Interview with editors of H-INTEL, a new intelligence email list (Part II)

Damien Van PuyveldeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Yesterday we posted an interview with Dr. Mark Stout, of Johns Hopkins University and the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, who in June of this year announced the creation of H-INTEL, a new scholarly discussion list. The list, which now has over 200 members, and is actively seeking more, is an ambitious project that aims to provide an online venue for the scholarly discussion of intelligence. In doing so, it brings together academics, researchers, journalists, practitioners, and others, with an active interest in intelligence studies and intelligence history, ranging from antiquity to our times. Today we post the second part of our exclusive interview on H-INTEL, this time with List Editor Damien Van Puyvelde, a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom. Damien, who specializes in the intensification of public-private intelligence relations in the ‘global war on terrorism’, is also a member of the Centre for Intelligence and International Security Studies (CIISS) at Aberystwyth. Originally from France, Damien is currently H-INTEL’s primary List Editor.

intelNews: Would you share some identifying information about your own scholarly trajectory, your academic interests in the field of intelligence, as well as your current teaching and/or research activities?

DVP: I am currently a PhD candidate and member of CIISS at Aberystwyth University. My research project, which is now coming to an end, examines the intensification of public-private intelligence relations in the global war on terrorism. I am particularly interested in the impact this intensification may have had on mechanisms of intelligence accountability in the United States. Broadly speaking I would say that my research interests cover three areas: the privatization of security; security governance; and intelligence studies with a particular interest in US intelligence after the Cold War. As a French citizen, I am also interested in transferring and applying some of the insights developed in the English-speaking literature on intelligence to the French-speaking world. Besides my research, I have been contributing to most of the modules the department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University teaches on security intelligence, including: War, Strategy and Intelligence; Past and Present of US Intelligence; Intelligence and International Security; and soon a module on Global Crime and Transnational Policing.

iN: H-INTEL’s stated mission is to function as “a network devoted to the scholarly discussion of intelligence history and studies”. How “networked” do you think the field of intelligence studies is today? Is there room for improvement?

 DVP: There is always room for improvement. In the UK I think that intelligence students and scholars form a relatively small community. There are quite a lot of opportunities to network. I think for example of the Cambridge seminars and the meetings at the Royal United Services Institute, or the CIISS bi-annual conference at Gregynog. Most of these events are relatively limited in scope, which means that it is easier to actually meet people. In the last decade or so, there have also been more and more interactions between scholars and practitioners of intelligence. However this last type of interactions remains relatively negligible in comparison to the situation in the US. Finally, I think that there is room for improvement at the international level in interactions between scholars based in the UK and the US, but also between the anglosphere and the rest of the world. In addition, I would like to see more interactions between the different generations of intelligence students/scholars and practitioners. Hopefully H-INTEL can contribute to “network” the field in these two ways.

iN: How critical do you think that the role of a list such as H-INTEL can be for the overall development of intelligence scholarship in our time?

DVP: From a strictly academic point of view, I think the network is a fantastic opportunity to bring intelligence studies to the next level. From a UK higher-education perspective, I would say that one of the key possibilities H-INTEL could help foster is capturing grants for collaborative research projects. Ideally, such a research project would bring together scholars from different background, institutions, generations, and countries altogether. I also think H-INTEL is a very good opportunity to benefit from the insights of more established scholars and practitioners. As a graduate student it is not always easy to reach people who have a lot more experience in the field. For example, the network could be used to circulate ideas/arguments, or questions about access to resources in intelligence studies. This could crucially enhance the quality of research in the field.

iN: How does H-INTEL hope to maintain scholarly standards, while at the same time embracing the indisputable interest in intelligence from non-academic audiences?

DVP: I don’t think the interest from non-academic audiences is specific to the field of intelligence. I am sure that other scholarly networks hosted by H-Net also count former or current practitioners in their ranks. From a scholarly point of view, the practitioners’ perspective is always valuable since it can be considered, most of the time, as a primary source. Other, non-academic audiences may be interested in the network and they are most welcome to join us. It is the job of the editors, with the help of the advisory board, to ensure the network remains a space for scholarly contributions. In my personal opinion, a scholarly contribution is a contribution to the existing body of knowledge in the field. Now, contributions can take many forms. Typically, they take the form of analyses or short reflections based on relevant pieces of information. But H-INTEL will also circulate pieces of information relevant to students of intelligence (and here there may be some overlap with the work intelNews does). In addition to these contributions, the network will publish announcements such as book launches, call for papers and so on.

iN: What has been the reaction to the establishment of H-INTEL? Has it met your personal expectations thus far?

DVP: I have recently presented the project at the International Intelligence History Association’ annual conference at the Ecole Militaire in Paris, France. The reaction was quite interesting and is directly related to your next question. One of the criticisms that emerged was that most of us (members of the advisory board and editors of H-INTEL) are, in one way or another, part of the ‘anglosphere’. This reflects a broader critique of the field of intelligence studies that was recently raised by Prof. Richard Aldrich at a series of conferences where he presented his paper: Escaping from American Intelligence: Culture, Ethnocentrism and the Anglosphere. As Mark Stout already pointed out, we welcome members and contributions from any country. In addition, we will soon welcome a new member on our advisory board, Professor Sébastien Laurent, who is one of the leading figures in development of intelligence studies in France.

iN: In your official announcement of H-INTEL, you placed emphasis on encouraging “membership participation from around the world”. Considering that professional intelligence work tends to reflect strictly national interests, how important is international cooperation for intelligence scholarship? Is there such a thing as a “common agenda” among intelligence scholars in the international academic arena?

DVP: Looking at intelligence studies, diversity is crucial to the development of the field. From a scholarly point of view, the in-depth study of national security intelligence systems (which has been going on for at least some 50 years now) should be followed by cross-country comparisons, which could grant new interesting insights into intelligence systems and practices. For example, it would be interesting to compare the defining features of analytical culture(s) in all the countries represented in our list of members.

iN: Have you any final observations to make regarding H-INTEL and its mission?

DVP: H-Intel will only be as good as its members make it. So I would encourage all intelNews readers to join and contribute to our network.

Note: IntelNews readers can join H-INTEL by going to the list-serv’s homepage and clicking “Subscribe” on the left-side menu.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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