The Pivot to Asia: The Policy Shift That Called Putin’s Attention to Europe’s Unlocked Doors

For the administration of US President Barack Obama, the reset with Russia was a major foreign policy initiative. For three years, a business-like tenor existed in relations, making the administration comfortable enough in 2011 to turn its attention toward Asia under what it called the “pivot to Asia.” Its hopes were dashed when Vladimir Putin returned as Russian Federation president in 2012, seeking to restore Russia’s power and influence. Soon after, there were numerous disagreements between Obama and Putin particularly over Europe. Relations deteriorated, and Europe again faced a threat from Russia.

What is most noticeable about US-Russia relations today is the uncongenial relationship between US President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. While that relationship may seem in perpetual retrograde, there initially was real potential for positive ties and real progress on a variety of issues if the interests of both countries were considered. The Obama administration approached Russia with the idea that the relationship between the two countries could be “reset.” The reset with Russia was one of the administration’s major foreign policy initiatives. Relations with Russian Federation President Dimitry Medvedev were positive. For three years, a relatively smooth and business-like tenor existed in relations with Russia. That contrasted with the contentious relations that followed the Georgian War in 2008 while Putin served as president. It boded well for Obama’s legacy over which White House officials publicly admitted being absorbed. With its Russia policy on track, the administration was comfortable enough to turn toward an even greater priority at the end of 2011 which was referred to as the “pivot to Asia.” Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained it all in an edifying discourse in the October 11, 2011 edition of Foreign Policy magazine.

In her essay entitled “America’s Pacific Century,” Clinton wrote: “In the next ten years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment—diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise—in the Asia Pacific region.” Bringing to memory the historic US commitment to Europe after World War II, Clinton declared: “At a time when the [Asia-Pacific] region is building a more mature security and economic architecture to promote stability and prosperity, [the] U.S. commitment there is essential. It will help build that architecture and pay dividends for continued American leadership well into this century, just as our post-World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting transatlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over—and continues to do so. The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power, a strategic course set by President Barack Obama from the outset of his administration and one that is already yielding benefits.” The administration’s plans were ambitious and admirable, but its hopes for a benign pivot to Asia were soon dashed. Europe once again faced a threat from Russia. There were numerous actions and reactions by Obama and Putin particularly concerning Europe. Relations deteriorated. Omnia iam fient quae posse negabam! (Everything which I used to say could not happen, will happen now!)

Candidates in the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, perhaps already considering how to deal with Putin and formulating policy approaches for Russia for their possible administrations, should get beyond us-them simplicities and avoid conceptualizing prospective relations solely on where they are at this moment in time. Rather, the course of the collapse of US-Russia relations and how to repair, and avoid, policy missteps witnessed over the past eight years should be anatomized. Part of that process would entail fully understanding those mistakes. Some of them are reviewed here. Further, it is important to genuinely understand the thinking of Putin and his advisers on Russia’s relations with the US. A truncated analysis, in the abstract, of such thinking inside the Kremlin is also presented here.

Igniting Putin: A New Russian Threat Excites Europe

From 1945 to 1989, US geo-strategists assessed that if a new world war were to occur, the battleground would be Europe. However, in the first term of the Obama administration, it was assessed that Europe had become more tranquil. There was a crisis in the eurozone, but Europe remained the most prosperous and peaceful parts of the world. The threat from China was the new focus of geo-strategists. That threat was ostensibly the underlying rationale for the pivot to Asia. In Europe, the announcement of the pivot to Asia was greeted with ambivalence, even alarm. The Europeans understood the renewed commitment to Asia would come at their expense. Obama administration officials tried to prove that was not the case at the time. However, with planned defense cuts of $500 billion over the next decade and the expressed intent to avoid reducing expenditures in Asia, Europe would be the only place to make cuts. The costs were conceivably higher given the possibility budgetary pressures would increase. Key defense commitments in Europe at the time included a missile defense system being developed with a possible nuclear Iran in mind. The administration had already announced that it intends to withdraw two of the four US Army brigades deployed to Europe—with overall military spending on Europe set to decline by 15 percent. Yet, US Army units stationed in Germany were considered in the context of rotations to the Middle East or Africa, not combat in Europe. There remained the potential threat of a breakdown in relations with Russia which would put Europe’s security at risk, but it was practically considered de minimus, negligible. The Obama administration considered the possibility that if Putin returned to Russia’s presidency, he would seek to exert pressure against the West where and when he felt it would pay dividends. It is unlikely the administration foresaw things would go so badly.

Obama was at ease with Medvedev. He went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. He seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. However, maintaining a constructive relationship with the Russian leader is not a personal matter; it is part of the business of being president. Both the US and Russia possess the unique and mutual capability to annihilate one another, and the world, with their nuclear arsenals. Talks between the leaders of the two countries build confidence, eliminate ambiguities about positions, and prevent guessing over actions, intentions, and motives. Talks allow leaders to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns they had within their own high-level relationship. A strong personal bond between leaders can develop, but it is not essential. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the low yield of the reset and the underestimation of Russia as a potential threat became apparent. Putin returned to the Kremlin on a mission to restore Russia’s global power and influence. He was not interested in anything that might diminish or prevent that effort. Perhaps as a consequence of that, old ills that were part of US-Russian relations began to resurface, and new ones arose with frequency. Among them were: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin fumed over Operation Unified Protector, during which multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi, who had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia, was killed. The world saw how poor the relationship between Obama and Putin was after observing their body language when they met in Northern Ireland on June 17, 2013.

Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and Sergei Ivanov (above). Ivanov is an anti-US ideologue. He believes the US has taken a foreign policy course aimed at holding on to US leadership in the world by means of the strategic containment of the growing influence of the Russian Federation and other centers of power.

