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


Eject! Eject! Ahh, never mind...

As discussed before here the involvement in Iraq hasn't really been on the agenda so far in the debate around the Danish election. But yesterday the opposition leader Mogens Lykketoft aired the view that the Danish contingent should be detatched from the coalition and that the focus should be shifted towards humanitarian efforts.

This must be a totally cost-free piece of election glitter. Socialdemokraterne probably know that it would be totally impossible to have a military mission in Iraq outside the Coalition's. Furthermore they take the humanitarian NGOs as media hostages by saying that they should play a bigger role - while knowing that they wouldn't work without or even under military protection.

The issue should be debated, but couldn't some of the parties find a decent way to do it, taking the matter seriously? S is scrambling for the eject-button, knowing that it all will be forgotten when the mandate is going to be renegotiated in July.


Crossing fingers for Iraq

Tomorrow's election in Iraq overshadows the petty squabbles of, say, the Danish General Election in scope of its possibilities and problems.

If the election leads to a viable and strong parliament this might be a step in the direction of a succes for nation-building by force. However the trees won't grow into heaven. The democracy that Iraq will have will take years to get to a really workable form. But I am afraid that the Western leaders and their constituencies will tend to forget that. The paradox is that democracy is a form of government with at real bad short time memory. And failures always seems bigger when you miss the historical dimension.


Nation-Building on the menu after all

Well, seems I was too quick here in my English exileIraq and foreign policy seems to be an issue in the Danish election after all.

Not that the discussion seems to shed much clarity on the stance towards the hard-core military component of nation-building. Everybody just wants to go home and start the civilian rebuilding. 22 percent of the Danish population wants the soldiers home immediately, 35 think that they should stay in Iraq as long as their work is needed there.

Nation-Building by Force

I have just sped through Michael Ignatieff's bookAmerica's Empire Lite (this links to an article on Global Policy Forum). It just enforced my growing impression that the debate leading up to the Danish general election is really missing the foreign policy dimension. Speculations, I was told by a good-looking source, are if the major parties (who are all behind the detachment in Iraq) have decided to keep it out of the picture - leaving it to various fringe-parties on the left to comment on. Foreign policy is never a big issue - but the biggest opposition party SocialDemokratiet, doesn't even mention it in their election-material.

This is unfortunate. We just got ourselves a new defence-paper, radically restructuring the composition and roles for our soldiers. They are being cast as an actual tool for foreign policy, they are purchasing equipment for going abroad and the core of the forces are being professionalized.

This will lead to Danish forces being used in a offensive role when the need arises again. And enter Empire - if the politicians don't start informing the people of how the emerging world-order looks like (e.g. that force and short-term "colonisation" is being used as a prerequisite for nation-building, and hopefully, peace), they will lose legitimacy every time Danish troops are used abroad in this manner.

It would be a major upheaval in Danish Foreign Policy tradition - but hey, we're already there...


As I wrote yesterday there is a strange paradoxical thing about peacekeeping/nation-building and soldiers. I just found out today that the former UN chairman Dag Hammarskjold said something along these lines:

"Peacekeeping is not a soldier's job, but only a soldier can do it."

I am as of today beginning to find out what role the military plays in nationbuilding in Iraq. Yeah, for an essay, that's right. Not just for fun.


Crossing the line: Abuse of prisoners and ad bacculum

Today New York Times writes about the recent British abuse of prisoner scandal: Court-Martial: British Major Say Looting Led to Abuse of Prisoners.

It describes how the abuse came about after repeated looting of aid. Prior looters had been dragged off to POW camps but were released as they weren't POWs. The British Major had then ordered for looters to be detained and put to work in the camp. The abuse was an unforeseen side-effect. But in other words: abuse springs from desperation about not being able to carry out your job as a soldier (protecting the base and the supplies) in a satisfactory way.

I have been writing on the threat, the ad bacculum argument, as a sort of "border-post" between language and violence (in "Papers").

"If the argument is to have any validity then there must be a risk that the audience is actually subjected to violence. The sender of the threat must be willing to cross the border. Or as Artz and Pollock writes:

After all, the threat of coercion is only "persuasive" to the extent that the audience in question believes that the rhetor would and could carry out the threat .

