The Owls Against The Bats: Interview with Argumenty i Fakty

The Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty today published an interview with me on the topic of military intelligence. Those of you who speak Russian can read it by clicking on the picture and enlarging. For those who don’t I have included an English translation below.

THE OWLS AGAINST THE BATS

The book ‘Military Intelligence’ has been published in Moscow. This is the first research in Russia of the carefully hidden activity of the world’s leading intelligence service.

– Paul, in your opinion, which country’s intelligence services are the most powerful today?

The United States invests more than $80 billion per year in its various intelligence agencies. This gives it the most powerful intelligence apparatus in the world, the largest system of surveillance satellites, a large fleet of drones, the huge resources of the NSA, etc. But this does not mean that the American intelligence services know everything. As we have seen in recent years, in some cases – such as the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 – they have been taken by surprise.

The Americans do not dominate as much as they used to. Other countries are catching up with them, especially China, which has invested significant resources in intelligence over the past few years.

– How would you characterise the state of American military intelligence?

US intelligence provides the military with fairly high-quality information to meet its tactical and operational needs. In the event of a major war, this would give it an advantage. At the same time, it is difficult to say whether US intelligence provides its government with a good strategic understanding of the world. Technical competence is accompanied by a lack of knowledge and understanding of other country’s motives. In other words, U.S. intelligence probably has a good idea of Russia’s military capabilities, but not of what motivates Russian leaders or how they will behave in a given instance.

– Your book doesn’t have chapters on either U.S. or Russian military intelligence. Why is that?

America isn’t included because its intelligence apparatus is so large that it deserves a separate study. And Russia is not discussed because the book is written for a Russian audience to inform it about the outside world.  In addition, it is quite difficult to judge the current state of Russian intelligence, because we do not have sufficient information. In recent years, it has been accused of many sins in the West, including election interference, disinformation, hacking into computer systems, etc. Many of the accusations seem exaggerated. However, there may be something behind them.

– Are there any fundamental differences in how intelligence services in Europe, Asia and the Middle East collect intelligence?

In principle, the methods of collecting and processing information are the same everywhere. Historically, the Americans have been known for their preference for technological methods, while the Russians and Chinese have a reputation for being more committed to old-fashioned “human intelligence.” However, the extent to which these historical habits reflect modern practice seems debatable to me.

– Can you name the country with what in your opinion is the strangest intelligence system?

Israel is probably the most unusual. Its military intelligence agency, AMAN, is more than just a military agency. It plays a key role not only in military but also in political matters, a role that in other countries is usually left to civilian services. Whether this is effective, it is hard to say.

– Which country’s intelligence can be proudest of its agents?

In human intelligence, the best in Europe, perhaps, is the Romanian military. They were able to establish procedures to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is no wonder that the NATO school of human intelligence is located in the Romanian city of Oradea, and that the Americans in Afghanistan used Romanian military intelligence officers.

And which is the most modern?

All intelligence organizations are conservative structures. Military intelligence is doubly so. The modern world is changing rapidly, so intelligence personnel need to adapt and work in a new way. The Swedish MUST is arguably the most ground-breaking intelligence service in the world. It successfully manages to attract civilian specialists, in particular in Russia. The synergistic effect is such that the Swedes, like ants, carry a load that is much greater than their weight.

– How much has the status of intelligence personnel in the world grown or decreased? Do they still have the right to make decisions on their own that will affect the world, or do they carefully coordinate all their actions?

Modern states rely on accurate information when making decisions. The status of intelligence remains high. However, it is not the job of intelligence agencies to make operational decisions; their job is only to advise.

– In your opinion, what 21st century military intelligence operation stands out the most?

One of the most famous intelligence triumphs of recent years was the Americans’ success in finding Osama bin Laden. However, it took so many years to do this that by the time they found and killed him, he was no longer a figure of great importance.

– And what was the most unsuccessful?

Perhaps the most scandalous intelligence failure of the past 20 years was the Anglo-American claim that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed a large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. British and American intelligence agencies publicly reported that this was definitely true, a claim that was used to justify the attack on Iraq. As we know today, Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. They were 100% wrong.

– Do you have any examples of military intelligence services engaged in covert operations: overthrowing foreign governments, eliminating individuals, conducting propaganda?

Some of them probably do that. Intelligence services also manage special operations forces and perform tasks in the field of internal security and counterintelligence. But these things are not military intelligence functions. For this reason, our publication does not address these issues.

