Liveblogging the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.

Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods
Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods

All this week I am in Geneva, Switzerland attending the International Security Forum (ISF). The ISF is a biennial conference designed to discuss “ways to increase communication and cooperation between institutions engaged in research related to international security worldwide.

The conference this year has a strong (for me, at least) intel orientation. The theme is “Coping With Global Change” and the whole first day will be dedicated to the question: which new challenges are looming over the horizon? (Uhhh…that’s our job, isn’t it?)

The conference has a really interesting line-up of speakers and panels. For example, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari, and Deputy Director for Energy and Environmental Security in the Office of Intelligence and Counterintel at the Department of Energy, Carol Dumaine, will make two of the keynote speeches.

I am here as a guest of the wonderful people at The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) and The Center For Security Studies CSS, two of the many sponsors of the forum. My own modest contribution to the event is a short presentation on “Open Sources And The Death Of The Intelligence Cycle” (Yes, you read that right — death. And if it is not dead yet, by the end of my presentation, people are going to want to kill it…).

I am going to lug my computer around with me and see if I can do a bit of live-blogging. I will probably not be able to cover most of the panels as Chatham House Rules are in effect but, as with all good European conferences, there are lengthy coffee and lunch breaks and I may be able to corner a few people and capture their insights for you.

As always when I cover these type events, if you look at the schedule and see something or someone interesting, drop me a note or post a comment and I will try to sit in on the presentation or get a few words with the speaker, at least.


1948-1953: Psychology of Hope in Propaganda Films

In early May London’s Barbican Centre showed its audience the lost and re-discovered propaganda films of the Marshall Plan.

Produced between 1948 and 1953 these films taught the wider Western European public about democratic values and free trade market principles.

The Barbican screening was made possible through the Selling Democracy Project, curated by Sandra Schulberg and Ed Carter.

For all propaganda film nostalgics out there: Some of the films shown at the Barbican’s are also viewable online, via the Film Archive of the German Historical Museum. All available material comes with valuable English descriptions.

Air of Freedom is one of the propaganda films available in the German Historical Museum archive
Air of Freedom is one of the propaganda films available in the German Historical Museum archive

And yet another “vraie trouvaille”, free of charge: The German Newsreel Archives.
The archives are in the process of being set up, but so far 6044 items can be called up.

Screenshot: German Historical Museum Film Archive.

The Cynicism of Objectivity

The Wizard of Oz, St Laurent St, Montreal / photo: Errol ImagesMedia, flickr
The Wizard of Oz, St Laurent St, Montreal / photo: Errol ImagesMedia, flickr

In the metamorphosing world of journalism, whether a reporter is objective or subjective is no longer the main question. Today, with news agencies and media outlets of all sorts simply regurgitating each others’ work, readers no longer need concern themselves with whether something they are reading is objective or not: that is decided for them by pre-fabricated news that is passed off as reporting and analysis, sold in bulk and distributed by lazy journalists who can hardly be called reporters around the world.

So, having dismissed today’s journalism with a disappointed shrug of the shoulders, here is something completely different: A column by Paul Rogers of openDemocracy that pretends to be reports from a previously unknown consulting firm called the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (SWISH), based in tribal Pakistan, where they ostensibly hunker down in tents with full IT communications and have access to representatives of al-Qaida, Washington and London – all at the same time. (I regret to admit that I fell for this – and am aware that others have as well). Despite the hilarity of the idea, whose cynicism even this great cynic found shocking, this experiment by the ever-creative Paul Rogers was believable for a number of reasons:


One Thousand and One Nights Gone Wrong

Remember reading those fancy folk tales when you were little, commonly known as the “Arabian Nights,” about oriental princes, ghouls and magical wonder lamps? In The History of Gherib and His Brother Agib, things are getting a tad bit more gothic:

“So they seized the prince and binding his hands behind him, beat him till he lost his senses; after which the king imprisoned him in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth.”

Many Arabian nights later, in 2004, roles were reversed, as a very disturbing videotape recently smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates by Bassam Nabulsi and aired on ABC News suggests.

In this very sequel the prince is called Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Sheikh Issa torturing an Afghan merchant.
Spoiler warning: This time not the prince is beaten till he loses his senses.

He is the son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, late president of the UAE, and the brother of current UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who also rules Abu Dhabi, as well as of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of UAE’s armed forces.

The video shows Sheikh Issa, assisted by an obedient uniformed police officer, sadistically torturing an Afghan merchant by the cynical name of Mohammed Shah Poor half to death. Sheikh Issa “is seen stuffing sand in the Afghan’s mouth. As the grain dealer pleads and whimpers, he is beaten with a nailed board, burned in the genitals with a cigarette lighter, shocked with a cattle prod, and led to believe he would be shot. Salt is poured on his wounds. In the end, the victim can muster up only weak moans as an SUV is repeatedly driven over him.”

“The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior,” UAE’s Ministry of the Interior, presided by yet another of Sheikh Issa’s brothers, declared, at the same time officially acknowledging the prince’s involvement. “All rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department”, the statement concluded. O rule of law, where art thou?

After reviewing the tape once more, this time with eyes open obviously, another official statement hit the public: “The HRO [Human Rights Office] of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department will conduct a comprehensive review of the matter immediately and make its findings public at the earliest opportunity.” In the meantime, the prince was set under house arrest, being the first senior member of the royal family ever to be publicly detained in Abu Dhabi.

It remains to be seen if the original tale might prove not-that-fictional, and the prince (who has lately been accused with at least 25 more cases of cinematic bestiality) will finally be imprisoned “in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth”. Insha’Allah.

Screenshot: ABC News

ISN Weekly Theme: International Security Forum

We’re well in the throes of getting ready for the International Security Forum (ISF), happening at the International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG) 18 – 20 May. This year, the gathering of IR and security researchers and professionals will tackle the topic “Coping with Global Change.”

Check out the ISN Special Report Safeguarding Security in Turbulent Times for views from Nayef Al-Rodhan, Anne-Marie Buzatu, James A Lewis, Alyson JK Bailes on issues to watch during these changing times.

Emmanuel Clivaz’s Private Contractors on the Battlefield, an ISN Case Study, examines the he emergence of private military contractors and the theoretical components of the flexibility-control balance in a theater of war. You can find it in the ISN Digital Library.

And the latest addition to our Links Library is The SecDev group, an operational consultancy focused on countries and regions at risk from violence and insecurity.