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Epistemic Intelligence Communities. Counterintelligence

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Epistemic communities

Epistemic communities are informal networks of knowledge-based experts who influence decision-makers in defining issues they face, identifying different solutions, and evaluating results. (Hsu and Hasmath 2017) Peter M. Haas defined the conceptual framework of an epistemic community as

“… a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area.” (Haas 1992, 3)

Members of an epistemic community come from academic or professional backgrounds and are characterized by a set of unifying features. (Sebenius 1992)

Epistemic communities are socio-psychological entities that create and justify knowledge. Michel Foucault referred to the mathesis as a rigorous episteme appropriate to allow the cohesion of a discourse and thus the unification of a community. In the philosophy of science and system science, the process of forming a self-sustaining epistemic community is sometimes called a mentality, like a trend or a faction in politics.

A counterpart of what is NOT an epistemic community is provided by Mai’a K. Davis Cross, considering the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the EU Intelligence Analysis Center (IntCen). (Cross 2015) Cross claims that although they are composed of high-level security experts, these two organizations are not epistemic communities. Real epistemic communities, diplomats, military experts, security researchers and civilian crisis management experts have significantly influenced EU security policy.

Expert groups that are not epistemic communities are not poor or becoming cases. They can fundamentally be different types of actors with divergent features.

An epistemic community rarely includes all members of a formal organization. A strong epistemic community is trying to overcome its professional role as a group and is often able to persuade decision makers to fundamentally change the nature of their political goals.

An epistemic community is a group of people who do not have a specific history together but seek a common idea of origin as if they were an intentional community. For example, an epistemic community can be found in a network of professionals from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, (Keman 1998) including intelligence services.

According to Haas, the epistemic communities: (1) share the professional opinion on a policy issue, (2) weigh the validity of their political objectives in their field of expertise, (3) engage in a common set of practices on the problematic area with the goal of improving human well-being, and (4) sharing beliefs in principle. (Haas 2001, 11578–79)

Epistemic communities also have a “normative component,” meaning that the ultimate goal is always an improvement in society, rather than the own gain of the community itself. (Haas 1992)

In international relations and political science, an epistemic community can also be referred to as a global network of knowledge-based professionals in science and technology that often affects political decisions. (Morin and Louafi 2017)

Epistemic communities have the greatest influence in “conditions of political uncertainty and visibility,” (Radaelli 1999, 763) usually following a crisis or triggering event.

The European Union, with its ongoing processes of integration, shared democratic values, supranational institutions and transnational interactions, is very favorable to the formation of epistemic communities. (Loik 2013) The EU’s security policy is an area where there are more epistemic communities based on Brussels.


According to William Johnson’s definition counterintelligence (CI) is an activity designed to protect an intelligence organization against state or non-state agents. (Johnson and Hood 2009) It includes the collection and analysis of specific information, and preventive and counter-offensive activities against intentions and actions directed against national security, including terrorism. (Conrad 1985)

In US doctrine, CI is now seen primarily as a counterbalance to the actions of foreign intelligence services (FIS HUMINT). In the US Army’s counterintelligence manual of 1995, CI had a broader scope. More recently, the American Doctrine of the Information Community (Matschulat 2007) limits the main purpose to activities that usually include counter-terrorism. The scope of the doctrine of US military counterintelligence has been shifted to a classified publication, Joint Publication (JP) 2-01.2, Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Support to Joint Operations. For each type of specific foreign action, countermeasures are provided both with defensive and offensive role.

Counter-HUMINT deals with the detection of hostile or potentially hostile HUMINT sources, responsible for monitoring reliable staff to prevent and neutralize risks. (US Department of the Army 1981)

Offensive techniques in today’s counterintelligence doctrine are directed mainly against human sources, so counterintelligence can be considered synonymous with offensive counterintelligence. Offensive counter-attack (and counter-terrorism) acts either by manipulating an opponent (FIS or terrorist) or by interrupting the opponent’s operations.

Counterintelligence is primarily considered an analytical discipline, focusing on the study of intelligence services. Taking this into consideration, John Ehrman (Ehrman 2009) proposes an appropriate definition of CI:

“Counterintelligence is the study of the organization and behavior of the intelligence services of foreign states and entities, and the application of the resulting knowledge.” (Samuelson and Nordhaus 1992, 53)

The basis of all counterintelligence activities is the study of individual intelligence services, an analytical process to understand the behavior of foreign entities (formal mission, internal and external policy, history and myths within the entity, the people who compose it).

CI operations are a specialized subassembly of intelligence operations in general, usually trying to create endless feedback loops. In general, there are three types of counterintelligence operations: classic penetration, double agents, and identification and monitoring of the agents of the concerned service.

Counterintelligence is an under-theoreticized field without a clearly defined methodology. John Ehrman identifies several future research directions, such as service policy, service sociology, and counterintelligence economy. Also, future counterintelligence studies in the construction of theory should include comparative and literary studies. A robust counterintelligence theory will have to put the analysis at the center of counterintelligence activity and allow for a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to analytical and operational activities.


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Nicolae Sfetcu
Email: nicolae@sfetcu.com

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/.

Sfetcu, Nicolae, “Epistemic Intelligence Communities. Counterintelligence”, SetThings (March 15, 2019), MultiMedia Publishing (ed.), URL = https://www.setthings.com/en/epistemic-intelligence-communities-counterintelligence/

  1. […] Epistemic communities Epistemic communities are informal networks of knowledge-based experts who influence decision-makers in defining issues they face, identifying different solutions, and evaluating results. (Hsu and Hasmath 2017) Peter M. Haas defined the conceptual framework of an epistemic community as … Read More […]

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