Humint Events Online: Spies--Good God, Huh! --What Are They Good For?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Spies--Good God, Huh! --What Are They Good For?

Absolutely nothing, say it again!
Confronted with all the shortcomings of the secret services, its supporters reply that it would be unthinkable not to have a secret service, forgetting that we did not have one until 1911. Anything is better than nothing. But is this true? According to a study by the Royal Institute for International Affairs, western intelligence’s success in predicting Soviet moves was no better than that of America’s think tanks. The intelligence community does everything it can to avoid assessment of its efficiency, usually by falling back on the unanswerable statement: “We have had some marvellous successes but we can’t talk about them because they’re secret.”

A bold government could try an experiment to decide whether, stripped of its legends, the intelligence game is a vast confidence trick. The other great world collector and assessor of information is journalism. Let’s give a team of journalists and a team of spies an assignment to report on a specific international development and, based on that report, to produce an assessment of what is likely to happen.

The spies would use their usual covert sources, the journalists their open ones. The test would show us who had performed better. The odds look good for the journalists.

This is something I've long wondered-- do spies and covert operations really do that much good overall?

Isn't a sunshine or open-source policy better?

I think it would help diplomatic relations around the world. Maybe defuse a lot of situations.

Isn't it better to negotiate form a position of honesty and good ethics?


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