Violence thus gets its meaning through language in form of the threat."

This example shows that we further need to qualify that statement. There are to scales to bring into the equation:

* The military's conception of when threat should become violence
* The perpetrators willingness to endanger himself

I think I see some distinct features from the British example:

As violence in the form of shooting was unacceptable - with regard to the British troops' ethos (image) - and imprisonment didn't help, the threat was the only solution. However, against perpetrators who were willing to endure violence (and perhaps even death) no verbal threat was strong enough. And so you have symbolic violence, designed to leave a clear impression on the looter. To humiliate him as to send a message to him and others like him.

In my view this very strongly suggests that this kind of protection of certain installations, such as aid-material, should be done by a police authority and not the military. The military system just is not designed to deal with civilian matters as that. This makes the soldier frustrated and prone to symbolic violence when shooting is unacceptable.

But this is on the other side a classical example of the tension between nation-building and military intervention. The policing operation can only be effective if the threat of persecution is credible as shown above. And who are the only ones to provide that kind of credibility as of now?

The military.

The NYT article ends by mentioning the Danish case of abuse. Here the Danish officer Annemette Hommel is accused of interogating prisoners in an unacceptable way. Again a case from the borderland between language and violence.


Poisoning the Well

Doing some random research for a late night piece of work I came across an old friend of mine:Poisoning the Well. This fallacy is the pre-emptive strike of argumentation - or the "booby-trapping of arguments".

By poisoning the well you predisposition your audience towards your opponent by foreseeing what he will say and interpret it beforehand:

"As son of a rich man he will of course resist our reforms out of fear of losing his privileges".

This is a pretty wide-spread argument when it comes to discussions on security-issues it seems to me - it serves to demonise the enemy.

Does 'Intelligence Studies' Constitute a Seperate Discipline in its Own Right?

A new paper added under 'Papers'.

20.1.05 closed is announcing on its homepage that it has closed because of unrealistic expectations from the media.

That is too bad as it was a very good initiative. However I see their problem, as it was evident from some of the postings:

They weren't really dealing with spin as such. They pointed out how the liberal party Venstre was being misleading in information on their homepage. But that is bad argumentation, not spin. They pointed out how the TV-channel TV2 would use misleading graphics, but they would never be able to prove ill intent and the election race wouldn't be long enough for a picture of consistency in the manipulation to arise.

The conclusion must be that the Danish election race is still relatively straight forward and quick (compared to say, an American presidential election, a process taking years). The Danish debate is still rather mundane and isn't riddled with the same level of personal attacks as in other countries (even though this government has had its share of scandals - especially with camaraderie).

Another page doing the same job, but in a less sexy (and then perhaps, realistic) but thorough way is Mie Femø Nielsen seems to be the driving force behind this one and it reveals structural spin and strategies.

There is still a place in the world for I could imagine it as a blog dealing with bad argumentation and the following demands for real political substance. It could also look by and make a list of common spin-moves - that would play very well into the rhetoricians' fetish with cataloging figures.


There's something electing in Denmark

The General Election has been called in Denmark and not many doubt that the liberal party Venstre will win that one. I just surfed by today and was amazed at how many clever people they got observing - this could really be an important addition to the election and I will be following them close.

At the same time the subtle connection from the name - spin control - to the world of automotive transportation dawned on me :) Well there you have a failure of past governments to report: they haven't put the conditions in place for making me want or able to buy a car...

UPDATE just removed a posting on graphics on the TV-Channel TV2 that was deemed misleading without explanation. Hmmm.

Well, as Thomas' comment pointed out, its still there. It was just taken down, revised (e.g. the focus of the criticism changed) and put up again (under a new name?). Not a big deal of course. But interesting how blogging just seems to be the perfect medium for launching your half-baked watch-dog musings :)


Danes in danger? Threat-assessment from FE

Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE) published an assessment on 10 January.

See, it didn't hurt now did it?

Apart from having a lot of better sources it looks somewhat like essays produced by some of the smart students here at the Department of War Studies, King's College London. Me? No, I just got smashed for my assessment of Serbian strategy in Croatia 91-95.

