September 2020

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


Sharing the Secret: The History of the Intelligence Corps, 1940–2010 

This ground breaking book examines the colorful history of the Intelligence Corps from its formation in 1940 up to the present day. 

Even accepting that there are aspects of the Corps’ activities that cannot be revealed, there is a great wealth of fascinating material here for those interested in intelligence gathering.

During WW2 over 400 members served with SOE, Field Security Sections carried out counterintelligence tasks at home and overseas, liaising with foreign services where appropriate. 

Intelligence gathering for commanders at all levels has been a key role using Sigint, human sources, interrogation and other covert ops. The Corps captured many key German and Japanese war criminals.

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The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future, by Chris Whipple 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Gatekeepers, a remarkable, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to run the world’s most powerful intelligence agency, and how the CIA is often a crucial counterforce against presidents threatening to overstep the powers of their office.

Only eleven men and one woman are alive today who have made the life-and-death decisions that come with running the world’s most powerful and influential intelligence service. With unprecedented, deep access to nearly all these individuals plus several of their predecessors, Chris Whipple tells the story of an agency that answers to the United States president alone, but whose activities—spying, espionage, and covert action—take place on every continent

Find out more here

New book e-launched

Dr John Fahey e-launched his latest book 'Traitors and Spies: Espionage and corruption in high places in Australia, 1901-50' on 16 September. 

AIPIO President Phil Kowalick was an invited guest at the launch event.


The Kingdom

Jo Nesbo, author of the number one bestselling Harry Hole series, is back with a tense and atmospheric thriller about two brothers bound together by dark secrets.

When Roy and Carl's parents die suddenly, sixteen-year-old Roy is left as protector to his impulsive younger brother. But when Carl decides to travel the world in search of his fortune, Roy stays behind in their sleepy village, satisfied with his peaceful life as a mechanic.

Some years later, Carl returns with his charismatic new wife, Shannon - an architect. They are full of exciting plans to build a spa hotel on their family land. Carl wants not only to make the brothers rich but the rest of the village, too.

It's only a matter of time before what begins as a jubilant homecoming sparks off a series of events that threaten to derail everything Roy holds dear, as long-buried family secrets begin to rise to the surface...

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Good spies, bad spies: new book's shocking exposé of Australian espionage

Minorities were persecuted while communist spies ran amok – such is the record of Australia’s early security services, reveals a new book by Macquarie Honorary Fellow Dr John Fahey, officially launched today.

Incompetence and corruption in Australia’s early security intelligence network has been laid excruciatingly bare in a new book by Honorary Fellow in Macquarie’s Department of Criminology and Security Studies, Dr John Fahey.

Traitors and Spies: Espionage and Corruption in High Places in Australia, 1901-1950 lays out the new nation of Australia’s need for an internal security intelligence service, and how it took a half-century of machinations and missteps, cronyism and corruption, before the establishment of a professional organisation in ASIO.

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Zhenhua Data: 35,000 Aussies being spied on by China as part of ‘psychological war’

A massive data leak shows tens of thousands of Aussies, from celebs to the PM and his family, are being traced by China for “psychological warfare”.

Tens of thousands of Australians — including celebrities, politicians and journalists — have had their data collected by a company with links to Chinese military and intelligence networks.

Researchers say the massive collection of information is being used as a “psychological warfare” tool to manipulate public opinion in Australia.

The database was published overnight after it was leaked to a US academic, and it shows 2.4 million people around the world have been targeted — including 35,000 Australians.

The data was collected by Chinese company Zhenhua Data which is understood to be used by China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security.

► Read the full story

Whistleblower accuses Trump appointees of downplaying Russian interference and White supremacist threat

A whistleblower is alleging that top political appointees in the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit President Donald Trump's agenda by downplaying Russia's efforts to interfere in the US and the threat posed by White supremacists, according to documents reviewed by CNN and a source familiar with the situation.

The whistleblower claims that acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf instructed DHS officials earlier this year to "cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference" and, instead, focus their efforts on gathering information related to activities being carried out by China and Iran.

Trump and several of his top national security advisers have repeatedly sought to emphasize the threat posed by China in recent months while downplaying the intelligence community's warnings related to Russian interference in the 2020 election.

