. Don’t take my word for it. Read instead a remarkably insightful article by Carmen Medina, which was published earlier this month in the Cypher Brief. Medina spent over 40 years as an analyst, eventually retiring from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as its Deputy Director of Intelligence.
Medina argues that numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Take the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which —by all measurable standards of intelligence analysis— should have been a cakewalk for the Kremlin. But it wasn’t. How are we to explain the reality of that war, which diverges drastically from our analytical expectations? Medina claims that intelligence analyses of the invasion were based on “concrete, objective things”, like the “quantity and quality of military equipment”, as well as military and paramilitary tactics on both sides.
But that left out some non-quantifiable parameters of the war, which “traditional intelligence reports could not account for, no matter how meticulously they were assembled”. These include emotions —not in the sense of an individual’s emotional response to stimuli, but in the sense of some kind of “national mood”, in both Ukraine and in Russia. These kinds of parameters, Medina claims, exceed cognitive explanation. And yet, they can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful intelligence product.
Medina argues that intelligence analysis shops, including the CIA’s, should begin to actively “appreciate the awesome potential of human cognition”. In doing so, they should reject the traditional view of intelligence analysis as a form of “rational thinking” that is “protected from emotional contamination”. Instead of pursuing only “rational, cognitive approaches toward making sense of the world”, intelligence analysts should begin to seriously explore “nonlinear and more impressionistic mental practices”. Intelligence institutions more broadly should begin to prioritize “the improvement of our intuition”, Medina suggests, and should explicitly encourage analysts to “incorporate [their] intuitive faculties into analytic tradecraft”.
This is not about replacing analytic reasoning with emotion-based intuition, Medina explains. But it is about combining the two in order to achieve better results overall. It is an intriguing suggestion that deserves some serious consideration. [EIA]
Our View: A Rare Public Warning from Australia
[10 May 2022] Since its inception, Australian intelligence has strictly followed the British model: subtle, discreet and, most of all, avoiding any publicity —good or bad— by any means necessary. That is why, until very recently, there was no presence of anything resembling public relations in the Australian intelligence community. Even in our age of transparency, Australian spooks are rarely heard of in public. That is precisely why one should pay attention in the rare instances when Australian spooks do choose to address the public-at-large. When an Australian intelligence official chooses to speak publicly, it means something serious is going on —and it’s usually bad.
That is precisely what happened this week in Sydney, when Paul Symon, director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), made a rare speech. Symon was speaking at a public event held to mark the 70th anniversary of Australia’s main foreign intelligence service. The significance of that event, which was hosted by the Lowy Institute, an independent Australian think-tank that focuses on international affairs, cannot be overstated. A few years ago, even acknowledging in public the existence of the ASIS would have been unthinkable. So, a public speech by its director is an extraordinary event.
What did Symon choose to focus on in his rare public speech? Simply put, Australia needs more spies. He argued that a growing number of regional and global security concerns make “the need to recruit new spies” more essential than ever before. According to Symon, ASIS needs to “recruit and work with even more vigor and urgency than at any other point in our 70-year history”. Let me help you, in case you are trying to do the numbers in your head: what Symon is arguing here is that Australia needs to recruit foreign spies with more urgency than at any time since the opening stages of the Cold War, i.e. the early 1950s.
Later in his speech, the ASIS director touched in broad terms on the challenge posed by technology on human intelligence (HUMINT) operations, in which ASIS specializes. He described these challenges as “extraordinary”, and said they resulted from an interaction between “a complex strategic environment [and] intensified counter-intelligence efforts” by Australia’s adversaries, as well as a host of “emergent and emerging technologies”. These technologies are in many ways posing “a near-existential” risk to the types of HUMINT operations carried out by ASIS, as the organization’s collection activities run the risk of becoming “increasingly discoverable”, he warned.
Is there a hint of hyperbole in Symon’s remarks? Possibly. After all, civil servants rarely waste an opportunity to justify the existence of their agency and ask for a bigger operational budget. However, alongside their discreetness, Australian spooks also tend to be understated. They typically don’t ring alarm bells, unless they absolutely have to. For Symon to do so, it means he is sensing a clear danger ahead. His audience, in Australia and beyond, should be paying attention. [EIA]
Our View: A People’s War on Espionage? Let’s Hope Not!