– How have the methods of conducting intelligence changed with the advent of the Internet and other technologies. What new methods have appeared, and what has remained the same? Or is all the intelligence now done by computer?

Modern information technologies have significantly increased the amount of information available to intelligence services. This includes, for example, the billions of phone calls, emails, and social media messages that are produced every day. In addition, more and more intelligence today can be obtained from open and publicly available sources. On the one hand, this opens up great opportunities for intelligence services – if they can find the necessary information, they have a chance to detect things that previously could not be detected. On the other hand, a huge amount of information creates enormous problems – how to find an important message in the middle of so much material? The need to do this has led to a shift to quantitative methodologies and computer-based analysis.

– Can we say that because of new technologies, intelligence agents have become more vulnerable?

With the help of modern technology, it is relatively easy to identify intelligence agents and track their movements and activities. Of course, this makes them more vulnerable, at least until they find ways to improve their operational security.

– When compiling the book, were you not afraid for your life?

We don’t reveal any secrets. Everything in this book is based on information in the public domain. However, this information has not previously been collected in one place. By doing this, we help readers better understand what’s going on in the world around them, what the secret springs are, and why they sometimes work.

– There is an intriguing chapter in the book, “The Battle of The Owls and the Bats”.  Is this about the rivalry between Russian and Ukrainian military intelligence?

The approval in 2016 of the new emblem of Ukrainian military intelligence – an owl that penetrates the territory of Russia with a sword, with the motto on the shield: Sapiens dominabitur astris (“The wise will rule over the stars”) was a symbolic step. The emblem refers to the informal symbol of Russian military intelligence – the bat – and its motto: “Above us – only the stars.”

The new emblem and slogan of the Ukrainian military intelligence directly point to Russia as the main enemy. Ultimately, however, any serious conflict between Russia and Ukraine will be resolved by military force, not intelligence.

– Does the real work of intelligence officers resemble that shown in films?

As a former intelligence officer in the British Army, I can say that real intelligence work has very little to do with James Bond.

– Do you have a favorite film or book about intelligence agents?

I’m not sure about films, but there is a book: Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana. It tells the story of a vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba in the 1950s who is recruited by British intelligence. Not having any access to secret information, but wanting to get money from the British, the salesman sends them drawings of supposed secret installations which he bases on bits of dismantled vacuum cleaners. While this is obvious farce, it’s not that far from the truth – unfortunately, agents often do that kind of thing! Intelligence reports should always be treated with caution.

13 thoughts on “The Owls Against The Bats: Interview with Argumenty i Fakty”

  1. Paul, thank you for this overview of intelligence agencies across the globe. One clarification: you say US intelligence agencies got it wrong about Saddam’s WMD. Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) served for years on the Senate Intelligence Committee and was quite knowledgable about intelligence work. He voted against the resolution to OK the US attack on Iraq. He was interviewed by NPR’s Robert Siegel a few years later and asked why he voted against it. “Because I read the caveats of intelligence agents in the National Intelligence Estimate.” (I’m paraphrasing him.) That’s an important point. I’ve always assumed that any intelligence report is massaged by the political appointees of the agency (Tenet headed the CIA at the time) before it goes to the public. Regardless, the caveats were there in the footnotes or wherever, but not in the main narrative. This raises an interesting point repeatedly made by Ray McGovern, a now-retired CIA agent who works with a church-related peace group: CIA analysts are generally honest; it’s the operations side of the CIA (and other intel agencies, I guess) that are the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What fmunley says is very apt and to the point: it appears to me also that the info on the ground, when accurately observed, is valuable. What is demonstrated in the case of the CIA/NSA is that when this information is then received by local strategists in Washington and filters to the top, both the prevailing mantra’s and political bias blot out the ‘caveats’; I would be surprised if that were not deliberate – ie that the top brass knowingly lie and misrepresent to go along and strengthen the existing narrative.
    Let’s also face it that it is much worse than Paul indicates here – we can be quite sure that when any of the American or UK intelligence services come out with a statement, that the opposite is most likely true. Dying empires have to lie more and do so more brazingly – Afghanistan again proves this point.

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  3. Why is Romania military Intel so good? Is it two prong, having to do with the legacy of dictator Ceausescu, relative to Romania’s somewhat independent foreign policy, which gave it greater access than many others to the US and USSR?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was wondering about that too. But concerning whatever bits on my mind that seemed to contradict it, they may all have been related to Bulgaria rather than Romania. In one case, there is a vaguely curious parallel to events fmunley and Josh refer to. (earlier plans, OSP, stovepiping, curveball).