Æv! as they say in Denmark...

Siloviki and the force of inertia

Today New York Times brings a story worthy of a spy-novel. It describes how elements within the Ukrainian Intelligence Service SBU shifted sides during the Orange Revolution and aided the opposition as to avoid a bloodshed. The so-called Siloviki were instrumental in avoiding that a mobilisation of the Interior Ministry Forces led to a Prague/Tianmen/Romanian crackdown and perhaps an ensuing civil war.

The Siloviki hold that they were motivated by the same feelings as the protesters. If it is so, that is very positive and interesting - as intelligence services are known for their non-political ethos. It takes a lot of courage to break with a system that supports you if you find out that it is rotten.

For that interpretation speaks the rhetorical force of inertia. It is always easier to defend the incumbent than promulgate the new. To break with this it is suggested that the arguments are strong.

However, it shouldn't be dismissed that the security-service now is sided with the winning faction. That will give both bodies an elevated status.


Rhetoricians: Don your armour...

A new page made by students of rhetoric from the University of Copenhagen is going to monitor the pending Danish election, sniffing out examples of spin and manipulation. (The rumour goes that the company is going to launch their own version, but this is yet unconfirmed). looks like an interesting and very timely project set in Danish terms but inspired by pages like Spinsanity. It will probably help somewhat in redeeming the term "rhetoric" in the media-using public, as they are bound to get some editorial covering if they unearth some hitherto unseen things.

The big problem with projects like this is that rhetoricians generally (myself included) think that they can save the public debate from manipulation by their superior skills of argumentation analysis. But sometimes that is just not enough, as the real spin is not to be found in the words but in the underlying facts that are skewed, biased or downright false. A good example from the Danish debate is the government's generous "additions" to the Tsunami victims - that turned out just to be rearrangements of funds already allocated. It looked good but was no change of policy in the real world.

That kind of spincontrol takes more than righteous indignation and a copy of Toulmin's "The Uses of Argument", namely research and good contacts in the bureaucracy.


Intelligence and journalism

I have flown back and now I sit in my bed with a late night view of London and the flickering, drunken lights of Saturday night.

While in Denmark I had the opportunity to see the movie "Kongekabale", a political thriller of nifty quality as well as attend a seminar with the American rhetorician Michael Leff on agency and ethos. Both of those events led me to ponder over the similarities of journalism and intelligence.

After seeing the movie I thought "Intelligence is just shoddy investigative journalism". This of course isn't right - but the kernel here is that investigative journalism have that criteria for judgement that intelligence so often lacks - is it making the world a better place in a moral sense or not?

This isn't fair to intelligence, as it probably can have the same effect. But outside spy-novels it doesn't do it in such a sexy and seductive way. Furthermore you sometimes get the impression that some intelligence-work doesn't have to show the same burden of proof as investigative journalism.

The bottom-line here is a thing that I have been circling before: Intelligence-agencies should have a lot of use for journalists. And in connection to this, an open milieu of dissent and discussion and a drop of gung-ho anarchy perhaps (which seems to work so well for journalists).

It might be the enrapturing lights there, outside, but I envision creative settings like those who sprung up around the IT industry in the 90s - spies and intelligence analysts playing table-football and brainstorming in bag-chairs over Al Qaeda's latest ploy drinking vats of caffe latté.


Maritime Security - the waiting-game

The Maritime Security Status Conference on which I participated as "notary" yesterday was quite interesting. One finding was that it is a pressing matter to be able to track vessels and containers - but also that such tracking might be a double-edged sword. This is illustrated very well on the page where the present AIS system that track ships can be accessed over the internet. This service has alledgedly been used by pirates in the Malacca Strait to track ships.

Furtermore a very rushed presentation from the Danish Security Intelligence Service hinted that the cooperation between private and public players might be the future - a thing nicely illustrated by the conference itself.

Lastly I got hold of a copy of Michael Richardson's (who spoke on the conference) book "A Time Bomb for Global Trade. Maritime-related Terrorism in an Age of Weapons of Mass Destruction" - it really looks interesting and is written with a lot of examples (a wise choice of writing-strategy concerning the general audience).