How Relations with Putin Went Wrong Way

Perhaps the administration did not fully grasp just how poorly things were going with Putin. The Obama administration was confident enough to push agendas for nuclear arms reductions with Russia and EU and NATO expansion in Europe just as the administration of US President George W. Bush, his predecessor had. The administration referred to its effort to attain further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office as a “signature effort.” The reduction of nuclear forces and reductions in conventional forces have been issues US and Russian leaders have dealt with for decades, but Obama was not going to resolve any nuclear issues with Putin. Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are not a mere policy issue or bargaining chip for Putin, but a means of survival for Russia. Putin had no intentions of acceding to proposals for deep cuts in its nuclear arsenal repeatedly sent to Moscow by the administration. It was at this point in 2013 that relations with Putin and Russia truly began to collapse, falling to a very low point when the Obama administration cancelled a September summit meeting between Obama and Putin. The cancellation was in retaliation over Putin’s decision to reject the administration’s nuclear proposals. Administration officials lamented that Putin’s decision ended the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”

There were other very public affronts. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. A leader’s public declaration of his decision not to attend has practically been a tradition among US and Russian leaders during a period of disagreement in international affairs. In addition to the Olympics, Obama would later decide not to attend the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allies, ending World War II in Europe. The celebration, hosted by Putin, was a time to recall the legacy of cooperation established during the war and a real example of what US-Russian cooperation could be in a common cause. It offered a chance for Obama to privately address his dispute with Putin. It was the best time for him to say that as with the alliance between their countries in World War II, relations between their countries now were important, bigger than both of them. Attending would have required Obama, as Rudyard Kipling would say, to “bite the bullet,” in terms of personal pride, but not in terms of his role as US president. By being absent, that day became one more reminder of the two leaders differences and their uncongenial relationship. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.)

Between those years, the US and EU took Putin to task for his annexation of the Crimea. Harsh sanctions were levied and Russia was cast out of the Group of 8 industrialized democracies. Even tougher sanctions against Russian interests were threatened by the US if aggression against Ukraine escalated. Putin responded to it all with sanctions against US and EU products. In a March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Incursions of Russian bombers and fighters in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters were regularized. The only public bright spot in US-Russia relations was diplomacy between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, mainly on Syria and Iran. Still, that activity was more reflective of their countries’ roles on the UN Security Council, not the tenor of relations between Obama and Putin.

Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (above). In response to what Russian officials refer to as “NATO’s preparations along our borders,” Shoigu announced on January 12, 2016 that there would be a major military build-up along its border with Ukraine.

Putin’s Pushes Westward

The poor US relationship with Russia, just as much as the Ukraine crisis, affected Europe’s relationship with Russia concerning business, economics, and security. In the summer of 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on members of the EU Eastern Partnership, countries with association agreements with the EU. In 2012, the EU accounted for 52 percent of Russia’s exports, 68 percent of which consisted of fuel and energy. Following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the EU suspended virtually all cooperation. Still, Putin’s thinking on the EU was not positive even before the Ukraine crisis. Putin saw the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Certain Russian actions indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries joining it. Joint projects with European countries have allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. As much as making money, a goal of such efforts has been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, for example, has provided Putin with the means to disrupt, weaken European unity. A murmur exists in Europe that solidarity ends at the frontiers of some countries. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos fixa et mutari nescia. (Human nature even reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable)

Regarding NATO, in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted West German Parliamentarian Egon Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putin further stated: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. (Fortunate is he who understands the causes of things.)

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and Foreign Policy Adviser Yuri Ushakov (above). Ushakov, much as Ivanov, is not a fan of the US. He was present at former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s meeting with Putin. Kissinger seemed to confirm many of the worst notions Putin and his advisers held on US thinking.

In the years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, many European countries cut their defense spending, allowed their military preparedness to drop, and reduced the NATO footprint in their own territories and in countries east to occasional drills and small exercises with former Warsaw Pact members. They stood unprepared to confront Russia. Some allowed fear and resignation to infiltrate their perceptions of the matter. They sought to veil the fact that they were intimidated by Putin, and seemingly tried to mollify him, speaking skeptically about the clear threat Russia posed. Others seemed to fear signaling a military reaction to Putin. Yet, they signaled insecurity by appearing ambivalent about committing to the costly requirements of collective security despite: the “Crimea-grab”; the Russian push in the Donbass; a looming threat to the Baltic States; Moscow’s threats to use nuclear weapons; and, Russian military air and naval incursions from Britain to Estonia. (It would be unconstructive to name specific countries regarding this point.)

Putin did not stand by while the EU and NATO expanded. He decided to pull independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit. Accomplishing that required Putin to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually begins with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space is carved out of a country, Putin gains a base from which he can exert his influence in that country.

Secretary of the Russian Federation Security Council Nikolai Patrushev (above). Patrushev is Russia’s most senior intelligence official. He asserts that the US has always sought to have levers of pressure on Russia by making use of NATO on its own terms and using its political and economic pressure to prevent vacillations by allies and partners.

