February 26, 2016
In this exclusive interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the insights and security assessments of former British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram, MBE. A 27-year veteran of the UK Army Intelligence Corps, Ingram worked in hostile environments including Iraq, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, where he was involved with intelligence and liaison during and after the 1999 NATO bombing. Mr Ingram now works in the private sector, focusing on counter-terrorism and security issues for the press, governmental and corporate clients.
Chris Deliso: Thanks for speaking with us today, Philip. First of all, before we get into the details, I would be keen to learn more about your company and what you are working on now.
Philip Ingram: Thank you. Actually, we operate two companies. I am the managing director of Security Media Publishing, which among other things produces SecurityNewsdesk.com, which has a newsfeed for the global security industry- covering ISIS activity to the latest in new CCTV camera technology, and everything in between.
I’m also the chairman of Global Risk Awareness, a company providing cyber intelligence. This is different from most cyber security companies, as we monitor Darkweb activity through use of sophisticated tools, to see who’s doing what, for example, ISIS members interacting with each other on different forums clandestinely. We have the capabilities to sit there unknown, and monitor their movements.
CD: That is very interesting. This software, I assume, is proprietary and your own.
PI: Yes, our own bespoke software. No more than six or seven organizations in the world have software similar to ours- they are mostly the ones with three- or four-letter abbreviations, you know.
CD: Aha, so does the software have some government origin?
PI: No, it is not created from a governmental basis. It is original corporate software for monitoring the dark web, and we have developed additional tools and scripts in order to not just gather intel, but also to analyse it through a process called social network analysis.
CD: This is a fascinating topic, but I am no expert in technology. I had thought the problem governments find with monitoring users of the onion router is that there is specifically no way of tracking them, the only visible points there are the entry and exit relays. But again I’m certainly no expert.
PI: Well, the web in general is quite interesting, as it has three layers. The surface layer includes anything findable by search engines. Then the Deep Web operates within it, like your banking online details, the local library index or an association with a members-only area to their website. Then there’s the Dark Web. This is the layer of the internet requiring special software to enter, where websites are hidden and often where in order to find certain websites people have to be invited. It is where a lot of illicit activity takes place like the former Silk Road. And of course, extremists and terrorists also use the Dark Web. That is our focus.
CD: Can you give some examples of the kind of terrorist activity you monitor there? And their capabilities and interests?
PI: There are many ways that groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda are using the Dark Web in very sophisticated ways. We see them creating and interacting, for example, on forums where they will tell people how to build bombs, or give tactical instructions or otherwise what to do. They might post training videos for terrorists on how to set up covert communications channels. These include accounts through new internet communications media, like whatsapp- a lot of it is very secure and scaring intelligence agencies.
CD: So, in your assessment, what is the current activity level of Islamist supporters from the Southeast Europe area?
PI: Regarding the Balkans, a quick recent search of forums showed something interesting. When we searched for users from individual places, like Kosovo, I expected to see a lot of traffic, but there were surprisingly few hits from there and other Balkan areas.
CD: But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are not local supporters, no?
PI: Indeed, what that says to me is that the security being taken to access the Dark Net in the Balkans is really sophisticated. We can track people who are using proxy servers, but probably what they’re doing is going through initial web hosting not based in the Balkans. We can pick up proxy servers and TOR relays, but if someone using a foreign-based server as primary link, it is impossible to tell their true location.
CD: So, if you could share a bit about your background, and what drew you to this line of work- I mean before you retired, when you were working in the military intelligence.
PI: I was an engineering officer for 12 years, then I went into the planning side. I was asked to join the NATO planning team at the time when there was the UN takeover in Bosnia. And then having done the planning side of things, I had no desire to go back to the engineering side.
The one thing that tickled me most was every planning activity started with an intelligence briefing. I thought it would be good to be part of an organization that studied, analyzed and predicted what would happen. So I got transferred over, to the British Army Intelligence Corps.
CD: Where did you serve during your career, and when did you retire?
PI: Oh, all over the place. My first posting from training was to Northern Ireland. I also served in Germany, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq, Cyprus and of course, the UK. I retired in 2010.
