Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 90

This week, our Top5 starts from the open letter of protests (here and here) signed by several academic associations over the death of Giulio Regeni.

On the same dramatic issue, here you’ll find another analysis by other important members of the academic community on Egypt and human rights. Here some interesting perspectives on field research and political instability in Norther Africa (and beyond).

A quite relevant meeting occurred in Rome on Tuesday. The foreign ministers of the six countries — Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (the 6 founding members of the EU) — held a dinner to discuss setting up a very informal group of “core” states prepared to push the EU forward. Here the report by Politico.

What is the appropriate response to terrorist attacks? A very problematic and broad question. Here an excellent symposium that aims at addressing such complicate issue.

Finally, moving through the ISA Annual Convention in Atlanta, a reminder of all the recent updates on the conference.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 78: “ISIL and terrorism”

This week our Top5 is entirely devoted to the dramatic terrorist attacks that killed 129 people in Paris last week. While police raids are still ongoing in Europe, we suggest four (+1) links to useful analyses provided by experts and scholars on the broad issue of “ISIL and terrorism”. Let’s see how political science can help us in interpreting the current scenario.

First, how effective is terrorism? In this excellent paper for International OrganizationVirginia Page Fortna investigates the issue, stressing “that although civil wars involving terrorism last longer than other wars, terrorist rebel groups are generally less likely to achieve their larger political objectives than are non-terrorist groups“. If the question is “Do terrorists win”, the answer is simply: no.

Second, one the most important experts on foreign fighters, Thomas Hegghammer (and his co-author Petter Nesser), recently assessed the Islamic State’s commitment to attacking the West. In this paper for “Perspectives on Terrorism”, the authors “examine IS statements and take stock of IS-related attack plots in Western Europe, North America, and Australia from January 2011 through June 2015 using a new dataset of jihadi plots and a new typology of links between organizations and attackers. IS appears to have had a decentralized attack strategy based on encouraging sympathiser attacks while not mounting centrally directed operations of their own”. So, is the Paris plot a turning point?

Third, Clint Watts provides an insightful analysis on ISIL and its recent evolution in tactics and strategies. Comparing ISIL with Al-Shabaab the lesson could be the following: “If an extremist group that has seized territory starts to lose it, it will be highly incentivized to turn to terrorist operations that allow for maximizing effects at a lower cost“.

Fourth, some concrete suggestions from the field on how to counter ISIL in Iraq. Here the post by Michael Knights for War on the Rocks on “how to build on progress and avoid stalemate against ISIL”.

Five, from an historical perspective this video well illustrates the evolution of Europe across centuries and how it will be difficult for terrorists to destabilize our countries if we remain unite.

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Intelligence in the Knowledge Society

Some interesting stuff in Romania. Here you’ll find the details of the forthcoming  international conference “Intelligence in the Knowledge Society“. The conference is organized by “Mihai Viteazul” National Intelligence Academy through its National Institute for Intelligence Studies.

Here you’ll find the main topics in the agenda.

Several interesting studies on intelligence, risk assessment and terrorism have been scheduled.

Here below the description of the event in the official website:

The advent of the twenty-first century has had a profound impact on both society at large and on intelligence organizations. As the digital age advances and the nature of the threats faced by modern states evolved from the classical to the asymmetric, old methods, concepts and approaches have gradually become obsolete. Technological developments, new actors, social movements and the growing need for accountability have changed intelligence organizations beyond anything known at the end of the previous century. More and more, intelligence practice and theory have to adapt to quickly-evolving realities, to the need to manage knowledge on a previously-unseen scale and to the fact that the monopoly on information previously held by the state is being constantly eroded.  The twenty-first edition of our annual conference aims to elicit international, trans-disciplinary debates on the needs of and obstacles to be overcome by the intelligence theory and practice in the twenty-first century. Controversial topics, innovative solutions, best practices and challenges to be overcome will be addressed in an interactive manner by key note speakers and participants alike. Surveillance, cyber-warfare, migration and radicalization, tradecraft and analysis, as well as lessons learnt from history will be the topics panelists and speakers will engage with over two days of the 2015 edition of the IKS conference.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 62

Terrorism came back in Tunisia, France and Kuwait. The Independent provides useful maps that illustrate how far and fast ISIL has spread in the last years.

The debate on China rising is still lively and controversial. The National Interest wonders “How George Kennan Would Contend with China’s Rise“.

Over the past years, India has been one of the largest arms importers. Here you’ll find a detailed analysis of India’s weapons imports and regional balance.

Sanctions have become “the defining feature of the Western response to several geopolitical challenges”. If you are interested in sanctions, we warmly recommend this article by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Finally, the crisis in the Eurozone. There are a lot of  analyses regarding Grexit, referendum, Germany, debt, and euro. We only wish a positive solution for the current situation. In this way

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 39

“Terrorist hunt” has been in the agenda for decades, but recent events brought the practice under the spotlight even more. The New Yorker’s Mattathias Schwartz critically discusses the NSA strategies of controlling phones, arguing this is not necessarily bringing success, while it has high costs.

Non-traditional threats have been attracting the attention of armed forces in recent years. This is the account of the American General leading the mission to fight Ebola virus, on of the most recent, and demanding, of the new US Army’s missions.

Frequent travellers might worry about how widespread conflicts might affect their flights. The Israeli Defence Forces’ blog proposes an article on how technology can guarantee safety to airplanes – and their passengers – even in the midst of missile attacks.

While facing a complex range of new missions, armed forces are also rethinking the weapons they need. Which will be around in the next 20 years and beyond? The interplay between growing resource constraints and the rapid development of anti-access/area-denial weapons, for instance, is potentially underpinning the potential demise of stealth technology.

You might remember that in a 80s movie, Clint Eastwood flies an airplane invisible to radars. Well, now he’s an acclaimed director and just released a new movie, American Sniper. Is that a patriotic war movie or (another) disillusioned take at the myths of war and combat?

 

 

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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, davide.barbieri@unife.it

 

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