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L’opération Serval à l’épreuve du doute : vrais succès et fausses leçons

Thursday, 9. July 2015 17:26

Ifri’s Research Defense Unit just published the number 59 of the Focus stratégique collection:

L’opération Serval à l’épreuve du doute : vrais succès et fausses leçons

Chef de Bataillon Antoine d’Evry, a French military officier, is a seconded Research Fellow at the Ifri’s Research Defense Unit. He graduated from the French military Academy, Armed Forces Staff courses, and War College. He also holds a Geography Master’s degree.

You can download this new Focus Stratégique here.


The deployment of French forces to Mali in January 2013 with the objective to counter the offensive of jihadist groups inside Northern Mali, demonstrated the French armed forces’ ability to deploy under a very short period of time and to conduct a long-distance expeditionary operation by itself in spite of its limited strategic capabilities. The successful outcome of Serval can be explained through multiple factors such as forward basing, swift decision as well as execution of maneuver and good bilateral relations with the African states. This success should not however lead to downplay the capability shortfalls that were also illustrated by the operation in terms of strategic lift, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and the political capability to settle an internal conflict whose outcome remains uncertain.

Table of Contents:


Le Mali en crise

Serval, une prouesse stratégique délicate

Quels enseignements pour l’avenir ?


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Conventionalizing Deterrence? U.S. Prompt Strike Programs and Their Limits

Thursday, 15. January 2015 12:59

Prolif 52 Ifri’s Deterrence and Proliferation Program has just published the issue #52 of its Proliferation Papers series entitled:

Conventionalizing Deterrence? U.S. Prompt Strike Programs and Their Limits

Corentin Brustlein is a research fellow and the head of the Deterrence and Proliferation program at Ifri’s Security Studies Center. Click here to find his posts on the blog.

His new paper can be downloaded here.


About a decade ago, the U.S. has started to examine options to develop and acquire Conventional Prompt Global Strike capabilities. This move fits in an effort to conventionalize deterrence, an effort initiated decades before and undertaken for profound and diverse motives. Although it has been renewed under the Obama administration, which aims to reduce the U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons, this ambition has resulted in very little concrete progress. Budget cuts to defense spending and technological obstacles have forced the Pentagon to scale back its plans in terms of conventional strategic strike programs. Despite these setbacks, ten years from now the U.S. may well possess a conventional prompt strike capability in its arsenal. As a consequence, this paper also highlights some longer-term, operational and strategic issues that might arise from a context of crisis or war in which prompt strike capabilities could be used, and attempts to shed new light on the potential values these capabilities might have for U.S. national security.




A Long-Term Dynamic of Conventionalization

Obstacles in the Way: Budget, Technology, Politics

Uncertain Implications: CPGS in the Fog of War


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Unmanned Air Systems: The Future of Air & Sea Power?

Monday, 3. February 2014 12:54

Focus Sratégique No. 49Ifri’s Security Studies Center has just published the issue #49 of its Focus stratégique series entitled:

Unmanned Air Systems: The Future of Air & Sea Power?

Paul Rogers  is a lieutenant in the United States Navy. From 2010 – 2013, he studied in Lyon and then in Paris as an Olmsted Scholar. He obtained the diplôme of l’Institut des Etudes Politiques de Lyon in 2013, and he earned a bachelor of science in economics from the University of Washington, in Seattle, in 2002.

His new Focus Stratégique can be downloaded here.


Since their early use for primitive ISR and combined operations, UAS have developed into increasingly multipurpose instruments performing a wide array of missions (from limited strike operations, search and monitoring to time-sensitive targeting) and offering new maneuver options to the armed forces. These improvements in range, speed, endurance, situational awareness and payload, achieved through adaptive use of new information technologies, were catalyzed by the Afghanistan and Iraq testing grounds that proved critical in breaking institutional resistance.  Yet for all their contribution to the shaping of a quick learning curve, these developments have occurred in permissive airspace. After tracing back the history of UAS development, this paper argues that the US can overcome the different challenges to UAS brought by contested and denied airspace, as traditional power threats constrain force projection through A2AD strategies. To increase their force multiplier potential, the US will likely improve UAS capabilities in stealth, evasiveness, maneuverability and automation, strengthening both air and sea power.



