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Intelligence and Security

Intelligence, Communication and Contemporary Conflict

Secret Intelligence is “the missing dimension of diplomatic history

This was the judgement of British diplomat Sir Alexander Cadogan. During the Second World War, Cadogan served as the key link between the Foreign Office and Britain’s intelligence services. Few alive had better knowledge of the critical role that intelligence and secret services play in war, diplomacy, and statecraft.

Cadogan’s words have since been evoked in countless studies of intelligence history – yet their significance has not been reduced by repetition. Indeed, they are a reminder of the perennial importance of intelligence and clandestine activities to both peace and conflict.

This lesson was driven home on a global scale by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. As the conflict approached, allied intelligence services stepped to the fore in dramatic fashion, wielding declassifications of top secret material to check Russian intentions, virtually in real-time. The war has continued to highlight the centrality of intelligence and communication to all aspects of contemporary conflict, from public diplomacy to intelligence sharing to the maintenance of allied coalitions.

More recently the world was shocked by the sudden invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists. The brutal attack – coming almost exactly 50 years after the Yom Kippur War, when Israel was surprised by attacks on two fronts – caught Israeli defence and security forces completely off guard. Claims of a colossal “intelligence failure” spread fast in wake of the conflict – drawing comparisons to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.

Never before has the critical role of intelligence and secret services so dominated the global agenda. To explore these issues, the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation presents the Intelligence and Security Seminar, organised with the Ax:son Johnson Institute for Statecraft and Diplomacy (AJI). The seminar was centred on the theme of “Intelligence, Communication and Contemporary Conflict” and moderated by Shashank Joshi, defence editor for the Economist magazine. It brought together world-leading intelligence scholars and practitioners to examine the role of secret and open information in starting or stopping conflict and in waging war from the past to the present.


Gill Bennett

Historian and former Chief Historian of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Kristin Ven Bruusgaard

Director of the Norwegian Intelligence School

Sara Bush Castro

Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs

Philip Davies

Professor of Intelligence Studies at Brunel University London and Director of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies (BCISS)

John Ferris

Professor of History at the University of Calgary and Authorised Historian of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

Matthew Ford

Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in the Department of War Studies and Military History at the Swedish Defence University

Michael Goodman

Professor of Intelligence and International Affairs and former Head of the Department of War Studies, Director of the King’s Centre for the Study of Intelligence and Official Historian of the UK’S Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)

Lena Hallin

retired Air Force Officer and former Director of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST)

Matthew Hefler

Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ax son Johnson Institute for Statecraft and Diplomacy based at the Center for Statecraft and Strategic Communication, Stockholm School of Economics

Magnus Hjort

Director General of the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency

Donald Hodge

Senior Executive with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)

Tony Ingesson

Associate Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Lund University

Shashank Joshi

Defence Editor at The Economist and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London

Suzanne Raine

Affiliate Lecturer at the Centre for Geopolitics at Cambridge University and former career official in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office on foreign and national security issues

Daniela Richterova

Senior Lecturer in Intelligence Studies in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London and deputy director of the King’s Centre for the Study of Intelligence

Calder Walton

Historian and Assistant Director of the Applied History Project and Intelligence Project at the Belfer Genter for Science and International Affairs, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Steven Wagner

Senior Lecturer in International Security at Brunel University London at the University of Virginia