Secret Services and Geopolitics – A Symbiosis
The book "Services Secrets et Géopolitiques" (Lavauzelle) offers a profound dialogue between Admiral (C.R.) Pierre Lacoste, the doyen of French experts on secret services, and François Thual, a French expert on geopolitics.
It becomes obvious that geopolitics of any kind cannot succeed without the support of the secret services. On the other hand, the secret services cannot succeed without clear political guidance and directives.
Based on their vital national interests, governments have to define the aspects that are of interest regarding defined countries or regions - e.g. competing neighbors or nuclear powers - and important topics - e.g. non-proliferation or the economy. Governments need to state clearly to the secret services "what they want to know," but not "what they want to hear." Admiral Lacoste emphasizes the urgent need of the secret services' independence from their governments. Whenever secret services are pressed to give certain answers, the results are worthless. Based upon the mission given by government, secret services have to pick and choose all of the necessary means and tools to accomplish the mission.
There is a wide spectrum of human and technical intelligence - e.g. SIGINT and imagery. Information gained clandestinely and by Open Source Intelligence form the raw material. The real work starts with transforming information into knowledge (savoir and comprendre). Governments have the right to be briefed based upon "finished intelligence"- not on details. When reporting to the government, the services have to make a clear distinction between the facts and figures they know and the answers they don't know. These reports are one part of the intelligence cycle. The secret services answer the governments' questions and use the feedback and additional questions from the governments to continue their business, something that never ends.
The dialogue between the services and the governments must lead to an atmosphere of trust and confidence. Political leaders have to accept that the secret services will never be able to present 100% of the information that they originally had asked for. The services should not pretend to know 100%. Political decisions - as military ones - have to be taken with less than 100% of information.
Both the governments and the secret services have to develop a "lessons learned system" - a prerequisite for further improvement. It lies in the nature of national secret services that cooperation with other countries is a sensitive issue. No country wants to endanger their sources. Within alliances and with partners, countries have to find a way to share their information and knowledge with their partners.
Secret Services and geopolitics are both sides of the coin that serves the protection and promotion of vital national interests.