[20 April 2022] In the West of the post-Cold-War era, intelligence has typically been an esoteric preoccupation. That is neither good nor bad. It can be argued that healthy democracies should not prioritize intelligence and security matters, as a matter of principle. On the other hand, because of its openness, democracy is a fragile political system, whose security infrastructure requires much attention by all, especially in times of crisis. Recent events serve to remind us that disaster is never too far away. Yet, on balance, it is fair to say that Western citizens desire to live in secure states, without having to endure life in a security state.
Not so in other parts of the world. Take China, for instance. It was reported earlier this month that the country marked “National Security Education Day”, on April 15. What is that, you ask? Apparently, the decision to designate April 15 “National Security Education Day” was adopted by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2015, during its 12th National People’s Congress. Since then, the Chinese state has promoted April 15 as part of a wider effort to create a “positive atmosphere of national security” across the nation.
It appears that “National Security Education Day” can take many forms, though it usually involves students, workers and retirees attending unexciting talks by CPC officials on the importance of combatting the “espionage offensive” that is allegedly being perpetrated against China by foreigners. This past April 15, Chinese citizens were urged to “wage a people’s war” against foreign espionage, by reporting suspicious activities by foreigners and locals alike to the authorities. Additionally, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), China’s highest government agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity, issued a call to Chinese citizens to be watchful of using “popular social media platforms”, as the latter have become “a hotbed for the infiltration of foreign hostile forces”.
Those of us who remember the Cold War will recognize these calls, albeit without the social media component. We have been down that path before, thus none of it is new, strictly speaking. And yet, in the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he is not the same man”. In an important sense, the rise of yet another security state in our time —in the form of China— feels different. It comes with its own set of risks and challenges. The West is once again called to navigate these risks, without losing its identity in the process. Intelligence professionals must inevitably be at the forefront of this effort, while at the same time preventing the emergence of a “people’s war on espionage” here at home. [EIA]
Our View: Success/Failure, Two Fleeting Intelligence Concepts
[31 March 2022] In the field of intelligence, success is always an ephemeral concept. It is here one day, gone tomorrow. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that accomplishments are more than fleeting moments in time. Take the example of the French intelligence services. Back in August of last year, many praised the French intelligence community for anticipating —and preparing for— the Western coalition’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan. It was reported at the time that, unlike most foreign intelligence services that were present on the ground in Afghanistan, the French quietly repatriated the vast majority of their citizens in the months prior to the Taliban offensive. They also put in motion a program to evacuate Afghans who were under France’s protection. Thousands of them had been evacuated by the time Taliban battalions entered Kabul in August. That was indeed an impressive performance, by any standards of evaluation.
But, as we said earlier, success is a fleeting concept in the world of intelligence. Fast forward to February of this year and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. By all accounts, the performance of American intelligence agencies in the months leading to August 2021 was disastrous, when it came to the situation in Afghanistan. In the case of Ukraine, the picture was completely different. For many months prior to the Kremlin’s military campaign in Ukraine, US intelligence agencies had been warning about an impending Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Even the Ukrainian government publicly disputed these claims, until they were proven remarkably accurate.
How satisfactory was the performance of the French intelligence community in this case? Not very, judging by recent news reports, according to which General Éric Vidaud, head of France’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) was fired on March 31. The reason for his firing? Reportedly, his agency’s failure to anticipate the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to French media reports, unlike many other Western countries, the French government appeared to doubt that the Kremlin would indeed invade Ukraine. These doubts, which rested on French intelligence assessments, were dispelled on February 22, when Russian tank units stationed in Belarus rolled onto Ukrainian soil. What a textbook case of success and failure —two sides of the same coin that form the yin and yang of the world of intelligence…. [EIA]
Our View: Russian-Ukraine War Points to Need for Intelligence
[28 February 2022] On February 24, the largest country in the world invaded the largest country in Europe, marking the opening salvo of the most extensive military conflict in Europe since World War II. A cascading series of domino effects has since ensued, which include the most expensive refugee crisis in Europe’s postwar history.
So far, the conventional theater of this war is unfolding along four major theaters, namely the Russian offensives eastern Ukraine, north of Kyiv, northeastern Ukraine, and southern Ukraine. Russian forces are gradually advancing, but have been met with stiff Ukrainian resistance, as well as substantial—though not insurmountable—self-inflicted deficiencies in the areas of logistics and co-ordination.
