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


Two Danish Private Military Contractors have been working in Iraq and Afghanistan

That information was given today by the Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller in Folketinget. It was reported in Ritzau but beyond the initial interest it will rouse, I doubt that any real light will be shed on the area. The real interesting thing could be an exposure of how the Foreign Ministry would use private contractors to do protection assignments in countries where Denmark has no military presence (most countries in the world, that is).


Bin Laden and the US election revisited

I had the pleasure of discussing Osama bin Laden's speech to the American people, October 2004 with my students at the University of Copenhagen.

It did underscore that it is indeed a remarkable speech in terms of adressing another audience than is usually adressed, as bin Laden speaks to the American public with an almost reconcillatory tone.

I have written an article on the speech in the journal of diplomatic language (find it in the scribbling-archive here) as well as a lighter version in RetorikMagasinet. The discussion in class, however, did underscore that I might have been very aware of the strategic use of self-picturing (the making of a rhetorical persona) as a conscious strategy of bin Laden's, but I might not have emphasised strongly enough the impact that the speech would have had with a third audience: The moslem middle-class in the Middle East as well as in Europe. They are the "soft underbelly" of the extremist movement, and therefor it has long since been established that the battle for hearts and minds should be fought in their frontal lobes.

The speech will actually have had quite an impact on exactly that audience: shoring them up that bin Laden also has statesman-like qualities, an observation that will largely be irrelevant in the US.


"Active measures" in London

It certainly seems that the alledged poisoning of defector Alexander Litvinenko is a signature KGB/FSB action - an "active measure" as it is called.

Other Putin-hostile individuals have been targeted by poison in that way, among those Ukrainian politician Victor Yushchenko.

But why use poison? And why use a rare and exotic thing like the heavy metal thallium? Wouldn't it be easier to shoot people in the head, Anna Politkovskaya style? Well, at least there is a symbolic reason: you hint that an advanced and sophisticated organisation is behind and it reawakens the fear of the all-powerful intelligence service. If that is a message that Putin would want to send, he has succeeded.


British secret operations in Yemen

The newest number of Intelligence and National Security is a treasure-trove of academic glitter that makes me sorry for not studying any more.

Just check out this abstract for an article on the British involvement in the Civil War in Yemen:

While officials in Whitehall condoned a series of official covert operations along the Federation border with Yemen they remained strictly controlled and defensive in nature. By contrast, a group of influential Conservative MPs, having already engaged in what might be termed para-diplomacy that effectively stymied British recognition of the new regime in Sana?a , looked to extend British clandestine activity to include direct aid to, and training of, the Royalist Forces deep inside Yemen itself. With the initial support of key Middle Eastern potentates, a private mercenary organization emerged that, while enjoying the tacit encouragement of some in Whitehall, acted above and beyond the control of London in support of what they considered to be Britain?s interest, an interest which, despite the huge political and diplomatic risks involved, came to enlist the help of Israel. At a time when much academic attention has been focused on the rise of the private military organization, the debates over their efficacy, both political and moral, as a tool of foreign policy can be traced to events in the mountains and deserts of the Yemen over four decades ago.

?Where the State Feared to Tread?: Britain, Britons, Covert Action and the Yemen Civil War, 1962?64
JONES, CLIVE, Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 21, No. 5, October 2006

Ukes for troops

The Ukulele is a strange little instrument, much ridiculed and occupying a place below that of other paria strings like the banjo and the lute. However, it is also a very nice little fella that is easy to transport and is guaranteed to make a happy sound. I have bought one, now only remains to get time to learn to play it...

The little happy instrument-thing is probably why some American women has thought up an idea to send ukes to soldiers - the Ukes for troops project. Thanks to Nate for the link...


Charting chaos

An always interesting aspect of analysis and intelligence is when we get a graphical representation. So far charts of socal networks have been my favorite. But the US Central Command adds a competitor - the Chaos slide.

In a power-point graphic leaked to the NY Times is is shown how Iraq is sliding towards Chaos:

Sharing the secrets

Niels over at Nillers Notesblog made me aware the other day, that the American intelligence community has started using "Intellipedia" - an internal wiki. Apparently the wiki is shared among a number of intelligence agencies, has 3600 users and layered in terms of access - you will have a clearance from "sensitive" to "top secret", just like when accessing regular intelligence material. The LA Times mentions that the Wiki has been used for reporting on Nigeria and for discussions on North Korea.

This is really a promising technology: One of the most common problems in intelligence systems being stovepiping, information clogging up on its way from point a to b. A wiki is an interesting combination of push and pull: You can search for the information that you need for a report, as well as start a thread where you seek certain information or add your own to active posts being discussed and created within your field of expertise. In the Intellipedia you apparently have to sign with your own name - a very understandable precaution, even in a closed system.

The big challenge of using a wiki as I imagine it, is to keep all information fresh and updated: Imagine a post on the acquisition of a new weapon system in Iran. A few months later that technology is utterly forgotten or irrelevant, the wiki-post not being updated as all attention is elsewhere. Suddenly, a few years later, the system in question rears it head again after a long periode of slow development. Now your wiki-post is being digged out again and used right off the slate if you are in a hurry, thereby using old information that has not been updated, despite the fact that the information to do so has been there.

Then on the other hand: that is also the problem if you have the information in a Word-file on your own computer. Intellipedia could turn out to be a technology that finally solves the problem that intelligence services has had after the technological revolution: Too much data and too little sharing.

In LA Times Michael Wertheimer, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analysis says:

"I think in the future you'll press a button and this will be the NIE". (National Intelligence Estimate).


Free book: Robert Steele on Information Operations

In keeping with the best of open-source traditions, I just found that Robert Steele has published all his books on intelligence online, and for free.

I have already bought most of them over Amazon, but his book on Information Operations (PDF, 60 MB) are downloading in the engine-room right now, for further digestion.


The classical spin tactics of tailgating - ie. releasing an unfavorable story about yourself in the shadow of a much bigger news to divert interest in it - has become so common knowledge in communication-cirles that the Danish daily runs an item on it today: - Espersen beskyldes for spin i kørekortsag.

It speculates that the news that the Minister of Justice lost her driver's license for running over a scooter, was burried on the newsday that was filled with Princess Mary's pregnancy.

If this is true, spinning has become common property and hopefully the scare will wane a bit. It still takes, however, journalists that keep an eye out for small news-items and push them past the news-aroused editors.

OSINF over-eating

The OSINT guru Robert Steele has an interesting feature on his site - a Public Daily Brief. It is more or less a low-tech version of SiloBreaker or an advanced news-ticker. But running news in 3+1 windows are a dizzying information buffet.

Robert Steel propagates his idea of public intelligence. It is provocative but the thought of a "world brain" is never the less tempting me with its siren-song of effective OS intelligence, linking individuals and organisations together in a living, organic network of knowledge, creating intelligence.