Michael Leff on Oratory and Agency

On Friday I am able to attend a lecture and a seminar on Ethos and Agency. The lecture is by Michael Leff, one of the more interesting contemporary American rhetoricians. Last time I saw him in Copenhagen I wasn't too impressed, but this time the subject is a lot more interesting.

It is also heartwarming to see that Rhetoric at the University of Copenhagen is providing its student and growing number of old alumni with interesting foreign lecturers. This might be helped along by the growing number of Ph.d.'s on the University and outside.


Intelligence and the free market

Today NY Times writes about the new CIA report that places a lot of blame in the upper echelons of the organisation, at George Tenet among others, for not predicting that terrorism would be the next great thing to watch.

In other words, the problem could be found in the stage of the intelligence cycle that can be described as the 'tasking'. But this is an inherent problem in intelligence. Who will be the next big threat? It is in the nature of things that we can't see a thing as long as it is still under the 'threat-horizon'.

That did remind me of Admiral John Poindexter's botched suggestion for a 'terror stock market'. He proposed that intelligence services could rein and use the free market's predictive powers in order to anticipate new threats. This should be done on a virtual threat-market where people could bet on likely future security-related events.

The idea created an outrage and Poindexter resigned.

But was it so bad? Couldn't CIA have hoped for a more precise picture of threats to be had they had that market to watch. Michael Schrage has written an interesting piece in the NY Times to defend the idea.

From a rhetorical angle it is also quite interesting. The dichotomy between inside/outside is at play here. The American public won't have a trader in Dubai betting on assassinations of American politicians - whereas the abolition of the presidential ban on foreign assassinations wasn't really noticed in the mainstream (the spectacular attack - a hellfire-equipped Predator Drone that destroyed a car-full of people in Yemen was, however). This in turn is a rhetorical refutation of the realist claim that domestic politics can't permeate the hard shell of the state and influence international politics.


Maritime Security Status Conference

It seems that I have got the chance to participate in the Maritime Security Status Conference - a conference in Copenhagen setting out to gauge the new post-911 maritime threats.

Maritime anti-terror security is quite a large sector, however it doesn't really recieve too much attention in the mainstream security litterature compared to, say, the threat from MANPAD's against commercial aircrafts.

This misrepresentation has a lot to do with the symbolic status of shipping vs. airtravel. The subjective feeling of risk is heightened by the fact that it might be a transportation that you actually have some experience with and would choose a couple of times a year - whereas an oiltanker in the Red Sea is quite an abstract concept to most people. However, the terroristic gain when talking about money is clearly to be found in attacks against shipping.

It will be interesting to see if the conference will give any estimates on the possible ripple effects of a succesful terrorist attack on a maritime vessel.


Bin Laden Speech Archive on

Trying to make a textual analysis of Bin Laden's speeches showed me that a focused Bin Laden Archive was needed on the internet. I have tried to make a comprehensible overview of all the speeches on video and audio-tape ascribed to Osama bin Laden. Hopefully this can be used by all who wants to make comparative analyses, rhetorical or otherwise.

The archive is not complete, as not all the speeches seems to have made it in a complete form to the main stream media - but I will try compile the rest soon. In time I will also provide pdf files with line numbers for all the speeches.

I have placed a link in the sidebar.

Open Source Intelligence and post-combat stabilisation

It seems that it is hard to move from peace to war when all you wanna do is fight the bad guys with weapon in hand.

At least the Defence Science Board observes that the US Army post-conflict abilities are flawed in a recent report to the Pentagon. They also touch upon the role of OSINT and post-combat stabilisation. They make this very interesting observation:

"Open sources can provide much of the information required to support peacetime needs and stabilization and reconstruction operations. They could be utilized to better effect, however. It is almost always the case that, because anyone can do open source analysis, no one really does it. Or, at least no one does it really well." (147)

Well, this seems to me to be an obvious task for resource-weak intelligence-services like Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, as discussed before on these pages. This would mean moving to strengthen a sort of journalistic capability among the pool of operatives.