Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Congratulations to Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste

Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), the Danish Defence Intelligence Service has just launched its new website. And it really looks good. It has a very pleasant tone and is rather comprehensive. A full review will follow around Christmas.

Personally I'm quite happy with this step, as it will give me more to work with if I should choose to do something on the service. Furthermore I think it is about time that the intelligence service draws its head out of the sand and faces a media-reality.

And hopefully for FE they will soon get sufficient traffic to beat (a leftwing operation :) ) as no. 1 hit when searching on Google for "Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste"...

I put a link in the sidebar.

Deception II: Good on a cold day

I might have been to hasty on my previous post on Pentagon's considerations on deceiving the public. Deception is also a necessary weapon of war.

Today my lecturer in Intelligence and International Security mentioned this article by Michael Schrage in the Washington Post about the capture of Al-Qaeda computer-whizz Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. The capture was highly publicised in various media outlets and a subsequent storm of intelligence officers claiming that the publicity had ruined a good double-agent situation arose. But Michael Schrage points to the fact that it might all just have been a deception, trying to deceive Al-Qaeda cells and leaders into doing anomalous things that might make it easier to track them down.

He writes:

"Disinformation may not guarantee a victory, but it surely buys time, just as it did for the Allies in Operation Fortitude. Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had the incomparable luxury of knowing how successful their deceptions were, thanks to the Bletchley Park cryptanalysts who had cracked the codes of Germany's high command. But even without such intimate knowledge of the current enemy, U.S., British and European intelligence agencies would be fools to give al Qaeda sympathizers any accurate impression of what they know. Media disinformation is thus as much a defensive shield as an offensive weapon.

Though the idea of disinformation makes free societies uncomfortable, it's likely that most Americans would understand if the government withheld some information about its counterterrorist operations, since putting it all out there would give terrorists too much knowledge of our vulnerabilities. Conversely, outright propaganda and wag-the-dog scenarios utterly bereft of fact would undermine both security and credibility. "

And I very much agree.

I quess you could discern here between an epideitic and a deliberative use of deception. The epideitic is propagandistic disinformation over a broad bank where you try to blur the entire societal and military situation on the "War against Terror" - where the deliberative is more tactical and operational deception, to gain or work towards a specific strategic objective.

Schrage suggests that the best way to deal with deception is to admit that it is used openly. I somewhat agree but here we just run into that strange apparition that is the "War against Terror" - because is it a war, a real war, or what? Shouldn't we limit our use of massive deception to war-situations? This really shows some of the inherent dangers of the strange definition entailed in the "War against Terror." War is peace, remember?


I love language

Yes I do!

I have been pondering a certain thing - to do it or not to do it - for a long time (Yeah, I'm sorry for the cryptic abstraction, but it's kind of a christmas-secret you know). Today I met a jolly ol' chum o' mine down by the department of War Studies. I told him of my grief and he voiced his view on it - by using a fictive example of what this might lead to. That picture just stuck in my head and suddenly solved the riddle, untied the knot.

And unhelpably academically nerded down as I am at the time (after writing for two months straight) I can't just say "Whoa, that guy really solved the problem for me" - but need to abstract it and see how constituive that kind of linguistic negotiation work is for our mental picture of our selves and this beautiful, pre-christmas world that we live in.


Deception: Warm at first, but then it freezes and starts to itch

NY Times today brings a story about Pentagon's considerations about bringing combat information/disinformation and psychological warfare into the public realm.

"Pentagon and military officials directly involved in the debate say that such a secret propaganda program, for example, could include planting news stories in the foreign press or creating false documents and Web sites translated into Arabic as an effort to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that preach anti-American principles."

This is not uncontroversial of course and an earlier initiative from Donald Rumsfeld was closed some years ago. But now the idea is being revived, after frustration that American companies can sell their cars even to those hostile to the USA, but the government can't sell its democracy.

