Intelligence in the Knowledge Society – Report from the International Conference

Guest Post by Davide Barbieri*

Last week on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th October, the annual International Conference on Intelligence in the Knowledge Society took place in Bucharest. A large number of participants and auditors met at the premises of the National Intelligence Academy, coming from many European and neighboring countries, plus Canada and the US. Italy was represented, beside myself as a researcher, by some members of our national intelligence and of the European External Action Service.

The plenary session was opened by the deputy director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), highlighting the strategic importance of the Wider Black Sea Area for European security. The current international situation, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, was at the heart of the conference. In particular, a convincing parallel between Crimea and Transnistria was made by a Romanian researcher, and endorsed by the Ukrainian and Moldovan representatives.

Elaine Pressman, from Canada, expanded on her VERA (Violent Extremist Risk Assessment) system in order to apply it to insider threat. VERA has already attracted the interests of several agencies throughout the world. Its Bayesian-like framework, stemming from behavioral sciences, hints to the possibility of a more mathematical approach, which is now lacking (also because of the well known preference for qualitative analysis by intelligence analysts).

Cosmin Dugan, a medical doctor from Bucharest, gave an extremely interesting presentation on the possibilities and strategies for neuro-cognitive enhancement of intelligence practitioners. His multidisciplinary perspective spanned from philosophy and technology (neuro-feedback, neuro-gaming) to medicine. In his opinion, trans-cranial stimulation, complex reasoning training, dietary supplements and drugs can be effectively adopted for neuro-cognitive enhancement, taking into account the possibility of side effects.

I opened the workshop session on Saturday, proposing a data-driven approach to identifying terrorists, based on the assumption that intelligence agencies have collected large amounts of data on persons of interest. The suggested method bears resemblance to medical diagnostics. The similarity between this discipline and intelligence analysis has been suggested also by Prof. Sebe, from the University of Bucharest. Spotting a terrorist may in fact be akin to spotting a rare disease within a large sample of individuals.

The other workshop focused on the opportunity for bridging government, competitive and business intelligence, especially in public administration, in order to increase efficiency, assess performances and gain competitiveness.

Ideas coming from cybernetics, complex adaptive systems, big data analysis and machine learning were presented by several researchers of the Romanian Intelligence Academy, also in the poster session. In particular, text mining was applied to OSINT and web intelligence. Much attention was given to radicalization, particularly in the Islamic world. Afascinating study focused on Dabiq, the Islamic State magazine.

The excellent organization and the participation of many internationally recognized lecturers were well worth the journey and the time. As a side note – notwithstanding that Italy contributed with just one paper and the scant consideration we tend to have of our scientific production – Italian authors were extensively cited throughout the conference (Sartori, Negri and Calvino to name a few), beside Italian technology (in particular, the widely successful Cogito web engine for semantic intelligence by Expert Systems). This year XX edition of the conference proved to be a successful anniversary.


* Davide Barbieri, PhD, is a Research Fellow  in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Surgical Specialties at the University of Ferrara,


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