A Quick and Dirty History of UAS

Future UAS for Contested Environments


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Breaking Party Lines: America’s Polarization over PRISM

Thursday, 27. June 2013 10:58

According to the latest Pew/Washington Post poll56% of the Americans say that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, while a non-negligible minority of 41% finds it unacceptable. However, the latest Gallup poll done on the same topic claims the opposite: that 53% of the Americans disapprove of the programme, while only 37% approve of it. What conclusion can one draw from these seemingly contradictory results? Why are they so substantially different? And, most importantly, who are the people for and against PRISM and why is the public opinion so polarized on this issue?


The Polls

The two polls were conducted roughly around the same period of time (7-9 June 2013 for Pew, 10-11 June 2013 for Gallup), and interviewed the same number of people (a bit over 1,000 each). The way in which the question was asked was, nevertheless, one of the major differences between the two surveys: if Pew phrased the question in a way that mentioned the use of a “secret court order” and explained that there were “MILLIONS” (in capital letters) of Americans who had only their telephone records checked by the NSA, Gallup inquired over both telephone and Internet records and made no indication of any legal procedure that might have been followed by the NSA, nor mentioned the number of Americans affected. However, Pew did ask a separate question over the monitoring of e-mail and other on-line activities where 45% of the interviewees agreed with the surveillance as long as it was pursued with the goal of preventing future terrorist attacks, while 52% disagreed.

These slight differences in the framing of the questions might have distorted the answers to a certain extent. Firstly, the Pew poll emphasized to (or maybe even informed?) the interviewee of the underlying legality of PRISM, by implying that a competent judicial authority had some knowledge about it. Secondly, while Pew asked two separate questions obtaining two quintessential opposing results, Gallup asked a more comprehensive question that, in percentage points, received almost the average of the two Pew questions. Thirdly, the fact that the interviews were held a few days later might have also played a small part given the age of fast information we are living in, when new declarations, articles, and strong editorial positions come out on an hourly basis.

Either way, regardless of the phrasing and the timing of the interviews, the partisan division over the topic is clear. If Pew did not conduct any inquiries over this matter, the results of the Gallup poll suggest that Democrats are more likely to approve (49%) of the government’s programme to obtain call logs and Internet communication, while the Independents (34% approval rate) and the Republicans (32%) are more likely to disapprove it. A CBS News poll (9-10 June 2013, 1,015 interviews) reinforces this idea by pointing out again that the Democrats are divided on the question (48% agree, another 48% disagree), while a clear majority of Independents and Republicans disapprove (62%, 66% respectively).

By comparing these results to the ones obtained in 2006 by Gallup when inquiring over the support for a government program that “obtained records from three of the largest U.S. telephone companies in order to create a database of billions of telephone numbers dialed by Americans”, the 2013 results are in coherence (43% approval, 51% disapproval), whereas the partisan results shifted dramatically for the Democrats (only 40% approved in 2006), Independents (56% approved) and the Republicans (63% approved). This can be explained by the change of the Democrats and Republicans from opposition to power and viceversa, and would suggest that there is no clear doctrine of any of the Parties on this issue, but only ad hoc positions based on whether one trusts the current government.

On the same note, the Gallup poll reveals that most of the Republican voters believe that Ed Snowden did the right thing by leaking the news of the surveillance programmes, while a majority of Democrats believe he acted wrongfully.


The politics behind

Even though each electorate shows a tendency towards a certain stance, its lack of a clear and major leaning is reflected by the divisions existing within the two major American political parties. Thus, the internal factions of each party give in a variety of shades that make reaching a partisan consensus difficult.

From the Republican side, Vice President Dick Cheney (a neoconservative) called Edward Snowden a “traitor”, while Peter King (neoconservative), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, called for Snowden’s extradition from Hong Kong. Mike Rogers (social conservative), the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee also agreed that the programs were important for national security. Republican Senator John McCain (traditionalist, leaning neoconservative) declared to the CNN that the surveillance programs were needed because threats to the US were “growing, not diminishing”, while adding that he believed “that if this was September 12th, 2001, we might not be having the argument that we are having today”. These declarations were made in spite of Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s (traditionalist, author of the Patriot Act) depiction of PRISM as “an abuse of that law”. Furthermore, Republican Senator Rand Paul (constitutional conservative, Tea Party member and a potential 2016 presidential candidate) told “Fox News Sunday” that he would consider a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the mining of phone records, while also questioning the moral authority of President Obama. He was joined in by former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (also a Tea Party member) who also stood up for Edward Snowden’s actions, while pushing for more protection of personal freedom. If the Tea Party lost some of its momentum since 2010, PRISM might prove to be another clinging point for the advocates for more personal freedom from within the GOP, which could further the cleavage between the neoconservatives and the liberal conservatives.

