Spinning Intelligence: Why Intelligence Needs the Media, Why the Media Needs Intelligence

By Boyd-Barrett, Oliver | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Spinning Intelligence: Why Intelligence Needs the Media, Why the Media Needs Intelligence


Boyd-Barrett, Oliver, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


* Spinning Intelligence: Why Intelligence Needs the Media, Why the Media Needs Intelligence. Robert Dover and Michael S. Goodman, eds. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009. 320 pp. $27.50 pbk.

Robert Dover, an international relations lecturer at Loughborough University, and Michael Goodman, who teaches "intelligence studies" at King's College in London, have compiled a useful, British-inflected, volume on the interrelationships of media and intelligence. Contributor credentials are impressive: Only two are media workers; none are media scholars. Many are academics whose research and consultancies address security and intelligence issues. Others work close to intelligence, media, or regulatory fields.

Dover and Goodman's introduction frames the discussion along mainstream Western lines, referencing, for example, "faulty intelligence" for the "case against Iraq." Ormond presumes benign intent of Western powers, lamenting that public knowledge of intelligence, through the press, has dragged agencies out of shadows to which they can no longer retreat. Public trust in intelligence has been damaged, he believes, by disillusion with its role in the lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003. This impedes what he sees - with dismissive acknowledgment of security over-reactions to perceived "conspiracies" - as the "necessity" for pre-emptive secret intelligence that can remove "trouble-makers from the community." The BBC's Corera implies that terrorism is something that only "they" do. Outraged by the facility with which Jihadist groups resort to the Internet, he gives no attention to its equivalent value for extremist Christian or Zionist groups. Porter addresses the seductive sophistication of what he calls "America's cultural turn in the war on terror," an approach that he finds to be culturally static, based on bad history, stereotypical, reductionist, and empirically unviable. Too often classic texts of military philosophy are invoked "to justify different and conflicting policies."

Goodman traces the "happy marriage" between British Intelligence and the BBC, exemplified by the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the BBC Monitoring Service, funded by the Foreign Office. He cites Cold War examples of broadcasts designed to encourage defection and counteract foreign broadcasts. Wilkinson gives an insider account of the D-Notice Committee, a British institution that has no legal weight but considerable influence in providing "advice to the media and to officials... about the publication of national security matters." In the context of the Iraq war, he notes, such advice was "invariably accepted." If such cooperation might seem depressing from an investigative perspective, Pincher's chapter offers qualified relief. He cites impressive press scoops on intelligence, but these invariably depended upon his own embedding among British elites on hunting and fishing expeditions, and are counterbalanced by unsavory "deals." He writes of a tip from a highranking source (and friend) that an atom bomb test was to be carried out off Christmas Island in the Pacific. The Japanese were (sensibly) agitated, and planned to incapacitate the British by sailing thousands of small ships into the area. Pincher induced his editor to allow him to write a front-page story that implied (falsely) that the tests were going to be postponed by several weeks. …

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