CD: What was your most dangerous mission?
PI: Depends how you define danger! In 1985, the IRA tried to get me, in Northern Ireland. People forget the intensity of different operations, but the fact is that the British lost more soldiers in Northern Ireland than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. We lost over 200 soldiers in one year alone in Northern Ireland. Operations there were in a much smaller area- people forget the intensity that comes with having to work in such conditions.
But Iraq, where I was in 2005 and 2006, that was the scariest because you just didn’t know what the insurgents would do- they were always one step ahead of us, very sophisticated fighters. It was scary because there was no value in human life- at least within Europe, whether in the Balkans or Northern Ireland, there was a code. There were certain limits. But once you get into places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no code. In such a place it complicates the situation for operations, and especially how to work within an agreed legal framework, to be effective against those kinds of terrorists.
Kosovo Operations and Transitional Justice
CD: Very interesting perspective. Now, if we can return to the Balkans, and some recent events. You are probably aware that war crimes trials are coming up for Kosovo, and conceivably involve some of the people you had to work with during that time. What do you expect from this process?
PI: I find it fascinating, as the ICTY had tried to carry out war crime trials without success in the past. For example, Ramush Haradinaj was indicted twice and the charges were dropped twice.
The interesting thing from the war in Kosovo was that, looking at in a balanced way, from a human perspective, it was very simple- atrocities were carried out by all sides, and most of the people affected were civilians in that tiny area. This happened in a dramatic way, initially, with huge amounts of refugees into Macedonia and then when the Serb paramilitaries and regular forces and the KLA were fighting each other.
So intense was this fighting that huge numbers of innocent people were being killed. As NATO was negotiating with Serbia primarily to stop the fighting so that humanitarian relief could get in, the negotiations were stalling-
CD: Were you in Kosovo at this time?
PI: No- we were sitting in Macedonia with sophisticated intelligence equipment, listening and watching for the time being. I was later within Kosovo, after the fighting had stopped.
CD: What was the value for military intelligence of being placed in Macedonia, when the war was happening in Kosovo, and then in Kosovo, after the war had finished?
PI: There was activity we had to continue, to make sure that our lines of communication were constantly open to all sides, all the different groups, especially important before the fighting stops. We needed to make sure the backdoors are open, and get a feeling for what was going to happen.
For negotiations to happen successfully, you need good intelligence. The initial negotiations were between NATO and Milosevic, but when they were signed – the formal negotiations – only then could we get a leadership together, and continue further negotiations between the parties on the ground, a long process.
CD: Very interesting. Again, related to the court- have you or any of your former colleagues been called as potential character witnesses in these trials? Do you expect this could happen, or is there some kind of legal immunity?
PI: No, there’s certainly no legal immunity that applicable for us. But I’m sure that if the war crimes trials wanted to look at war records they could request them, and any other information that could give further details about events. Everything was carefully recorded.
CD: Interesting. But anyway, we understand that present senior Kosovo officials are not worried about the result of any future trials. Even if they are from rival political parties or groups, the Kosovo government will hire top lawyers and they expect the trials will finish without a single conviction. What is your view on whether the lawyers will get them off? Is it going to be just a short of show trial?
PI: I don’t know the details, as I haven’t seen specific indictments. But in general, there is a real difficulty with any war after it’s conclusion, because you are left with winning and losing sides. Then, when they prosecute the latter for war crimes, it is hard enough- it becomes much harder when they go after the winning side. There is naturally a lot of resistance to that.
Regarding Kosovo, I can’t see how they will easily build cases. I don’t see what good it will do, either. If you look at history, and compared how Israel grew, or South Africa or Northern Ireland and the Balkans after conflicts, the one place that got it right was South Africa, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That made some positive achievements for the whole country to forward.
However in Northern Ireland, after the conflict finished, the ex-members of the two fighting sides are all in the Northern Ireland government now- but the British taxpayer is still being paralyzed with paying for inquiries that all seem to focus on British and not IRA activity. Millions of pounds are being wasted trying to get to the bottom of various incidents that happened long ago, and where there is little or no evidence.
