A Conversation with the Phoenix Think Tank


It’s all fun and games here, just as I was throwing time I don’t have into a complete site overhaul and refresh, contemplating the implications of the impending JCA decision and grappling with the finer points of DNS entries and MySQL imports, a request popped into the inbox that demanded attention.

And so began a two day email conversation with person or persons unknown at the Phoenix think Tank.

I first started my love in with the Phoenix Think Tank when I wrote an introductory post, sharing their existence with the Think Defence readership. They then popped up again in one of my rants about service politics and finally I responded to one of their papers about naval aviation.

Having seen their supporters behaviour on other web forums I was more than prepared and so it came to pass; a number of different commenter ID’s were used either to be critical of the post (which I relish), make comments about terms and conditions or how I was attacking the PTT without justification. Seemingly unbeknownst to whomever was making these comments under different names, the site software records IP addresses, host names, that kind of detailed techy stuff

You could have knocked be down with a feather (not) when it turned out they were all the same.

It’s typical trolling behaviour that anyone who runs a blog knows about, nothing to get too flustered about but rather pathetic and sad.

The reason I wrote the Naval Aviation, Blogs and Think Tanks post was because I was fed up with reading one sided opinion masquerading as fact that sought to airbrush the contribution and sacrifice of personnel in other services.

Maybe it was in my ‘angry phase’

In that particular post I used extracts and links back to the Phoenix Think Tank website to provide a backdrop against which I would counter some of their published materials.

I put a lot of effort into that post and I think pretty much everyone regarded it as a balanced, reasonable and above all else, factual representation of history without personal attack or innuendo.

It was also coincident with this post that I had a password reset initiated on both my Twitter account and the administration login account for Think Defence. I know I didn’t do it and it doesn’t happen by accident. The IP address range was again, broadly similar but I am no forensic information security analyst so I made no assumptions; merely that it was the first time it had happened, and incidentally, it has not happened since.

A coincidence, nothing to see hear, move along.

As with most of these things, time marched on, there were container stories going begging after all.

Fast forward to this week and the email from the sites contact form.

The subject line for this email was the rather grandiose


And from none other than

Phoenix Think Tank Legal

Of course, this is an attention getter, shit, what had I done now.

The essence of the email was that they had received complaints about me infringing their copyright in regards of ‘factually incorrect comments, use of logos, papers, articles and links’. There was a bit of legalese but basically because I had not sought or received permission I was requested to remove them.

Was I seeing a spot of trolling, low level harassment or something more official?

Mmmm, intrigued and confused I asked for more information, what exactly was the nature of the complaint?

The response was very polite, asking that I remove the three posts in question and any links or documents, again citing the fact that I had not asked permission. It also made clear that previous comments purporting to come from them or represent them were bogus but the IP address similarity issue was not addressed, perhaps it is irrelevant anyway, again, I make no accusation or even assumption and fully appreciate that a similar IP address and hostname actually means very little.

As this was going on I was having a few second thoughts about carrying on with Think Defence anway and reviewing old content as part of the site refresh.

I decided to question the reason for the request, point out that linking and reviewing content on other sites is part of the natural way of doing things online and that the PTT site carried a post from Sharkey Ward in which through the medium of innuendo kind of accuses me of being a ‘vested interest’

Cuts both ways, I thought.

Again, I offered them a guest spot on TD, rather than getting chippy, lets wade into the debate and have at it.

Despite the email address being the same I was now discussing things not with PTT Legal but E-Administrator, a subtle change.

The response was that I should seek permission and if anyone posts as them on TD I should contact them. They also said that the post on the PTT’s site was from a contributor and therefore not their responsibility. It was this last thing that I thought most laughable, trying to establish some sort of ‘nothing to do with me guv’ defence because it was a blog post and not a published paper did have a certain comedic quality to it, somewhat at odds with their assured legal stance in the opener.

We then had a conversation about the creative commons licence, copyright law as applied to ‘Fair Dealing’ reviews and a conciliatory note about over enthusiastic followers of the PTT and their commenting misdeeds.

It was all very pleasant and professional and we agreed to simply remove all the posts in question from both sites and draw a line.

To be honest, I thought this was all very reasonable.

On reflection, we shouldn’t be attacking each other and there is room for all flavours of opinion so as a gesture of good will on both sides we agreed to be nice to each other, remove the posts on both sites and they would forward a request to Sharkey Ward asking he remove the post from his blog, let’s wait and see on that one.

The posts on Think Defence are gone although I will probably republish the history one without reference to them.

The temptation was, and still is a little, to be less than reasonable; I understand the concept of fair dealing as applied to linking and extracting content for the purposes of review and criticism so getting emails from the grandiose ‘PTT Legal’ doesn’t actually intimidate me one jot but instead the sheer pompousness made me chuckle .

But I then I paused and asked myself this question.

If they object, what good does it do for Think Defence or the wider debate to ignore it?

My answer was, it does no good.

I want Think Defence to promote sensible discussions, not be critical of others contributing to the debate, however much I fundamentally disagree with them and find much of their materials objectionable.

When I look around the internet at other defence forums and the see the regard in which the Phoenix Think Tank is held, whatever I might say is irrelevant, they have enough problems to deal with and a reputation to rebuild.

They have their opinions, I have mine, I relish discussion (last count, 48,000 comments on this site) and they don’t, but good luck to them.

To cut a long story short, as a measure of good will, I have deleted the three posts they requested to be deleted, agreed to cease linking to their content and forgotten about past behavior.

I find the lack of engagement rather sad and the over inflated pompous attempts at censorship quite amusing but it is not something I want to expend energy on.

So, peace in our time and a new calmness has descended on Think Defence towers.

Off to the F35 decision, post haste.


I re-published the original post without references to them


UPDATE: 20 July 2012

So it would seem that the Phoenix Think Tank has packed its bags, I can’t say I will miss them because to be perfectly honest, I think they did more damage to their cause than furthered it.

However, if we have a look at their updated website they have published this comment;

N.B  An opportunity exists for some investigative journalism into the conduct of a group known as “Think Defence”. It maybe discovered that the website is not as unbiased as it claims to be and has significant support and direction from various study and support groups of a specific service.  It may become clear on closer inspection that the reader can identify a certain anti-naval obsession with the group and as a group which always made it clear what we supported we feel after some of the overly aggressive and questionable tactics used against the PTT and some of its contributors that we have alerted you, the reader, to our opinion of that website and its editor(s). 

I did ask them for an explanation, especially given the fact that we agreed what I thought was a mature and amicable response but nothing heard so far.

They haven’t even got the balls to say RAF instead of ‘specific service’ which is exactly what they actually meant and no doubt they will get their arses in their hands about the fact that I have extracted the comment from their website.

I have pondered what to do about this

Should I respond to their accusations of being funded and supported by others (I wish), acting aggressively (I do believe it was they that threatened legal action because I shredded their nonsense on a regular basis) or inciting others to do a spot of investigating (go on then)


Should I just shake my head, laugh at the rather sad and pathetic parting shot from a rather sad and pathetic organisation that had ZERO credibility with anyone but themselves and move on?

I think the latter.


See ya lads

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