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


Overt Covert Action

The Orange Revolution, assassinations in Lebanon, mercenaries in Macedonia. The pot is boiling and intelligence services can be assumed to have an influence on what is going on. But perhaps the nature of covert operations has slowly changed over the last 20 years. At least that is what Frederick L. Wettering, a former CIA CO officer thinks.

Among the trends he points out in his article in International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence is privatization. Propaganda and paramilitary action is to a high degree put into the hands of foundations and companies. This has the interesting effect that it can be done overt as opposed to the state's need for keeping those operations covert. National Endowment for Democracy is mentioned - a Quasi-NGO ('Quango') that is publicly funded put private is now giving the support to opposition groups in other countries that CIA would have been giving before.

Military companies like Dyncorp and MPRI are undertaking the training of local forces.

Wettering is not too happy about this outsourcing. He is furthermore warning against Rumsfeld's plans of establishing covert capabilities within the Department of Defence (as he has already done). Apparently the Army and the Navy had organisations like that in the 70s and they had some catastrophic 'flops'.

Another thing that is undermining Covert action is the way military action has been used in the state system:

?My former colleague and mentor Charles Cogan has written that ??the era of ... covert action is largely a thing of the past?? because ??covert action has become so difficult in terms of authorities and in terms of carrying it out, that military action has come to be regarded almost as a substitute for covert action?

Wettering, Frederick L. ?(C)overt Action: The Disappearing ??C??? in International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence Vol. 16, No. 4, 2003


Asian Astroturf

'Astroturf' is the plastic grass that will tear your legs to shred when playing a fast game of football or hockey on it. It is also a PR/political term for phoney or assisted public oppinion. It can take the form of interest groups set up by companies to support causes they are interested in, it can consist of local party members writing letters to the newspapers disguised as ordinary citizens and, in its most extreme form, it can be demonstrations where the demonstrators have been bussed in by government, given placards and then told to be 'spontaneous.'

Today The New York Times is writing about the recent protests in China against Japan and how they are scripted by the government to assist them in taking a leadership role in Asia.

By talking to Chinese students in London there is no doubt that the resentment in the population is deep and widespread. But that the government has a say in the demonstrations can be seen by the mere fact that the demonstrators are allowed at all. Thus they are harnessing the nationalistic sentiments of the country as to further a Geopolitical goal. I am trying to think of examples of that calculation leading to catastrophic results...


To make a spy

Today the former CIA analyst Lindsay Moran writes in the The New York Times and questions CIA's new drive to recruit spies and beef up its HUMINT capability in 'More Spies, Worse Intelligence'.

The former CIA officer really has some interesting points - especially considering how Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (Danish Defence Intelligence Service) recently has sought after new 'collectors' and comparing it with Søren Staunings criticism of the service's organization. Lindsay Moran first points out the traits the new applicants should have and then shows how organisational weaknesses can undermine otherwise good operatives:

'A good officer relies on a particular set of personality traits: he must be smart and able to think quickly on his feet; he must possess uncommon intuition and unflappable common sense; he must be outgoing, likable yet firm; he must have integrity, but also be willing to blur his moral and ethical parameters such that he doesn't mind preying upon people, asking them to commit treason and then ending the relationship once they have outlived their usefulness.'

'After all, in my training class, more than 10 percent left within five years - most of them after 9/11. We used to joke about people on what we called the "five-year plan": recruits who would join the agency, go through two years of costly training, serve one overseas tour and then promptly quit. Some left the agency for personal reasons, but more often they resigned because of a disheartening realization that the directorate of operations was poorly managed to the point of near dysfunction.

I never thought I would become one of those people on the five-year plan. But I did. After one overseas tour I resigned, almost exactly five years after I'd joined. An inside look at the clandestine service had me convinced that this was no place to make a meaningful career, or any significant contribution to my country. I was not the only one who felt this way. As one former officer tells me: "It was the less accomplished that stayed behind. Most of us saw the writing on the wall and found the work uninspiring and unchallenging. The careerists we met were cynical, bored and negative."

