Big data and strategic intelligence

INS ImageIntelligence and National Security

July 2015

DOI:10.1080/02684527.2015.1062321 (print version scheduled for 2016)

This article examines the intersection of Big Data and strategic intelligence from a theoretical-conceptual viewpoint. Adopting Popperian refutation as a starting point, it approaches methodological issues surrounding the incorporation of Big Data into the intelligence cycle, and argues that Big Data analytics is best used to discern long-term developments, generate intelligence hypotheses, and adduce refuting facts. The article then briefly examines the use of Big Data via social media, an increasingly fertile platform for intelligence analysis. Finally, the article argues that despite its potential in filling our epistemic gaps, Big Data should continue to complement traditional subject-matter expertise, supported by game theory, as part of a tripartite analytical framework for strategic intelligence consisting of ‘subtext’, ‘context’ and ‘metatext’. In this respect, Big Data may well become the midwife for more open modes of intelligence management and, ultimately, a more open society.

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Iran seen from Beijing

Sino-IranThe Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policywatch 2435, 11 June 2015

China views Iran as a central element in its much-touted Silk Road Economic Belt, which aims to extend Beijing’s influence overland through Central Asia to the Persian Gulf and Europe.

Although China has long been Iran’s largest oil customer, international sanctions recently relegated the Islamic Republic from third to sixth place among Beijing’s suppliers — a list consistently topped by Iranian rival Saudi Arabia. Similarly, while China’s bilateral trade with Iran reportedly expanded to around $50 billion by late 2014, it remains dwarfed nearly elevenfold by its trade with the United States.

Given these figures, why does Iran play a seemingly disproportionate role in Beijing’s regional calculus, often to the puzzlement of its much larger energy and trade partners in Riyadh and Washington? Diplomatic brinksmanship aside, much of the answer lies in Iran’s geostrategic value as a key hub in China’s westward overland thrust, which Beijing views as essential to countering both Washington’s eastward pivot and U.S. naval superiority.


China and Iran’s durable ties stretch back as far as the Han and Parthian empires, when the two civilizations were trade partners on the ancient Silk Road. When the Arabs invaded Iranshahr in the seventh century, Peroz III, scion of the swansong Sassanian monarch Yazdgird III, sought and was offered refuge in Tang China by the Emperor Gaozong. In modern times, despite substantive ideological differences, Ruhollah Khomeini and Mao Zedong instilled both countries with revolutionary legacies that rejected imperial hegemony and foreign exploitation, putting them on the same side against the U.S.-led status quo. Continue reading

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National security decision-making in Iran

UCSTComparative Strategy 34.2 (May 2015)

This article reviews national security decision-making in the Iranian context by focusing on institutions, formal process and individuals. It specifically examines the Supreme National Security Council, which formalizes and embodies the decision-making process, as well as the Revolutionary Guards, which epitomize both the influence of institutions as well as the centrality of the agent-individual. Despite the plurality of formal institutions and the existence of process, decision-making remains heavily centered on a small group of largely unelected individuals driven as much by ‘regime expediency’ as by mutual give-and-take along informal, microfactional lines. While he may have the last word, even Iran’s current Supreme Leader is constrained by these ideological, negotiational and structural factors. These key figures are closely affiliated either with the politico-clerical founding kernel of the 1979 Revolution, or the powerful Revolutionary Guards—mainly the hardliners in any case—and are instrumental in determining the discursive boundaries of national security, the scope of which this article confines to defense and foreign policy. Finally, how all this coheres in the realm of strategy has as much to do with regime survival as with the art of reconciling ends and means.

For the link to the site, click here.

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Bibi’s upset comeback

BibiopenDemocracy, 19 March 2015

Benyamin Netanyahu, already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is about to put together his fourth government. Two hours before midnight on 17 March 2015, exit polls by Israel’s three main television channels indicated a tie of roughly 27 seats each between his party, Likud, and the opposition Zionist Union.

By the next morning however, Continue reading

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Iran: The Ayatollah Succession Question

KhameneiThe Diplomat, 11 October 2014

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei recently underwent prostate surgery, following recurrent rumors that he suffers from some form of cancer. At 75, the Mashhad-born Khamenei, who is half Azeri-Turk and hence only half Persian, has been the Islamic Republic’s top arbiter and ultimate enigma ever since he replaced its founder in 1989. Although he has managed to go hiking following his surgery, questions about his health reinvigorates debate over the single most important question in Iran. Continue reading

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