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The two forms of intelligence failure in the Anglosphere

By Reg Little - posted Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Two forms of intelligence failure are seriously haunting Australia and the Anglosphere. The first concerns the collection of information through espionage and the second, and more important, concerns the evaluation and strategic use of openly available information.

The first type of intelligence failure concerns the Five Eyes of the Anglosphere and has recently preoccupied the English language media. One report suggests that more than 15,000 secret Australian intelligence reports may have been stolen by rogue US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in what the government is now describing as the most damaging blow dealt to Australian intelligence in the nation's history.

Already just two leaks, which have little to do with national security, have greatly complicated Australia's relations with two close neighbours, Indonesia and Timor. They threaten to bring alive awkward memories of the role Australia played in Timor's independence. This complicates troubled relations with a large and rapidly rising, if often neglected, neighbour, Indonesia.


The Five Eyes surveillance and information gathering of the Anglosphere is a legacy of the past several centuries when first Great Britain and then America led the world in human and technological espionage initiatives. These were designed to provide better information more quickly and comprehensively than any rival about critical developments relevant to global aspirations of empire and global order.

Since 11 September 2001, these activities have expanded greatly and intruded into many areas of previously unaffected life. Higher public awareness, increasing popular resentment and a growing preparedness to protest through the exposure of secret information poses questions about the future costs and benefits of such activity.

This situation is complicated further by the economic and technological advance of China, which has written records over several millennia of the principles and practice of espionage. These are unrivalled in their unique long history and diverse and subtle character. It seems likely that China is an active competitor who can more than match the capacities, discipline and creativity of the Five Eyes of the Anglosphere. Any intensification of Anglosphere activity has the potential for counterproductive activity. Local and cultural sensitivity will increasingly be at a premium as previously backward and colonised communities grow in economic strength and political stature. Past assumptions of technological superiority and untouchability can readily become serious liabilities.

Australia's recent experience with Indonesia and Timor suggests that many of the comfortable and reassuring assumptions that are fundamental to the Anglosphere's espionage based information gathering strategies may need to be profoundly re-evaluated. This will be no easy task, particularly in a world where Australia is moving rapidly from being a member of the globally dominant cultural community to being identified as a member of a rapidly declining mono-lingual and mono-cultural Anglosphere.

Australia's and the Anglosphere's real problems and challenges lie, however, in the second type of intelligence failure. This is in the evaluation and use of intelligence. In this area it is clear that the Anglosphere has carried Australia along with it in a determination to ignore, marginalize and ridicule much openly available information, or "intelligence", in order to defend and preserve a variety of increasingly anachronistic values, customs, practices and evaluations. These once served the Anglosphere well in constructing and maintaining a global order. A carefully cultivated form of "intellectual apartheid" that discounts alternative cultures and values has been responsible for almost half a century of Anglosphere decline, economic debilitation and, most recently, relentlessly approaching bankruptcy.

Information revealing this challenge has been freely available and inviting serious attention since the 1960s. Japan discredited many Anglosphere economic orthodoxies in completing an income tripling decade in the 1960s and within a little more than another decade was followed by other parts of Asia and, ultimately and most importantly, in the 1980s by China. Yet, even today, the Anglosphere insists on ignoring, belittling and attacking any suggestion that the region shares educational and cultural disciplines and subtleties that are daily exposing profound and pervasive inadequacies throughout the Anglosphere.


Even as China emerges as the world's most powerful and influential political entity, the Anglosphere clings to a conviction, or a desperate hope, that financially stressed American military power can preserve past privileges. This climate of denial has enabled the Asian region to become central to the global economy as it continues to exploit to great advantage a wide range of popular and professional Anglosphere stereotypes that have become highly damaging and self-destructive.

When one weighs the respective importance of these two types of intelligence failure, the information obtained from surreptitious surveillance by the Five Eyes seems to have been of little assistance to the Anglosphere in correcting its decline over the past half century. In contrast, the neglect of the information openly and readily available about the cultural foundation of the rise of Asia has been fundamental to the decline of the Anglosphere.

Consequently, the wringing of hands and declaration of disaster for Australian intelligence prompted by several Snowden revelations is absurd. It might be interpreted most adequately as a move to protect a poorly functioning Anglosphere culture and the privileges of those within it. There is no sense of a genuine response to a truly critical failure of intelligence amongst Anglosphere leaders.

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About the Author

Reg Little was an Australian diplomat from 1963 to 1988. He gained high level qualifications in Japanese and Chinese and served as Deputy of four and Head of one overseas Australian diplomatic mission. He is the co-author of The Confucian Renaissance (1989) and The Tyranny of Fortune: Australia’s Asian Destiny (1997) and author of A Confucian Daoist Millennium? (2006). In 2009, he was elected the only non-ethnic Asian Vice Chairman of the Council of the Beijing based International Confucian Association. His other writings can be found on his website:

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