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The Open Intelligence Edition
On secrecy, strategy, and psychology
Colin here. The intelligence gathered from countless agencies around the world is responsible for placing a thumb on the scales of history. It is almost always out of sight, but is the factor that tilts a policy position one way, allows a leg up on that energy merger, or helps understand the actual nature of a chemical weapons program (or not!).
The hidden nature of this force, akin to a strong ocean current, doesn’t always reveal itself. This is why it has been interesting to see the strategy being employed by intelligence services as it relates to the war in Ukraine. A lot of intelligence is being used strategically, out in the open as a countermeasure or as a weapon in and of itself. If you recall at the beginning of the conflict—the awkwardness of intelligence estimates being released saying Putin was about to invade. It felt like a case of the boy who cried wolf until it didn’t. This approach was a diplomatic strategy.
Jeremy Fleming, who heads Britain’s electronic intelligence agency GCHQ, recently said the “pace and scale” at which secret intelligence is being released “really is unprecedented.”
Photo: Robert Spangle
Why is this interesting?
The quickly declassified US and UK intelligence has a few purposes: number one, it lets Putin know every move is being watched. Number two, it is a bit of psychological warfare—one could presume in the early days of the conflict it contradicted what he was being told by his military leadership. And as things haven’t exactly gone to plan, one would assume has led to a margin call of sorts on certain advisors in the Kremlin.
Also significant is the ready intelligence sharing among allies. This happens to some extent, but more often comes in horse-trading. Information is currency and has inherent value. It often isn’t given for free. But, according to the AP, in the early days of the conflict:
Officials shared sensitive intelligence with other members of the Five Eyes alliance — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — and also with Ukraine. Director of national intelligence Avril Haines was dispatched to Brussels to brief NATO members on intelligence underlying growing American concerns that Russia seemed intent on invasion, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.
Some allies and analysts were skeptical, with memories lingering of past intelligence failings, like the false claim Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
As the last paragraph asserts, this move to hyper-transparent information sharing was likely also to counteract skepticism. Flawed, hyper-politicized intelligence underpinned the rationale to invade Iraq.
There is also an important propaganda approach. According to WBUR, On Point:
"Let me tell you — 50% of our troops suffer from leg frostbites," a Russian soldier says in a phone call. "We arrived here, and it was freezing. We were supposed to have four tents, but we only have one. ... We dug up some trenches, and that’s where we live."
That call was intercepted and made public by Ukraine's security service.
It’s not hard to see the value in the Ukrainians highlighting the fact that the Russians were ill-prepared, and lacked the logistics and supplies for their troops. It counteracts the historical and public narrative of Russia as a fearsome warfighting machine.
And as the war continues, the rapid propagation of intelligence into the press will continue. Der Spiegel recently reported on German signals intercepts that appeared to prove Russian complicity in the Bucha massacres. A strong rejoinder to Russian claims that it was all a Ukrainian setup. According to the piece, “The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, has acquired gruesome new insights into the atrocities committed by Russian military forces. DER SPIEGEL has learned that the BND has new satellite images and has intercepted incriminating radio traffic from Russian military personnel in the region north of Kyiv, where Bucha is located.”
The continued evolution of the world's second-oldest profession, espionage, and its move into the light will be interesting to observe. (CJN)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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