November 2020

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The links below are organised by the month in which they are published


Cognitive Bias in Intelligence Analysis Testing the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses Method - Intelligence, Surveillance and Secret Warfare

Martha Whitesmith

Recent high-profile intelligence failures from 9/11 to the 2003 Iraq war, prove cognitive bias in intelligence analysis can have catastrophic consequences. 

This book critiques the reliance of Western intelligence agencies on the use of a method for intelligence analysis developed by the CIA in the 1990s, the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH). 

The author puts ACH to the test in an experimental setting against two key cognitive biases with unique empirical research facilitated by UK's Professional Heads of Intelligence Analysis unit at the Cabinet Office, and finds that the theoretical basis of the ACH method is significantly flawed. 

Combining the insight of a practitioner with over 11 years of experience in intelligence with both philosophical theory and experimental research, the author proposes an alternative approach to mitigating cognitive bias that focuses on creating the optimum environment for analysis, challenging current leading theories.

 Click here for more info

Alan Turing and Bletchley Park 'did NOT win WWII' 

A new official history of GCHQ claims Britain has 'overstated' role of secret code-cracking unit that even turned down JRR Tolkien for job.

Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing and Bletchley Park 'did not save Britain' single-handedly, a new official history of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has claimed, insisting 'other people mattered just as much to the success as they did'.

Turing and the cypher-cracking unit have been widely credited for saving millions of lives after his machine translated Germany's coded messages throughout the war.

But a new 'warts-and-all' official history of GCHQ has challenged the 'Myth is of eccentrics overcoming the odds'.

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Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying

Revolutionary War officer Nathan Hale, one of America's first spies, said, “Any kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.” 

A statue of Hale stands outside CIA headquarters, and the agency often cites his statement as one of its guiding principles. But who decides what is necessary for the public good, and is it really true that any kind of service is permissible for the public good? 

These questions are at the heart of James M. Olson's book,Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying. 

Olson, a veteran of the CIA's clandestine service, takes readers inside the real world of intelligence to describe the difficult dilemmas that field officers face on an almost daily basis. 

Far from being a dry theoretical treatise, this fascinating book uses actual intelligence operations to illustrate how murky their moral choices can be.

 Find out more

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. 

One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer-a pastor and author, known as much for such spiritual classics as "The Cost of Discipleship "and "Life Together," as for his 1945 execution in a concentration camp for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

"Bonhoeffer" is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil.

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Melbourne man becomes first charged under foreign interference laws

The 65-year-old Melbourne man who has become the first person charged in Australia under foreign interference laws is a prominent member of Victoria's South-East Asian Chinese community and belongs to groups connected to China's overseas influence efforts.

The Australian Federal Police charged Duong Di Sanh, also known as Sunny Duong, with preparing to commit foreign interference.

The offence carries a potential jail term of 10 years, but the exact nature of his alleged offences is not yet known.

Sunny Duong is the president of the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Inc.

He was also the deputy chairperson of the Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne, but has been stood down until the legal process has been completed, according to a statement from the museum.

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Vienna attack: Austria admits failing to act on Slovak warning on gunman

Austria's interior minister has admitted that a warning from Slovakia last summer about a gunman who went on the rampage in the centre of Vienna was not followed up.

Four people were fatally shot and 23 others wounded on Monday night.

Police in Slovakia revealed they had tipped off Austrian authorities about "suspects from Austria" trying to buy ammunition in July.

Reports suggest the trip to buy bullets failed as the gunman had no licence.

It has also emerged he was released early from a jail sentence last December for trying to join jihadists in Syria.

► Read the full story

DFAT updates ‘do not travel’ warning for USA

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated its advice saying there was a potential for violence in the coming days and weeks.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office said the warning against travel was already in place because of COVID-19 — with similar warnings in place for all nations — and the only change is a mention of the US election this week.

The department said there was a significant risk to travellers due to protests, terrorism and COVID-19.

It states that widespread protests and demonstrations have occurred across the country since 27 May 27, and continue in several US cities.

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Australia trials new technology to intercept mystery seeds sent in the mail

In world-first, agriculture department uses high-resolution X-ray machine to detect presence of seeds.

The Australian agriculture department is undertaking a world-first trial of new technology aimed at detecting seeds sent in the mail after 228 reports of Australians receiving mysterious seed packets from overseas.

