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


Intelligence Ombudsman

Today Washington Post writes about the 700 page report on the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war.

One of the several suggestions herein is that of an Intelligence Ombudsman - an independent part of the organization that can tackle analyst's complaints about having their work compromised. This seems to be an obvious swing against the Gordic knot that is tied by the unruly ends of secret organizations with very low accountability and independent and intelligent employees of the selfsame. But would the present organisation of intelligence services allow for such 'dissent' in their midst? An interesting addendum to the present discussion over intelligence services never the less.


Nuclear Spring (and levers)

Over the last few months I have had the dubious joy of hearing a number of lectures on nuclear technology, with focus on 'Dirty Bombs'. And that is nasty stuff, though it might not all be so dangerous as you might think.

The stockpiles in the hands of the various states might be overlooked while all eyes are on terrorists. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have devised a Doomsday Clock that shows how close we are to nuclear midnight and it has 'run' since 1947(I wonder if that was the inspiration for Iron Maiden's classic song "2 minutes to midnight").

On another note alltogether: The Doomsday Clock is a perfect metaphor for PR uses. Having a 'clock' like this is the wet dream of any NGO wishing for media attention. Of course you can't go around adjusting it all the time (2002 was the last time) as it will lose its symbolic power, but WHEN you do, your are sure to get a lot of press, as the imagery is so vivid.


The Tulip Revolution

As I mused over earlier in this blog (Defining 'Revolution': Info-War in Kyrgyzstan), it seems that a decent, popular revolution needs a symbolic signifier if it is to stand a chance of staying peaceful and not cross the line into traditional 'revolution'.

I predicted that the civil movement in Kyrgyzstan would also need to find a name - an it seems they did, the tulip revolution or the yellow revolution.

With that prediction out of the way, I just can't help thinking that the templates of these uprisings are very similar - and if their linguistic news-buzz will last yet another season. It also seems that Kyrgystan might be a very different case indeed. EurasiaNet reports :

"The Kyrgyzstani uprising may already have a name ? called the Tulip Revolution in tribute to the country?s wide variety of tulip species ? but other opposition members are opting to keep their heads low. In remarks to journalists in Bishkek on December 13, several opposition members of parliament fell largely in line with Akayev on the undesirability of a Rose or Orange Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. 'We do not welcome the current events in Ukraine. We are against conducting a Tulip Revolution here in Kyrgyzstan since it will lead to instability in the country?s government structures,' the news agency AKI Press quoted the eight opposition members as saying."


Nation-Building in Haifa Street

Today The New York Times carries a piece about the recent ebb in insurgency attacks in one of the Ba'ath strongholds in Baghdad. It describes the approach taken by the local US forces.

"A year ago, the American cavalry division took a major risk in shifting to foot patrols from drive-throughs in Bradley armored troop carriers. The change took its toll: the division's Haifa Street force lost five soldiers, and 25 were seriously wounded, the core of a wider group of injured men who received those Purple Hearts. But the unit estimates that it killed 100 to 200 enemy fighters, and the yield in intelligence was rich. It kind of underscores that if you want to befriend the local population, you are putting your own troops at risk - an unpleasant paradox in low casualty societies:

With the foot patrols, the Americans made friends in the Shiite communities, particularly in Showaka, a poor area where back streets are dotted with carved, Ottoman-era balconies. Ties improved with a special $2 million reconstruction program - part of the wider reconstruction in the district - that has brought 12,500 Showaka families their first indoor toilets, buried sewage pipes and modernized the electricity grid. Gone, for these people, are the centuries when sewage ran down open channels in the alleys into the Tigris."


Playing with the big girls, Part II

One of the main arguments for the recent Danish political and military turn towards a more active use of rapid and flexible forces is that this might give Denmark political influence on policy-forming before, during and after a conflict. Reuter now reports that the the US might let allies in on strategy forming.

It will be interesting to see whether Denmark, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and participant in the coalition of the willing, will be invited.

Actually this could to a large extend to be seen as a 'make-or-break' for the recent reliance on USA over NATO in Danish security policy.


A new look on Al Qaeda: empty and chaotic?

After a week with two very interesting lectures on Al Qaeda I have had my outlook somewhat freshened up on this topic that pervades so much of contemporary strategic and intelligence studies.

Bottom line is basically: Al Qaeda is not what it is portrayed to be. The threats are there, but they are not so grand in terms of danger to your life, rather in terms of mass panic. And it all has to do with the organisation of the group.

The first lecture was held by Michael Clarke (links to a PDF of the excellent magazine The World Today), Director of International Policy Institute at King's College London.

One of the most interesting things that mr. Clarke touched upon was the layout and fragmentation of Al Qaeda - their organizational diagram.

Their top echelon is very tight - 30+? perhaps.

Under them a network of messengers - electronic communication is not trusted - satellite phones especially, as you might imagine. These messengers number around 200+?.

The bottom of the pyramid consists of various groups and separate networks of 5-10.000 active fighters, amateurs, separatists in various groupings and cells.