Simply put, the directorate of operations needs to clean up its own act before it can recruit and, more important, retain quality employees.

Part of the problem is that the agency's culture rewards quantity over quality. Career advancement depends on the number of foreigners an officer is able to recruit, rather than the quality of information derived from them. '

Dårlig dansk journalistik

Dansk journalistik er i en sørgelig forfatning. Det er en plet der sidder tilbage på min hjernebark efter en lang (og ellers god) påskeferie i Danmark. Ok, Pave-død, Social-formandsvalg og Prinse-bryllup er selvfølgeligt altid noget der river de svage sjæle i nyhedsredaktionerne med i en pseudo-nyhedsjagt. Men havde der så bare været substantielle ting blandet i. Når TV-Avisen kan finde på at bruge adskillige minutter på at rapportere om andre journalister (på P3) der leger med Social-formandskandidaterne er det grimt at tænke og kigge på.

Er det mon ikke fordi Danmark bare har alt for mange mainstream aviser og tv-nyheder til alt for få mennesker?

Een af de stærkeste bastioner er efter min mening Weekendavisen , der ikke er bange for at være snæver og elitær til stor glæde for alle der orker at læse langt. På vej hjem i flyveren læste jeg tre fine artikler der alle sammen handlede om journalistik.

Den garvede Christiansborg journalist Hans Mortensen havde skrevet om 'Uorden i geleddet' hos Venstre - en indsigtsfuld og sladdervoren artikel af bedste politiske skuffe, der afdækker hvordan hjulene drejer i magtens korridorer. Den slags skriver man kun på mange års erfaringer, gode kontakter og en nogenlunde intakt trang til at udøve virkelig journalistik.

'Det store bogtyveri' på det kongelige bibliotek i København er blevet dækket i Politiken i adskillige artikler af de to journalister Lea Korsgaard og Stéphanie Surrugue. WA bringer et interview med dem om den fortællende journalistik, en genre jeg selv har været meget vild med. De to journalister beklager at almindelig nyhedsjournalistik skal være så kedeligt.

Mod slutningen af denne velspækkede sektion skriver David Trads om forholdet mellem undersøgende journalistik a la Hans Mortensen og den fortællende journalistik som han siger er på fremmarch blandt de unge journalister.


YES - Young Europeans for Security

YES - Young Europeans for Security has launched a handful of articles on intelligence reforms in both Danish and English on their home page (scroll down to find it).

Some of it seems like mere regurgitation of prior knowledge, some is rather new and an interesting take. Most notably is the article "Efterretningstjenesternes nye arbejdsvilkår" by Søren Stauning - a scaled down version of his conclusion in his dissertation last year that was used in the Grevil case (against Stauning's wish). He points out some very interesting obstacles to Danish Reform, mainly the lack of an internal affairs department - a 'meta-service' of sorts - and the physical dispersion of facilities.


Guerilla War in Iraq escalating?

Today Washington Post writes about the recent insurgent attack on Abu Ghraib. It showed considerable tactical prowess and almost looked like a regular way of war-fighting.

'Ground fighters among the insurgents advanced only after the mortar and rocket assault had ended and attacked the prison from two directions simultaneously. The smaller of the thrusts was apparently a feint to divert attention from the main attack [...]'

Is this an escalation of the war? In Maoist theory on 'People's war' there are three phases. ' In the first phase, the guerrillas gain the support of the population through attacks on the machinery of government and the distribution of propaganda. In the second phase, escalating attacks are made on the government's military and vital institutions. In the third phase, conventional fighting is used to seize cities, overthrow the government and take control of the country.'

Hmm - I don't think Iraq is very comparable to 1940s China. But nevertheless - the attacks on US military installations have been a weak area in the 'Al Qaeda' image since the USS Cole attack in 1998. So it would be obvious if this kind of attack would be sought after by more ideological minded fighters.