Inside the Kremlin: Putin’s Advisers Speak

Audiatur et altera pars! (Let us hear the opposite side!) In February 2016, a doyen of US foreign policy, archetypal Cold Warrior, and master architect of détente, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, visited Russia in order to speak at the Gorchakov Foundation. While in Moscow, he met at the Kremlin with Putin, the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and Sergei Ivanov and the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and Foreign Policy Adviser, Yuri Ushakov. Ivanov and Ushakov are anti-US ideologues. In his Gorchakov Foundation speech and his meeting at the Kremlin, Kissinger, albeit unintentionally, confirmed many of the worst notions Russian officials held on US thinking. Kissinger stated that “Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily a threat to the United States.” Noting that “divisive issues” existed, Kissinger suggested that rather than establish its own sphere of influence near its border, Russia should share influence in its’ periphery with the West to avoid raising alarms around it. For example, he asserted that “Ukraine needs to be embedded in the structure of European and international security architecture in such a way that it serves as a bridge between Russia and the West rather than an outpost of either side.” To Putin and his advisers, Kissinger’s ideas were hardly acceptable. Enough examples of Moscow’s behavior exist to challenge the suggestion that some sea change in thinking at the Kremlin could occur. Consider the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. In a March 6, 2014, article entitled, “Ukraine Crisis: Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy,” it was reported Obama told Putin in a phone call that there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine, and Russian forces returning to their bases. Yet, Putin would never entertain a solution that would “suit all parties.” What suits Russia in the near abroad was, and remains, Putin’s only concern.

When Kissinger went on to state that there must be a willingness “to move beyond the grievances and sense of victimization . . . ,” Putin and his advisers sat unruffled, but were surely irritated. They likely perceived Kissinger was being dismissive of their strong concerns over EU and NATO expansion eastward. His statement likely supported their perceptions that US officials have an instinctive need to assert moral authority over Russia.

Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev (above). Obama was put at ease when Medvedev was Russia’s president. Obama went as far as declaring a new era existed between the two former Cold War adversaries. Now Medvedev states: “NATO’s policies related to Russia remain unfriendly and opaque—one could go as far as to say we have slid back to a new Cold War.” Medvedev is not a friend of the US. He is Putin’s comrade.

During the final plenary session at the 12th Annual Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia on October 22, 2015, Putin mentioned the 1973 comedy, science-fiction film from the Soviet Union, “Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession.” Putin quoted one of the film’s characters as saying to another: “How am I supposed to understand what you’re saying if you don’t say anything?” Senior Russian political leaders and foreign and defense policy officials have recently made some unambiguous public statements about US, EU and Russian relations. Clearly, their statements were biased by the view that US holds an unyielding hostility toward Russia which is manifested in its policies and actions. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on February 13, 2016, Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, Putin’s political comrade, accused NATO of restarting the Cold War amid increased military maneuvers and troop deployments to Russia’s neighbors. Medvedev told the meeting of national leaders, senior defense officials, and top diplomats that sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and new moves by NATO “only aggravate tensions.” He argued: “NATO’s policies related to Russia remain unfriendly and opaque—one could go as far as to say we have slid back to a new Cold War.” He went on to state: “On an almost daily basis, we’re called one of the most terrible threats either to NATO as a whole, or Europe, or to the United States.” Medvedev called for lifting sanctions imposed on Russia concerning Crimea, saying they are “a road that leads nowhere.” He suggested the West would only harm itself if it did not lift the sanctions soon. He warned: “The longer the sanctions continue, the more chances fade for Europeans to keep their positions in Russian markets as investors and suppliers.”

In his meeting with Putin, Ivanov, and Ushakov, Kissinger stated that Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium concerning what he dubbed “divisive issues” such as Ukraine. He suggested Russia should share influence in its declared near abroad with the West. He also explained there must be a willingness to move beyond grievances and sense of victimization. Putin and his advisers sat unruffled, but were surely irritated by his statements.

In an interview with the official government newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta, the Secretary of the Russian Federation Security Council, one of Putin’s most important advisers and most senior intelligence official, Nikolai Patrushev, proffered: “. . . Washington has always sought to have levers of pressure on Russia. Thus, in 1974 the famous Jackson-Vanik Amendment was adopted, restricting trade relations with our country. It appeared to have completely lost its relevance immediately after the breakup of the USSR, but it was still in force right up to 2012, when the so-called “Magnitsky List” was promptly adopted in its place.” Referring to current US and EU sanctions against Russia, Patrushev explained: “The current sanctions are in the same category. The US administration’s activity in the Ukrainian sphere is taking place within the framework of an updated White House foreign policy course aimed at holding on to American leadership in the world by means of the strategic containment of the growing influence of the Russian Federation and other centers of power. In this context Washington is actively making use, on its own terms, of NATO’s potential, seeking to use political and economic pressure to prevent vacillations on the part of its allies and partners.”

In response to what Russian officials refer to as “NATO’s preparations along our borders,” on January 12, 2016, Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that there would be a major military build-up along its border with Ukraine. Shoigu reportedly stated: “the task of utmost importance for us this year is to form three new military divisions in the western direction.” Shoigu stressed that it was not only a necessity not just to form the bases but also to re-equip locations for permanent deployment, create appropriate training grounds, storage space for equipment and accommodations for personnel. Shoigu further explained that “special attention should be paid to monitoring and analysis of the military-political situation in the world, as well as timely responses to its changes.” One base is being constructed in the town of Boguchar in the Voronezh region, located 45 kilometers from the border of Ukraine’s Luhansk province, now the self-declared, independent Luhansk People’s Republic. The base would accommodate at least 5,000 troops and would be able to house 1,300 pieces of military equipment. A similar base will be constructed near the settlement of Valuiki in the Belgorod region, approximately 20 kilometers from Luhansk.

For the Obama administration, the end is closer than the beginning. Only so much can be done in the amount of time left to halt the trend downward, much less, turn things around with Putin or its Russia policy. The challenge of improving US-Russia relations will likely be left to the next US President. O si sic omnia. (Oh, would that all had been done or said thus.)