On the other side of the political spectrum, divisions arise too. Two Democrat senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall (left-wing) appeared worrisome and requested that the government reveal more about its practices in data-gathering. On the contrary, Dianne Feinstein (moderate), the Democrat chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the programmes were “within the law”, that they were part of the government’s obligation of keeping Americans safe, which was something that human intelligence was not going to do. On the same note, President Obama defended the programme through his White House chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, by saying that the “President doesn’t think the program has violated privacy”. To top it all, a bipartisan group of eight senators has introduced legislation that requires the government to detail its understanding of the laws that permit such an extensive surveillance.


Why the division?

First and foremost, as shown above, the division within the American electorate can be explained by political allegiance and the in power/in opposition antagonism which might push towards certain “by default” attitudes. While this would explain the polarization, the slight leaning towards disapproval could be influenced by the decisive bulk of Independents guarding their skepticism towards PRISM.

Nevertheless, without the leadership of the higher ranking representatives which are themselves facing intra-partisan divisions, one can understand why the electorate is still hesitant in forming an overwhelming majority over the issue. After years of leading a “war against terror”, the conservative leaning Americans who agree with the surveillance scheme may embrace the idea that exceptional times demand exceptional measures. Also, what might be regarded as the US government’s “salami tactics”, might have made even the most exceptional measures seem somehow normal and not shocking to those Americans agreeing with them in general terms. From this standpoint, PRISM could and should act like a cold shower that puts the fight against terrorism back into perspective.

Unfortunately, however, it would be too optimistic to believe that the programme will suddenly come to a halt. Most probably PRISM will stir a much needed heated debate, will provoke numerous congressional hearings and, in the best of cases, create a clear majority in the electorate that will demand some limits be put to the surveillance. Nevertheless, once the limits of privacy have been breached, one must not expect miracles either – any downsize of PRISM would look like a success compared to the nowadays breadth of the scheme, but, as long as the programme stays in place, some doubts will always arise as to its methods.

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PRISM: No such Internet freedom says your virtual landlord

Tuesday, 25. June 2013 8:22

“Our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom. … We are urging U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign government’s demands for censorship and surveillance.”

— Former US. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, January 2010.


Booz Allen Hamilton is an extremely successful private contractor. U.S. national security agencies in particular rely heavily on its “management and technology consulting services.” These services come at a hefty price. For fiscal year 2012 alone, the company boasted a revenue of $5,86 billion. Booz Allen Hamilton has also employed Edward Snowden for the last three years. It paid the thirty-year old systems administrator a handsome salary. The job, though, despites its perks, was gradually eating up the young man’s conscience. This month, he blew this whistle:

Since 2007, the National Security Agency (NSA) specialists and security-cleared private contractors enjoy full access to all private e-mails, audio and video chats, photographs, documents and connection logs stored on central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies. In one month alone, the NSA reports to have collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide, include roughly 3 billion pieces from within the U.S.A.

Some suspected it all along, but now we know. As the main stream media grows accustomed to reporting national security leaks with increasing regularity, it often focuses primarily on the story of the individual whistleblower and the response of the U.S. government. This post attempts to dig deeper and reflects on the meaning of the exposed practice, its wider context, and its likely ramifications.

What does all of this mean? Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 smuggled one of the few sets of the top secret Pentagon Papers from the offices of the RAND Corporation before handing various copies to the press, calls Snowden’s act the most significant leak in American history. Granted, we know precious little about the extent to which the U.S. government has acted on intercepted communication. Censorship and persecutions are, thankfully, not part of the story. Make no mistake, however. What we know is gut-wrenching enough. On the one hand are the privacy infringements of gigantic proportions. Yet, the leaks also reveal—yet again—the systematic failure of democratic control mechanisms. Another item in the hall of shame is the overreliance on private contractors for inherently governmental delicate missions. Add to this the alleged collusion of various foreign intelligence agencies with the U.S.-owned data-mining program and you have the contours of a global scandal. It amounts to another, albeit louder, wake-up call for ordinary citizens who for the most part do not spend their free time plotting terrorist acts: do not trust the mantra-like justifications of excessive government secrecy. The caveat “if you knew what we know” regularly does not pass the test. Even Senator John McCain now concedes possible overreach.

Let me unpack each of the feature items before arguing how we might be able to put the crisis to good use.