People in Australia and a number of other countries, including the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada, began reporting packets of seeds they had not ordered in mid-July.

The US Department of Agriculture has suggested that the seeds may have been sent as part of what is called a “brushing scam”. 

The scam is aimed at boosting third-party sellers’ ratings in online stores such as Amazon or eBay by setting up a fake customer account using someone’s name and address found in a data breach.

They then buy a product using that account and ship small items to the person’s address, and then leave a five-star review for that seller.

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Foreign Interference is a Strategy, Not a Tactic

Geopolitics over the next several decades will be defined by competition between democracies and autocracies. This contest is already playing out across the military, economic and diplomatic domains—and in the information arena as well. As former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon observed, “[T]his is [a] world where the threats are to and through information[,] ... both our opportunities and our challenges.” 

When it comes to preparing for this challenge, the United States risks missing the forest for the trees. Most discussion of nation-state influence operations has been driven through the narrow lens of social media campaigns and electoral interference of the kind associated with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While Americans may never know the full extent or impact of those operations, it is clear that they were neither confined to the digital realm nor aimed only at influencing voter opinions on issues or candidates.

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Intelligence Collection: The Trade Is Changing

In the intelligence studies, a debate is raging about the impact of new technologies; has the trade of intelligence collection fundamentally transformed now that we live in an information age, or not?

Ever since Edward Snowden revealed how Western intelligence and security services operate in the digital domain, commentators, practitioners, and academics alike have asked whether intelligence practices are fundamentally changing or not.

Some have seen in the ‘democratisation’ of intelligence the cause of an entire new field of play, with new rules, new players, and thus a different game. 

In that sense, we are told, ‘the trade’ – the techniques used to gather intelligence – has changed markedly: we now live in an information age, in which big data and social media intelligence transform Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Human Intelligence (HUMINT) at its core.

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Intelligence After Next: The Future of the IC Workplace

The Intelligence Community (IC) is at a strategic decision point. 

The reality of the massive disruption from COVID-19 and the potential for future pandemics compel immediate action to break down entrenched IC barriers to working outside of dedicated classified workplaces. 

Various pre-COVID-19 publications have forwarded suggestions for considering some degree of telework in the IC. 

Herein we dive deeper, providing a holistic view of the IC’s interoperability challenges and a roadmap for success. Two major benefits from this shift are achieving 21st century operational resiliency and growing and sustaining the trusted workforce

► Read the report

The War Comes Home: The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism in the United States

White supremacists and other like-minded extremists conducted two-thirds of the terrorist plots and attacks in the United States in 2020, according to new CSIS data. 

Anarchists, anti-fascists, and other like-minded extremists orchestrated 20 percent of the plots and attacks, though the number of incidents grew from previous years as these extremists targeted law enforcement, military, and government facilities and personnel. 

Despite these findings, however, the number of fatalities from domestic terrorism is relatively low compared to previous years.

► Read the brief

Criminals Have Ramped Up Covid-19 Related Attacks

A growing number of cyber criminals and other malicious groups online are exploiting the COVID-19 outbreak for their own personal gain, security officials in the UK are reporting. Over 25% of the cyber attacks that the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) responded to were Covid-related, it says in its most recent annual report.  

The Report covers the period from September 2019 to August 2020, so the pandemic occupied an even higher proportion of the agency's efforts after the first lockdown began. In total there were 723 incidents of all kinds, marking close to a 10% rise on the previous period. Of those, 194 were Covid-related.

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UK in Cyber-War Against Anti-vaccine Propaganda

British spies are on a cyber-mission to disrupt the spread of anti-vaccine disinformation online by hostile states and terrorist groups, according to The Times.

The paper reported today that GCHQ has begun a digital offensive operation to prevent the circulation of propaganda that could put people off the idea of receiving inoculations against diseases. 

The Times says it has been informed by sources that GCHQ is "using a toolkit developed to tackle disinformation and recruitment material peddled by Islamic State" to detect and disrupt the activities of antivaxxers.

► Read on


Government must release intelligence review

The recently published annual report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) reveals mounting resourcing pressures on the committee’s ability to carry out its duties as well as uncertainty about its legislative future.

According to the report:

The workload of the Committee continues to rise substantially, yet the Intelligence Services Act 2001 remains unchanged. We look forward to a review of the legislation that considers the role, powers and resources invested in the Committee. This review would follow the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review by [Michael] L’Estrange and [Stephen] Merchant which recommended a variety of amendments to appropriately equip the Committee for its future work.