The Way Forward

A little more than four years after Clinton provided her 2011 discourse on the pivot to Asia, General Breedlove essentially assessed the path had not been paved for Europe to go without a US presence, US leadership, and significant US support. In the US European Command Posture Statement 2016 presented on February 25, 2016, Breedlove explained: “I cannot emphasize how important European nations, in particular our NATO Allies and Non-NATO Partners, are to ensuring America’s security and safety. Many of our most capable and willing allies and partners are in Europe, playing an essential role in promoting our vital interests and executing a full range of military missions . . . Europe is not the same continent it was when I took command, as new threats and challenges continue to emerge.” The grand notion of pivoting away from Europe to focus more on Asia withered once the clashes between Putin and Obama began. Some may parse out the collision of Obama and Putin as representing the natural balance of things as their worldviews are so divergent. Even if true, some syncretistic existence should have been established for the benefit of their countries and their people. Authentic geopolitical thinking was subsumed by a satisfying substitute for reality concerning long-term US-Russia relations. Indeed, decisions in the Obama administration on Putin and Russia were based on relations with Medvedev early-on and what was best for Obama’s legacy. That got the administration into trouble with Putin from the get-go. Relations languished in misunderstanding.

Discord obtains when things get mixed up. One might speculate, with levity, that Russia experts at the State Department, the Defense Department, and CIA, who understood Putin, were seemingly exiled to isolated garrets on the top floors of their headquarters buildings by the administration to keep their impressions out of the way. Hopefully, there is not an irreversible trend downward for US-Russia relations. Yet, the end is closer than the beginning for the Obama administration. Only so much can be done with time available to halt the slide, much less, turn things around. Improving US-Russia relations will be a challenge left for the next US administration. Kissinger suggested Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium. However, creating that global equilibrium will be tough as Russia will likely remain intransigent over its interests in what Putin calls the near abroad. Some recognition of Russia’s positions would be required to improve relations (although creating an arrangement in Europe that would satisfy Russia may not be possible at this point). Resetting relations would also require a new administration to recognize the limits of US power projection. How much the US will be able to handle in its sphere of influence in the future must be determined through a hard-headed assessment of possibilities based on capabilities both available and in development.

A Look at Stephen Marrin’s “Improving Intelligence Studies as an Academic Discipline” and Remembering a Professor and Friend, Roger Hilsman

Stephen Marrin says literature in intelligence studies must be compiled and evaluated in a structured way for it to become aggregated and made cumulative as the literature of other academic disciplines. Intelligence studies writers today often overlook past practitioners’ works. Marrin says contributions by Roger Hilsman (above) are among those overlooked. Hilsman was this author’s professor, faculty advisor, and friend during undergraduate and graduate study. Due to the fact it is edifying and thought provoking, and due to sentiment over a generous professor, has presented Marrin’s article to its readers.

In February 2016, Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group, provided free online access to an article from Intelligence and National Security entitled “Improving Intelligence Studies as an Academic Discipline.” The article, by Stephen Marrin, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst and General Accounting Office analyst and current associate professor at James Madison University, considers whether the body of intelligence studies scholarship is sufficient as a basis for the development of intelligence studies as an academic discipline. In the article, Marrin notes that in the 1950s, there was concern that the lack of literature on the intelligence profession. Ensuring that knowledge about the intelligence business would be captured and made accessible to others was uncertain. He says that paucity has been resolved as both government and academia have been contributing literature to advance knowledge in the field. However, he argues intelligence studies literature has not been compiled, evaluated, and aggregated in a structured process yet. Marrin illustrates this by reviewing the discourse on the view of Sherman Kent, the renowned Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and CIA intelligence analyst, that the “integrity” or independence of the analytic function had to be retained outside the direct line authority of the decision maker. For the counterargument, researchers often turn to Kent’s contemporary, Willmoore Kendall, who suggested that if this were done the contribution from intelligence analysts would be marginalized in the decision making process.

Marrin is convinced that Roger Hilsman’s 1952 writings are as good as or better than Kendall’s in challenging some of Kent’s ideas. Nevertheless, he says Hilsman’s work is usually overlooked. Marrin further discusses Hilsman’s strong case for a closer relationship between intelligence analysis and decision making. Hilsman argued, “a more effective integration of knowledge and action”—or intelligence analysis and decision making—will require intelligence analysts to become more policy-oriented. Hilsman also argued that in order for intelligence to be “useful and significant,” it “should be frankly and consciously concerned with policy” and that its practitioners should have “a frame of mind which is … instrumental, action-conscious, policy-oriented. The major task before the researchers is one of recasting their thought to the context of action, and adapting their tools to the needs of policy.” Marrin believes the rediscovery of Hilsman’s work and those of others will result in a much more substantive debate about the respective roles and functions of intelligence analysis vis-à-vis decision maker assessment. Marrin later proffers that intelligence studies should emulate the key practices that enable any field of knowledge to become cumulative and in doing so become its own coherent academic discipline. In reviewing the need to evaluate intelligence studies for gaps or holes as a step to become more cumulative, Marrin discusses Hilsman’s evaluation of “the academic observers” in Strategic Intelligence and National Decisions (The Free Press, 1956)). Marrin’s article is edifying, thought provoking, and another valuable contribution by him to the body of intelligence studies scholarship.

