Launch of 'civil society intelligence agency'

By staff writers
October 11, 2011

The world has its “first civil society intelligence agency”. That's the self-description used by the founders of Open Briefing, a new thinktank described as an accessible platform for insight and analysis on key defence, security and foreign policy issues.

Open Briefing aims to provide open-source intelligence assessments and independent security briefings, so that a better informed civil society can properly engage with peace and security debates and influence positive policy developments in these areas. Its founders say that it brings together some of the most innovative thinkers on security and international relations.

Open Briefing is the brainchild of their Executive Director, Chris Abbott. Abbott is the former Deputy Director of Oxford Research Group, whose previous work has been praised by a wide range of public figures including Desmond Tutu, Brain Eno and Anita Roddick. They have produced influential research on the concept of sustainable security, which emphasises the need to tackle the long-term causes of insecurity and violence, rather than rely solely on short-term, military solutions.

“Policymakers rely on access to timely and accurate information upon which to base their decisions,” explained Abbott, “In the spheres of defence and security, this information is largely secret and held back from the public domain”.

He explained, “This leaves the process open to political manipulation and creates a public unable to engage properly with these issues or hold policymakers to account. Open Briefing exists to interject in this dynamic and help ordinary people speak truth to power.”

Open Briefing has institutional partners in London, Brussels and Washington and has attracted the support of a group of senior researchers, activists and journalists, who constitute the organisation's advisory board.

They include the journalist and broadcaster Isabel Hilton, the founders of Iraq Body Count, John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan, and the internationally renowned security expert Professor Paul Rogers.

Speaking at the launch, Rogers described Open Briefing as “an excellent project with great possibilities for empowering the peace movement and wider civil society”.

He added, “It is typical of Chris Abbott that he should develop it. Moreover, he is one of those rare people who could take it forward and realise its considerable potential”.

The organisation has been set-up with seed funding from the Marmot Charitable Trust. It was described as “most timely” by one of their trustees, Bevis Gillett.

“Open Briefing potentially will be a great force for good in helping to make transparent areas of activity that are often shrouded in secrecy and where misinformation is commonplace,” said Gillett, “In the long term it could have an important impact on policy”.

Open Briefing is organised around seven regional desks and four issue desks, which focus on resource security and climate change, political violence and dissent, nuclear issues, and UK national security.

Open Briefing will also provide various thinktank services in addition to these intelligence desks. These include policy-orientated publications, special projects on important emerging issues, and dossiers of user-generated information on unfolding events.


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