      From the top of my head, I am only aware of one publisher, who may be interested in the topic and publishes in English too on my home ground. Concerning minor players, on the other hand, they always seem to need cooperations from overseas.

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  4. First of all, I love both bats, at least the one I once encountered, and owls.

    A very long time ago a bat flew into my flat. I was surprised how tiny it was. But it seems that’s how they are on my home ground.

    Bats, at least the ones that occur in North-western Europe, look a bit like mice with wings.

    The old English name for a bat was ‘flittermouse’ or ‘fluttermouse’ – meaning flying mouse. This word derives from the German word for a bat which is ‘Fledermaus’.

    English word bakke, meaning “to flutter”. While the English word ‘batty’ means crazy in a relatively harmless sort of way.

    I do have to admit from childhood onwards I also loved mice. … 😉

    But then, who in “Western Intelligence” wouldn’t want to be associated with Athena’s Owl. In other words, be as close as one can to wisdom. 😉

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  5. Back to the question “Afghanistan: Lessons learned” and maestro Robinson’s “do-something” crie de cour blogpost of the last week to, well, learn dem lessons. I’ve been watching how the Anglophone partisan chattering and commenting masses taking to it and, boy – it’s enLYTTENing!

    The nominal “Left” (akshuyally – logical continuation of the all-too capitalist aligning liberalism) are still in the “Running in circles like headless chickens” mode. Being great reforms at heart, they, Highly Likely, decided to, ha-ha, “reform” 5 stages of grief. So now, any (ANY) new information coming from Afghanistan initiates a among them “Denial-Anger-Bargaining” loop. Yes, loop – no going beyond that. No, no chance to get them “learn the lesson”.

    But, hey, you know who is poised to do just that? Why, the Anglo-Saxon (I sampled US, UK and Australian sources) very own hard rightards. You know – ordinary, commonplace fascists. Quite a lot of them are ex-military, that, surely, explains a lot of things. These hardy men did learn a lesson, which would make maestro Robinson feel rather squeamish (gentlemen are not suppose to said it out loud). Yet they are saying it out loud. “Einsatzgruppen” gets used quite a lot by them. Lidice is namedropped often.

    That’s the reality, maestro Robinson. SURELY, you wrote you blogpost, thinking that the wide-wide variety of people (mostly – Westerners) will read it and drew a correct conclusion.

    Ha. Ha-ha. Hahahahhahahahhahhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhahah.

    Nope.

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  6. To yelensis (and all others who righteously name-drop Military-Industrial Complex)

    Judging by abundance and frequency of your comments in the newest blogposts by maestro Robinson, I come to conclusion, that you suffer no impediments preventing you from answering simple questions and/or supporting your often… peculiar… claims. Good!

    In the comment sequence below one of the previous blogposts, you, yalensis, wrote:

    “I am a socialist who desires to see the defeat of American forces and the end of the American Empire.”

    You also complained about me:

    “All you got is insinuations and Aesopian hints”

    Duly noted, yalensis. You want straight talking – you’ll get it from me. But first, I ask you (and all other anti-American Americans out there): what you gonna do the next day if, suppose, the American Empire falls and the MIC disappears in the puff of smoke?

    Unless you’d spend the, ha-ha, “Troubles” of the previous, 2020 years establishing important connections and acquiring hard-won experience of, what in RuNet we call “лутинг”, then you are gonna be, ah… inconvenienced. Severely.

    P.S. “Oh, and one more thing” (c). The US of A got its sobriquet of “Arsenal of Democracy” waaaaay back in 1940s. There was a reason to that, you know. The MIC, which you so viciously decry, IS THE USA. You can’t separate them. And yet you wish to do just that. Good luck trying to accomplish it and living with the consequences.

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    1. Ah, Lyttenburgh, you darling little fruitcake, there you go again with your not so cute way of putting words into peoples mouths and thoughts into their heads which they never even dreamed of thinking. Those thoughts are actually in your own head, but you ascribe them to others.

      The MIC, which you so viciously decry, IS THE USA. You can’t separate them. And yet you wish to do just that.

      No, I don’t wish to do that. That’s a falsification. Direct from the Stalin School of Falsification, of which you are the pride of your graduating class.