It is difficult to over-estimate the significance of the national resistance campaign being waged by the Ukrainian armed forces, reserves, paramilitary units, as well as a growing number of foreign volunteers. However, one should hold no illusions as to the tremendous asymmetry of the two belligerents. The combat-worthiness of the Ukrainian resistance is increasing, but it simply cannot compare with the Russian military, which is designed to take on an adversary like the United States. The war resources, manpower and capabilities of the Russians are superior by many orders of magnitude—and that’s not even counting their unconventional capabilities, which are simply enormous and in many cases exceed the United States’.
That is not to say that this war is going to be predictable. Many factors will play a role, including the levels fighting morale among the rival armies, as well as among the Ukrainian and Russian populations. Additionally, the Russians are clearly lacking in intelligence. The slow pace of Russian advancement, as well as the political and economic debacles that Moscow is facing as a result of this war, are clear indications that the Kremlin has neither enough ears, nor eyes, on the ground in Ukraine. Additionally, Russia is largely blind to developments in Western Europe and beyond. It is likely that the Russians miscalculated, not simply the Ukrainian response to the invasion, but also the Western and American responses, and even the Chinese response.
Intelligence, in addition to a stiff and well-armed physical resistance, is Ukraine’s way out of this nightmare. The United States, with the help of its allies, has shown that it can play a major role as Ukraine’s intelligence partner. Washington warned about the impending war as early as November of 2021, when almost no-one believed it could happen. Even Putin’s own generals were kept in the dark until the last minute. The Central Intelligence Agency knew more about Russia’s intentions than its Russian equivalent. The United States has the capacity and extensive intelligence arsenal to help Ukraine push back against Russia’s political and military advances. Intelligence can save the day for Ukraine and for all of Europe. At this time of peril, it is time to unleash its full power. [EIA]
Our View: EIA Launches Innovative Internship Program
[22 January 2022] Earlier this month, the European Intelligence Academy, launched a new and innovative internship program, in collaboration with its transatlantic partners. The program operates under the direction of the Chanticleer Intelligence Brief (CIB) and the Intelligence Operations Command Center (IOCC) at Coastal Carolina University in the United States.
This new internship consists of six dedicated Critical Mission Centers (CMCs). Each CMC is headed by a CMC Director. These directors supervise teams of Senior Analysts, who serve as CMC Support Officers. Each week, CMC personnel are tasked with monitoring a variety of ongoing developments of international significance, and meet regularly to discuss relevant developments and to constructively critique each other’s analyses. These topics change in real time, in accordance with the needs of the decision-maker, as well as political, social and economic crises occurring around the world.
Select number of finished intelligence products that stem from this collaborative project go through a process of declassification. Once that takes place, these intelligence products then become freely available on the Global Watch center website of the European Intelligence Academy. The Global Watch website already hosts high-quality content on a variety of topics, including ongoing developments in the Turkish economy, the war in Yemen, the political crises in Sudan and Kazakhstan, as well as China’s economic performance. Make sure to bookmark the Global Watch center website and monitor it regularly, as content will continue to be added on a weekly basis.
The European Intelligence Academy wishes to thank our CIB and IOCC partners at Coastal Carolina University. We look forward to continuing to support the impressive work of these promising young analysts-in-training. [EIA]
Our View: 2021 was an Exceedingly Busy Year for EIA
[31 December 2021] Despite the limitations imposed on life as we know it by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, 2021 turned out to be the busiest year in the history of the European Intelligence Academy. Following a forced hiatus of several months, which was imposed on us by COVID-19, in July we made a truly timely addition to our Research Paper Series, with the publication of "Taiwanese Medical and Security Policy Towards the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Best Practice", by Yi Chen Chang. The author, a student of international security with experience in both Taiwan and Europe, outlines Taiwan’s extraordinary performance in the fight against COVID-19 in a clear and concise manner.
