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.