Report from the Conference: “Intelligence in the Knowledge Society”

A guest post by Davide Barbieri*

A Report from the Conference: “Intelligence in the Knowledge Society

A few Australian black swans were seen far from their motherland, in Bucharest, at the XXI International Conference on Intelligence in the Knowledge Society.
The Romanian Information Service (SRI) were keeping both eyes on the unstable political situation in neighboring Moldova, which added to the crisis in Ukraine, another related source of concern. Parallels with the “frozen conflict” in Transnistria abounded, and geopolitics seemed to be the main topic this year.
Lada Roslycky, from Kiev, elaborated on the concept of “hybrid warfare” and its interconnection with cyber warafare. This was another important issue being discussed, among the others, by Prof Emil Slusansky of the University of Bucharest in his brilliant presentation “Hacking for the right reasons“. Cyber affairs and geopolitics were also addressed by Nicola Kubiceck, from the European External Action Service.
Personally, I had the confirmation of the need to establish a more solid epistemic framework for intelligence analysis. In fact, the lack of a quantitative approach may limit the falsifiability of the work of analists, and therefore a wider scientific acceptance.
I have to thank again the organizers, and in particular Lt Gen Florian Coldea (SRI deputy director), who chaired my panel (“New patterns of terrorism and war: from extremism to radicalization”) together with my colleague and co-author Elaine Pressman.


*Davide Barbieri, PhD, is a Research Fellow  in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Surgical Specialties at the University of Ferrara,

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 71

Lots of meetings in the past few days. In sparse order, Obama and Xi, Obama and Putin, Obama and the Pope. Many things to discuss, from improving bilateral relations to devising a strategy for Syria. Although the most important outcomes are often hard to see, something visible emerged.

US-China relations these days have been often spoiled by cyber attacks in the US that allegedly came from China territory. This is why the deal between China and the US reached last week is important. Wait and see, here for the Italian readers some reasons to be sceptical in a brief published by the Italian think tank ISPI last week to which Venus in Arms contributed.

The other hot front is clearly Syria. Putin and Obama might not have looked best friends in recent years, but they might share some interests (if not the solutions) in the region.

In the meanwhile, the Middle East remains the same old powder keg. The US plays multiple roles in the region, one of those being provider of weapons.

The other guy on the table, Vladimir Putin, has been always very active in the international arena. This New Yorker’s piece discusses whether Russian President can achieve his multiple objectives by acting in Syria.

In a recent talk, former FED chief Ben Bernanke entered into controversy over the role of military service in preparing for a professional private sector career. An interesting contribution on the Atlantic discusses the theme.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 63

Greece: we never really talked about it. Maybe there will be a chance, also depending on if and how Russia’s promises of support will eventually materialize. For the time being, we sponsor the best travel guide on Greece. Not a conventional one, more on politics and less on dream islands.

With many issues on the agenda, from the Iran nuclear talks to the ever-present ISIS, the US still found time and resources to devote to Somalia. Foreign Policy’s Ty McCormick provides a narrative of the “shadowy presence” of the American military in the Horn of Africa.

Daniel Fiot looks at the consequences of the recently released US National Military Strategy on Europe. A summary? Time goes on, and gaps within NATO widen rather than narrowing.

An Italian cybersecurity company in the news (mostly international, by the way). Hacking Team, providing specialized cyber services, has been the victim of a cyber attack itself. Among the information released, how much it costs to crack email accounts.

A novel for the holidays? P.W. Singer co-authored Ghost Fleet, on how the future war will play out. His essays are great reads, let’s give him a chance.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 53

A US Edition this week. It’s time for the 2016 budget in the US, and defense budget enters the 2016 fray with a lot of issues on the agenda. DefenseOne has a very complete page to stay updated on how things will evolve, while key facts/numbers are provided by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

The US Navy clearly has an important stake in this process. If the direction of change is still unclear, there are few doubts that new challenges –and namely Chinese missile capabilities – have been interpreted as requiring a larger surface fleet than previously planned.  Financial sustainability of such plans is the key issue.

The DoD’s Cyber Strategy was also released. Duck of Minerva  features a post on the topic that provides quite a skeptical viewon the ability of the Pentagon to actually face the threat.

In the meanwhile, some voices have been urging President Obama to keep the US away from (too) troubled waters. The deterioration of the situation in Yemen, with risks of total chaos favoring US (and Saudi Arabia) foes, might seem to call for bold action. Fred Kaplan advises against getting into the Yemeni trap.

National Guard was used in the attempt to quell the riots in Baltimore, Maryland, that followed another case of alleged police violence against an African-American. The Atlantic’s Conor Feiersdorf argues that both the police and the violent rioters should held accountable for the situation.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 51

A week between technology and culture – as in a still relevant book by Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

While ISIS keeps claiming that the re-establishment of a Caliphate that reaches out to once Arab Europe is one of its goals, there has been a debate in Spain over Google Maps renaming the Mosque in Cordoba.

In the meanwhile, the Pentagon is thinking about (or is dreaming about) a machine that can make use of big data to predict events. It kind of reminds of Spielberg’s Minority Report.

Tel Aviv is hosting the Annual CyberTech Fair. The head of the famous Iron Dome program, which shields Israeli citizens from rockets, stated that he is working towards a “similar” program defending from cyber-threats (the CyberDome?)

