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Managing A Complex Security System

C. Uday Bhaskar

A Project of David Omand
Hurst & Co, London, 2010, rpt.2011, pp. 345,


The security discourse of the first decade of the 21st century will be remembered for the enormity ofSeptember 11, 2001 manifest in the catastrophic and unexpected terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York—now enshrined in the US lexicon as 9/11.Intelligence failure was deemed to be the central elementthat resulted in this tectonic assault by a non-State entity on the mainland of the USA.Institutional complacency and related ineptitude within the national security apparatus was identified and swiftly redressed by the US. However the decade that followed 9/11 witnessed the US and its allies embarking on what was described as GWOT—the global war on terror—an adventure that saw the US engaged in two bloody wars—one in Afghanistan and later in Iraq—and which a decade later  has left the eagle considerably weakened. Paradoxically the latter war against Iraq may in hindsight be termed another intelligencerelated catastrophe—but one that was predicated more on the deliberate distortion of facts,driven by the politics of the Bush administration. The purported WMD charges levelled against President Saddam Hussein turned out to be red-herrings but by then the irreparable damageto Iraqand the Middle East had been done.In the process, the rectitude of State security institutions and the opaque secret services and intelligence agencies in particular has been severely tarnished. Yet the post 9/11 anxiety remains deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the world and the need for investing in high quality, apolitical intelligence capabilities cannot be underestimated. The management of national security in this era of uncertainty and the role of the intelligence agencies as related to the British experience is the central theme of the book under review and the author, Sir David Omand comes up trumps in dealing with a difficult and opaque subject with rare lucidity and professional rigour. Omand joined the British Government as a civil servant in 1969 in the GCHQ (Government Communication Headquarters) which looked after signals intelligence and was an anonymous and secret organization. He retired in 2005 as a virtual intel czar in the UK Cabinet Office holding the rather bland position of Intelligence and Security Coordinator. . Earlier he was a member of the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee), Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, the Director of GCHQ and the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Defense Policy. Currently this seasoned intel bureaucrat is a visiting professor at King’s College, ...

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