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The World According To Intelligence Online

July 30, 2014

France Intelligence Online

Keep abreast of international headlines long enough and a “media diet” soon emerges. Some sources are better than others, some outlets provide a broader view than the rest.

Intelligence Online (IO), published by a little known press agency based in Paris, follows various intrigues unraveling on the global stage with its own simple methodology.

The Syrian civil war? The CIA is keeping a low profile in Jordan. ISIS? Iran is preparing to trounce the rogue jihadist militia. Meanwhile, China’s President Xi Jinping wants armed drones at his disposal.

IO gets these scoops by reading widely on the subject matter, otherwise known as going open source, and using local stringers to provide details beyond what’s already known.

As compelling as its stories are, IO isn’t unique. Anyone who wishes to stay informed about happenings in the corridors of power and their manifestations on the ground have many options to choose from.

There’s Debkafile, with its up-to-the -minute reporting on various crises. There’s Stratfor, a so-called “private intelligence agency,” offering subscribers access to a wealth of articles on current wars. There’s also the century-old Jane’s, now owned by oil and gas consultancy IHS, with its comprehensive sweep of any topic related to military matters and weapon systems.

Think tanks, aggregators, serious news sites, and subject matter-specific blogs such as Phi Beta Iota also do their bit in keeping the general–if always distracted–public informed on Earthly matters.

Organizations like Wikileaks, History Commons, and The Intercept deserve mention too for championing transparency in government affairs.

IO is different because it accomplishes so much on a modest budget. As the leading imprint in the roster of Indigo Publications, its subscribers fund its reporters who track corporate, government, and intelligence activity in four continents.

Details, Details

Indigo Publications traces its origins to 1981 when French journalist Maurice Botbol went the independent route by using fax machines to deliver his newsletter to paying subscribers. At the time Botbol was particularly sensitive to his country’s activities in its “near abroad,” Africa and the Middle East.

This special focus continues under the umbrella of Africa Intelligence, whose staff follow French business activities in Africa and the Indian Ocean.

But as early as the 1980s, Botbol’s outlook was  providing news that wasn’t reliant on advertising and press releases. By 1989 Maurice Botbol’s fledgling company acquired Olivier Schmidt’s dual language Intelligence Newsletter to keep readers informed on covert activities in Africa.

A decade later Schmidt’s newsletter became Intelligence Online. Even if the founders went their separate ways, with Botbol remaining as chairman of Indigo and Schmidt carrying on with another newsletter, their editorial approach stayed the same: providing short summaries about little-known details connected with the big headlines.

IO doesn’t identify its sources or quote press releases either. According to Philippe Baumard’s Tacit Knowledge In Organizations, the chapter on Botbol and Schmidt reveals the pair were familiar faces among intelligence circles.

Schmidt himself shares in his book The Intelligence Files that he was a guest at civil-military meetings before the European Union came to be.

IO’s reporters, most of whom have previous experience in the larger press agencies, likely use the same technique and incorporate tips from sources as material for their abbreviated stories. Although this method is discouraged in some press agencies, it has worked very well for IO as it approaches its 40th anniversary.

Today, IO’s small team is led by section editors Pierre Gastineau and Lazare Beullac. They prepare a monthly newsletter about illicit arms deals, critical technology, and the corporations who work in the gray zone between governments and spy agencies.

Until mid-2014, IO’s content was managed by its former editor, Philippe Vasset, a French novelist. Having migrated online a decade ago, IO supports itself with paid subscriptions delivered via e-mail. New readers can register free accounts for weekly updates from Indigo’s various sections with occasional full articles. Becoming a subscriber grants access to IO’s entire monthly edition and then some.

There are precious few publications like IO. More power to them.