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Selected Press Articles



'Spionnen brengen rust'

Interview with Juurd Eijsvoogel

11 July 2010




Allied code-breakers co-operate – but not always

24 June 2010


For 64 years, Britain, the US and the Commonwealth countries have shared intelligence – with some differences and breakdowns in communication.


The UKUSA agreement, signed on 5 March 1946, brought British, US and Commonwealth codebreakers together in a unique alliance that operates to this day. Yet over the next half century, sharing was by no means 100% and was often accompanied by acrimony.


GCHQ and its American partner, the National Security Agency, swapped intelligence on the Soviet Union and China. They also worked together on eastern European states, known as Exotics. But elsewhere, typically in the Middle East, London and Washington clashed over foreign policy and did not share much signals intelligence.


Access to intelligence was sometimes a useful stick for beating allies. In August 1973, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger lost patience with Edward Heath's pro-European polices. To signal their displeasure, they told their people to cut Britain out.


The agency protested that intelligence exchange with GCHQ was governed by the UKUSA agreement and such a "cut-off" was awkward. Nevertheless, many streams of intelligence, especially imagery from satellites and aircraft, dried up and Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee panicked.


In October 1973, the Yom Kippur war offered Heath the opportunity to retaliate – which he relished. He placed onerous restrictions on US intelligence activities and over-flights from bases in Britain and Cyprus. The ensuing arguments were not resolved until Nixon was brought down by Watergate in 1974.


Canada also endured "cut-offs". After Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Washington asked Ottawa to assist by sending naval ships to the Gulf. The Canadian fleet was out-dated and equipped for anti-submarine warfare. Fearing the threat from aircraft and Exocet missiles, the Canadians protested that their ships would be too vulnerable.


Washington signalled its intense displeasure by cutting off the intelligence flow and so the "screens went blank". Ottawa had a change of heart and three days later communications were restored. In honour of this memorable episode in allied relations, Ottawa's defence chiefs christened their Gulf naval deployment "Operation Friction".


The latest twist in this complex tale is the use of intelligence power to limit inquiries into abuses by the secret services. In 2005, the Americans shut off the flow of intelligence once more because Canada had set up an inquiry into the case of Maher Arar, a citizen who had been the victim of rendition to Jordan and Syria. The inquiry team had been allowed to look at classified American material – against Washington's wishes.


This February, it was the turn of Britain's then foreign secretary, David Miliband, to feel discomfort. When British judges wished to make public 25 lines of text derived from American intelligence reports, he asserted that this would contravene the ''control principle" that governs the intelligence-sharing relationship. Nevertheless, he claimed that there had been "no threat from the US to break off intelligence co-operation".




Drugs to prevent US soldiers from bringing war back home 
22 January 2008

The Pentagon's 'Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007' puts forward the idea of using different drugs to insulate combat soldiers from the stressful psychological element of killing. Some have claimed that the move not only desensitises them to the horrendous aspect of war, but also maximises soldiers' lethality by bypassing their moral autonomy.

Pravda.Ru has interviewed Professor Richard J Aldrich, Department of Politics and International Studies University of Warwick, to find out more about this Pentagon’s initiative.

Pravda.Ru: How do you respond to this?

Richard J Aldrich : The so-called "Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007" is not quite what it seems. For decades, many governments have deliberately neglected the terrible impact of war on their young soldiers. Over a third of US servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are reporting serious psychological problems. In 2006, more than 6,000 US veterans committed suicide. This far more than are being killed in combat. British veterans groups claim that more soldiers have committed suicide after the Falklands War as a result of psychological problems than died in the fighting. Russian soldiers have suffered in a similar way after Chechyna and often return with 'the Chechen syndrome' which ruins their lives.

This initiative is not designed to create killing machines without morals. This is because the drug - Propranolol - is normally taken after a distressing incident, not before. Instead, the US Government it is partly driven by a fear of the scale of the medical and social problems in the years ahead. It also reflects anxiety about legal action by veterans groups seeking compensation. British veterans tried to sue their government in 2002. Most importantly, governments worry that if this problem is not dealt with, they will not be able to fight future insurgencies.

Pravda.Ru: Do you think that a soldier without moral values is a good soldier?

Richard J Aldrich : There are few soldiers without morals. Psychological research show that soldiers actually find it rather difficult to kill, since they bring with them a civilian abhorrence of death. On the battlefield many soldiers discharge their weapons randomly in the hope of protecting themselves, rather than in an effort to kill the enemy. Soldiers insist that they prefer to shoot at targets that are far away, where enemy faces are hard to recognise, or else they kill at very close range when the situation is "kill or be killed".

