Author Archives: Jeremy

BBC News – The time when spy agencies officially didn’t exist

Interesting story from the BBC on secrecy about the existence of MI5 and MI6, tied to the announcements of new heads of the GCHQ and MI6 (SIS).

BBC News – The time when spy agencies officially didn’t exist

Gregory on degrees of intimacy

Derek Gregory on degrees of intimacy in military UAV strikes and what looks like a must-have book called Drone wars (CUP) edited by Peter Bergen and Daniel Rothenberg. Includes contributions by Peter Singer, an unnamed USAF pilot, and analyses of “conflict, law and policy” as the subtitle has it.

Latest intelligence spending figures analyzed


A former Congressional Research Service (CRS) expert, who wrote a very useful analysis of intelligence spending last year, has updated his analysis following the release of the FY2014 figures.

Erwin Marshall provides an amazing chart (above) that provides the most complete year-by-year totals for IC funding going all the way back to 1980. The clever part about this is that it is only recently that actual numbers have been released, so it relies on extensive estimations. Compare this chart to the one we provided in our article on the IC earlier this year and you’ll see that they agree.

Here’s our figure:

Figure 1

We were more conservative on figures we included, not having the capability or access to make informed estimates (or the 2013 CRS report since our paper was already in production at that time). Despite this, you can see the trends very clearly show huge increases in spending after 9/11, and recent declines. But as Marshall asks: can the IC absorb these cuts or will they cause operational difficulties?

On the challenge side, Marshall argues the US faces many threats from small actors, and the intelligence is ever-more important as US military downsizes and becomes more “hesitant” to engage militarily. (These are his arguments, not my own.) So fewer boots on the ground, more ISR.

Despite this, Marshall argues that the IC can “easily” absorb budget cuts. This is not what Clapper says of course; in his remarks about current threats he often says this is the most challenging set of conditions for the IC in his career. But basically Marshall says the IC has been wasteful following 9/11. All of this can be cut: “There are plenty of opportunities to cut budgets without degrading capabilities.” Marshall blames lack of IC leadership, lack of effort at reducing inefficiencies (especially by ODNI) and legislators for the continuation of IC wastefulness.

From my perspective, I think the thing to keep in mind is that despite recent tailing off of post-9/11 spending levels from a high in 2010, levels are still way higher than pre-9/11. In fact, adjusting for inflation, it has grown by more than 200 per cent, according to Marshall. By comparison, the DoD budget has grown by only 60 per cent over the same time period. From the CRS:


The CRS report notes that this indicates how intel and defense spending are “decoupled” but I think you can see that the trends are the same if not the rates of change.

I would agree with Marshall that intel and ISR are the tings to watch. However, there too we have seen a significant drop-off of UAV or drone orders (the exception is the Global Hawk, the winner of a battle between Congress, who favored it over the U2, which was favored by the military). According to interviews we just carried out in DC with CRS and others, it is likely that currently there is a “pause” in UAV orders. This is prompted by drawdowns of activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the need to operate drones in contested airspace, where they are vulnerable. So the “pause” might be ended if manufacturers can provide persistent surveillance in contested airspace or improved stealth capabilities.

Stuart Elden: Two Foucault reviews – Berfrois

Lengthy review essay by Stuart Elden of two recent Foucault publications On the government of the living, and Wrong-doing, truth-telling: the function of avowal in justice, in Berfrois.

Some quotes:

It is perhaps too little noted that what we have in these and other publications, expertly edited and translated though they are, are transcribed lecture courses, supplemented by material from manuscripts. The references are, for the most part, the work of the editors, rather than Foucault’s own, and they bear many marks of their verbal delivery.

As he [Foucault] notes: “what I would like to do and know that I will not be able to do is write a history of the force of truth, a history of the power of truth, a history, therefore, to take the same idea from a different angle, of the will to know.”

But it is in confession that perhaps the key importance of this material lies…Foucault here uses two terms that we might translate as ‘confession’ – l’aveu and la confession. Foucault is not always consistent in his separation of the terms, which has meant many previous translations have rendered both in the same way.

Interview with Slovenian student radio


Here’s a link to a short interview I had with Slovenian student radio last week. Some very interesting questions covering power, territory and counter-mapping.


Early GIS in MI5?

Just finished reading Spycatcher by Peter Wright. You might remember this book for the attempt by Margaret Thatcher’s government to enjoin publication, only for the book to receive publicity and perhaps increased sales when it was eventually published (the lawsuits fell at each hurdle). The reason for the government’s action was that Wright, a former MI5 scientific officer and fairly senior counterintelligence (CI) officer, revealed a number of secrets and codewords, as well as various activities of the intel services (mostly MI5 but also MI6 and the CIA).

I remember this case at the time (the book was published in 1988, but the government I believe tried to get an injunction as early as 1985). Since I was living in the US at the time, there were not the press embargoes that were applied to the British media. In one case for example, a review of the book in the UK press could only be printed as a blank page, with a note saying that while in other countries the review appeared in the space, in the UK it could not be printed. (I’m not sure if these were D-notices, which as I understand it are voluntarily adhered to by the media, or some other legal injunction. By contrast, when the Guardian was preparing to publish the first Snowden documents, they decided to publish despite government requests not to.) What struck most people as going too far was that the British government continued its legal action for injunctions despite the fact that the book came out, and was available (eg in Scotland and the USA). This was an important early lesson for me, well before the web, of the globalization of information, and how out of date the UK government was.

Among the more notorious parts of the book was Wright’s growing claim that the  Director General of MI5, Roger Hollis, was a Soviet agent (spy). The best that can be said about this apparently is “nor proven,” to cite Scottish law. (Chapman Pincher has made the same claims, though he might be drawing on Wright’s material for this.)

In any case, most of Wright’s material covered the 1960s and various bugging operations, and his debriefing of Anthony Blunt, etc. It’s a good read. Stella Rimington, the MI5 chief, in a piece published the day before 9/11, heavily criticized Wright for being lazy and paranoid. She says that he wrote the book to name every codeword he could recall–which is quite a few actually. Hard to blame her for feeling this way, of course!

But to me a small comment made in the middle of the book is the most interesting. Wright says that in 1964 they had been working for four years on Movement Analysis, using data from MI5 surveillance agents known as the Watchers, to track movements of individuals and suspects. Wright comments that they had amassed millions of data.

This is possibly big spatial data avant la lettre. Of course today we have activity-based intelligence (ABI) sweeping through the intel community, but it goes to show that nothing is ever quite as new as it seems. I wonder what computer systems and analysis they used, and how “geographical” it was? Quite a bit, I imagine.

One of the names associated with the project, beside Wright himself, was Hal Doyne-Ditmas. (Funnily enough he was a friend of John McPhee, the geological and naturalist writer in the New Yorker.) It would be an interesting part of the history of GIS project to determine what this looked like, and how much was shared with the Americans (some, according to Wright).

An early use of GIS by MI5?

Bruce Schneier on iPhone cryptography

Security expert Bruce Schneier has a pretty comprehensive rebuttal to fears of criminals running amok now that the iPhone is becoming more secure (see my previous post on crypto-geographies).

Well worth reading (see also comments on differential geographies of access to crypto).