The PJCIS was established pursuant to section 28 of the Intelligence Services Act. 

The committee’s functions include providing oversight of Australian intelligence agencies by reviewing their administration and expenditure, reviewing national security bills introduced to parliament, and ensuring national security legislation remains necessary, proportionate and effective by conducting statutory reviews.

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Moving Beyond Passwords: The Case for Going Passwordless

Traditional authentication using a username and password has been the foundation of digital identity and security for over 50 years. However, with the ever-growing number of user accounts, there are a number of new issues: the burden on end users to remember multiple passwords, support costs and most importantly, the security risks posed by compromised credentials.

These new challenges are now outweighing the usefulness of passwords. The case for eliminating passwords from the authentication experience is getting more compelling every day.              

Emerging passwordless security standards, elevated consumer and consumer-like experience expectations, and ballooning costs have moved eliminating passwords from a theoretical concept to a real possibility.

► Access the whitepaper here

It’s not just spies who want your data

Australia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, released a rare public statement last week aimed at raising awareness about the use of social media and professional networking services for espionage purposes. 

‘Think before you link’ focuses on foreign intelligence threats and rightly cautions Australians to be careful about revealing personal information on networking services. 

It is ASIO’s first public awareness campaign and marks a significant step in the right direction for Australian intelligence agencies as they seek to engage in more regular dialogue with the public, something they have long struggled to do.

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► View the ASIO Statement

In plain sight: how an alleged Chinese spy tried to build an Australian business empire

When Chunsheng Chen departed Australia last year after being publicly outed as a suspected Communist party operative, he left several threads behind that have baffled authorities

As the private plane circled western New South Wales, where Australia’s lush seaboard makes way for its dusty heart, the men on board were keen to make a deal.

Chunsheng Chen and his five companions were on their way to a tyre recycling plant just outside the town of Warren.

The plant transformed old car and truck tyres into oil, carbon and steel using a process that was closely guarded by its operators, Green Distillation Technologies.

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The ASIS Interviews

The ASIS Interviews is a series of interviews with the Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Paul Symon – with bio, transcripts and videos.

For the first time in the 68-year history of Australia’s overseas spy service, the top spy has gone before the camera for a series of video interviews, conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Symon, a former Major General, talks about the purposes and principles of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and spying in the 21st century.

The interviews were recorded in September & October 2020 and will be released weekly.

► Find them here



The devil’s advocate in intelligence: the Israeli experience

Many intelligence services around the world maintain mechanisms intended to help minimize the risk of erroneous intelligence assessments. 

One of the best-known mechanisms is the ‘devil’s advocate’ whose goal is to present – sometimes artificially – an intelligence assessment that contradicts the prevailing view. 

The goal of this practice is to try to encourage doubts, both among intelligence assessors and among decision-makers. 

This paper will describe the importance and function of the 'devil’s advocate' mechanism in intelligence. 

Using Israel as a test case, the paper will seek to draw conclusions regarding the desirable format of operations of this mechanism.

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Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: Why U.S. Intelligence Agencies Must Adapt or Fail

For U.S. intelligence agencies, the twenty-first century began with a shock, when 19 al Qaeda operatives hijacked four planes and perpetrated the deadliest attack ever on U.S. soil. In the wake of the attack, the intelligence community mobilized with one overriding goal: preventing another 9/11. 

The CIA, the National Security Agency, and the 15 other components of the U.S. intelligence community restructured, reformed, and retooled. Congress appropriated billions of dollars to support the transformation.

That effort paid off. In the nearly two decades that U.S. intelligence agencies have been focused on fighting terrorists, they have foiled numerous plots to attack the U.S. homeland, tracked down Osama bin Laden, helped eliminate the Islamic State’s caliphate, and found terrorists hiding everywhere from Afghan caves to Brussels apartment complexes. 

This has arguably been one of the most successful periods in the history of American intelligence.

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Australian Strategic Policy Institute webinar

Join author Dr Peter Edward and the Hon. Margaret Stone, former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in a conversation moderated by ASPI’s Michael Shoebridge. They will discuss Edwards' recent book 'Law, politics and Intelligence: A life of Robert Hope'

12 - 1pm AEDT, Wednesday 2 December 

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Intelligence Isn’t Just for Government Anymore. Spy Agencies Need to Reach Voters and Tech Leaders Now, Too

Foreign election interference must be bad if spy agencies are making public service announcements. 