► Read the full article here

'More organised, sophisticated and security conscious than before': Right-wing extremist threat growing

Australian security agencies are on alert for extremists who could have been inspired by the Christchurch mosque killer and other massacres overseas, as small far-right cells across the country are becoming more organised and sophisticated than ever before.

The concern is being heightened by extreme right-wing groups increasingly attracting people from a military background who know how to use weapons, as well as a younger membership who aren't displaying obvious signs of their extremism - making them harder to detect.

► Read the full article here

Germany far right: Intelligence chief forced out amid criticism

The head of Germany's military intelligence agency is to be replaced as the government seeks to ramp up its efforts to combat the far right.

Christof Gramm had begun reforms to tackle links between the far right and the army, but the defence ministry said "additional efforts" were now required.

He has faced calls to take firmer action during his tenure.

In January, military intelligence said there were hundreds of suspected far-right supporters in the army last year.

They said the KSK (Special Forces Command) was seen as a particular problem, with 20 members of the elite force suspected of right-wing extremism.

► Read the full story

China’s Global Lockdown Propaganda Campaign

Inside the CCP’s use of social media bots and other disinformation tactics to promote its own response to the coronavirus pandemic and attack its critics.

In the words of Simon Leys, paraphrasing the great sinologist László Ladány, even the most mendacious propaganda must necessarily entertain some relation to truth. 

In Wuhan in late December, Dr. Li Wenliang warned his friends that a new SARS-like illness had begun spreading rapidly. Li’s message inadvertently went viral on Chinese social media, causing widespread panic and anger at the Chinese Communist Party. 

On Jan. 7, Xi Jinping informed his inner circle that the situation in Wuhan would require their personal supervision.

Two weeks later, Xi personally authorized the lockdown of Hubei province based on his philosophy of fangkong, the same hybrid of health and security policy that inspired the reeducation and “quarantine” of over 1 million Uighur Muslims “infected with extremism” in Xinjiang. 

The World Health Organization’s representative in China noted that “trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science … The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made.”

► Read the full story

Threats from far-right extremists have skyrocketed in Australia, with ASIO comparing tactics to IS

Threats from far-right extremists take up between 30 and 40 per cent of ASIO's resources, up from only 15 per cent half a decade ago.


Australia's domestic intelligence agency has revealed far-right extremists are increasingly occupying its caseload.

ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook confirmed right-wing violence now occupies between 30 and 40 per cent of the intelligence organisation's counter-terrorism cases, more than a third of the agency's workload, up from 10 to 15 per cent prior to 2016.

Ms Cook compared the recruiting practices of far-right extremists to that of the Islamic State (IS), amid fears the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate the threat of terrorism.

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Global Economics Intelligence executive summary, August 2020 | McKinsey & Company

Economic indicators improved and trade began to recover; output and demand are still below pre-COVID-19 levels; recovery in the US, Brazil, and India is impaired by the ongoing public-health crisis.

Over July and August, the global economy stirred. Retail sales improved, manufacturing revived, and trade began to recover. The revived activity comes close on the heels of a punishing second quarter. Most pandemic restrictions were in their fullest form then, and most economies measured large contractions in GDP, including –9.5% in the United States and –15.0% in the eurozone (year-over-year). China experienced its contraction (–6.8%) in the first quarter, and has since returned to growth.

► Read the full report here


Explaining the depth and breadth of international intelligence cooperation: towards a comprehensive understanding

Despite neorealism's predominance in the academic debate, it is too narrow a basis for the comprehensive understanding of present-day international intelligence cooperation.

This approach is perfectly capable of explaining what is currently not happening in international intelligence cooperation and why this is the case. However, it is inadequate to understand what does happen in international intelligence cooperation.

 To explain international intelligence cooperation, especially in long-standing multilateral arrangements such as the EU and NATO, additional approaches are needed.

This article advocates stepping beyond a state-centric approach of international intelligence cooperation, viewing it as a process and using a sociological perspective.

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Expert Panel on Analytic Rigour in Intelligence

The University of Melbourne’s Hunt Lab is convening an Expert Panel to rapidly form a Collective View on analytic rigour for intelligence. This is a unique opportunity for leading experts worldwide to gather in an online space, contribute ideas, and engage in informed debate.

