Top positive review
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One of the best books on Intelligence written in a very long time
on 22 October 2010
What makes this book so good is that it covers such a vast area of intelligence work and that it is so well written. The author also brings to it his unique experience, as director of the GCHQ etc. Many similar books fall in the trap of saying too little, thus they become dull.
Except for some unnecessary repetitions, a few words missing in sentences and an occasional error this book is exiting to read from the beginning to its end. Some chapters are a bit too short, but then the book itself is long enough.
The book simply explains why we need secret intelligence services. As its starting point it takes the famous Frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Palazzo Pubblico in Siena known as "Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government". The return to the notion of bad and good government throughout the book is a pedagogical masterwork. Omand shows what needs to be kept hidden and what should be kept open, placing equal responsibility on the shoulders of both intelligence organization and the public. The author does a good job at setting the rules for intelligence work, all well explained with examples. Omand explains what has become different in the world of intelligence since 9/11, how intelligence organizations from around the world have been forced to cooperate, and what can be outsourced and what must be done in-house. The only surprise here is that Omand argues so strongly for private contractors in combat situations. He also suggests that Open Source Search is better left to private actors (P. 311).
The strongest part of the book is in my opinion how Omand professionalizes the profession. This view is best summoned up in the sentence "The Intelligence Community is a Knowledge Industry" (P. 294). He then goes on to explain how this should be done, first of all by looking at the Intelligence profession more strictly as a producer of material for making decisions. The focus should be on objectivity, the truth, on risk management and intelligence analysis. In particular I enjoyed the discussion of different biases (group thinking, mirror-imaging etc). At the end the author sees the professions job as one of reducing ignorance, at the end to increase the public good.
Omand also suggests how to tackle future challenges, like new technology, the abundance of OSINT and how to work in interactive networks. More importantly he uses his experience to tell others how to give advice, that is, how to present intelligence to decision makers. In so doing he effectively discusses the difference between policy and intelligence facts.
Furthermore he wants to educate the public, telling them what they can and cannot expect from the services, summed up in the phrase "living with and not being surprised by surprise". We are also given some interesting tit-bits, like that it is estimated that 60% of the President's Daily brief content does not appear in the Media (P. 193). He also promises the reader that the UK Intelligence branches, unlike certain others, does not carry out extra-judicial targeted killings.
Omand acknowledges the importance of reaching out to the Academic Community (p. 295) and welcomes a UK Intelligence academy. He seems to want a joint intelligence organization, but know that the political leaders will not buy it, afraid that too much influence will end on too few hands. The most problematic suggestion in the book may be the argument for more Pre-emptive Secret Intelligence (PROINT), indicating further and extended loss of privacy. It is a difficult idea to sell to the public in this new social contract. Let us snoop more into your personal affairs and you will be safer. The alternative is of course less security, that is, more "intelligence gaps".
Dr. Klaus Solberg Söilen