So unless you’re on the ground at the time, you are not in a position to comment and look back… remember, a lot comes down to judgment calls that are made in quickly changing circumstances, on any given day. Also, laws change over the years- can a certain law still be applicable retroactively, if it differs from the one in place at the time of an event?
So in my opinion, all this kind of court does is undermine good efforts to build communities for the future. I expect it will appease some people, but I also suspect it will just undermine what they need to do to move forward after the conflict.
CD: That is a compelling argument. It leads to something else I wanted to mention, which is related. The Kosovo officials who are confident [about acquittals] specifically compare their cases as similar to that of Ante Gotovina, the Croatian wartime general who was acquitted by the Hague. When he was finally tracked down, wherever it was – I think the Canary Islands – it was due to the help of British intelligence, which had been persistently tracking him and other alleged war criminals for years. Were you still involved in the Balkans in that period, and did they request support?
PI: I remember this, and I know the ICTY if they needed could request information from the British government and this could include military intelligence information, I am sure they got full cooperation. In fact, the head of security for the ICTY at one point was an ex-British military intelligence officer-
PI: Yes. And for the Kosovo conflict, all the pre-war and post-war intelligence and other information was handed over to NATO forces. It stayed within Kosovo. Later, decisions were made about what to do with it- it was then handed to the EU, some things were passed on, some not.
CD: What is the typical cooperation practice for the British, between the military and civilian intelligence services?
PI: In any operations, they work together closely. The value of cooperation in intelligence is in trying to build up a total picture from lots of jigsaw pieces. To do this, there is formal, and informal cooperation with various intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, both your own and those of different countries as well.
And this can be mutually beneficial, not only within your own services, but for your partners. Because in many cases you help them to add other jigsaw puzzles, to clarify their own picture as well.
Behind the Migration Crisis: Crime, Political Error and European Security
CD: So now we move on to migration, the current big topic in the Balkans and in European politics. We have been covering the migration crisis for years and now, in the last year, particularly the so-called Balkan route.
Our initial assessment, before the summer 2015 crisis even started, was that the migrant numbers would intensify, leading to a greater EU participation. But even into the summer, no one from out of the region seemed very bothered to do something about it. To what do you attribute this attitude? Who benefits from it?
PI: These are indeed both good questions, with a lot of history. If we go back to the traditional Balkan route for smuggling, this has long been used by people smuggling contraband drugs, weapons, other items and of course human trafficking. That route has always been used.
One vignette I remember well occurred inside Kosovo, after the war. I was talking to one of the senior leaders on one of the opposing sides, who just had gotten a nice new car. I asked his driver if it came from Tirana, where a lot of stolen luxury cars are sold for only a few thousand euros. The driver said ‘no, we paid cash- it wasn’t him [the senior leader] who bought it, it was his wives.’ And by ‘wives’ the driver was referring to prostitution rings in Holland and Germany controlled by that person. So Kosovar criminal organisations are moving people and goods for years. It doesn’t surprise me that refugees are-
CD: Yes, I agree about the organized crime, but in the current period migrants are not going through Kosovo, so I don’t know if their criminals are involved.
PI: Yes, true- the main reason the refugees are not going through Kosovo is the geography. The fastest route is through Serbia and Macedonia. Still I suspect the same people who have been making money over the years through smuggling in the region have at least some role in the current trade.
Now, regarding the lethargy in Europe about the crisis, I believe this was because many of the more northern countries had not yet felt the presence of the refugees, and underestimated their numbers, at that time. And the countries affected, like Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, obviously wanted the refugees to go through as quickly as possible. And also, Angela Merkel was badly advised, when she decided to welcome so many people. She now regrets it.
CD: Well, this is the biggest mystery to me and many other people. I can’t believe that she didn’t know what would happen. Our research indicates that the BND knew everything the whole time, about the situation on the ground, and what could happen later. So how do we explain that Merkel chose to invite so many refugees?
PI: There’s no reason why the Germans would want all these people- I have been racking my brain trying to find some logic behind it.
