Intelligence & Interview is aimed to bring different international perspectives and experiences into the common debate of intelligence studies. It is not aimed to revolutionize a field, but it is based on the idea that we should start to recognize more the role of different perspectives from a national, cultural, and linguistic standpoint. Recently, an interview triggered a long discussion with a friend of mine on the utility of this conception.
My friend argued that if a scholar is not part of the international community, he/she is not very interesting in the sense that science is international and, the argument runs, if the scholar is not engaged directly with it, it means is no science there. My friend was arguing that English is what Latin was for a millennium or so (after all, it was still used in the early XX century as scientific Esperanto). Not only “real” scholarship is in English, but it must be in English for practical reasons related to what science is (having a common jargon, cumulative literature, etc.). In addition, the style matters, and the previous international literature is what a scholar has exclusively to look at. Now, there are good and deep reasons for saying that my friend was not wrong… entirely. I did have to make the transition myself from the national to the international level, so I’m very sympathetic with this idea of science as a common house for discussion and improvements. But, to me, it wasn’t a given. National scientific endeavors exist, and there is nothing wrong with them, apart from when they start to spin freely around without taking into account the international debate. So, I agreed with my friend, however, not entirely. And when I write “not entirely,” I mean: when social objects are the main subject matter, there is no “one object.” There are many. The Greek state and experience are different from the US, as Italy is different from the UK. There is no gold-standard; there is no one “real” prototype in human experience because all institutions are different. What could be the “universal measuring system” for “social objects standards.” I believe it is the wrong problem. Then, this is true for intelligence as anything else because it is a set of institutions created by national security necessities. They are naturally different from one another as far as intelligence agencies are ruled by laws that are formulated in different cultural, historical, and even linguistic contexts. The language matters. Then, even though I’m not advocating for a revolution, I’m defending a plurality of experiences. It should be a goal of IS per se to bring national perspectives as much as possible, as difficult as it can be. Then, after the Italian intelligence history, the French view, interviews from scholars and practitioners from Canada, US, Zimbabwe…, it was time to cover Greece, which is, again, a unique country, with a great history, in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. Greece is the (now almost removed) hotspot of the EU, whose economic difficulty is still underway.
Who can be better suited to bring the Greek case to the national and international reader than Dr John M. Nomikos? John is a recognized international author and scholar, founder of the Research Institute for European and American Studies, trainer, and international security expert. He is a perfect example of what Int&Int is aimed at broadening the debate beyond common pathways. RIEAS is a well-established international reality, whose goal and purpose are very similar to what we are trying to do in a much more limited way. This Interview is a window on a double relevant national (Greek Intelligence) and international experience (RIEAS). Then, it is with my distinct pleasure to publish the Interview on Scuola Filosofica – for those who don’t know it yet; it is one of the leading cultural blogs in Italy. In the name of Scuola Filosofica Team, our readers, and myself, Giangiuseppe Pili, John: thank you!
Professor John M. Nomikos, let’s start from the basics. How would you like to present yourself to the International readers and Philosophical School (Scuola Filosofica)?
As an academic promoting Intelligence Studies and encouraging and empowering younger scholars to undertake research, publication, and teaching in this field. I was awarded the “2019 Life Achievement for the Development of Intelligence Studies in Europe” by the International Association for Intelligence Education – European Chapter (IAFIE – Europe). In 2013, I founded the Journal of Mediterranean and Balkan Intelligence (JMBI) which was replaced (2018) by a new journal titled Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies (JEAIS). My favorite quote comes from Winston Churchill: “Success is going from one failure to another without losing your enthusiasm.”
Let’s stay closer to your experience. How did you get interested in intelligence in the first place, and what were your main interests?
During my undergraduate studies at Northern Louisiana University in the 1980s, I took a course in intelligence thinking and analysis. That provided the impetus to explore the field further and focus on particulars. Gradually I learned how “to think out of the box” concentrating on international security affairs—and began studying the architecture and institutional culture of various intelligence organizations from around the world. Eventually, I became focused on Greek, Balkan, and Mediterranean intelligence and in 2013 I founded the European Intelligence Academy (EIA), a network of scholars that was eventually associated with our Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS).
Considering how different the national experiences are, how would you describe the Greek intelligence today? What is its central culture? Is it mainly analytical or more devoted to the collection?
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has a checkered history of political interference, lack of an in-house professional culture focused on intelligence work and not political to-and-fro, and the perennial labor disputes typical of the Greek government apparatus. It is indeed difficult to speak of a NIS “central culture” since the concept is largely alien in a Greek context which remains heavily politicized and generally hostile to professionalism. Since 2010, and the bankruptcy of Greece, NIS went through various cutback upheavals dotted by piecemeal attempts to improve its technical capabilities and broaden its recruitment. Illegal immigration and Islamic jihadism are two areas that caused increasing pressure on NIS for intelligence collection and analysis. Publicly available information on how effective is NIS in pursuing these targets is thin on the ground. Collection appears to be the main target at this time. Publicly available information on NIS analytical capabilities is scant. Changes at the top of the agency by the incumbent administration aren’t satisfactory and have been widely criticized in the public forum.
Greece is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and is placed near the Balkans and Turkey. It is a crucial area since the end of the national states’ independence after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Even though this question would require much space, what are the main historical events that shaped Greek intelligence? What was its trajectory?
