12:30 - 13:00
Spook Sociology: How the Intelligence Community Sees the World

Short thesis

To end limitless surveillance programs, we must understand how they begin. This talk uses open source intelligence and close readings of legislation and legal documents to understand the origins of the modern intelligence community and major cultural shifts that shaped it. We trace these trends from the rise of counterextremism ideology used to rationalize mass surveillance programs to the intelligence community's response (and lack thereof) to the Snowden revelations.


Spooks see the world differently.

There's not a huge amount of empirical evidence about mass surveillance programs, but what little we do have suggests they're not actually all that effective. Nevertheless, members of the intelligence community clearly believe they are effective. And even despite the abuses of democratic process detailed in Edward Snowden's revelations, the intelligence community has proved itself highly resistant to change. Powers have been maintained – sometimes under different names - and even expanded in the past three years.

In this talk, we'll show how open source intelligence, together with close readings of legislation and legal documents, can be used to unpick the intelligence community's underlying assumptions and show how they change over time. In particular, we'll look at the rise and spread of of counter extremism ideology, how the US intelligence community imported these ideas from Europe and how neatly they lend themselves to a policy of ever-expanding suspicion and permanent surveillance.

Additionally, we will map the response to the Snowden revelations, showing that even though surveillance capabilities have largely remained unchanged or increased, there are areas where constraints have been successfully imposed on the surveillance state due to influences like the concerns of big tech companies.

By understanding better what the spooks are thinking and how they respond to various external pressures, we can begin to develop better strategies to counter surveillance programs.