Furthermore there are perhaps 40.000 inactive, supportive people.

This layout means a fragmentation of missions and members. Bin Laden does not control every mission - it has become a franchise. This on one hand means that attacking groups act independently and it will be hard to track Bin Laden down. On the other hand it means that separatist groups, criminals and kids from Brixton or Gellerup who claim a franchise in Al Qaeda might seriously dilute the spiritual discipline and damage the cause. Beslan is a horrific example of this.

Furthermore the top echelon's analysis of Western Society is flawed. It is build on a quasi-Marxist notion of attacking symbols of control and power as a mean to break down the resistance. But instead of a machine that can be broken Western Society is water that will run around the stone thrown into it.

The real problem here is the Western societies and their risk adversity.

This is very much in keeping with the second lecture. This was held by the Observer's Jason Burke who has written on Al Qaeda.

The main point of interest in his lecture was the historic development of Al Qaeda. By a very subtle semantic gesture, he linked the literal meaning of the name Al Qaeda in Arabic with its development. 'Al Qaeda' is a common Arabic word that among other things can mean "Vanguard", "(Logistic) Base" and "Methodology" or "Maxim".

Vanguard-Phase. Mid 80s - 1996
A number of individualist, radical vanguards headed back from Afghanistan to foment an Islamic movement and revolution in their home countries. These were great leader figures like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramsey Yusuf and Bin Laden. Al Qaeda was not an organization but a broad network.

Base-Phase. 1996-2001
Bin Laden returns to Afghanistan and sets up a physical environment for terrorist training and revolution. This becomes an essential hub for Bin Laden's network.

Methodology/Maxim phase. 2001-
There is no longer a safe-haven in Afghanistan. The various groups get more and more autonomous and act in a way that they think Al Qaeda would act. There was no genuine contact between the bombers of Madrid and Bin Laden but they did it in the Bin Laden maxim.

Bin Laden is basically sidetracked and does not have much of a capability any more. And it doesn't really matter as his Maxim lives on. However, the missions that the individual groups partake in does not have any guarantee of Bin Laden's genuine eye for symbolic terrorism and 'propaganda of the deed' - Beslan and Madrid again.

In Burke's view the West does not understand or heed this structure. Therefore the Media happily apply the label 'Al Qaeda' to all the sub-groups even though it is highly contended that they really are. The government and security services plays along with this as they are confused or just poorly coordinated. This skewed focus is not intentional from the official side, or in other words, it is 'a cock-up rather than a conspiracy'.

The fact is that Al Qaeda has become an 'empty signifier' - a term that can hold any kind of meaning that you put into it. Thus the organizational diagram above is Al Qaeda and is not Al Qaeda, depending on who you ask.

I think that these two notions of Al Qaeda are very important when analyzing the communication of Al Qaeda as I have tried on this page. It becomes clear that there do not have to be any cohesion of any kind between the beheading movies of Iraq and Bin Laden's video speeches. Therefore it gives perfect sense I think when I characterise Bin Laden's October 2004 speech as an attempt to work over his persona, to style himself as a kind of 'statesman' - that is actually the logical move for a largely impotent head of a chaotic pyramid. (The essay is forthcoming - a link will be given on these pages).


The name is Bondam, Jørgen Bondam

You don't have to have a cool James Bondish name like Jørgen Bondam (Yeah, I know its corny, but I couldn't resist) to become the new Danish Intelligence hero.

Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (the Danish Defence Intelligence Service) is looking for field operatives. Education is not that important - but you must be willing to take responsibility for others' lives. And of course it would be best if you speak Arabic or Pashtu, have knowledge about the Middle East/Central Asia, are interested in Security Policy and can mix up a nasty dry martini (ok, I made that one up).

On a more serious note: it is a very interesting way to go out and beef up HUMINT capabilities - but also highlights just how much in a predicament Western services are at the moment to get people that would be able to provide relevant information.


Israeli intelligence use of media

Today in the Sunday Times there is an in-depth story on how Israeli forces prepare for an attack on the Iranian Nuclear facility at Natanz using the Special Forces of the Shaldag unit and F-15 fighter-bombers from 69 Squadron.

But what is behind the story? As you can be sure that no military commander would reveal his plans, let alone to the details that appears in the Times, why is the story launched?

Two possibilities present themselves:

* The article suggests that the revelation of Israeli plans is designed to put pressure on USA as to get them to solve the problem fast. But it also underscores that the USA must know and be involved in any plans the Israeli would carry out, as they need to pass close to Iraqi airspace, controlled by the Americans.

* Deception. The Iranians probably know that the Israelis wouldn't do just as the Times say - but what will they do then? Now the Iranians are forced to beef up protection of their nuclear facilities. This might be advantageous for the Israeli. The increased security activity might help the Israelis locate some of the facilities that hitherto has been hidden from them. Whatever they do, it is interesting as this story is so obviously not what it seems on the surface.

