Announcement: Conference on social media and intelligence

Social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection? Some experts now contend that the growth of social networking has given rise to a new form of intelligence-gathering: social media intelligence (SOCMINT). There are even some who believe SOCMINT should become a separate entity altogether in the intelligence process. On March 7, 2014, the Netherlands Intelligence Studies Association (NISA) will be holding a one-day conference in Amsterdam, to discuss this new phenomenon and consider some of the practical, ethical and political dilemmas involved in SOCMINT. The conference will open with a keynote speech by Sir David Omand, former director of Britain’s’ signals intelligence agency, the GCHQ, who currently teaches at the War Studies Department at King’s College, London. Other speakers come from intelligence and security services in Holland and Belgium, as well as from a variety of academic centers and non-governmental organizations in Europe and the United States. Longtime readers of this website will be familiar with NISA. The group was founded in 1991 with a mission to help focus and streamline academic work on intelligence, security and law enforcement. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #718 (GCHQ edition)

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►GCHQ releases Alan Turing papers. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ has released two mathematical papers written by cryptographer Alan Turing after keeping the works secret for over half a century. The intelligence agency believes the handwritten papers were produced by Turing during his time at Bletchley Park, the World War II code-breaking center. The year 2012 marks the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth. Turing, whose work heavily contributing to the Allied war effort, committed suicide in 1954 by taking cyanide. Turing had been convicted of homosexuality, which was then a crime, and was given the choice between prison or chemical castration. The UK government officially apologized over Turing’s treatment in 2009, over 50 years after his death.
►►Britain’s GCHQ sued for ‘racism’. Alfred Bacchus, 42, claims he was bullied by bosses while he was a senior press officer at the Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham. He says he wanted to publish an official report in 2010 into race bias inside GCHQ which warned that not enough ethnic minority staff were being recruited to help fight terrorism. It found that black and Asian intelligence officers at GCHQ complained of a racist culture in which they were insulted by white colleagues and challenged over their loyalty to Britain.
►►Ex-GCHQ chief wants more surveillance of Facebook and Twitter. Sir David Omand, an ex-Cabinet Office security chief and former director of Britain’s GCHQ electronic eavesdropping agency, said it was essential that monitoring of social media was put on a proper legal footing. A report by the think-tank Demos, which Sir David co-authored, said existing laws regulating the interception of communications by police and intelligence agencies needed to be overhauled to meet the complexities of social media. However, the ability of state security agencies and the police to intercept social network communications such as tweets must be placed on a clear legal footing, the report says.

Analysis: How vital was spying during the Cold War?

Gordon Corera

Gordon Corera

The BBC’s security correspondent, Gordon Corera, asks a very basic yet very intriguing question about the history of the Cold War: did espionage actually make a difference in ts outcome? This question stems out of BBC Radio 4’s three-part documentary series examining the 100-year history and operations of MI6, Britain’s foremost external intelligence agency. Corera’s article on the BBC website provides conflicting answers by intelligence defenders and intelligence skeptics, including Rodric Braithwaite, former British ambassador to the USSR, and David Owen, Britain’s former Foreign Secretary, who says that, barring a few important exceptions, UK policy makers “didn’t really […]  know exactly what was going on” in the Communist Bloc. Other commentators include former MI6 deputy director Sir Gerry Warner, and Sir David Omand, who argues that most of the intelligence collected during the Cold War was of a military or tactical nature and would therefore have proven effective only “if the Cold War had gone hot”.

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Analysis: Former GCHQ director co-authors paper on training analysts

Sir Omand

Sir Omand

It is not often that a former Director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s primary signals intelligence agency, publicly expresses his or her views on intelligence analysis. Yet this is precisely what Sir David B. Omand, GCB –GCHQ Director from 1996 to 1997– has done, by co-authoring a paper for the latest issue of the CIA’s partly declassified journal, Studies in Intelligence. The paper, which Sir Omand co-wrote with King College’s Dr. Michael Goodman, is titled “What Analysts Need to Understand”. It details the ongoing “innovative” revisions currently being implemented in the training of British intelligence analysts, following the 2003 fiasco over Iraq’s purported “weapons of mass destruction”. The analysis, which, among other things, quotes Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (!), focuses on the difficulty of teaching methods to develop the analysts’ “strong professional instincts”. It further points to intelligence analyst trainees’ “exposure to a variety of critical views, including the unorthodox”. The article doesn’t explain whether such “unorthodox” and “critical views” include those of Katharine T. Gun, the former GCHQ employee who in 2003 voluntarily exposed GCHQ’s collaboration with its US counterpart, the National Security Agency, to illegally bug the United Nations offices of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan. By diabolical coincidence, the UN representations of the above six countries had failed to be won over by American and British arguments in support of the invasion of Iraq. Gun was summarily fired by GCHQ and charged under the UK Official Secrets Act (charges were eventually dropped after she threatened to reveal even more information about the case). So much for exposure to “unorthodox views” over at GCHQ.

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