Mundi meets Luciano Violante: “Democracies without memory” and soft intelligence

by Mundi Live

by Margherita Chiara Immordino Tedesco


Luciano Violante, an authoritative figure on the Italian cultural scene, a former magistrate, lecturer and politician, was president of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission (1992-1994) and president of the Chamber of Deputies from 1996 to 2001. He is currently President of the Fondazione ItaliaDecide – which promotes a shared and realistic analysis of the fundamental problems of our country – and of the Fondazione Leonardo, which was set up to promote dialogue with civil society, promote industrial and business culture in the areas of reference, enhance the local cultural heritage and museums and disseminate special studies and research in their respective sectors of interest.



Margherita Chiara Immordino Tedesco met him and during the exciting dialogue, the words of the authoritative magistrate were incisive: “We are living not in an age of change, but in the change of an age where a complex of factors intertwine, from large migrations to artificial intelligence […] Technologies manipulate public opinion and therefore also policies for security, so it is essential to understand the current nature of conflicts, characterized by asymmetric war and attack on computer systems.

An asymmetric war is defined as an undeclared conflict, with considerable disparities in military or financial resources and in the status of the two contenders. A conflict conducted by unconventional methods of warfare.

Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, comes to mind – in a not accidental Pindaric flight – who during the first century B.C. with his army constituted the most serious threat to Roman hegemony in the Mediterranean. It was perhaps the first historical example of the perfect analyst who participated alone in the integrated management of the Intelligence process. He was a man who knew twenty-two languages perfectly and who personally gathered information, wandering around much of Asia Minor on foot.

The term mithridatism, synonymous with addiction to poisons, also derives from the name of the Sovereign, who had accustomed his body to the intake of poisonous substances then widespread, vaccinating and making himself so immune. This technique was also used by the agents of the secret services of the countries of the former Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. Today, however, advanced biochemistry has developed advanced preparations capable of overcoming and cancelling the validity of mithridatism.

Returning to the current situation, the management of highly complex intelligence processes – such as those in the military, economic and political spheres – requires very diversified skills, within what can be defined as an integrated information structure. In it, each one contributes to the management of the information according to its own peculiar point of view, in order to render effective, above all, at the level of communication, the various specialized contributions. Such a relationship offers, therefore, a holistic, integrated and global approach, with the aim of the optimal management of the processes of Intelligence, converging in it methodologies of analysis and science of the decisions.

The aim is certainly not to deepen the specialist aspects of these disciplines, but to make them understand, through the very concept of integrated information structure, how they interact, providing the analyst with a reasoned map of their interconnections, for the purpose of a so-called intelligent management. It should also be stressed that the growing amount of data and information available today, makes the role of the analyst even more indispensable for the decision-making process. In the past, it often happened that the decision-maker neglected the work of the analyst, in accessing directly the information coming from the various sources. Today, such behaviour would be inconceivable and dangerous, above all because the concept of information is built on and guarantees the Security of the Nation.

The communication of the range of information must therefore take place in a strictly congruous manner, avoiding anomalies due to: incorrect coding by the active subject or informer; incorrect interpretation by the passive subject or Intelligence Officer in charge of processing the information; interruption of the information source; loss of information during coding and decoding of the information as a whole. Such anomalies can hinder or invalidate the very functioning of the intelligence machine, because within it the taxable person operates on the basis of the information received and interpreted and, if they are incorrect or incomplete or do not arrive in time, serious inconveniences could occur, the seriousness of which increases in the case in which the information serves as a support to the decision-making process.

Given their importance, information must therefore be analyzed and organized in the forms, flows, means and times of timely communication, so that it responds to the needs of economic, political and military decision-makers. In today’s Intelligence, all findings must be made complete, accurate and timely. A correct communication process is the vital element for the efficiency and effectiveness of the Intelligence machine. If, for some reason, it were to be interrupted, the functioning of the Integrated Information Structure itself would also be interrupted or, in any case, it would function in an irrational, uncoordinated manner and, therefore, perniciously uncontrollable by the same experts. One of the main causes of failure of the Intelligence operations, or of the extreme lack of forecasting of events of a certain importance, is precisely linked to what has been highlighted so far.


Dr. Violante, during the meeting, continuing in a careful examination of the concept of asymmetrical war, referred to what Sun-Tzu claimed, for which the greatest success is to win without a fight, and to what was then elaborated in the contemporaneity by generals Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in the book “War without limits”, where it is expected that the new conflicts will affect all fields. He then reconstructed the birth and evolution of the Service Laws, before which the political institution responsible was a military figure identified by NATO, also recalling how the law of 1977 was the consequence of a ruling by the Constitutional Court on the Secret of State.