The Expert Panel is a key part of our Analytic Rigour project. That project, sponsored by the Australian national intelligence community, will deliver a major report on analytic rigour, covering three topics:

  1. The nature of analytical rigour
  2. Factors contributing to (or detracting from) analytic rigour – individual, social, organisational, technological
  3. Opportunities for intelligence organisations to improve analytic rigour

The Expert Panel process is unfolding over three weeks from 28th September to 16th October 2020. It has three phases. In the first phase, a short survey has drawn out panelists’ views on the three topics above. The Hunt Lab team sorts these views into groups which express essentially the same idea, and formulates a single statement capturing that idea. In the second phase, the synthesized statements, and other topics, will be available for discussion by the panel on an online forum. In the final phase, panelists can indicate their levels of agreement with the statements in another short survey. Views receiving clear majority support will form part of the final Collective View.

Participants have been drawn from academia, government, and industry. It includes leading scientists alongside practitioners – people with extensive experience producing and managing intelligence.

► Read more


TikTok and WeChat: Curating and controlling global information flows

While most major international social media networks remain banned from the Chinese market in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Chinese social media companies are expanding overseas and building up large global audiences. Some of those networks—including WeChat and TikTok—pose challenges, including to freedom of expression, that governments around the world are struggling to deal with.

The Chinese ‘super-app’ WeChat, which is indispensable in China, has approximately 1.2 billion monthly active users worldwide, including 100 million installations outside of China.

The app has become the long arm of the Chinese regime, extending the PRC’s techno-authoritarian reach into the lives of its citizens and non-citizens in the diaspora.

WeChat users outside of China are increasingly finding themselves trapped in a mobile extension of the Great Firewall of China through which they’re subjected to surveillance, censorship and propaganda. 

► Read more here

Which Cybersecurity Incidents Involve Misuse of Legitimate Services

Threat actors who misuse legitimate tools have several advantages over those who use intrusive software, notes Kaspersky Lab, a Russia-based multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, in a press release. It’s more difficult for cybersecurity solutions to discern between regular user activity and malicious activity involving legitimate tools. 

This difficulty gives attackers more time to access an organization’s network, discover its critical assets and target sensitive information. Knowing how to prevent intrusions and stop unwanted use of legitimate tools is important for a security team’s toolkit.

► Read more here

Trump Has Nearly Eliminated Intelligence Briefings From His Schedule Entirely

President Donald Trump’s interest in taking intelligence briefings has been declining steadily since his first months in office and has dropped to near zero in recent weeks, according to a HuffPost review of all of his daily schedules.

Trump went from a high of 4.1 briefings per week on average in March 2017 to 0.7 per week since July 1, shortly after it became public that he had ignored intelligence reports about Russia offering bounties to the Taliban for each American soldier killed in Afghanistan.

Monday’s briefing, in fact, was the first in August and the first since July 22. That month had only three briefings scheduled.

“It’s remarkable that, even at their peak, they never exceeded 20 per month,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and a spokesman for the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

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'Shrouded in secrecy': ASD to be grilled over axed official history

Australia's cyber spy agency will be grilled at a parliamentary hearing over its shock decision to cancel a contract with the Australian National University to write its official history.

The Australian Signals Directorate is in talks with the ANU about how much of the $2.2 million contract it will pay out after military historian John Blaxland worked for more than a year on the project.

► Read more


Lens Kit: Crowdsourced resources for problem-solving, intelligence analysis and intelligence report writing

The Lens Kit is a collection of resources for intelligence analysis and report writing, designed for Learners, and created and maintained by Contributors. The primary group of Learners is SWARM Project participants.

Each lens describes a single method, tool or resource that can be applied to some aspect of an intelligence analyst's job. Related lenses are grouped together and can be browsed in various ways:

  • By category (accessible via the sidebar or lens kit home page)
  • By keyword search

The original Lens Kit was created by The SWARM Project as a resource to help participants in the IARPA CREATE research program. Lenses helped participants to solve intelligence-related problems and write better intelligence reports.

Members of the SWARM community asked to contribute their time and knowledge to the Lens Kit, to improve the quality and quantity of resources available.

SWARM has transferred the original Lens Kit to this new, Confluence-based site, to enable Contributors (SWARM Project participants) to sign-up and contribute their time and expertise to improve and extend the resources available.

Their vision is to develop an extensive, crowdsourced database of information related to intelligence analysis. Anyone with relevant expertise can sign-up and start contributing by adding or editing articles.

