On The Methods of Intelligence Gathering and the Execution of Power as a System of Control
“Aspiration for power is the distinguishing element of all politics, and hence of international politics. International politics is of necessity power politics.”
Politics Among Nations, 1948
Gathering intelligence doesn’t simply combine different forms of disciplines and experiences to analyze and assist in the decision making process of a nation state, private corporation or even a criminal organization. There are several steps involved in the intelligence cycle which are assisted by an intricate array of collection disciplines, including IMINT, SIGINT, MASINT, HUMINT, FININT and sometimes, even RUMINT. The process takes time, effort, expertise, and enormous financial cost in order to gain an advantage over both allies and foes.
Its not difficult to suggest that there’s a fine line to be considered between the intelligence gathering methods of various political systems. The question is, what forms of power make sense in each situation or system? Would different methods of gathering intelligence be more or less attractive to different types of regimes — authoritarian vs democratic?
I personally question whether separating the world into the binary of ‘authoritarian vs non authoritarian’ seems too simplistic a line to draw between complex political systems and ideologies which have existed across the world for thousands of years. It could likewise be argued that during the Presidency of Barack Obama, the United States was recognized internationally as a democracy. Yet, under the Trump administration, the country was considered to be run by an authoritarian regime according to various pundits both within and outside of the country.
Perhaps a distinction could be made between the acceptability of power and its uses which are covert in democracies; while the use of overt power reinforces an authoritarian system such as that of some Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia, or even that of the soft authoritarianism practiced in Singapore.
In his seminal work Discipline and Punish, The Birth of the Prison (1975), Michel Foucault has argued that discipline is a mechanism of power that regulates the thought and behavior of social actors through subtle means. Using the Foucauldian method in which ‘power is everywhere’ and ‘comes from everywhere,’ the “spectacle” would be the body of the condemned (the prisoner) who is publicly tortured and executed in plain sight of the spectator. This would be considered as the overt exercise of power as demonstrated by the regular beheadings of dissidents and criminals even in contemporary times, by the Saudi monarchy. The panopticon would be the non-physical (in the form of a prison as a system of self-surveillance), or the torture of the mind as opposed to that of the body, prevalent in modern western democracies.
A current example of conditioning and self surveillance is the MTA’s security campaign “If you see something, say something.” The campaign which seeks to keep the transportation system safe in New York city, could also be recognized as an excellent technique of social control. Polly Sylvia, in her dissertation (CUNY 2010) has argued that this recurring advertisement from the MTA reinforces George Bush’s War On Terror which must convince a population that a threat exists and therefore any action against this threat are viable. In a “non authoritarian” or democratic political system, surveillance and assessment no longer require force or violence, as people have been conditioned over generations to discipline themselves and behave in expected ways.
When it comes to the surveillance of its citizenry, China (considered as an authoritarian state because of its different political system), does contain an alarming number of CCTV’s in some of its major cities: but the United States has 15.28 CCTV cameras for every 100 individuals (for a population of 331 Million, followed by China with 14.36 (with a population of 1.4 Billion), and the United Kingdom with 7.5 cameras per hundred persons. Other top 10 countries which surveil their citizens include Germany, with 6.27 cameras per 100 individuals, Netherlands 5.8, Australia 4, Japan 2.72, France 2.46 and South Korea at 1.99 (Precise Security, 2020). PS: almost all countries quoted above which possess formidable surveillance capabilities are considered to be democracies except for China.