What is most interesting to this author is Marrin’s reference to Roger Hilsman’s work. Hilsman was this author’s professor, independent study advisor, faculty advisor, and friend during undergraduate study at Columbia College, Columbia University, and mentor during graduate study at Columbia. Hilsman was a phenomenal educator. Discussions on policymaking and analysis that he had with students during seminars held at his residence were marked not only by the inspiration and encouragement he would give to students in their research and career plans, but also by a frankness and realism that would give them a leg up in future endeavors. The reminiscences Hilsman would share directly with this author during office hours were from those periods of his life that are perhaps the most intriguing in his biography. That included: studying at West Point; service in Merrill’s Marauder’s and command of an OSS guerilla warfare battalion both in Burma in World War II; work as a military planner for NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe; service in the administration of US President John Kennedy as Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for the US Department of State; and, service as Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in the administration of US President Lyndon Johnson. During lectures, he would always provide a riveting anecdote from his experiences during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to accompany his “pearls of wisdom”. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of what he proffered on intelligence analysis and “the politics of policymaking” was the need not only to gather and analyze intelligence to understand key actors among ones’ opponents and to formulate policy, but to understand the relevant actors in the US policymaking process to understand how to promote, formulate, and implement viable policy approaches. Due greatly to the insights and lessons, and due in part to nostalgia and sentiment for a generous professor, has decided, with permission from Taylor & Francis Online, to present Marrin’s article to its readers. Quod enim munus rei publicae ad ferre maius mellusve possumus, quam si docemus atque erudimus luventutem? (What greater or better gift (or performance of duty) can we bring to the state than if we teach and instruct youth?)

Stephen Marrin, “Improving Intelligence Studies as an Academic Discipline,” Intelligence and National Security 31, no. 2 (February 2016): 266-279.


As the field of intelligence studies develops as an academic complement to the practice of national security intelligence, it is providing a base of knowledge for intelligence practitioners to interpret their past, understand their present, and forecast their future. It also provides the basis for broader understanding of intelligence as a function of government for other government and security officials, academicians, and the general public. In recent years there has been significant growth in the numbers and kinds of intelligence-related educational and training opportunities, with the knowledge taught in these courses and programs derived from the body of intelligence studies scholarship. The question posed here is: to what extent is this body of knowledge sufficient as a basis for the development of intelligence studies as an academic discipline?

Intelligence studies is an academic complement to the practice of national security intelligence; the contribution that higher education makes to interpreting its past, understanding its present, and forecasting its future. It forms a body of knowledge that is academic—frequently embedded within broader studies of government and foreign policy—yet also useful for the intelligence professional. As the literature grows and entire academic degree programs, departments, and even colleges are dedicated to the study and teaching of intelligence, it is becoming more established as an academic discipline.1 At the same time, there are significant gaps in the literature due to a generalized failure to ensure knowledge accumulation and aggregation over time. Improving intelligence studies as an academic discipline will require reinforcing best practices that exist in academia by identifying, acquiring, storing, creating, and disseminating new knowledge.2 More effective implementation of these practices will strengthen the coherence of intelligence studies as an academic discipline while at the same time increasing its impact on broader scholarship, public understanding, and government practice.

Intelligence Studies Literature: Large and Growing

The intelligence studies literature is quite large, and growing. This was not always true, however. In 1955, Sherman Kent observed that the intelligence profession lacked a literature and as a result was unable to ensure that knowledge about the intelligence business was captured and made accessible to others.3 To address this inadequacy, Kent strongly argued for the self-conscious development of a professional literature. Soon after, in 1957 Washington Platt observed that: “the literature dealing specifically with the principles of strategic intelligence is scant, and does not reflect even the best of what is now known.”4 Platt attributed this to “the newness of the systematic pursuit of strategic intelligence, and in part to the lack of graduate courses and graduate students” as well as the general paucity of researchers on the subject.

Many of the problems of the 1950s and the early years of intelligence studies have been fixed as both government and academia have contributed to knowledge advancement in the field. The US government has traditionally participated in this process through CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, and National Intelligence University’s Center for Strategic Intelligence Research.5  Other governments such as Britain, Romania, Turkey, and Spain have also begun to support intelligence studies research, especially through intelligence studies associations. At the same time, academia has contributed to intelligence studies through the development of a cadre of intelligence studies specialists primarily in political science and history departments. They tend to come together in conferences organized by various academic and professional associations where a good part of the intelligence studies scholarship is developed and presented. Foremost among these are the Intelligence Studies Section portion of the annual International Studies Association conference, the British Study Group on Intelligence and Security and Intelligence Study Group, the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies, and the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers, though many others also support intelligence studies research and scholarship.

Once it has been developed, new contributions to the intelligence studies literature are then published in a handful of dedicated journals including the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security, the more policy-oriented International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, and the widely-referenced CIA journal Studies in Intelligence, in addition to more specialized journals generally produced by various intelligence-related organizations and associations.6 While most of the intelligence studies literature exists in the form of journal articles, book publishers have also gotten involved, with Routledge’s Studies in Intelligence book series focusing on the research market, Rowman and Littlefield’s Professional Intelligence Education Series focusing on the practitioner market, and Georgetown University Press and CQ Press focusing on the academic market. The growing literature makes up the body of knowledge in the field. The accumulation of the literature has become so notable that in 2009 the Chronicle of Higher Education published a profile of intelligence studies as a growing academic discipline.7

When one surveys the extensive intelligence studies literature in all its variety, the literature can appear to be quite large indeed. Scholars who have evaluated the intelligence studies literature have focused on general overviews or the state of the literature in specific countries.8 Some of these evaluations have even focused on the importance of learning from history, both for its own sake as well as for improving practice in the future.9 This is, essentially, the contribution that scholarship can make to practitioner-oriented efforts to learn from past experience in various history and lessons learned centers which are dedicated to avoid the Santayana admonition that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”10

At the same time, there are some significant problems with the intelligence studies literature which is impeding the field from developing as a coherent academic discipline. In general the intelligence literature is rich in history but both insular and theoretically thin perhaps because of a generalized failure to ensure knowledge accumulation and aggregation over time.

Failing to be Cumulative

The primary problem with the intelligence studies literature specifically is that it is anything but cumulative regarding its own intellectual history. Intelligence studies as a field of knowledge has books and journals to document “lessons identified” but it does not have a structured process for compiling and evaluating the literature so that it is aggregated and made cumulative.

