Peter Gill, Mark Phythian: Intelligence in an Insecure World

Book Review

Reviewer: Nikolozi Abzhandadze

Publisher: Polity ISBN: 978-0745652795
Author's page: Peter GILL, Mark PHYTHIAN

Peter Gill, Mark Phythian: Intelligence in an Insecure World

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In a world which is increasingly becoming more reliant on technology and interconnectedness, we must ask ourselves, what dangers may this rapid advancement in technology and communications could potentially pose? With these advancements comes further growth of intelligence agencies and their powers but we do not hear much about them, or even have any dedicated information on how they operate and what their true purpose is. Are intelligence agencies a ‘be or and end all’ organization? Do they operate without boundaries and oversight? It is largely known that literature regarding the subject of intelligence and intelligence studies is very scarce or in fact, outdated. This book should act as a guide, a reference point designed to explain what intelligence is, to provide a definitive definition (this is because there are various definitions available which cover various aspects of intelligence) including what it is and what it is supposed to do, and how the whole process of intelligence works.

The book begins by detailing various definitions of intelligence and formulating a more concrete and complete definition of intelligence as well as explaining various factors of intelligence such as extensive web of interactions when it comes to gathering of intelligence. After laying out the core parts, the book delves deeper into detailed analyses of specific factors in intelligence gathering such as how to produce valuable knowledge and the importance of secrecy in intelligence gathering.

The book goes on to explain the various actors in intelligence, who is gathering intelligence of what kind. A typical example would be the state level of intelligence gathering, which includes domestic security intelligence, foreign intelligence, military intelligence and how the intelligence operates in corporate secrecy involving private individuals. The process of how the intelligence is gathered is also detailed. Notable methods include: open source intelligence, human intelligence, (includes a discussion on rendition and torture methods and their effectiveness in gathering of intelligence) and signals intelligence (involving a discussion collection of intelligence using telemetry and mobile data, also the importance and impact of Edward Snowden’s revelations and the debates it has sparked).

The logical next step after outlining actors and methodology of intelligence is how the gathered information is turned into valuable intelligence. The middle chapters explain the process of dissemination of intelligence and an argument between security and sharing regarding intelligence in the process of what intelligence is produced and when and outline various actions that may follow the intelligence gathering and dissemination. These actions include ramping up surveillance for further monitoring, taking military action, use of covert action, assassination of valuable targets and finally increased use of military drones (it is important to note that this has become an increasingly controversial subject as various intelligence agencies in the USA have obtained the ability to use direct strikes against their targets, which many would see as them overstepping their boundaries as their main objective is intelligence gathering rather than carrying out direct strikes, which is the competency of the military).

After detailed analysis and explanation of various stages of intelligence, in the later chapter the book starts to outline the issues and failures of the intelligence process. The book analyses the limits of intelligence and identifies probable causes of intelligence failure. The book demonstrates the failures of intelligence on real-life case studies including Vietnam, Iran, Iraq WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and the 9/11 bombings as well as recent cases of rising insurgency and increase in terrorist attacks around Europe. Further, the book outlines the relationship between intelligence and politics and argues how the latter became highly politicized in recent years (a notable example would be recent intelligence inquiries in the US election meddling) and whether such politicization could be due to the failure or success of intelligence.

In one of the final chapters of the book, there is a discussion on the democratization of intelligence in the way of control and oversight. The book outlines legal and ethical bases for democratic control and oversight of intelligence agencies in order to maintain accountability. It goes back to the discussion of the Snowden revelations and its impact on government oversight of intelligence agencies. The book ends with the challenges of controlling and overseeing intelligence networks in this ever-connected world.

Overall, Intelligence in an insecure world is a must-read piece of literature to gain detailed conceptual knowledge about the field of intelligence and intelligence studies and acts as a gateway to further research into the field.

2020 - Volume 14 Issue 3