March saw the publication of Intelligence: Indispensabilità e Limiti (in English, Intelligence: Uses and Limitations) by our Advisory Board member, Dr. Renato Caputo (co-authored with Vittorfranco Pisano). This volume, a follow-up to Dr. Caputo's Il Sistema di Informazioni per la Sicurezza della Repubblica (The State Security Information System), tackles the problem of intelligence, understood as a structured analysis of critical information, and its functional use for the security of the state. A few weeks later, EIA Director Dr. John Nomikos published an editorial entitled "European Intelligence Academy: a Greek Approach [pdf]", which explained the rationale behind the EIA effort, in light of recent developments in Europe, including the Joint European Union Intelligence School (JEIS). Later in April, Dr. Nomikos interviewed Mr. Danny Yatom, former head of the Israeli Intelligence Service (1996-1998), Mossad.
September saw the latest installment in the EIA’s Research Paper Series with the publication of Ellie Cassidy’s essay, entitled "Regulating Innovative Platforms: AI-Based Online Monetization Methods and Their Ramifications". The paper vividly and cohesively describes the way in which the digital media has utilized advancements in persuasive technology and artificial intelligence to monetize manipulation. It also outlines the security ramifications of unchecked digital media, as seen in the rise in political polarization, amplification of misinformation and modernization of systematic inequity in our time. The author then advances the argument that this increasingly dystopian reality requires external regulators to ethically occupy the public space.
Lastly, in October of this year, we welcomed to our Executive Committee Dr. Thomas Wegener Friis, Associate Professor at the University of Southern Denmark and Director of the Center for Cold War Studies. Dr. Friis came to the EIA with years of experience in graduate and undergraduate teaching in the areas of security and intelligence, as well as affiliations with a host of international bodies, including the Institute for National and International Security and the Interdisciplinary Centre for European Studies at the Europa-Universität Flensburg (EUF) Dr. Friis now serves as EIA Deputy Director for Europe.
The Director, Deputy Directors and Executive Committee of the EIA send their warmest wishes for a truly fruitful, productive and purposeful new year. May it be brighter and safer for all. [EIA]
Our View: Intelligence is an Exercise in Honesty, Not Truth
[30 November 2021] In an insightful essay that appears in the latest issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (Vol. 34, No. 4.), Mark Lowenthal makes a provocative statement: “Intelligence is NOT about telling truth to power”, he claims. Initially, this statement might seem to fly in the face of the decades-long common wisdom in the field of intelligence. After all, intelligence professionals are tasked with finding the truth about critical developments relating to security. If they cannot be expected to uncover the truth about these developments, and then relay it to those in power in a timely mannter, then what on Earth can they do?Yet Lowenthal persists: not only is the idea of “speaking truth to power” wrong in intelligence terms, it is also dangerous, he argues.
The author hardly requires an introduction to those in the field. He entered the world of American academia having previously served as Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production, Vice Chairman for Evaluation of the National Intelligence Council, Staff Director of the House Intelligence Committee, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence. Surely, he knows what he is talking about? Indeed he does.
When the process and mission of intelligence are carefully examined, it becomes obvious that they are not about relaying the truth; rather, they are all about relaying uncertainty. Truth, Lowenthal posits, is an absolute. Anyone who has ever worked in intelligence will immediately associate with the view that absolute facts are hard to come by—and even when they appear to do so, they are usually deceiving. Successful intelligence products are nothing other than the delicate handling of real-life uncertainties and ambiguities, which is then delivered in a methodical way. Their purpose is to help decision-makers understand the uncertainties that surround them, and the potential effects—as well as side-effects—of their actions or inactions.
There is nothing fixed or definite in the intelligence process, and certainly nothing that resembles the absolutism of “truth”. In Lowenthal’s own words, “[i]ntelligence is never ex cathedra”. That is precisely why intelligence products tend to be devoid of terms such as “always”, “never” or “everyone”. That is also why—per Lowenthal’s sound advice—good intelligence analysts would do well to remember the advice of the English statesman and military strongman Oliver Cromwell: “think it possible you might be mistaken”.
If intelligence products do not speak the “truth”, then what do they speak? Lowenthal’s proposal is as straightforward as his critique: intelligence products speak honesty to power, he argues, quoting John Moseman, former chief of staff to the US Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet. Unlike truth, honesty is open to challenge, contest and dispute—ultimately to humility. Honesty is open to the possibility that, in Cromwell’s words, its authors “might be mistaken”. Indeed, they often are. [EIA]
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]