      Now, in addition to planting words and thoughts, you are also planting wishes into my head which I don’t have. Like, I wish to separate the MIC from the rest of the ruling class, yeah?
      Oh, I see you performing these cheap tricks with other people too. Which is why I called you a “dishonest broker”. I could have called you a “bad actor”, too. They’re both just idioms which mean the same thing. They mean that you are dishonest in your dealings with other people. You are incapable of having an honest discussion with any other person in the world. Instead of just presenting your own thoughts and ideas, you immediate resort to attack, and then planting thoughts and ideas to build your own strawman.

      Please explain to me again what your actual ideology is. Are you a Taliban supporter now? Did you convert to Islam? You wouldn’t answer that question when I asked it earlier. It’s okay if you did, you just need to be honest about it, since you are always demanding that other people “unmask” themselves before you.

      Oh, here’s another one: What will YOU do when the American Empire collapses, as it inevitably will? You seem to imply that you don’t want that to happen. Have you become an American patriot as well as a Taliban supporter? Am I allowed to insinuate those thoughts and wishes into your silly old noggin?
      🙂

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      1. “Now, in addition to planting words and thoughts, you are also planting wishes into my head which I don’t have.”

        And the rest of your rant.

        I will be more direct and to a point. I asked you, yalensis, to provide any relevant quotes, supporting a plethora (9-10 in sum) of accusations you’ve levied against me. You had plenty of time to do just that.

        You didn’t. Therefore, I have to call you a liar.

        In order to show you magnanimity in order to underscore, that, unlike you, I answer for my own words, I will answer your little silly questions:

        “Now, in addition to planting words and thoughts, you are also planting wishes into my head which I don’t have.”

        I’ve devoted some research and effort to prepare and then post a comment, describing Taliban as kafirs, i.e. as apostates (heretics) to all faithful Muslims. Calling someone a “kafir” is not a compliment. Worse than that, would be to call someone a rāfiḍit (“rejectors” or “denouncers”). To quote great Medieval Syrian scholar ibn Taymīyyah: “Rāfiḍits are donkeys of the Jews, which they saddle up during troubled times”. That’s why, btw, Al Qaeda is dissed by other Islamists as “the Jews of the Jihad.”

        If you read my comment on religious and ideological views of Taliban, if thought that I converted to Islam, then you – if not completely devoid of logic and reasoning – then would have to conclude, that, no, no way could I be counted among Taliban supporters, what with me spending literal kilobytes denouncing them as apostates to the Islam.

        Again – that would require reason and capacity to wield logic. Or – what the phrase you keep using? – for you not to make “bad faith arguments” (C).

        Did I convert to Islam? No, I didn’t.

        Am I supporter of Taliban? No, I’m not.

        What’s happening in Afghanistan now interest me from the purely academic point of view, as a case study for the triumph of the Reaction against half-arsed “Progress”. A development, I must add, that does have precedents in history. I want to understand “how” and “why”, which precludes me from becoming beholden to the ignorant, many times disproved “opinions” and “hot takes”. Getting all emotional and self-righteous – well, that’s very American, yalensis. Can’t blame you, really. But not my cup of tea.

        Although, there’s always a chance that you, yalensis, made (and are still making) your comments on this topic under… peculiar… circumstances. In that case I draw your attention to the contents of the surah al-Nisa (ayath 43).

        Oh, here’s another one: What will YOU do when the American Empire collapses, as it inevitably will?

        Glad you asked, yalensis! Of course I pondered that issue even before I asked you to do the same.

        The very day I would learn about this (i.e. collapse of the American Empire) I’d head to the store and buy lots of bananas and several cans of that fancy Brazilian coffee. Why? Because, soon enough, all safe shipping from the Western hemisphere will go kaput.

        “You seem to imply that you don’t want that to happen. Have you become an American patriot as well as a Taliban supporter?”

        […]

        If your, ah, “questions” and the “thinking” behind them would be more dense than they currently are, yalensis, they’d collapse into a singularity.

        Having granted your petty hysterics more attention than they deserve, yalensis, I now expect you to either answer my questions, or live on as proven liar.

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  7. Dear FIVE – as long as your attitude is to be prepared to murder to get what you want and the rest of us are prepared to die to protect what is ours – you have no f***** chance. Little advice – start thinking about possiblities of counterattack (you are not untouchable any more). Be nice, it might save your skin. And… yeah… keep sriting… What was the date when Alaska lease expires by the way?

    Like

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