Why are services secret?

(To Danilo Mancinone)
07/04/20

For "special services", otherwise known as "information services", "security services", "information and security services", or more commonly and so to speak "vulgarly" secret servicesmeans those apparatuses of the State (...) which carry out, for the achievement of their purposes, information and operational activities according to methods and means unconventional, in the sense that they are largely their own, and not common to other administrations, and whose legitimacy is based on the fundamental interests of the state, whose defense and / or realization, that is, pertain to the life of the state itself; for which the "legitimacy of the ends" prevails over the legality of the means "1.

This in summary is the definition of "services" left to posterity (Institutions, citizens and businesses) by our President Emeritus of the Republic Francesco Cossiga in his book2 entitled Abecedary for beginners, politicians and military personnel, civilians and ordinary people, on whose cover he himself signed using the amateur epithet Francesco Cossiga.

His sarcasm, as well as his intelligence, were (and remain) unsurpassed: he was not an amateur, but the example, in imperishable memory, of a true "intelligence man".

I could only start from his cultural heritage, at least for three good reasons that united us: our Sardinian origin (despite my surname3 can mislead at first reading), curiosity about the world of intelligence and an indefinite and sincere form of "sympathy with skin", although unfortunately I have never had the luck and pleasure of meeting him in person.

Returning to the substantial legitimacy of the activity of the services, it resides in the aforementioned peculiarity of the protected interests, defined by Francesco Cossiga as "high interests of the state". Consequently, their substantial legality, which may not correspond to the principles of formal legality, is based on the legitimacy of the ends, using its own words: "legitimacy does not always coincide with legality nor much less with correctness" and, to quote the former senator Giuseppe Esposito, formerly COPASIR vice-president in the XNUMXth legislature, always with reference to the security apparatuses: "the last bag of illegality in defense of Democracy" (v. article).

Often surrounded and enveloped by an aura of mystery, with the complicity of cinema and a certain fictionalized literature, one wonders: why are the services secret? The answer, in my opinion, is very simple: because they are (and must remain) secret. Indispensable for democracy and, by their very nature, essential to the life of a state.

Sometimes I happen to see used the terms secret services and intelligence as synonyms, however the two terms refer to different things: the first, in essence, are those just indicated in the above definition, which are identified in the "state apparatus"; while the second - intelligence - represents the "management capacity of the secret services", that is, that which is concretized in the processing of information and in the prediction of the future moves of some actors, the capacity necessary to be of help to the political leaders in doing of choices4.

The secret services therefore, to play this fundamental and essential role, make use of professionalism recruited and "approached" from different environments, which act according to specific procedures aimed at all safeguarding the security of the State also through the confidentiality of security operators and of their activities.

With the reform introduced by Law 124 of 2007, the real milestone between the rules that regulate the matter in question (or as insiders use to say: "our lighthouse"), intelligence has become a real its "system", and in this renewed capacity it plans, collects, manages, analyzes, disseminates information for the security of the Republic (in the acronym, SISR5), to protect Italy's political, military, economic, scientific and industrial interests.

The driving force to carry out the restyling of Italian intelligence was "facilitated" by the rapid emergence and chain of historical events and threats (unfortunately still current), among which I quote without exhaustive claims: the end of the bipolar world, the new face of the international terrorism (both ethnic or nationalist, ideological or religious) with its suicide attacks, the growing social unease, the illegal export of capital abroad, the risks associated with possible intrusions by hostile actors ( today more than ever through cyber space!) in critical infrastructure management systems such as public transport, energy distribution networks and, recently, also of health facilities.

Functionally, the intelligence system can be described6 as the information process defined by a cycle of actions divided into phases and aimed at the general objectives identified by the governing authorities.

The "heart" of intelligence activity takes the form of the following three phases:

  • the acquisition of news, through research, collection and evaluation of data that can be acquired from a wide range of sources, ranging from the individual to the use of sophisticated electronic equipment. In this particular phase, open sources take on particular importance, such as mass media and the network;
  • information management, in which through analysis it transforms the raw information element into an articulated cognitive contribution. This phase represents the distinctive passage of intelligence: we basically try to foresee a "trend", providing the decision maker "something that is not otherwise available"7.
  • communication to government authorities of both simple information and reports, analyzes and situation points, useful for decisions to be taken or for actions to be taken. The extension of the concept of national security means that today administrations and public bodies are included among the recipients of intelligence products.