About genuine refugees, there is of course a legal right they have to protection, and requirements of states to fulfill that, and they are using it. But at the time when Merkel was first commenting on the situation, there was debate about what countries should take leading roles and nobody stepped forward. So she nominated Germany as leader of Europe in this situation, thinking others would follow their lead.
There has since then been a lot of debate about all this in Europe- and especially in the last week, as things have come to a head here in the UK, with Cameron’s negotiations in Brussels and announcement of the June 23 referendum date.
Merkel was probably trying to make a statement to other European leaders: if Germany could accept a certain amount of refugees, she was hoping others would follow suit. She just got that one wrong.
The Upcoming Migrant Surge: Security Assessments for the Balkans and Europe
CD: I still can’t believe she was that naïve or uninformed. This whole thing has to be in someone’s interest.
PI: Well, I don’t think the whole situation was well communicated at a political level, regarding who these refugees were. An awful lot of economic migrants have been among them, and are continuing to be. By effectively opening the European borders to these people, Angela Merkel opened the floodgates.
If it is in someone’s interest to have this crisis, there might be many parties, but most concerning for me is that mixed in with the refugees are a lot of ISIS members and supporters.
CD: Do you have any estimate regarding how many have already entered Europe?
PI: Well, mixed in with ISIS, probably this includes Al Qaeda members too, the numbers vary. But recent international press reports say about 5,000 so far. What’s clear is that they can get people in and out at will- look at the Paris attacks in November. Some attackers came up through Greece, and followed the route to Brussels. They bypassed everything, even though they were known to authorities.
CD: What is your assessment for a spring surge in migrants, as we have recently reported on, and how it will affect the EU? What are your thoughts on the situation and how it will be by May or June, say, by UK referendum time?
PI: I think we will see, as the weather gets better and the seas are calmer, just such a surge, as then it will be easier for migrants to try and make the journey. The other thing we see that can aggravate the migrant flow is the increased military activity now going on in Aleppo, which is forcing people out of their homes. ISIS is also pushing from other sides. There is a bursting point. And the people have to get somewhere.
CD: Looking at this issue in regard to your companies’ focus, do you see any evidence of migrant traffickers using the Dark Web for logistical or tactical purposes in this trade?
PI: We haven’t watched for migrant organizers there. It is unlikely they would need to use the Dark Web, though- they would be operating easily through closed social channels.
What is more worrying, in fact, is that right now we are seeing on Dark Web surveillance clear activity from everywhere in world among ISIS and Al Qaeda channels. These levels and patterns of activity match those that are noted right before big terrorist attacks happen. What these terrorists do is extremely well planned.
CD: Malaysia, is that one of the countries where an attack is expected? We noted the British government very recently issued a travel alert for that country, citing terrorism threats against foreign tourist destinations there.
PI: We haven’t looked at things in detail there recently, though we have historically looked at it quite a bit. And it seems that, yes, ISIS is increasingly recruiting from countries in Southeast Asia, as they find they are stronger fighters, willing to be more extreme and more brutal than European counterparts, and that is particularly worrying.
CD: We have recently reported on Macedonia’s plan to close the border with Greece to migrants. If the border with Greece is closed, what risk scenarios do you see for migrants trapped in northern Greece, and their smugglers, given the differentiated geography of the northern Greek border with four states, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey?
PI: The biggest thing is there could become larger and larger camps of increasingly desperate groups of people situated alongside relatively small rural communities in Northern Greece. These could easily turn into flashpoints and then the security risk will grow.
You will see, like elsewhere in Europe in that situation, an increase of locals protesting against the presence of refugees and migrants, and the latter who can’t stand being stuck there. There is thus a potential for rioting and violent altercations with locals, police and military.
At the same time, criminal gangs will be involved- and when they aren’t moving people they aren’t making money, so they will try to find ways to move the people. Even terrorist gangs can emerge in such a climate and will exploit the unrest. But we have already seen from Hungary, where they are having trouble with refugees- they can’t keep them from cutting the fences to get through. So smugglers will keep trying to find ways to get people out of Greece.