Greece did not have a government intelligence agency, as defined in modern times, until the 1950s. Established as the Kingdom of Greece after the War of Independence (1821-1832) Greece (Hellas) went through continuous turbulent times, dotted by war, dictatorship, and grave national disasters, until after WWII. Before the 1950s the task of intelligence, whether foreign or domestic, was largely the job of the army and/or the police. Governments depended largely on their diplomats for foreign “intelligence.” The first “central” intelligence agency came into being in 1953. Commanded by military officers, the so-called “KYP” remained focused on largely monitoring the domestic “communist threat” after the defeat of a communist insurgency that ended in 1949—a phenomenon that keenly shaped Greek government perceptions for a central intelligence agency. The military junta that governed Greece from 1967 until 1974 further trapped “KYP” in combating “the communist menace.” It was not until 1999 that “KYP” had its first civilian director and “diversified” its operating strategy to include improved focus on foreign intelligence. In the ensuing years, the now “National Intelligence Service” (NIS) diversified its mission statement further to include monitoring the scourge of illegal immigration, the Islamist threat, and the pursuit of essentially police missions by assisting the national police in its efforts to combat drug and human trafficking and other similar domestic law enforcement missions. Presently, NIS is supposedly undergoing further “streamlining” and broadening its human capital by recruiting more personnel and upgrading its technical means. NIS, just like its KYP predecessor, is often the focus of political bickering and charges of “politicization” and incompetence.
Greece underwent severe economic troubles during the last crisis from which many European countries never recovered, among them Italy for sure. How do these events shaped the research on intelligence in Greece and its intelligence community?
The 2010 bankruptcy devastated the Greek economy and brought the country under the yoke of back-to-back “bailouts” concocted by Germany and the IMF. Today Greece remains locked in debtor’s prison, its economy fluctuating under the immense burden of crippling sovereign debt which stood at 180 pc of GDP at the end of 2019—and the pandemic makes an already tragic situation even worse. This “perfect storm” further weakened a political and social system already burdened by inherent crippling flaws. Against this backdrop speaking of “research” into the Greek intelligence community becomes a frail concept, to put it kindly. Even before the crisis, intelligence remained a heavily politicized subject dominated by partisan invective and the perennial squabbling of political parties and “specialists” populating the media wilderness. Thus, whatever “debate” on the nature, content, and future of Greek intelligence remains cloistered in the usual aimless public drone—and the “input” of fringe “experts” with little formal education on the subject other than rehashing “theories” fished out from the ever-obliging Internet wasteland. Successive governments have paid little attention to the crucial need for a professional intelligence cadre populating a sophisticated and strictly specialized organization. This discouraging situation is not expected to change in the foreseeable future given Greece’s perennial political difficulties, which often border on dysfunction.
Let’s talk about The Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS). It has an interesting story to tell. Very briefly, can you give us the historical flavor in which RIEAS was founded and evolved?
Established in Athens in 2006 RIEAS’s beginning was linked with the development of a network of young international scholars focusing on security and international studies. As this network grew so did RIEAS in the form of a global think tank to coordinate research in varied areas such as Med Security Studies, Balkan Intelligence, and International Terrorism. Developing RIEAS requires perseverance, innovation, and tackling new ideas that remain largely distant from the Greek academic environment. RIEAS is “my life journey” and my “brainchild” demanding my full immersion in its daily operation, direction, and expansion. I hope that eventually I will be able to pass the baton to the younger generation so that its members may continue following RIEAS’s founding principles as they pursue their own “life journeys.”
What is RIEAS mission and objectives?
The Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) is a non-profit research institute established under Greek law (Greek Court registered no. 5427, April 6, 2006. The Institute is autonomous organization. Its activities and views are independent of any public or private bodies, and the Institute is not allied to any political party, denominational group or ideological movement. RIEAS is aimed to provide a better understanding of international affairs by creating a framework for creative thinking, honest discussions and nonpartisan dissemination of multidisciplinary reflections and innovative ideas. Attention is devoted to: transatlantic relations, intelligence studies and terrorism, improving intelligence analysis, intelligence cooperation, European integration, international security, Balkan and Mediterranean studies, critical studies, security and intelligence in the private sector. RIEAS seeks to achieve its objective through: research and publication of peer-review articles, strategic analyses and reports, as well as reflection papers from scholars and experts from the civil society, private sector and government, workshops, seminars, and lectures, participation in international conferences and forums. RIEAS maintains a library and documentation center open to the public upon request. RIEAS offers internship positions open to early career scholars PhD and MA students, holders of a PhD received after 2013 and young experts from various domains whose research interests match its objectives. RIEAS maintains regular contact with other major research institutes throughout Europe, the USA, India, Middle East, Gulf States and Asia.
How does RIEAS pursue its long-lasting goals? Who are the targets and contributors to its research?
RIEAS’s budget is generated by membership subscriptions, donations from individuals and foundations, as well as from various research projects. RIEAS distributes its analyses/publications to senior military officers, diplomats, and security professional in the public and private sectors. RIEAS provides research and publication opportunities to younger scholars, sponsors research projects, and remains fully committed to attending international conferences on global security studies, intelligence research and development, and new security challenges.
Is RIEAS interested in new proposals? If so, how can our readers reach the Institute?
How can our readers follow you and RIEAS?
RIEAS Twitter – https://twitter.com/rieasgreece
RIEAS Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RIEASgr/
John M. Nomikos Linkedin account – https://www.linkedin.com/feed/
Five keywords that represent you?
Vision, Intelligence Education, Research, Credibility, Motivation