Privacy infringement. Across the globe, people are using Gmail, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and various other handy services of companies such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Apple, and PalTalk. All data — not just the metadata — is stored on central servers and Prism (the data-mining program) provides unfettered access for the NSA and its hordes of private contractors. If for any reason someone, such as Edward Snowden, decides to hone in on you, he or she would find all your information right at their fingertips—real-time intelligence without complicated authorization proceedings. Such accessibility, of course, differs significantly from the carefully marketed privacy protection pledges of those giant U.S. Internet companies.

Think of it. Given the enormous amount of data that the NSA has already collected, can we meaningfully distinguish between “private citizen” and “public government”? Why not just switch to “public citizen” and “private government”?

Failure of democratic control. Members of the U.S. security establishment like to refer to rigorous congressional oversight proceedings put in place to protect the interests of private citizens from an overweening executive. Time and again, such measures turn out to be utterly dysfunctional and counterproductive — so much so that the veneer of legitimacy they provide should be subject to a national debate and, hopefully, some genuine reform. Often, members of the intelligence oversight committees do not get to see the most relevant information and occasionally receive what are quite simply untrue answers to their questions. Consider the following excerpt from a recent New York Times article dealing with the access to information for intelligence overseers on the legal rules guiding signature drone strikes:

But the administration withheld the opinions governing strikes targeting non-Americans that the committee has also sought, arguing that they are confidential legal advice to the president. As a result, the detailed legal rules for a vast majority of drone strikes, including so-called signature strikes aimed at suspected militants whose names are unknown to the people targeting them, remain secret even from the Congressional intelligence committees.

U.S. congressional intelligence overseers do hold all the appropriate security clearances. Yet apparently that does not mean that they get to see what they need to see to adequately assess the propriety of government conduct. Truth to be told, many overseers readily act as consultants to the executive branch but few have the political will to seek, to double-check, and to challenge the limited information they receive. All of this amounts to a striking and consequential failure to exercise a significant part of their remit. Congressional oversight — ideally rigorous and not ceremonious — bestows legitimacy on the actions of the executive branch.

Coming back to the NSA scandal, we know that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (a former Booz Allen Hamilton executive) misled Congress when asked, on March 12, 2013, whether the NSA collects any type of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans. “No, sir,” was his answer then.

Thank you, then, Edward Snowden, for allowing this rare insight into government malfeasance in the name of national security. In light of the severe limitations to congressional oversight, a public debate about it is all the more important. President Obama welcomes it. Good, so does the American public, let alone us poor foreigners who don’t know the whereabouts of our private information.

Overreliance on private contractors and excessive secrecy. Secrecy, some argue, will make a genuine debate unlikely. Indeed, government secrecy and private contractors have grown like Topsy in and around Washington throughout the last decade. For fiscal year 2012 alone, U.S. taxpayers paid more than $11 billion for keeping secrets secret. This figure does not even include the far greater costs required to classify and declassify the records of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. These secrets, then, are shared, as indicated, with a growing cohort of private contractors. Dana Priest’s and Tim Shorrock’s work on private intelligence springs to mind. Private intelligence, mind you, pursues its own rather narrow-minded business interests (that is, profit), which can regularly be at odds with the more diverse interests of the general public. An overreliance on them influences sober policy decision-making on what instruments are needed and what kind of objectives take priority over others. Revolving doors (that is, former public servants turning their knowledge and professional network into profit in the private sector and vice versa) go open and shut in the nondescript office buildings along the Potomac and on Pennsylvania Avenue. As argued, it is incredibly difficult to establish any meaningful accountability for public intelligence malfeasance. Yet how does one hold private systems administrators to account? Indirectly, Edward Snowden grappled with the same question. Knowing the limitations of constitutional control mechanisms, to whom should he have turned when confronted with egregious abuses of the governmental prerogatives?

Wider implications. The debate on freedom and security in the 21st century that President Obama now anticipates and appreciates should be extended far beyond the Beltway. The NSA scandal is not just a problem for the American democracy. Other American, European, Asian, and African people have also a right to know the whereabouts of their private data. Many national governments, especially those facing elections this year, will not want to miss the opportunity to publicly distance themselves from these practices and will seek clarification from Washington and London. Frank diplomacy might actually be more meaningful, however, if conducted in a concerted fashion, say Brussels seeking clarification from Washington and London on behalf of the EU member states.