Subsequently, the decisive role for the national Security of the Cybernetic Security Nucleus was also underlined, which confirms the enormous capacity of intervention of our Police Forces, in defence of the Country. Then, the recent concept of soft intelligence was illustrated, necessary to face the social metamorphoses and the new world order, contrasting it with the hard intelligence, expression of the traditional informative necessities up to the 20th Century. “Changing epoch – concluded Violante – it is necessary to radically change the instruments of the Security, for which the soft intelligence is a technique which implies the relationship not with the people, but with the technologies”.

In order to be able to make rational decisions at the right time, it is essential to have precise, timely and relevant information on the reality of a certain social, economic, political and military context. Information has always been the connective tissue of these realities, but it is only with the development of information technology and electronic data processing tools that they have evolved rapidly. Currently, the Intelligence has an information structure capable of producing an incessive flow of information and knowledge through the collection, archiving and exchange of data. Data, information and knowledge in turn are very important concepts for which it is necessary to clarify some distinctions.

Data are numbers, symbols or any kind of indication and expression, referred to events or raw facts and therefore not processed. They contain elements, or, if we prefer, signs, often indistinguishable from a first observation, but not invisible or hidden for this reason. Identifying them is important, as this can lead the analyst to useful outcomes for the proper understanding of the facts. Semiology, in this regard, is the discipline that provides appropriate methods for identifying and interpreting such signs.

Mauritius of Saxony, who had direct experience under Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy, describes in his Utopias some general rules for the interpretation of the signs, that is, those physical manifestations of combat which, if interpreted correctly, provide some indications regarding the objective of the antagonist army. Drawing the necessary conclusions from signs of little importance or negligence is a procedure still followed today by analysts and researchers of Intelligence in the context of the system of analysis of Indicators and Alarms. Furthermore, we recall that it is not advisable to rely solely on the processing of the data in terms of elaboration and classification, since there is a risk of losing the capacity of imagination. We therefore need to think creatively, taking into account all the possible correlations between the data.

Information is the result of data processing. Analysts distinguish between data, information and knowledge, often linking the value of information to decision making. Sometimes it is not even possible to know the total extent of the available information. For example, it may happen that the analyst discovers significant information himself in a data set in which a colleague had not indicated any important elements. The analyst must also identify the method of analysis of the information to be undertaken, having clear advantages and disadvantages of each. In this regard, it is fundamental to remember that one of the most frequent errors of the analysis is that of basing oneself not on the necessary information, but only on that available.

Knowledge is the result of an analysis of the information used in the decision-making process. Above information, if the organization is able to manage itself, knowledge is built up, an attitude that essentially expresses the result of a rational and continuous management of the interactions between data, information, past actions, experiences and understanding. Knowledge, once distributed, spreads, increasing the ability to control complexity as a whole. Finally, let us remember that knowledge is not sufficient to predict future situations and events. As the former head of the Mossad, Efraim Halevey, maintains, it is necessary not to trust the hybris of the intelligence, that is, the conviction of being able to resolve everything with knowledge. In fact, it is necessary to have an overall vision of reality which goes beyond the very concept of knowledge.

Luciano Violante, during the meeting, then answered the numerous questions asked by Dr. Margherita Chiara Immordino Tedesco, which are summarized below:

  • on the overcoming of the Parliament: “it is not only the place of the decision but also of the representation and mediation of the conflict where the reasons of the others are recognized. Parliament draws an order from disorder, as in the theory of chaos;

  • on justice: “we are faced with algorithms that provide for the repeatability of crimes, in a context in which access to justice in other countries is much more expensive than in Italy”;

  • on the principles of artificial intelligence: “they are understood very differently between East and West: in the case of an accident, an auto-guided car in the first case tends to save an elderly person and in the second an infant”;

  • on the ethical choices of robots: “in some countries we discuss whether, in the conflicts of the future, to lose expensive robots that affect the state budget or to sacrifice human lives”;

  • on the policies of the European Union: “it would be useful to set up an Authority on Artificial Intelligence”;

  • on trust in democracy: “Today only 40% of the world’s population is governed by democratic systems, which have declined in the last ten years and the trend is set to continue;

  • on the reasons for the weakness of democracy: “it is the crisis of reason, accentuated after the fall of the Berlin Wall: during the Cold War the two opposing systems tried to give their best to show that one was better than the other”;

  • on the consequences of globalisation: “The story was not over but another one was beginning”;

    • sulle elezioni americane: “Trump parlava all’America vera e profonda; la Clinton invece a neri, immigrati e gay. Il primo si rivolgeva alla maggioranza, la seconda alle minoranze”;
  • on sovereignty: “it is nothing more than the return of nationalism, where the rights of individual countries prevail over those of the international community”.

Violante, in the run-up to the closing of the meeting, referred to his latest book “Democrazie senza memoria” (Democracies without memory), reiterating that reason has sinned of presumption and even if democracies have lost their charm, it is a model that must necessarily be reinvented.

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