It is a very legitimate concern that is the basis of this thinking, but it is also flawed. The government officials readily use terms taken from a market thinking, but they fail to take the analysis that goes with it. Why don't people in the Middle East buy democracy as readily as cars? Because they lack the incentives and the intellectual surplus. The US must show that its brand of democracy - and not just market economy - is worth buying. And will PsyOps help them out in this? Only in short term gains - especially in an information world, where deception in on little arab newspaper could find itself on the front-page of NY Times the next day.

Instead the US should help nurture the Arab journalists and media, by sponsoring independent newspapers and pressuring Arab rulers to lift their heavy-handed control of the press.

Because as Erasmus of Rotterdam said:

Being good is the most expedient way to maintain the appearance of good.


Second track diplomacy and cultural differences

With fog billowing over the barges on the Thames, there is not really much else to do for a young man than to read Robert Jervis's book Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton University Press, 1976) and drink instant coffee.

Because all that sunday-laid-back-ness should remind diplomats that power politics is not enough to solve the differences between states, cultural issues must also be taken into account - of course. 2nd track diplomacy takes account of this, by taking small steps - such as just letting antagonists meet each other in informal settings. This underscores the importance of not only getting to know "intentions", "capabilities" and position in "balance" of power when negotiating, but also understanding the general perception of an opponent.

And Jervis's book underscored what I have been wondering about aloud earlier here, that conflict resolution could gain a lot from knowing the topical-rhetorical phases of argumentation:

'The roots of many important disputes about policies lie in differing perceptions. And in the frequent cases when the actors do not realize this, they will misunderstand their disagreement and engage in a debate that is unenlightening.'

Right on, Jervis.

How to disarm Iran?

New York Times brings an interesting analysis today about the progress in negotiating with the Iranian government about its nuclear capabilities. Because of the difficulties in striking all nuclear facilities in the country it seems that a diplomatic solution is the most viable. NY Times describes how US-EU is using a bad cop - good cop tactics towards the Iranians.

But a most interesting thing that is omitted in the article is the status of the Israeli nuclear programme. In a traditional analysis of power politics it would be obvious to see in what context the Iranians are seeking to upgrade their capabilities. Of course it could be argued that it is always just nice to have a nuclear weapon sitting on the shelf, especially if you have a history of great external hostilities. The Israeli nuclear programme might be for defensive purposes only - as most nuclear programmes probably are, but it is a heavy advantage for them and the Iranians probably take this into account.

The bottom line of this is: How are US-EU going to offer Iran anything that could compensate for the unbalance that they might feel towards Israel? Especially when there is no diplomatic connections here - and with Washington still not recognising the regime in Tehran? Perhaps they hope to stall for time so that the demographic revolution can take its hold. Or as NYT writes:

"Analysts of the Iranian political scene also point out that many in the American government view a growing and energized Iranian civil society, in particular the young and women, as an agent of change toward a democratic Iran."

The only problem is that so far these changes don't have an influence on the foreign policy or the development of nuclear arms.


Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste is going on-line

As forewarned in the recent revision of the Danish intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE) it will open a homepage on Wednesday the 15th. This is done to signal openness and it will publish open and unclassified assessments and reports. Furthermore the service has intensified its cooperation with academicians and will publish an annual, open report. The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende writes about it here (Thanks to the young, beautiful and the gifted in Denmark for the tip).

This is a very exciting turn, seen here from the bell-tower in London - and I'll be tuned in on Wednesday. Of course it means that I can't do research on why it should be more open, but on the other hand it will open the possibility to look at how this openness detract or adds to the operational effectiveness of the service - if this will have any influence, that is.

The Social Democrats calls for investigations into FE in today's issue of Berlingske Tidende, to assess its effectiveness. Could be another interesting development, but hopefully all this investigation doesn't destroy the morale further in the service - it's just another workplace after all.

'Laden s' eludn'

Yeah, that's right. Bin Laden is eluding me. I thought I was so clever and could solve the war on terror in an afternoon and write my essay on Diplomacy about it. I had ascribed a lot of this to the latest Bin Laden speech - which I thought was a major breakthrough, a silent one as it might be.