National inquiries, hopefully, will soon investigate in more detail the extent to which non-U.S. intelligence agencies may have circumvented their own national laws and possibly colluded with the NSA and the British GCHQ in the effort to ‘master the internet’.  Ideally, relentless pressure from civil society will accompany these inquiries and monitor the way any future policy recommendations are being put into action. Especially as regards the reform of intelligence oversight mechanisms, it is time for European parliaments to install more resourceful and, ideally, internationally connected oversight bodies. I have made a few suggestions in this regard here. Mind you, this cannot replace the important contributions from investigative journalists and whistleblowers but much more could be done to prevent, detect and remedy executive overreach in cyberspace. Hillary Clinton is right: “Whatever the challenges of counterterrorism”, she said, “these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and the privacy of those who use the Internet for peaceful political purposes.”

Finally, this crisis may also be put to good use as concerns the current standstill on the global governance of the internet. At the moment, we are observing gridlock. Ronald Deibert and Masashi Crete-Nishihata recently analyzed various “practices that undercut cyberspace as open commons of information and communication” and rightly diagnosed “norm regression.” De facto, China and the United States (despite noble initiatives such as Society 2.0 and the like) seem to move closer together in their attempts to “bring the state back in.” No such Internet freedom then? It depends also on us whether these revelations will be remembered as a tipping point toward a revived, global campaign for Internet freedom.


An earlier version of this commentary can be found here.

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Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation: Lessons Learned

Tuesday, 20. September 2011 7:38

Ifri’s Security Studies Center has recently published the issue #38 of its Proliferation Papers series entitled:

Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation: Lessons Learned

The author, Keith A. Hansen is a consulting professor of international relations at Stanford University and Sierra Nevada College. As an expert on strategic nuclear force issues, he served for over three decades with the US Government in both military and civilian assignments.


Intelligence agencies play a fundamental role in the prevention of nuclear proliferation, as they help to understand other countries’ intentions and assess their technical capabilities and the nature of their nuclear activities. The challenges in this area remain, however, formidable. Past experiences and the discoveries of Iraq’s WMD programs, of North Korean nuclear weapon program, and of Iranian activities, have put into question the ability of intelligence to monitor small, clandestine proliferation activities from either states or non-state entities. This Proliferation Paper analyzes the complex challenges intelligence faces and the various roles it plays in supporting national and international nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and reviews its track record.

The paper is available for download here.

Your comments are more than welcome!

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Why does intelligence fail, Robert?

Friday, 24. June 2011 9:53

Robert Jervis. 2010. Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War. (Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 248 pages).

When it comes to assessing the strength, the intention and the common sense of a foreign regime, why do intelligence analysts often get things quite so wrong and what can be done to reduce the likelihood of future intelligence failures? These are intriguing albeit not exactly novel questions. Next to official “postmortems” (p. 123) on intelligence failures (i.e. reports by judicial inquiries and oversight commissions), one also finds a growing number of intelligence scholars wrestling with the subject. Still, Robert Jervis, a long-time expert on deception in international relations and occasional CIA contractor, is uniquely positioned to expand on the practice, the challenges and the limitations to foreign intelligence analysis and his latest book, Why intelligence fails, does indeed stand out.

The author brings his privileged access to the intelligence community and his long-time experience with research design to bear on two remarkable case studies: the first on the inability of the U.S. intelligence community to predict the onslaught of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the second on its flawed assessment regarding Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme. This adds much-needed texture to the arcane life-world of foreign intelligence. For example, in the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure case, Jervis reviews the entire intelligence production process from the perspective of the individual analysts who were tasked to make sense of conflicting reports on Saddam’s capabilities and intentions. We learn about the kind of information that they had to work with and the foregone opportunities to apply basic social science research methods to make their underlying assumptions more explicit and to embrace alternative explanations for their findings. We also learn about the analysts, their training, their resources, their work routines as well as the oftentimes difficult division of labour and information flows amongst different agencies as well as the taxing interactions with the various ‘clients’ in Washington. The constant referrals to the concrete case at hand makes his venture into the labyrinth of U.S. intelligence readable and provides authority to his recommendations for intelligence reform. Jervis rightly cautions against undue expectations on the intelligence services (arguing convincingly that excellent analysts could still have drawn the wrong conclusions) and his rebuttals of overzealous or merely cosmetic reform proposals follow logically from the empirical chapters.