Two weeks ago, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray held a press conference warning that Russia and Iran have been acquiring voter registration data and waging influence operations to sow division and tilt the election. 

Earlier in October, counterintelligence chief William Evanina and General Paul Nakasone, who heads both the Pentagon’s cyberwarriors and the supersnoopers of the National Security Agency, participated in a video alert designed to reassure Americans that the threats are real but they are on the job.

What these officials said is important. But the fact that they said it is pathbreaking.

► Read on

How Canada’s intelligence agencies helped keep the country out of the 2003 Iraq war

Canadian analysts had access to the same information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction program as their American counterparts but came to different conclusions.

Canada’s decision to stay out of the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq was one of this country’s most significant foreign policy choices of the twenty-first century. 

On the eve of war, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told the House of Commons that Canada would not join the conflict without a United Nations Security Council resolution. He later said he was not convinced Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which was America’s stated reason for going to war.

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Helmet audio could be key to the investigation

Video footage obtained by ABC Investigations shows members of an SAS patrol in Afghanistan talking about the apparent execution of a "totally compliant" prisoner by one of their comrades.

► See it here

Interested in an intelligence career?  

Here is another short AIPIO video promoting attendance at #Intelligence2020 as a great investment to advance your intelligence career. 

► Register online now

Russian spies living among us: Inside the FBI's "Operation Ghost Stories"

Through never-before-seen footage and in-depth interviews, "The FBI Declassified" takes you inside the minds of heroic federal agents and analysts as they reveal how they solved some of the biggest cases of their careers.

During 2000, FBI agents learned there were multiple sets of Russian spies in the United States, posing as Americans. 

Operation Ghost Stories was probably the largest FBI counterintelligence investigation in history. The spies were trained in Russia to assimilate into everyday American life by getting married, obtaining jobs and raising families, while also sending encoded messages back home, the FBI agents say. The spies lived double lives.

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International Association for Intelligence Education (AFIE) Webinar Series 

Catch the first in this series by Dr Barry Zulauf titled 'Objectivity and Avoiding Politicisation in Analysis'.

► Watch it here


Recognising, Assessing and Countering Disinformation

From vaccination and climate change to national elections and COVID-19, conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation can spread like wildfire in new social media ecosystems.

This three-part webinar series from the University of Melbourne's Hunt Laboratory of Intelligence Research will introduce disinformation as a historical and global phenomenon that has proliferated in the fertile new communication ecosystems provided by social media, new technology platforms and their marketing and business models. It will also explore emerging approaches and strategies for recognizing, assessing and countering disinformation.


  1. Introduction to Disinformation Monday 30 November 2020 12pm - 1pm (AEDT)
  2. Recognising, Assessing and Countering Disinformation Part 1 Wednesday 02 December 12pm - 1pm (AEDT)
  3. Recognising, Assessing and Countering Disinformation Part 2 Friday 04 December 12pm - 1pm (AEDT)

No prerequisites required. A Certificate of Participation is given on completion of the 3 one-hour webinars. 

► Register here.

Build your intelligence toolbox 

Attend Intelligence2020 on 24-25 Nov to learn from David Conceicao. 

► Register online

Want to Be an Intel Analyst? 8 Lessons That Will Make You Invaluable to Decision-Makers

Whether you work in the private sector, for the government, at a multi-national company, or in an intelligence agency, your analysis skills are of vital importance to the daily decisions of your leadership. 

It doesn’t matter if you are reading open source materials, industry secrets, or reports from operators in the field—how you think about and package your insights should be useful to the boss.

► Read the tips

AIPIO Online Shop now open 

Have you missed an AIPIO virtual event in 2020 and want to access the videos? 

► Visit our online shop to buy discounted access to this video content.

The Media Manipulation Casebook

The Media Manipulation Casebook is a digital research platform linking together theory, methods, and practice for mapping media manipulation and disinformation campaigns. 

This resource is intended for researchers, journalists, technologists, policymakers, educators, and civil society organizers who want to learn about detecting, documenting, describing, and debunking misinformation.


Intelligence Dad Joke

Q: Why did the double-agent cross the road? 

A: He was actually never on your side.