Vice News embedded a video journalist in the Nigerian Army fighting Boko Haram. Here you can find the first of a three-part report that sheds light on of the world’s hottest spots.

NBA Playoffs start on April 18th. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix responds to some key questions over the most exciting part of the season. Take some time off and enjoy the games!

Ps: This week Venus will be at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association. A lot of interesting stuff, check here for further info.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 30

This week Venus in Arms will be in London to participate at the next ASMI conference (Association for the Study of Modern Italy) and for other stuff (see, among others: Stamford Bridge). So, this Top 5 focuses exclusively on the UK (in terms of sources of news, issues, etc.).

The British “The Guardian” provides an excellent report on the “Islamic State’s Oil Empire”. A very useful analysis on refineriesand smuggling for better understanding the current context in Syria and Iraq.

The Department of War Studies at the King’s College will host a conference on “NATO ISAF Civil-Military Relations“. The event is organized by the Afghanistan Studies Group, whose website if full of articles and analyses on Afghanistan.

Moving from Afghanistan to Iraq: here you’ll find a detailed account of the UK involvement in the air strikes against ISIL.

In the meanwhile, British troops (on exercise in Poland) have been ordered not to take mobile phones or computers amid fears they will be targeted by Russian cyber spies. Here you’ll find more info on the controversial case.

Finally, have a look again at the Tower of London Poppies. Each of the 888.246 poppies represents a Commonwealth soldier who died during the WWI. Some troubles occurred for their removal.

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Intelligence in the Knowledge Society – Report from the International Conference

Guest Post by Davide Barbieri*

Last week on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th October, the annual International Conference on Intelligence in the Knowledge Society took place in Bucharest. A large number of participants and auditors met at the premises of the National Intelligence Academy, coming from many European and neighboring countries, plus Canada and the US. Italy was represented, beside myself as a researcher, by some members of our national intelligence and of the European External Action Service.

The plenary session was opened by the deputy director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), highlighting the strategic importance of the Wider Black Sea Area for European security. The current international situation, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, was at the heart of the conference. In particular, a convincing parallel between Crimea and Transnistria was made by a Romanian researcher, and endorsed by the Ukrainian and Moldovan representatives.

Elaine Pressman, from Canada, expanded on her VERA (Violent Extremist Risk Assessment) system in order to apply it to insider threat. VERA has already attracted the interests of several agencies throughout the world. Its Bayesian-like framework, stemming from behavioral sciences, hints to the possibility of a more mathematical approach, which is now lacking (also because of the well known preference for qualitative analysis by intelligence analysts).

Cosmin Dugan, a medical doctor from Bucharest, gave an extremely interesting presentation on the possibilities and strategies for neuro-cognitive enhancement of intelligence practitioners. His multidisciplinary perspective spanned from philosophy and technology (neuro-feedback, neuro-gaming) to medicine. In his opinion, trans-cranial stimulation, complex reasoning training, dietary supplements and drugs can be effectively adopted for neuro-cognitive enhancement, taking into account the possibility of side effects.

I opened the workshop session on Saturday, proposing a data-driven approach to identifying terrorists, based on the assumption that intelligence agencies have collected large amounts of data on persons of interest. The suggested method bears resemblance to medical diagnostics. The similarity between this discipline and intelligence analysis has been suggested also by Prof. Sebe, from the University of Bucharest. Spotting a terrorist may in fact be akin to spotting a rare disease within a large sample of individuals.

The other workshop focused on the opportunity for bridging government, competitive and business intelligence, especially in public administration, in order to increase efficiency, assess performances and gain competitiveness.

Ideas coming from cybernetics, complex adaptive systems, big data analysis and machine learning were presented by several researchers of the Romanian Intelligence Academy, also in the poster session. In particular, text mining was applied to OSINT and web intelligence. Much attention was given to radicalization, particularly in the Islamic world. Afascinating study focused on Dabiq, the Islamic State magazine.

The excellent organization and the participation of many internationally recognized lecturers were well worth the journey and the time. As a side note – notwithstanding that Italy contributed with just one paper and the scant consideration we tend to have of our scientific production – Italian authors were extensively cited throughout the conference (Sartori, Negri and Calvino to name a few), beside Italian technology (in particular, the widely successful Cogito web engine for semantic intelligence by Expert Systems). This year XX edition of the conference proved to be a successful anniversary.


* Davide Barbieri, PhD, is a Research Fellow  in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Surgical Specialties at the University of Ferrara,


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Top5 – Summer reads

While Libya explodes, clashes in Gaza go on, ISIS does not stop in Iraq, Putin does not back down on Ukraine, well, Venus in Arms goes on holiday. Updates will come, but on a less regular basis. Before leaving, however, we would like to suggest a Top5 of Summer reads.

  1. Peter Singer and Allan Friedman, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar. What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford/New York, Oxford University Press, 2013
  2. Barry Posen, Restraint. A New Foundation for US Grand Strategy, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2014
  3. Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion. Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2014
  4. Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, New York, Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co., 2013.
  5. Pieralberto Contelli and Alessandro Coppini, Fiorentina curiosità e anedotti, Firenze, Pagnini Editore, 2014


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