Referencing prior work on the same or similar subjects, a technique used to layer new knowledge on top of old as a way to ensure knowledge is cumulative, is infrequently done by intelligence studies’ authors. Even those who should cite relevant contributions from the three core journals in the field frequently fail to do so. The end result is the repetition of ideas and knowledge rather than the creation of new knowledge. To mix a couple of metaphors, instead of standing on the shoulders of giants and creating an academic discipline, intelligence scholars seem to be re-inventing the conceptual wheel every 15 years or so without really making advances in terms of disciplinary knowledge. While this kind of conceptual repetition occurs in other academic fields as well, frequently characterized by the phrase “old wine in new bottles”, it is especially noticeable in the intelligence studies domain.

Failing to Learn from Sherman Kent

This is not to imply that past knowledge has been forgotten completely. For example, over the past 25 years Sherman Kent has been established as one of the giants in the field partly due to the efforts of Jack Davis, who has raised Sherman Kent’s profile significantly through his writings.11 This higher profile helps in the knowledge aggregation process because it provides a touchstone in the literature that later scholars and practitioners can refer back to. They can then use it as a jumping off point to make additional observations and contributions to the body of knowledge. But even then, sometimes key ideas fail to be picked up by modern scholars.

As an example, Sherman Kent’s 1949 distinction between intelligence and strategic intelligence is not widely referenced in the literature.12 As Kent put it: “Intelligence is a simple and self-evident thing. As an activity it is the pursuit of a certain kind of knowledge. In a small way it is what we all do every day . . . But no matter whether done instinctively or with skillful conscious mental effort intelligence work is in essence nothing more than the search for the single best answer.”13 Kent then goes on to distinguish this definition of “intelligence” from “strategic intelligence” which he says is “knowledge vital for national survival” and what he considers to be unique problems related to this effort.

Yet modern efforts to define intelligence do not include Kent’s 1949 distinction between intelligence and strategic intelligence. In fact, there is as of yet no consensus on the definition or purpose of intelligence. Perhaps a consensus is not required; other fields do not have unanimity on core concepts either. But the development of schools of thought around different kinds of definitions would provide taxonomies of concepts that could be used to evaluate each definition against the others, and greater understanding of the variation in perspectives embedded within this discussion of definitions.

This failure to be cumulative in terms of the definition of intelligence has also limited the development of theories of intelligence. The disagreements over definitions frequently reflect different assumptions about what the purpose of intelligence is. Definitions can be conceived of as static representations of the underlying vision of purpose, and articulating the variety of visions of purpose may be more important than achieving consensus on definitions. So rather than argue over which words to use in a definition, it would be more effective for knowledge development purposes to address what the different purposes of intelligence are, create schools of thought around them, and then foster structured debates between the respective schools of thought. Knowledge manifestly increases when the formal articulation of conflicting perspectives leads to intellectual debate as the proponents of one school of thought take on the proponents of another in a collegial debate. The development of an academic discipline is at least partially contingent on its ability to create productive debates between different schools of thought, and then grow knowledge cumulatively as the debate continues. While there has been recent progress on developing different kinds of intelligence theory, intelligence studies has not yet effectively created schools of thought or fostered these structured debates.14

Forgetting Roger Hilsman

Even when key ideas from early writers such as Kent are identified and retained in working scholars’ memories, sometimes key contemporaries are forgotten. For example, Kent argued for retaining the “integrity” or independence of the analytic function outside the direct line authority of the decisionmaker.15 The end result would be independent, objective intelligence analysis for national security decisionmakers. This concept of an independent analytic corps was subsequently challenged by Kent’s contemporary, Willmoore Kendall, who suggested that if this were done the contribution from intelligence analysts would be marginalized in the decisionmaking process.16 Instead, Kendall preferred to see a closer relationship between intelligence and decisionmaking in which “the intelligence function (helps) the policymakers ‘influence’ the course of events by helping them understand the operative factors on which the US can have an impact.”17 When scholars reference the purpose of intelligence and the relationship between intelligence and policy, they now cite Kent followed almost immediately by Kendall as a way to identify two early schools of thought on the subject.

But Roger Hilsman’s mostly-forgotten 1952 writings are as good as or better than Kendall’s as a challenge to some of Kent’s ideas. Hilsman made a strong case for a closer relationship between intelligence analysis and decisionmaking, arguing that “a more effective integration of knowledge and action”—or intelligence analysis and decisionmaking—will require intelligence analysts to become more policy-oriented.18 Hilsman directly questioned Kent’s conception of a separation of intelligence from decisionmaking by asking “whether this division of labor is a wise or even a valid one”19 and he ended up concluding that it was “both arbitrary and awkward.” Hilsman goes on to say that in order for intelligence to be “useful and significant” it “should be frankly and consciously concerned with policy” and that its practitioners should have “a frame of mind which is . . . instrumental, action-conscious, policy-oriented. The major task before the researchers is one of recasting their thought to the context of action, and adapting their tools to the needs of policy.”20

In other words, Hilsman disagreed with Kent, and believed that intelligence analysts should work in close cooperation with decisionmakers. Intelligence studies scholars know what Kent said about the intersection between intelligence analysis and decisionmaking and they also know about Kendall’s challenge, but they seem to have forgotten Hilsman even though his ideas have as much relevance as anything else written about the subject over the past 60 years.