But as I have been researching it my grand hopes has been kind of let down. I thought I saw some interesting pointers towards a diplomatic dialogue here. But my research so far has shown that his old credo still is valid: "There is no dialogue, except with weapons" (January 2003).

The interesting thing, however, is that I had kind of foreseen that already in my entry on the speech. Interesting how your historic I can be smarter than you present. And a bit scary as well.

Now I just have to turn that immense wisdom of my historic I into a 3000 word essay, namely: "This [the dialogue] might have a very large impact on the notion of al-Queda as a diplomatic entity."

Good pointers are always welcomed...


Trailing behind

The Danish daily "Politiken" brings the story about the possible poisoning of the Ukrainian politician Yushchenko - a couple of days after it last circulated in the UK, was mentioned on these pages and several months after it took place. And I see that all the time - Politiken picks through Guardian's thrashcan and brings it a week or two after.

Perhaps that is just the existential conditions for Denmark, for the intelligence agency Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (as discussed in this blog) and for the press - a chronic dependency on all the big boys and their superior network of human resources/HUMINT.

How can the Danish information workers stand out in this competitive environment?


Diplomacy and simulation

Israeli TV has launched a reality show where the contestants try to sell Israel's message most effectively, including the struggle with the Palestinians Guardian wrote last week.

On one hand that is a very democratising look at foreign politics, that any of us could be a diplomat (that is: any well-educated, intelligent person could do it). But on the other hand, doesn't it kind of trivialise the subject?

Baudrillard, one of the mind-boggling French thinkers on Post Modernity, warns of the dangers of "Virtual Reality" - where the media becomes more real than the "real real". He writes: "Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal..."

In its most negative consequence, as Baudrillard sees it, the simulated becomes more real than the reality. And perhaps we lose contact with the "real real".

The next logical step of "virtuality tv": Every contestant gets control over his own Hellfire equipped drone. Who scores the most points? (Actually in UK at the moment there is a reality show about a group of young people being trained as a bomber crew to relive their grandfathers' experience - you can even try it out yourself here).


Discussion and conflict resolution

Discussions can save the world. But they can also frustrate you to death.

Having the opportunity to sit in on a very interesting discussion between people of different political views, professions and goals I came to think of the indispensable concept of the dynamic of argumentation. And I came to think if this concept could be used on a bigger political scale, to help shed some light on conflicts between old enemies - and not least help mediators who are to try to get these to find common ground.

Very often when a discussion go wrong it is because people are in fact discussing a subject on very different premises. The ancient rhetorical principle of Topics and Heuristics are a useful tool here.

Topic (from the greek topoi) basically means a "place" - or popularly: places in the shared landscape of opinion. Heuristics are basically lists of places or questions that should be asked. A very well-know heuristic is the journalistic: "What, where, when, how, etc."

Another heuristic can shed light on the dynamic of argumentation.

1. Is it so?
2. What is it?
3. What value does it have?
4. What should be done?

Corresponding to these are four phases of a discussion:

1. The constituting phase - question regarding reality.
2. The defining phase - question about identification
3. The evaluative phase - question about estimation
4. The advocating phase - question about action or policy

Sometimes a discussion will go sour because X is arguing with an inbuilt understanding that the subject is so-and-so, a stance that Y hasn?t even realised and therefore is dragged into a fight because X's arguments seems so preposterous that they have to be refuted before the discussion can get on. But now X just proceeds with an unsolved basis - and might make the discussion even worse.

Enter Z, the mediator, who has to be able to spot that X and Y are discussing on different assumptions. Now Z has the possibility to go back in phases and reach a common constitution or definition of the problem - or she can simply fast forward, find another angle and set the two up discussing the problem from another angle.

A good example of this would be two people from different cultural backgrounds discussion ? say from a democracy and an authoritarian background, as the things they take for granted are wildly different.

Those who are able to read "Praktisk Argumentation" by Charlotte Jørgensen and Merete Onsberg (Teknisk Forlag, København) should really do so as they sketch the above out.