CD: We have most recently reported that, in this case, a new Albanian-Adriatic route could develop, as Bulgaria has moved army units to its border with Greece, making it harder there, and anyway Albania is closer to Western Europe and has a history of people-smuggling by boat to Italy. Do you see this as a possible scenario, if Macedonia manages to keep its border sealed?
PI: All traditional routes will come into increased use in the Balkans. It is like when you squeeze a balloon between your fingers; you don’t know where it will pop out. But if you squeeze a bit too hard in one place, the air will move off to somewhere else. The balloon can’t stay still. The refugees and migrants don’t want to sit still, and the people who are profiting from moving them certainly don’t want them to sit still either.
Provided smugglers can make money – and they do it in very ingenuous ways – people will find a way. Yes, one likely way is to get into boats again, the Adriatic coast from Albania to Italy, and the long coast in Croatia, are all possible points of activity.
What we’re starting to see now with the EU, that the Schengen Zone is almost suspended, and without a central EU decision possible, countries can’t afford to have open borders-
CD: It will make it more expensive for migrants all down the line, and thus more profitable for smugglers-
PI: Yes, and we’re now seeing Austria only accepting 80 a day, and similar reductions will happen and worsen the situation.
CD: Indeed. Also, regarding the Eastern Mediterranean, we are aware that several ‘suspicious’ NGOs run by Islamic groups, including British ones, have been operating from the Greek islands near Turkey for the past year, for migrant facilitation and surveillance purposes. Do you have any further info? Given that there are British citizens involved, is this something British intelligence is concerned about?
PI: The presence of such groups is not surprising. It’s a standard method historically used, to employ front NGOs- if you go back to Al Qaeda’s earliest money movements, money changed hands through NGOs and charities.
I don’t know without seeing the specific details if the British government is doing anything or aware of any particular groups. But I can say that some are known about, but some might not be, so it is something to be concerned about.
Libya Assessments: EU Operations, Criminal Activities and Terrorism Risks
CD: It is also worth noting that, at the same time that exactly nothing was being done about the Balkan route last summer, the EEAS already had a very advanced surveillance and interdiction mission called Operation SOPHIA going in Italy. This was recently revealed by Wikileaks and has caused a lot of media coverage. Why the discrepancy? Why was there something big being done in a maritime area with relatively fewer migrants, considering that Greece, like Italy is a EU state, and had many more migrants?
PI:I think to analyze that, one has to look at how these international organizations work. Whenever a military force is put together, they will do it where it is politically acceptable, to maximize the political benefit from it. Thus, it might not necessarily be where the real threat is, but where it is seen to be doing something.
If you look at European public opinion in general, whenever the governments say ‘we are doing something,’ people aren’t going to sit and look at the details and analyze what that means. I have seen that with NATO and the EU as well- even if a mission involves a military component, it’s politics that decides it, ultimately.
Coming back to the Libyan bit… the sea crossing are much more dangerous from there to Europe. The Eastern Aegean routes are much shorter, between Turkey and Greece, and there the seas can be calm. From a humanitarian perspective, the latter is the least worst route.
And from Libya, we could see plenty of cases of migrants traveling with overcrowded boats of 500-700 people, with many deaths at sea. So from a humanitarian point of view, the politics would prioritize a mission there. And the criminal networks are more globalized in Libya, because they’re taking economic migrants primarily- the ones out of Libya in particular have been doing this for years.
CD: But from Turkey there are many economic migrants coming, just from other parts of the world- and Libya had fewer when Gaddafi was alive to honor his deal with Berlusconi and restrict migration…
PI: Yes indeed, ever since Gaddafi was kicked out, Libya has been a free-for-all for organized crime. Presently we have very good intelligence to suggest ISIS was sending a lot of people on boats from there, even though it was more dangerous than the Turkey-Greece route.
PI: Yes, and they have pretty well-equipped boats, separate from the large and overcrowded ones that might not make it, so that they can get smaller numbers of their trusted people into Europe. That is ongoing for over a year now.
CD: Part of what was shown in the EU document put out by Wikileaks is that regular smugglers would give the boats just enough fuel to get, say, 30 miles out to sea and give them a satellite phone and a number to call when they got there- ‘here, call the police and they will save you.’ The smugglers didn’t care if the people or the boat made it to the destination.