The potential value of rediscovering Hilsman is a much more substantive debate than that which currently exists about the respective roles and functions of intelligence analysis vis-à-vis decisionmaker assessment. As an example, at one point a solution had been found which approximates Hilsman’s working relationship of knowledge and action. It was known as the National Security Studies Memorandum (NSSM) in the Nixon and Ford Administrations and the Presidential Review Memorandum (PRM) in the Carter Administration, and received a fair amount of praise for being an effective way to bridge intelligence and policy.21

Unfortunately, the PRM/NSSM product line was disbanded in 1980 and appears to have been completely forgotten by both academia and government.22 With a couple of exceptions, it has not been referenced in the literature for almost 30 years, and current long-serving members of the national security community are not aware that it used to exist. Yet some have begun to recommend and implement various mechanisms for doing exactly what the PRMs and NSSMs were built to do. For example, former Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg called for the National Security Council to play a more direct role in facilitating a better working relationship between intelligence producers and consumers.23 In addition, senior intelligence professionals Josh Kerbel and Anthony Olcott recommended a much closer relationship between intelligence and policy.24 If implemented, these suggestions would essentially recreate the old PRM/NSSM product decades later. But this reinvention of the wheel was not necessary. Instead, all that was needed was better utilization of the ideas that were already in the intelligence studies literature.

Ignoring Platt, Knorr, and Hughes

Another example of forgotten intelligence studies scholarship is Washington Platt’s 1957 book Strategic Intelligence Production: Basic Principles. The titles of Platt’s chapters speak to the very interests of intelligence scholars and practitioners today: Principles of Intelligence Production; From Information to Intelligence; Intelligence Production: An Act of Creative Thinking; Help From the Social Sciences; Probability and Certainty; Forecasting; Characteristics of the Intelligence Profession. All of these chapters could make contributions to the ongoing discussions regarding analytic process, utility of the social sciences, increasing imagination, futures work and forecasting, and professionalization. But Platt’s work has also been forgotten, even though it contains some important ideas that current scholars and practitioners would find quite interesting.

Finally, other forgotten scholarship includes some of the best work on intelligence analysis as a social science and the relationship between intelligence producers and consumers. Klaus Knorr’s 1964 monograph “Foreign Intelligence and the Social Sciences” contains the best evaluation of how analysts use social science methodology in the entire intelligence literature, yet is rarely cited or referenced in most work on intelligence analysis.25 In addition, Thomas Hughes wrote a short monograph in 1976 on the relationship between intelligence and policy that is one of the best treatments of the subject, but there are very few references to it in the literature.26

In their treatment of these subjects, current scholars are ignoring insights from prior works and are instead rebuilding the wheels that were built decades ago. It is necessary to know who the giants are in order to stand on their shoulders and right now it does not appear that the intelligence studies field as a whole possesses sufficient understanding of who those giants are or what can be learned from them.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Some scholars conduct more thorough literature reviews than others, and there have also been efforts to remind current scholars and practitioners of those who blazed the trails before them. For example, intelligence studies literature reviews began as early as Hilsman’s evaluation of “the academic observers” in his 1956 book chapter reviewing the works of George Pettee, Sherman Kent, and Willmoore Kendall.27 A set of reviews organized by Roy Godson in the 1980s also provided a review of what had been published up to that point.28 But then these reviews are forgotten, and have to be rewritten for a new generation.

A recent example of this is Anthony Olcott’s evaluation of the writings of Sherman Kent, Willmoore Kendall, and George Pettee that compares and contrasts their differing perspectives and approaches to strategic intelligence analysis.29 This is a valuable contribution to the literature because it reminds other scholars of these authors’ writings. It also reminds them that to understand where the literature is today it is necessary to go back and understand the perspectives of those who helped build it into what it is today. Unfortunately, Olcott’s contribution does not reference Hilsman’s 1956 book chapter which evaluated the very same authors that Olcott did with the very same goal in mind: to evaluate these early writings in order to compare and contrast their different perspectives and approaches to intelligence analysis. This is not intended as a criticism of the author, because most every scholarly contribution fails to address some significant prior work. Instead, it is being flagged here because it is symptomatic of a broader problem in the intelligence studies literature related to the limitation of knowledge accumulation in the field.

Academicians and scholars document, store, and disseminate existing knowledge as well as grow new knowledge. So why have scholars failed to learn from their own history? Because there has not been sufficient emphasis placed on the infrastructure which facilitates knowledge production in the field. In the field of security studies, for example, Stephen Walt has recommended that scholars focus on the relationship between academia and practice in ensuring healthy evolution of knowledge over time.30 He also identifies research support as well as prevailing norms and ethos of the security studies community as mechanisms where improvements can be made to knowledge production in the field. Unfortunately, the kind of emphasis that Walt put on the knowledge infrastructure in the security studies field does not have an equivalent in intelligence studies. But this lack of emphasis in the past presents us with an opportunity to build that infrastructure with an eye to the future.

Developing Intelligence Studies as an Academic Discipline

To become more cumulative, intelligence studies should emulate the key practices that enable any field of knowledge to become cumulative and in doing so become its own coherent academic discipline. This involves establishing formalized processes for creating, documenting, storing, and disseminating knowledge in such a way as to ensure that future generations of scholars and practitioners can benefit from it.31 The steps involve: (1) documenting what is known; (2) evaluating it for gaps or holes; (3) working to fill those gaps in knowledge; (4) distributing this knowledge to those who need or want it; and (5) institutionalizing these efforts.

In most academic disciplines, scholars articulate important ideas which are then evaluated and critiqued by others in the field. This leads to the development of competing schools of thought, with individuals representing those schools. But even if the idea is debunked, that discussion remains in the literature for later generations of scholars to learn from. So there also needs to be a tradition of critiquing previous interpretations, and building secondary and tertiary arguments off of the arguments of the main proponents of each school. It is from this process of evaluation and critique that the giants in the field are identified and their insights transferred to new scholars, leading to longer and deeper intellectual histories. To support this, there also needs to be a heavy emphasis on citation and footnotes in order to link current ideas back to the ongoing scholarly debates. More effective implementation of these academic best practices will strengthen the coherence of intelligence studies as an academic discipline while at the same time increasing its impact on broader scholarship, public understanding, and government practice.