Terrorism and insurgency corrode the morals of the modern soldier. At the core of the insurgent strategy is the idea of hiding among the people and using civilians as a shield. Soldiers serving in these conflicts do not know if an approaching car contains a farmer or a suicide bomber. A woman who seems pregnant maybe carrying a bomb. Irregular forces also make use of children as soldiers. Although senior officers preach about "hearts and minds", the sad fact is that these sort of conflicts are barbarous and present young soldiers with terrible dilemmas. The worst excesses often occur immediately after a devastating attack, for example a roadside bomb, that dislocates a soldier's moral compass.

Pravda.Ru: Do you think that such measures by the Pentagon could lead to the increased violence rate in the US army?

Richard J Aldrich : The use of this drug is unlikely to lead directly to increased violence. There is no doubt that governments do want effective killing machines. But they prefer to use intensive training designed to override civilian instincts, rather than chemicals. However, if this drug proves successful it will make future military interventions easier. This is because it will reduce one of the highest costs of sending our forces to fight against insurgency, the social cost.

On every continent, young soldiers have been sent off to fight wars for democracy, for freedom, for the rule of law and for other virtues without number. The soldiers are often poorly trained conscripts or part-timers. Ironically, these wars have proved to be some of the most terrible and barbarous conflicts. Few of these expeditions can claim success. Rather than pacifying the local population, the result has been that our own people are destabilised and brutalised. This drug has one purpose, it is designed to prevent the returning soldiers from bringing the war back home in their ruck-sacks.



CIA widely uses hoods, 'white noise' and sleep deprivation to torture suspects

18 December 2007

The US House of Representatives approved legislation to bar CIA agents from using waterboarding during the questioning of suspected terrorists, drawing a veto threat from President George W. Bush.

Pravda.Ru has interviewed Professor Richard J Aldrich, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, to find out more about present-day situation with tortures in the USA.

Pravda.Ru: Are there any other legal ways of getting information from terror suspects?

Richard Aldrich: Suspects should always be persuaded to talk voluntarily. This is not only for reasons of law and morality, but also because information given freely is more likely to be true. Under pressure from torture, even of a mild kind, suspects may say anything in order to seek relief. An intelligence professional, with perhaps ten years of experience will normally pride himself on being able to get a suspect to talk without physical pressure. This has tended to be the British approach.

The most famous example was Colonel Robin "Tin Eye" Stephens, an MI5 officer who wore a monocle and ran the camp where MI5 detained hundreds of foreign spies during the Second World War. He was willing to use threats - but not force - because he claimed it did not work. Very few spies held out against him. However, the British have not always been so gentle. In the First World War, British intelligence officers working in the Middle East would sit their own agents on an 'electric carpet' when questioning them. If they suspected them of lying they would subject them to two or three electric shocks through the legs and pelvis.

Pravda.Ru: What other kinds of tortures are used by US special services?

Richard Aldrich: In many different countries, the most common sort of torture is sensory deprivation. This can involve using hoods on prisoners for long periods before interrogation. It often includes a sound machine which produces "white noise", a disturbing high pitched sound. Stress positions might also be used. Often little food or drink is given. Most commonly detainees are deprived of sleep. Although this leaves few physical signs, it can be very damaging psychologically. The European Court has declared it to be illegal.

Torture, including sensory deprivation, has become widespread around the world for two reasons. First, the "War on Terror" has produced many thousands of suspects and yet there are few skilled interrogators. Therefore suspects end up being handled by the sort of people who worked at Abu Graib, part-time soldiers with little training and limited intelligence. Second, soldiers in all modern armies are subjected to mock interrogations during training, so that they know what they might endure if captured. This counter-interrogation training is often all they know about interrogation. It was never expected that they would draw on these experiences in this way and use the techniques themselves.

Some American intelligence officers have claimed that they have obtained vital information through torture. However, this ignores the wider point made by Sir Richard Dearlove, former Chief of MI6, that this has cost America the moral high ground. For every person tortured, we loose other voluntary informants who do not come forward because they are frightened or disgusted. Trust, not fear, is the most valuable weapon for an intelligence officer. Torture is not only immoral and illegal, it is also ineffective.






10 July 2005 


Since 9/11, the world of secret intelligence has been focused on the 'new' terrorism. Draconian laws have been passed and fresh government agencies created. Existing intelligence assets have been 'surged' towards the new targets and retired intelligence officers recalled to duty. The size of MI5 will soon approach twice its Cold War levels. While the effort has been relentless, the focus on targeting the 'new' terror has been disturbingly narrow, and perhaps misplaced.

In retrospect, it turns out that the 'new' terrorism is not all that new. After 9/11 we were told that fundamentalists were not interested in bargaining and simply wanted to kill for the sake of killing. In reality, the timing of the bombing of Madrid and the recent attacks on London have been highly political. We were supposedly to expect catastrophic atrocities, perhaps with chemical and biological weapons, but instead the terrorists used conventional methods. It now seems more likely that we will see more events like Bali and Madrid, but few 9/11s.

