Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Robert Dover's "Hacker, Influencer, Faker, Spy"

Robert Dover is Professor of Criminology, specialising in intelligence and national security, and the Head of the School of Criminology, Sociology and Policing at the University of Hull.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Hacker, Influencer, Faker, Spy: Intelligence Agencies in the Digital Age, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Developed Vetting (DV) allows material up to TOP SECRET. There are extended versions of the Developed Vetting, but that would be beyond the need of nearly all academics in all disciplines: bar some forms of sensitive engineering, and those writing official histories. The hosted workshop or equivalent keeps the security onus on the government department and its officials to ensure that official secrets are protected. This onus means that government departments are often unwilling to arrange events that make it clear what questions they are interested in. As an entirely fictitious example, an interest in hosting experts to discuss Chinese development or exploitation of 5G infrastructure would clearly hint at a preoccupation around future network security, although this would have been a more interesting and relevant topic five years ago, perhaps. The acknowledgment of a gap in knowledge is as relevant to understanding the state of the security community as it is reading the knowledge they have.

Greater levels of embedded engagement – such as the Special Officer programme, or working in some form for an agency – are a good opportunity for the agency to exploit academic knowledge and gain targeted insights on classified materials, and they are a good opportunity for the academic to experience practitioner life on the inside, rather a curated or carefully guarded snapshot of that life provided by workshops or interviews and the like. But embedded relationships require an agency to sponsor the academic’s security clearances (which has a financial cost and a cost to officer time), it requires them to manage the academic, to provide them with physical passes, internal-electronic passes and if they are to gain access to the intranet, or equivalent, a laptop and telephone, as appropriate. Such a level of expenditure would require the agency to put forward what they describe as a business case to justify the cost against the anticipated gain. For the academic, they have to be intellectually and politically sold on the idea that this wish to assist the government’s security effort – and that is by no means guaranteed across academia, they have to be willing to put themselves forward for the level of personal intrusion that a security clearance process entails, they have to manage the expectations of their university employer and gain consent for time away from the office, they have to be willing to accept the obligation that official secrecy and the surrounding processes entail and they have to accept a partial curtailment of their normal freedoms to publish.
The test has landed on one of the drier pages in the book! Page 99 sits in a section looking at how intelligence agencies use and could better use external expertise, and how this has been impacted by the digital age. In that sense it does give the reader a (dry) snapshot into what I was interested in, which is how the digital age is changing and framing the business of intelligence. Before I turned to page 99 I had wondered if it would land on a chapter opener or an intentionally blank page to scupper the test completely. I was pleased when it landed on something substantive, and in my office I picked a few books off my shelf and discovered the test works pretty well on those too.

The bits of the book the test didn’t pick up on were the small ‘p’ political role that government intelligence has in western democracies. The way that intelligence activity both frames and polices the underpinning logics from which we view politics, society and threats. I think that is a really important concept, and one I feed through in discussions about politics, but also through popular culture. I really enjoyed looking at spy novels, films, TV and video gaming to see how these framing logics are written through them, and iterate over time. I end the book with a brief example of futurology to speculate on where technology might take intelligence in the medium-term future. When we are teaching intelligence analysis we generally say that five years is the timeframe where a prediction will hold some water, and I have stuck to this. As a result automation, AI, quantum computing and the metaverse were my focuses.
Learn more about Hacker, Influencer, Faker, Spy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue