About Me

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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Monday, December 2, 2013


The international condemnation regarding the on-going intelligence gathering of the world’s intelligence agencies exposed by the NSA whistle-blower and fugitive Edward Snowden is in reality much ado about nothing.

Most citizens of the world are blissfully unaware of a dangerous, secretive and ruthless parallel world that co-exists alongside them but which they do not see or even think about. In this parallel world, agents are recruited, intelligence is gathered and plans formulated and executed to disrupt, destroy and neutralise threats. It is this parallel world that keeps the governments – and by implication the populace - safe and their enemies in a state of constant concern and vigilance.

Without intelligence, governments are unable to “see over the hill” and adapt and modify their strategies according to new or developing threats. All intelligence agencies gather overt and covert information/intelligence not only on their enemies but also on their allies. To achieve this, laws are sometimes broken and sometimes crimes are committed to discover the plans of others. 

Spying on ones allies is nothing new. This has been done for centuries and has numerous aims such as determining if their allies are silently acting or turning against them, making decisions that could impact on the national security, provide early warning to allies of pending threats and even coordinate and support actions that are being planned against their allies.

Espionage and covert direct action are major components of this parallel world. Telephones are tapped, email communications are monitored and sometimes disrupted, prominent persons are watched and followed, high-value targets are assassinated, threat networks are infiltrated and penetrated, false-flag operations are launched to confuse and mislead opposing intelligence services, disinformation operations are launched and so forth.

The golden rule is always: “Don’t get caught”.

Being caught or compromised can result in a major embarrassment to the government that launches the operation. However, despite the political rhetoric and public anger that then takes place, even the targeted governments understand the need for intelligence gathering and other covert operations – as they too conduct similar operations.

Without intelligence, national strategies and national security strategies will be empty shells with no direction or guidance. Without intelligence, these strategies will not be able to adapted and provide sufficient early warning to the government of threats and pending or planned actions.

In Africa, major intelligence failures abound – Mali, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia and so forth to name but a few. These failures occur because insufficient attention is given to intelligence operations or intelligence is simply ignored. This lack of intelligence is a major contributing factor to providing any threat network with an advantage. The results are clear for all to see.

Whereas the world was shocked by the extent of the NSA’s capabilities, the media storm that erupted was in fact much ado about reality. Those that shouted the loudest often do not realise that without these operations, they would probably not have the freedom they claim to advocate.


Unknown said...

Hi Eeben, I recently (yesterday) watched a documentary called we steal secrets that deals with Wikileaks and Bradley Manning.It was okay and sort of informative albeit an ego trip for Mr Assange, the rock god of the hackers.

There were some candid moments where ex members of the intelligence community spoke and seemed quite bemused by it all.

Ultimately all secrets will see the light of day, that is just the way of the world. Intelligence gathering by means of pseudo operations and disinformation is crucial in "outing" your allies and foes alike.

Sometimes your ally today could be your foe tomorrow. The USA has seen this on many occasions in recent years.

I believe that there is a chapter dedicated to this very topic in the Sun Tzu tactics handbook from a few thousand years ago.

My 1 cent worth.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Sun Tzu wrote about the value of intelligence Mike but if the intelligence is not taken to heart and used or acted on, it is of no value. Although I did not see the programme you refer to, I can imagine it was done to make them look good.

Insofar as Manning and co are concerned, what they did was betray an enormous trust that was placed in them. It did however highlight some weak spots in the US’s system re intelligence but the fact that intelligence was collected in the first place was not surprising. However, these whistle-blowers are all over the world.

But, there will always be defectors, agents-in-place, whistle-blowers and so forth. That simply forces the services to tighten their systems.



Daniel said...

Hello Eeben,

It would seem that the reality of intelligence work does not fit with what many people imagine, which is where the outcry stems from. Ultimately the public's choice is not between having privacy and being "spied on," but living under the protection of a government that is blind or not. A comprehensive awareness provided by intelligence agencies leaves little room for privacy, and the real issue here is intel-gathering being exposed or not. As you say, the rule is "don't get caught."

Question for you: I work for a university in the States, and am building an introductory course on the private military industry. If you have any time to correspond regarding issues worth exploring that I may be unaware of, I would greatly appreciate your insight. Either way, thanks for your time!


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are correct Daniel. People have a choice and often they make the wrong choice. Yet when things go wrong, they suddenly blame everyone else for their bad choices.

I wish you luck with the course you are building. I can imagine that it must be quite challenging. However, as I/STTEP are blacklisted by your government, I do not think it would be in your interest to get my views on anything. It will probably also make you are target and a “person of interest”.