► Learn more


Is Australia ready for regional conflict?

It has become fashionable to speculate about the risk of a coming war between China and America.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd, in a recent article in Foreign Policy titled Beware the Guns of August – in Asia, claims that we are confronting the prospect of not just a new Cold War, but a hot one as well with actual armed conflict between the US and China appearing possible.

He warns that the presidents of China and the US both face internal political pressures that could tempt them to pull the nationalist lever, which “could all too easily torpedo the prospects of international peace and stability for the next 30 years”.

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State Department Intelligence: Inside the INR

SPY Historian sat down with some of the leadership of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for a candid conversation

► Listen here


Securing Australia in an age of disruption: Insights from national security leaders

Duncan Lewis AO joined Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College, for a wide-ranging discussion that covered Australia’s strategic challenges, security capabilities, national interests, advice for next-generation leaders and much more.

"We need to harden up because the world is going to get pretty the next few years...this is recoverable but we need to work very hard at it." — Duncan Lewis AO

► Watch it here

Recorded sessions from the inaugural Australian OSINT Symposium

The Australian OSINT Symposium is a conference for government groups, corporations & the public to come together and collaborate on open source intelligence techniques and share experiences to foster greater efficiencies and effectiveness within Australian & global organizations

  • Ben Strick - Geo locating from imagery (51:01)
  • Elise Thomas - Investigating information campaigns (21:45)
  • Nathan Ruser - Geo spatial analysis & satellite imagery (49:06)
  • Chris Poulter - Developing OSINT capability for organisations (51:41)
  • Julie Clegg - Pivoting in an all-source enviroment & case work (34:51)
  • Max Pemberton - Corporate intelligence & complex due-diligence (55:33)
  • Micah Hoffman - Online safety & personal exposure (46:04)
  • Todd Harland - Illegal wildlife trade, AML & OSINT investigations (32:25)
  • Joe Gray - Building disinformation systems for Twitter (53:43)

► Watch


How governments can deliver on the promise of digital ID

Governments globally are working to roll out digital identity schemes, but few have achieved broad adoption and utilization. To succeed, governments can create a virtuous circle of supply and demand.

Digital ID provides reliable authentication and enables delivery of a range of services via web or mobile applications that require proof of identity. It has the potential to generate significant economic and social benefits, including lower costs and increased financial, social, and political inclusion. 

To date, governments around the world have launched around 165 digital, or partially digital, ID schemes. However, their track record is mixed. Only a few programs have achieved high levels of adoption, and use rates are often low, averaging just once or twice a year per person in some countries.

To unlock the potential of digital ID, governments must work on two fronts—boosting both the supply and demand sides of the equation.

► Read the full article here


China as a Faltering Contender

The conventional wisdom has long been that, if there is to be a major war involving China and the U.S., it will be the result of either of a rising China initiating war to displace the failing U.S. hegemon, or a declining U.S. initiating a war to stymie a rising China. 

But this ignores the possibility that systemic or hegemonic war between China and the U.S. may not have anything to do with a rising power. It ignores the possibility that such a war might be initiated by what I will call a faltering contender, a once-rising power whose ascent is running out of steam and whose leaders believe that it must decisively reshape the global order now while it still can.

► Read more here


Top open source intelligence tools used in cybersecurity 

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How To Use Competitor Research in Every Part of Your Business

Getting the most out of your competitive intelligence system means investing the time and effort necessary to set-up and maintain your CI process.

It also means effectively distributing the information you gain to decision makers throughout your company, some of whom may not even realise its potential value.

Learn the five key areas where your hard-earned competitive intelligence data can be put to good use.

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'Cutting edge to stay ahead': ASIS looking for more recruits

The country’s most secretive intelligence agency has launched a recruitment push for more digital spies, as Australia counters the growing threat of espionage.

For its first 20 years, the government denied its existence, now the Australian Secret Intelligence Service is openly looking for more recruits.

Australia's overseas spy agency wants to find highly skilled digital experts to fill a number of critical roles in the organisation.

The "ASIS is interested" campaign will feature a new television advertisement and focus on finding Australians trained in IT, software development, data science, engineering, cyber security and customer service.

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Groupthink vs Abilene Paradox


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The subjects, thoughts, opinions, and information made available in AIPIO Acumen reflect the author’s views, not those of the AIPIO.