Pre-empting the so-called 'new' terror has been an American-led intelligence doctrine. Its hallmark has been to focus on 'states' of concern, on particular groups and on 'getting' individuals. In fact the important developments have been at a deeper level, involving networks, connections and processes.

The most troubling aspect of 'new' terrorism is actually its 'new' context " embedded within accelerating globalisation. Globalisation is fundamentally shifting the balance of advantage away from states in favour of terrorists. Remarkably, in the week of a G8 summit on global issues, few are recognising this connection. Globalisation is making terrorism easier to practise, rendering developed states more fragile.

Many have asserted that 'globalisation works' and there can be no doubt that increased trade volumes have lifted large regions of the world out of poverty. But there are also costs. Around the world global trade has expanded unevenly, rewarding some, but punishing others. Globalised communications have offered profound cultural provocations to some groups. Simultaneously, it has provided the antagonised with new weapons and new ways of spreading their messages. Al-Qa'ida has used the internet " the network of networks " for propaganda, communications and even to spread terrorist expertise. GlobaliSation has created a 'networked world' in which shadowy groups move elegantly, while states move clumsily.

What does this mean for the intelligence services? We are accustomed to talking about a 'global village'. In reality our security agencies are confronted with a global mega-metropolis of seven billion souls that are increasingly connected. Twenty years ago, the international communications of individual persons who were a matter of concern were easy to monitor. Now the world sends an estimated 36 billion emails a day. This number is set to double every two years. Intercepting communications has been a vital aspect of intelligence work for more than half a century. But now the US code-breaking agency NSA and its UK partner GCHQ struggle to cope. MI6 recognised this trend in the mid-1990s and set up a new global issues section. By 1997 its staff numbers were already rising. Open borders were an open invitation to terrorists, people-traffickers and other miscreants. Eventually, most G8 states responded by requiring their secret services to pre-empt these threats. Action against everything from drug-smuggling to football hooliganism has become 'intelligence-led'. But the result has been over-stretch. Intelligence cannot fix both terrorism and all the slippery problems of globalisation.

There are other reasons why political leaders have been attracted to the intelligence-led approach. It allows some escape from responsibility as all sorts of problems can often be attributed to 'intelligence failures'. The real intelligence failure here is a weak understanding of the nature of intelligence. Intelligence is quite good at finding out what has happened recently. It is not much good at predicting the future. One of the most experienced chairmen on the JIC, Percy Cradock, once observed, that the first principle of intelligence work is to know its limitations " what it can do and what it cannot. Alas, both Bush and Blair lacked experience in foreign affairs before entering office and have a correspondingly poor understanding of the world of intelligence. In Whitehall and Washington, expectations of the intelligence services are now improbably large and growing.

Globalisation is also the missing link in the debate over civil liberties. Since 9/11 this debate has been mired in a predictable struggle between left and right. Praetorians have called for more surveillance, while civil libertarians have bemoaned the erosion of rights and freedoms. In reality, most of the new security measures introduced after 9/11 were already sitting in the in-trays of officials, including ID cards. Some of these measures were being developed in the hope of countering the pernicious side-effects of globalisation. In short, officials had already recognised that the difficult problem was not balancing security and freedom. The problem was balancing security, freedom and the globalising quest for luxury. In this complex three-way trade off, luxury was often the dominant factor.

Globalisation therefore comes at a price. The challenge is evaluating what we are prepared to pay and what 'luxuries' we can do without. One luxury that is dispensable is the right to anonymity. The globalised revolution in communications has been one of the great promoters of anonymity, through email, the internet and pay as you go mobile phones. Some continue to believe that it is acceptable to be in a public space, or in cyberspace, and to remain faceless. In fact, throughout history, the hidden face, in a balaclava or a hood, has been intimidating. By contrast, human interaction based on honest, open and reliable identification has a superior and uplifting quality. Civil society is encouraged when people are known and can be held accountable for their actions.

Misplaced anxieties about identification have been persistent. In the 19th century, the urban crowd felt that the introduction of street lighting was a pernicious intrusion on freedom. In the 20th century the same debate occurred over CCTV cameras. The debate will be repeated over ID cards. In reality, ID cards will erode anonymity but, if they are set up correctly, should not make serious inroads into privacy. By contrast, the prospect of vehicle tracking is indeed a real threat to privacy.

Curiously, ID cards, like passports, are a rather old-fashioned concept. The technology may be futuristic, but the concept harks back to an old world of real borders and sovereign states. Sovereign states have been terribly unfashionable in recent years, but their precise virtue was they provided distinctions between domestic and foreign. In this bounded space we could have some hope of a balance between security, freedom and luxury. The alternative, a globalised world policed by pugnacious liberal internationalism, has meant projecting our values, sometimes through armed intervention. Such projections can be a two-way street. The corollary is that unpalatable groups will intervene in our own country and allow us to taste their values in return.