PI: Yes, some people smugglers would do exactly what you’re saying, but particularly the unscrupulous ones. The scrupulous ones – if you can have scrupulous people smugglers – on the other hand would make sure that passengers arrived, because word trickles back, and it is not good for business to have people know that you might not survive the trip if you go with a certain guy.
But the more serious aspect of the ISIS infiltration from Libya is that it’s a different model- it isn’t, say, 500 people at once, and they’re charging a lot less. This is primarily for the purpose of building up support and logistics networks all over the place in Europe, by getting these supporters into Italy and even into Greece.
The majority of such traffic has been coming out of Sirte. Possibly, that’s another reason why the EU military mission concentrated around that part of the Mediterranean. Possibly that was the biggest threat that the major intelligence determined at the time of planning.
CD: You spoke with us one year ago for an article about the ISIS expansion in Libya. Again, at that time we were practically alone in making the assessment that the ISIS presence would grow. Now, the US suddenly bombed an ISIS safehouse there last week, which was preceded by a sudden flurry of big media reports on the alleged ISIS threat in Libya. So was the media reacting to an actual buildup, or was it scheduled around and anticipated attack?
PI: ISIS is growing rapidly, so I believe they have been reporting on this because it is happening. And if you look at what the ISIS leaders have done, they sent their mufti into Libya, which is very significant. He is called Sheikh Turki al-Binali, AKA Abu Sufyan al-Sulami, and is 30 years old, a hardline extremist.
So putting in this cleric as ISIS commander in Libya has effectively shown that with their territory in Libya, Islamic State sees it as a third territory, after Syria and Iraq. Among the reasons for that is if they get squeezed out of the Middle East – which is a prospect that will still take many years to happen – then Libya will be the next place to move to. Also, from there they can work on the neighboring countries, and with oilfields in Libya and migrant and other smuggling as two profitable trades, Libya becomes a natural place to focus on and to tap into.
CD: When the US did attack last week, why did their fighter jet take off from England, given that there are much closer NATO bases to choose from? Is there something in their military procedure to explain this?
PI: There are indeed NATO bases closer to Libya, but the things to look at is do those bases have access to the right intelligence at the right time. Further, were the right weapons systems available in those places? Were they committed to the right activities? For example, commanders won’t say to the fighter pilots, ‘okay, you two are going tonight to Syria, then you’ll come back and go to Libya.’ Each base might be geared up for different purposes and missions.
The US has used UK bases in the past. The RAF Lakenheath base in Suffolk, which is where the Sabratha attack was launched, has been used for operations in many countries in the past. So, it is not particularly unusual that it was used in this case. One thing that had to happen, of course, was that the British government had to sanction use of the base for that mission. But that is a routine procedure.
CD: When we spoke with you this time last year, you were highlighting the danger of ISIS possessing radioactive material from hospitals and other facilities they controlled in the Middle East, which could be used as a weapon. I have seen again a sudden flurry of articles on this topic lately. So where do we stand on that now?
PI: The threat remains the same. Yes, some recent reporting on isotopes stolen from hospitals has appeared that suggested that they fell into ISIS’ hands, but there’s nothing specific we have seen to suggest there is some imminently planned operation to use dirty bombs.
But that’s not to say they’re not planning to use it. There is one thing that is clear from ISIS covert discussions we have picked up recently. This is that they have a number of different spectacular attacks being planned.
CD: Really? What kind of targets?
PI: The pattern of traffic we’re seeing in the Dark Web and some social media and other communications channels all suggest this. And the kind of language used suggests advanced planning is now taking place.
The target list is quite interesting- there are some statements specifying Lisbon in Portugal, which is not usually considered a big target. Paris and London, of course remain top targets. And a lot of planning for such attacks seems to be happening inside Germany- whether they want to attack Germany itself, or just use it as planning base and keep quite there, remains to be seen.