Joseph W. Caddell distinguishes between two types of deception in his primer on Deception:

"A" Type Deception: "Ambiguity Deception" geared toward creating general confusion.

"M" Type Deception: "Misleading Deception" designed to mislead an adversary into a specific and preconceived direction.

Joseph W. Caddell: Deception 101 - A Primer On Deception
Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2004

Shlomo Shpiro: The Media Strategies of Intelligence Services International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence Vol. 14 No. 4, 2001


Beer and Sovereignty

Today I got the latest issue of "Ølentusiasten" the members' magazine of the Danish Beer Consumer union Danske Ølentusiaster - an equivalent of the British CAMRA.

As this blog cannot allow itself to become to frivolous and detail how I get all sentimental when watching the long overdue 'Beer-revolution' in a hitherto monopolized Denmark and get a spring-like urge to go out and try new micro-brews in interesting places, I will just note that there is a curious connection between UK and DK when it comes to Beer and Sovereignty:

Both countries are reluctant towards the EU project and both have the largest memberships in the European beer consumer organization EBCU. In Britain it started in the 1970s, in Denmark in the 1990s. The British experience was linked to the perceived threat against Real Ale and was isolated to the Isles. In Denmark it was a revolt against the Carlsberg dominated monopoly and it has resonated in the other Nordic countries (for other reasons though).

Could it be that a reluctance towards the geopolitical Berlin-Paris axis shows itself in the revival of the drinking habits of olde? And could this connection explain why Denmark went to war in Iraq with the drinking-buddies across the North Sea?

Cheers and think about that!


How to play with the big girls

A recent news-flash on the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affair's homepage describes the foreign minister's meeting with Condi Rice, Senator McCain og Security Advisor Hadley.

It is an interesting look into how high-level diplomacy is conducted between a small power like Denmark and the Mono-Super-Power. Because - to be honest - it seems from the summary that the Danish foreign Minister Per Stig Møller was talked TO more than talked WITH. However the Danish influence on the Baltic states was noted, as was the participation in the Iraq war. Hard power in other words. But the Danish government really want to exert soft power as well. They have launched the 39plan - a list of 39 areas where EU-US could work more closely together.

UK has its 'special relationship' myth - the co-cultural and foreign political worldview of the two biggest Anglo Saxon countries. Is the current Danish government working deliberately to strengthen its niche in the relationship? And is the Foreign Ministry?


Syrian Intelligence

If you are interested in the recent developments in Lebanon and Syria, then check this article out. It's on the Syrian intelligence service and written by the influential Intelligence academic Andrew Rathmell.

His article is written by using open secondary and primary sources. In my eyes that is an illustration of how much information it is actually possible to gather on intelligence services that have not had an official history written or are sitting tightly on their civil-military interface. My own research on Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (The Danish Defence Intelligence Service) might not live up to Rathmell's high standard, but it is indeed informed by it. (And Mukhabarat and DDIS are also quite different creatures...)

The article can by the way be found in the Conflict Studies Journal which have several free articles online.


The Rhetoric of Naval Force

I have been looking into the concept of 'Diplomatic body language' in this blog. Now I have just read a text that further integrates theories of rhetoric with those of strategic studies and international relations.

Edward Luttwak's essay on 'The Political Uses of Sea Power' stresses the importance of signalling and interpretation to the diplomatic task of utilising naval manoeuvres. This has been called 'Gun Boat Diplomacy' by another seminal Navy-diplomatic writer James Cable.

Luttwak constructs a framework for understanding the use of military means of power to obtain a political goal in peace-time. This process he calls 'suasion'. Semantically this is very close to the centre-piece of much modern rhetoric 'persuasion'. As it can be seen, only the prefix differs. Both words hail back to the greek ' peitho' and the Latin 'suadere' - to advise.

Luttwak basically asserts that there is a difference between the actual actions performed and the output in the form of the actual 'suasion' in the mind of the opponent. You can send a carrier group into the littorals of a country, but you cannot control how the target country and its leaders will react.

This view of diplomatic signalling is actually based on a understanding of language, not as referential, but as symbolic. That is: words do not have a fixed meaning, but changes after the situation. This might banale today, but it isn't a thing that has been in vogue for quite a long time. Therefore signalling by naval ships will never be an exact science but more of an art - because what does a ship symbolize?. And in that aspect Diplomacy, force and rhetoric convenes.

I don't know if Luttwak was conscious about that when he wrote his essay in 1974, but it coincides very much with a general 'linguistic turn' in philosophy and sciences that was influenced by linguists like Austin and Searle.

Luttwak, Edward N., The Political Uses of Sea Power, (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press Ltd., 1974)


Danish Foreign Policy Yearbook 2004

Hooray for government-sponsored research institutions that publish their work in the public domain. Danish Foreign Policy Yearbook 2004 from the Danish Institute of International Studies can be downloaded here.

The Foreign Policy Yearbook contain articles on among other thing the Danish participation in the war against Iraq and a general overview of the International Situation and Danish Foreign Policy in 2003.