It becomes more problematic, in my view, when Jervis uses his findings to reject the widespread notion that the intelligence community bowed to political pressure from the Bush administration. Jervis does not deny that the Bush administration pressured the intelligence services to produce suitable outputs for its predetermined decision to invade Iraq but he finds no reason to believe that the intelligence services succumbed to this pressure. This is, of course, quite a position to defend and the author is notably pleased to be at odds with mainstream analysis, which “so comforts to common sense that it has been a barrier to more careful thought” (p. 131). Yet it is here where Jervis fails to adhere to his own standards: Why must his well-argued position that the intelligence community failed to make sense of social science research methods be necessarily at odds with the finding that the intelligence services were also captured by an extremely hawkish administration? Jervis’ does not give much thought to this and his eagerness to rule out the latter is not in keeping with his basic advice for future generations of intelligence analysts.

(For a French version of this text, see: Poltique Etrangère, Vol. 76, Nr. 2.)

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The Bundestag and contemporary intelligence governance

Monday, 25. October 2010 7:26

Ifri’s Comité d’études des relations franco-allemandes (Cerfa) has recently published a case study on German intelligence oversight. This article was written by Thorsten Wetzling, one of the contributors to Ultima Ratio. The text examines how the Bundestag investigated three specific accountability cases and concludes that the parliament’s unique oversight efforts (lasting from 2005 until 2009) have played only a marginal and, at times, counter-productive role for the establishment of accountability. The discussion elaborates on the ramification of the findings and proposes means for a less ceremonial pursuit of democratic intelligence governance in Germany.

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Insourcing US intelligence contracting

Wednesday, 28. July 2010 7:17

Dana Priest and William Arkin’s reporting on Top Secret America in the Washington Post was an important media event. Its various graphs and installments nicely illustrate the sheer magnitude of US intelligence privatization. Mind you, the size and the compartmentalization of the US intelligence community is difficult to grasp and a cause for many problems of its own. Add to that the even more elusive layers of contracting and sub-contracting (an estimated 265’000 contractors have top-secret clearances) and one gets a security state that has grown beyond that what anyone can call reasonable by a long stretch of imagination. (If only McNulty had a fraction of that cash for the fight against drugs in Baltimore…)

Here are a few more thoughts on both the content and the style of the WaPo story.

First off, the sprawling privatization of US intelligence is, of course, hardly news to the engaged reader. The WaPo must be criticized for not even referring to Tim Shorrock, the real authority on this subject. He was the first author to have studied post 9/11 intelligence contracting, and he did it in a much more systematic and problem-centered fashion (albeit with less colorful graphs and less floury language on Washington suburbia). His book, Spies for Hire, is a compelling read that tells us why, where and how the US arrived at a situation where an incredible 70 percent of its enormous intelligence budget ends up in the hands of private companies. One can also find his data set, here. Shorrock obtained an unclassified document from the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that corroborates his basic estimate. After his book release, the CIA and the main stream media (MSM) simply ignored Shorrock’s research. The former called his figures ‘way off the mark’ and the latter shunned an awfully gripping story. Why? Surely, it would be too simplistic to associate big advertising companies of MSM, such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman with this. Fact is, though, it took MSM a long time to pick it up. [...]

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Intelligence and the UN Human Rights Council

Tuesday, 11. May 2010 7:30

Earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism submitted a “compilation of good practices and institutional frameworks and measures that ensure respect for human rights by intelligence agencies while countering terrorism, including on their oversight” to the UN Human Rights Council.

Despite its cumbersome title, this annotated enumeration of 35 examples of good practice is certainly worth reading. It contains a comprehensive and well-structured account of what national intelligence laws and institutional frameworks for intelligence services could look like. This compilation is the outcome of a consultation process where Governments, experts and practitioners provided input in various different ways. I’ve been asked to give comments on an earlier draft and hope that the following general thought on this kind of best practice advocacy might be of interest to Ultima Ratio readers.

What exactly is the objective of this report? It is interesting how A/HRC/14/46 fails to provide a clear statement of purpose. In the introduction, the Special Rapporteur states that “it is not the purpose of this compilation to promulgate a set of normative standards that should apply at all times and in all parts of the world”. Fine, this should not be read as a blueprint for all nations to follow. But what then is its purpose?

Possibly, this was a contentious issue for the various parties that have contributed to the consultation process. National governments, academic experts, the UN bureaucracy and professional consultants are likely to pursue different and potentially conflicting objectives. Perhaps, then, the author felt compelled not to spell this out in further detail. If this was the case, it would illustrate one of the numerous problems with (or better: constraints of) such mandated research. All too often it is the logic of the consultation process rather than the logic of an empirical enquiry that is decisive in the end. This is all the more deplorable because the latter can generate custom-tailored and sustainable policy recommendations for intelligence governance, too. [...]

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