Clandestine Cooperation, Media Standards, Brexit, and ‘Going Rogue’
CD: Now finally for some loose ends. I’d love to get your views on some related matters that have a British perspective. First, regarding Syria, Seymour Hersh wrote in the London Review of Books in April 2014 that Obama had at one point averted air strikes against Assad at the last minute, thanks to military intelligence received from British military intelligence which got it from the Russians, samples that showed it was not in fact Syria’s army that launched the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks. Any insights?
PI: The only thing I can say about this case, having read a number of reports about the issue, is that it is still not 100 percent clear who launched the chemical weapons. There is good analysis that both sides [Assad or the rebels] could have done it.
CD: Fine, I just thought the interesting part was about Russian, British and American covert cooperation, since the surface-level political rhetoric is so hostile between Russia and the West.
PI: The services do indeed cooperate- there’s a fantastic phrase security agencies use in reports, when noting that certain information has come from a particular source – when one knows he is dealing with another security agency – at the bottom of the report they will write that the information might be ‘designed to influence as much as inform.’ Often, it just happens to follow what that country wants to do politically.
CD: Fantastic. Another issue we have observed in this region is again with the British, that there is some confusion or uncertainty because of the handling or approach to events, about whether this reflects British central planning and policy, or whether someone in the middle of the intelligence hierarchy is interfering for personal or other motives… in your experience, what is the likelihood of someone ‘going rogue’ within the British intelligence apparatus at present?
PI: What I can say is that there are carefully controlled mechanisms to stop people from going rogue. But in the end of the day, intelligence officers are individuals. They can have personal motivations. In fact, I know of one case during Kosovo, not involving a British operative-
CD: But Western?
PI: Yes, it was a particular Western intelligence agent who went rogue, and it had very bad consequences. It cost a number of people their lives.
CD: What happened?
PI: Well, this individual had a direct line to a senior commander in Kosovo. And he convinced the commander to believe something would happen, contrary to other information from direct channels. At the time, I was still in Macedonia, while the bombing was still going on. It was just an example of bad practice. But the agent was never punished for this. It was a regrettable example of an operator having far too much influence over what senior decision-makers were doing, and a number of people died because of that.
CD: That is a fascinating case. Now, to speak of wrong information and get back to the Syria war: to me, the British military intelligence approach there seems to have shown new strategies- like they are trying to be more ‘hip’ or modern about how to interact. I am thinking of examples like the increased use of ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘outside groups,’ as was seen with ‘regular guys’ analyzing Youtube videos of fighting for making military judgments and putting it in the media. And of course there is that guy they’re always making fun of who is running this ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ from his house in Coventry.
To me, this seems to be a new low, but the media has repeated comments and opinions by such people verbatim. Are standards slipping? Does the government and the media just assume people are stupid, or don’t have much of an interest, or what?
PI: I think the increasing use of so-called citizen journalists, and more of the mainstream press using them, shows a huge slipping of standards.
What it does do, which is very sad to see, is a lot of mainstream media are going for sensationalism rather than well-researched and accurate analysis and good sources. It is definitely taking journalism to a new low.
But it’s not essentially a military thing. If you work in military intelligence, you will take information from everywhere, and then assess it. But I think it’s just some of these individual people doing it, getting their name and information out there- I am not aware of any evidence of someone in the UK cabinet directing them. In the end of the day, it’s a free country, you can’t stop them from giving their view. And that’s why so many military have died- for keeping it a free country. Free speech is a fundamental right of a free and liberal democracy.
CD: Thanks, that is very interesting. So then, what are your thoughts on Brexit and Cameron’s deal with the EU, speaking as a British citizen? He says it is in the security interest of the country to be in the EU. Is this the case? And especially given Scottish leaders’ recent retort that if the UK leaves the EU, Scotland will declare independence and join the EU.
PI: As a British citizen, I have to say that realistically the risk is none- leaving the EU will have no effect on British security. The whole Brexit thing is political noise.
The one thing that is certain is that if it leaves, Britain will have to renegotiate all agreements currently in place and it will take a lot of effort and time and you can’t guarantee content- it could be worse. But it is not likely to affect security. It will affect economy, of course- though in a positive or negative way, is still unknown.
CD: Indeed. Philip, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. It is much appreciated.
PI: And thank you as well.