Finally, focusing on the information gathering activity, it is possible to propose the following classification, based on the type of information source8:

  • OSINT9: Open Source INTelligence, information gathering activity through the analysis of open sources.
  • IMINT: IMagery INTelligence, information gathering activity through the analysis of aerial or satellite photographs.
  • HUMINT, HUman INTelligence, information collection activities through interpersonal contacts.
  • SIGINT: SIgnal INTelligence, information collection activity through the interception and analysis of signals, both between people and between machines.
  • TECHINT: TECHnical INTelligence, concerning military weapons and equipment.
  • MASINT: MeAsurement and Signature INTelligence, collection of information that cannot be classified in the previous categories, and translates into information aimed at discovering and classifying objectives, identifying or describing instrumental traces, distinctive characteristics or fixed and dynamic target sources. All sensors capable of collecting metric measurements, angles, wavelengths, temporal ratios, modulations and hydro-magnetism are part of this classification of Intelligence10.

In conclusion, without pretension of exhaustiveness, I remind readers that the fronts on which our intelligence compartments have to face daily are manifold, different from each other and complex, in which they insinuate themselves (often, under trace) and threats aimed at weakening the democratic order of our Republic, at least on three sides: on the foreign side, on the internal one (with subversive phenomena) and on that of the cyber space (also known as cyberspace).
For those wishing to learn more about the type of threats and current trends, I recommend reading the annual Report on information security policy, downloadable for free from the institutional website of the Services11. In fact, every year, within the month of February, a detailed Report on the previous year is presented to Parliament.

As a passionate lover of the subject, allow me only a brief note on the regulatory definition12 of the word cybernetic space: the set of interconnected IT infrastructures, including hardware, software, data and users, as well as the logical relationships, however established, between them.

I remember, from readings made, that to shape the term cyberspace (so full of charm and, in my opinion, by its "liquid" nature) was the Canadian science fiction writer William Gibson back in 1984, who did it with his novel Neuromancer, in which it tells of a digital space navigable by people of different realities who communicate with each other within a computerized world made of digital networks. Many years have passed since this first definition and also the "state of the world".

1 Cossiga Francesco, Abecedario for beginners, politicians and soldiers, civilians and ordinary people, Soveria Mannelli (CZ), Rubbettino Editore, 2002
2 https://www.lanuovasardegna.it/tempo-libero/2019/11/02/news/cossiga-inte...
3 https://www.difesaonline.it/evidenza/cyber/racconti-e-aneddoti-di-un-pio...
4 https://www.difesaonline.it/evidenza/interviste/servizi-segreti-fiducia-...
5 http://www.sicurezzanazionale.gov.it/sisr.nsf/chi-siamo/organizzazione.html
6 http://www.sicurezzanazionale.gov.it/sisr.nsf/cosa-facciamo/l-intelligen...
7 See interview with Dr. Paolo Scotto from Castelbianco, Head of Communication for the Intelligence Section: https://www.difesaonline.it/evidenza/interviste/la-scuola-di-formazione-...
8 For a more in-depth analysis of the classification of sources we recommend viewing the following contributions: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8W3mWzQEiWRRfcH-53-zbpA0oYuytWCi
9 For further information and studies on OSINT: https://www.difesaonline.it/evidenza/approfondimenti/la-demodoxalogia-lo....
10 According to FD Kramer "there are 28 different definitions of cyberspace". See Cyberpower and National Security: Policy Recommendations for a Strategic Framework, in Cyberpower and National Security, edited by FD Kramer, S. Starr, LK Wentz, National Defense University Press, Washington (DC), 2009. See also: Gibson William , Neuromancer, Ace Books, New York, 1984.
11 http://www.sicurezzanazionale.gov.it/sisr.nsf/category/relazione-annuale...
12 See Definition of cyber space provided in the legislative decree of the Prime Minister's Decree of 17 February 2017, art. 2, co. 1, lett. h).

To consult all the regulations:
https://www.sicurezzanazionale.gov.it/sisr.nsf/documentazione/normativa-...

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