In order for the intelligence to contribute to making the best strategic decisions, it is necessary that the mechanism linking intelligence, decision-making and actions should work smoothly. Therefore, it is important to provide a critical evaluation of the information and to understand that in the information society there is a great number of accessible sources.
In this regard, the French Intelco project had this specific goal and turned out to be a very positive experience. Funded in April 1993 by Christian Harbulot and Jean Pichot-Duclos, Intelco is a laboratory of ideas on the role of the information in post-Cold War geo-economic power relations.
Intelco was originally part of the Council of International Defense (DCI) that had been granted full autonomy to start a debate over economic intelligence in France. The original six members of Intelco were sided by one or two other members nominated by the DCI; Intelco’s main goals were 1) promoting research and awareness on economic intelligence through conferences sponsored by the Institute for Higher National Defense Studies and partnership with universities; 2) direct support to institution and enterprises. Intelco contributed to expanding the national debate on new frontiers of economic intelligence such as information war and cultural interference.
Intelco’s message encountered the opposition of those who refused to acknowledge the concept of economic warfare and maintained that while war brings death, liberalism creates wealth. Such a misconception can lead to wrong conclusions like considering the Clinton system as liberal, when in reality it is a mix of protectionism, diplomatic interventionism and special services to support U.S. companies, abuse of power in controlling electronic fluxes (the United States control 90% of the software industry). Besides, refusing the idea of economic warfare can also favor criminal organizations that are increasing their turnover.
The Intelco experience aimed at raising the awareness on real problems in the people who were supposed to solve them beyond ideologies and partisan interests. The most problematic hurdles Intelco had to overcome resulted from French cultural inertia. Economic intelligence was regarded with distrust: engineers were not familiar with indirect strategies imposing to perform invisible and transversal actions; security specialists had troubles adapting their traditional approach into a new context in which information is accessible to everybody. Intelco had to face the antimilitarism of those refusing to admit that defense operations could also be helpful to companies and ignored the role of the Pentagon in protecting the economic interests of the United States.
Contrary to what most ideologues maintain, capital holders and defenders of national interests do not automatically get together and join forces. Despite its many enemies, Intelco continues to develop the concept of economic intelligence, which sooner or later will be integrated with the concept of global intelligence as the complexity of globalization increases.
The experience with Intelco led to the development of a scientific literature in French on the use of information and intelligence in both private and public sector. The cultural gap with the United States shrank significantly despite the fact that state administration, academia and business have long ignored this issue. The contribution this literature gave to the debate on economic intelligence is very important since it puts into question the Anglo-Saxon approach – that is usually narrow-minded and influenced by big corporations – and therefore provides room for a comparative study of market economies.
According to the United States laws and business mentality, companies must be free to deal with economic competition through offering better deals. The facts proved this assumption to be wrong. In fact, to protect the automobile industry from foreign competition, all stakeholders of the U.S. economy came together (companies, trade unions, federal authorities). The ultra-liberalism suddenly turned into a patriotic liberalism. The politically correct propaganda promoted by the international institutions under the Anglo-Saxon influence did not prevent Clinton to consider defense as number one priority for the U.S. economic interests.
Another achievement of Intelco was the creation of the School of Economic Warfare, in collaboration with the School of Trade (ESLSCA); the choice of using the words “economic warfare” instead of “economic intelligence” was driven by the fact that the former is more impactful than the latter.
Companies struggling with the competition attacks know very well what economic warfare is about, but is very rare for them to realize the importance of the role of information in developing their business.
The functioning of the School of Economic Warfare was based on the following principles: fighting spirit, teamwork, risk-taking, cunning. These principles find their equivalents in some of the illness of the French society: fighting spirit only for career goals, information that is not shared, little awareness of the importance for the business world to join forces, risk-adverse attitude.
Globalization requires companies to adopt all strategies necessary to protect themselves against the encirclement techniques used by foreign competitors. Companies not only need to promote their own products but they also need to consider the destabilization factors that competitors or other opponents can put in place.
The School of Economic Warfare aims at seeking solutions to these problems, but so far it is just a drop in the ocean. If the French elites continue to ignore the importance of a culture on intelligence, they risk leaving the world in the hands of one single owner. Clinton created a state-led security system allowing the United States to increase exports while creating and keeping hundreds of jobs. Placing the intelligence to the top of this mechanism significantly contributed to the expansion of the U.S. power, together with favorable trends of the world economy.
EU Commissioner Édith Cresson explicitly said that the United States need its own intelligence policy in order not to be affected by the other states’ one. In this regard, former French Secretary General for Defense Alain Juillet defined economic intelligence as a governance tool focused on controlling strategic information and aimed at increasing competitiveness and security for both national economy and private business.
Two other leading experts of economic warfare, Christian Harbulot and Éric Delbecque offered their own definition of economic intelligence. Harbulot defined it as the constant research and interpretation of open source information with the aim of understanding the other actor’s intentions and capabilities. Delbecque identified economic intelligence as part of economic warfare culture, specifically in the competence – meaning the combination of methods and instruments of surveillance, security and influence – and in public policy that aims at increasing power through elaborating and implementing geo-economic strategies and establishing collective control of strategic information.
The concept of intelligence here derives from its original Anglo-Saxon meaning, that is a collection of information enabling to operate in different fields. This understanding of intelligence is not related to the espionage Cold-War techniques, in which information circulated only within a restricted group of experts through the use of illegal means such as technological transfers, theft of IT material, firing high-profile managers.
A more detailed analysis on economic intelligence and the practical application of the so-called economic warfare, reveals three main fields of action: the watch, the protection of information and lobbying practices. In particular, the watch consists in the surveillance of the economic reference ambient in order to instantly detect possible threats or opportunities to seize; there are seven kinds of watch: competition, trade, technological, geographic, geopolitical, legislative and corporate. The states that are able to perform these practices are those which truly experience an increase in influence and thus in power. This perspective privileges the state capability to use this strategic weapon over the one of single companies that use it in order to expand their trades and increase their profits. Since economic intelligence can be considered as both offensive and defensive tool (for example when it is used to either foresee an alliance between competitors or perform disinformation operations), it is the crown jewel of economic warfare policies, especially due to the importance of information in modern economies.
In this regard, it is necessary for both public and private sector to join forces. An interesting model is provided by the case of post-WWII Japan, where the Japan External Trade Organization started collaborating with the above-mentioned MITI, which had a significant role in strengthening of commercial ties with other states. The Japanese case is very interesting not only for its flourishing economic but also for the cultural environment, where every citizen feels morally engaged in pursuing the nation’s greatness through technological and trade primacy. It is no coincidence that 10-15% of Japan national budget for research and development is allocated to scientific and technical information. The United States also adopts a similar strategy, although it tends to disguise it as an official matter of fair competition. The U.S. administration has in fact established a counter-intelligence service. Through expanding the CIA mandate, this U.S. agency also plays an active role in industrial espionage and provides companies secret information about their foreign competitors.