The first step in improving the body of knowledge is to document what is known. This has to be a dynamic rather than static process; perhaps an annualized bibliographic book series. This is labor intensive and probably not something that most scholars would choose to do on their own. The closest working approximation to what is required is the online Muskingum College intelligence bibliography compiled by J. Ransom Clark, which is a tremendously valuable resource for both intelligence studies scholars as well as students of intelligence.32

Other efforts are either limited to specific subject matter topics, or have not been updated recently.33 To continue developing this kind of working bibliography, governments and professional associations interested in ensuring that intelligence studies remains an active academic discipline may have to collaborate on this kind of project.

The second step in improving the body of knowledge is to evaluate what is known; the literature that has already been developed. This would involve a variety of literature reviews oriented towards identifying the research questions that have been explored sufficiently, others that still require some work, and yet still others that have not yet been answered. The Intelligence Studies Section (ISS) at ISA has implemented something like this as its contribution to the International Studies Encyclopedia.34 ISS broke the intelligence studies literature down into 20 different topics, and lined up authors to write literature reviews on each of those topics. These topics include those of interest to practitioners, such as analytic methods, organizational structures and processes, training and education, and so forth. In published form, the end result provides current and future scholars and practitioners with a starting point for understanding the current state of that segment of the literature.

This kind of evaluative literature review is also being done through the Guide to the Study of Intelligence being developed by the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). The purpose is to provide high school, college, and university instructors with “a literature review of significant works useful for educators” in order to help them with course development.35

The subject matter is wide ranging, and covers many specialized topics within the intelligence studies literature. Additional efforts like it and the one by ISA’s Intelligence Studies Section would improve the intelligence literature by ensuring that both scholars and practitioners were able to evaluate the existing state of knowledge in order to know where the gaps in knowledge are.

The third step in the process is to begin filling in the gaps in the literature identified in the evaluations. There are a variety of ways to do this, including by developing a dedicated (and funded) research agenda akin to the Army War College’s Key Strategic Issues List to back-fill gaps in knowledge. Another way to fill in gaps in knowledge is through themed conferences and symposia. Alternatively, open calls for papers for paper-based conferences on various intelligence-related themes could lead to some interesting new contributions to the literature. A model for this kind of activity could be the 2005 International Conference on Intelligence Analysis that Mitre coordinated on behalf of Mark Lowenthal, the then-Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for analysis and production. This conference was modeled on an academic conference, with a paper requirement and proposals open to the public. It also led to the presentation of papers which have since made their own contributions to on-going discussions in the scholarship.

Funding and content for these conferences could come from consortia made up of experts from government, academia, professional associations, and private industry; together they should have the infrastructure, contacts, and knowledge necessary to successfully implement this kind of venture. Associations could provide a focal point for acquiring and coordinating the kinds of knowledge that would be helpful in terms of outreach to the academic community. For example, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has partnered with the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) on events related to analytic transformation, but other associations such as ISA’s Intelligence Studies Section or the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE) would both be good partners for those wanting to engage academia. The broad point is to find appropriate collaborative partners for these sorts of knowledge-building initiatives.

The fourth step in the process would be to disseminate the new knowledge to those who can use it, including current and future intelligence scholars and practitioners. That could involve better communications between those who research and write about intelligence and those who teach it, so that a feedback loop is established to maximize learning. The students could be those in academia in intelligence studies or intelligence school programs, or those in governmental training courses. The Harvard University Intelligence and Policy Program also provides a potential model for those who want to establish a form of continuing education in the field devoted not to practitioner proficiency per se, but rather broader understandings of purpose and how best to manage the enterprise.36

Finally, the last step in the process would be to institutionalize these efforts. One kind of institutionalization would be through academic Intelligence Studies centers; academic equivalents to CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence or NIU’s Center for Strategic Intelligence Research.37 Such programs can centralize knowledge about the theory and practice of intelligence as a profession, and can provide this knowledge to government, other parts of academia, the news media, and segments of society in a more structured way than has been done in the past. The knowledge resident in these departments in the form of faculty, staffs, libraries, and the other infrastructure can provide the optimal educational environment for those who want to learn more about intelligence studies.

Another way to institutionalize these efforts would be to encourage Ph.D. students to specialize in intelligence studies. Intelligence studies has not developed a cumulative tradition of scholarship partly because there are relatively few intelligence studies Ph.D.s. This means that there are not many scholars who look at the body of knowledge in a longitudinal sense; how it has grown and changed over time. The Ph.D. is not a static representation of knowledge and it cannot be evaluated based on that criterion. Instead, one must evaluate the Ph.D. based on the ability of the bearer to create new knowledge. In this case, that means relevant contributions to our understanding of intelligence. To make that contribution to knowledge, the Ph.D. student first has to survey and evaluate the current state of existing knowledge before deciding precisely how to contribute to new knowledge.

More Ph.D. students studying more intelligence-related subjects will enable the literature to become more cumulative than it ever has been, identify where cumulative progression of knowledge has stalled, and contribute to the institutionalization of footnoting and other practices that would be indicative of greater scholarly rigor. The most effective way to encourage more doctoral students is to provide them with funding. This funding could come in the form of fellowships which bring junior scholars into academic institutions where they would add to the creativity and learning of that institution by managing different projects or developing new courses. This kind of fellowship could be funded by governments in the same way that they fund other kinds of Ph.D.s, the private sector which would benefit from the knowledge created, or professional intelligence associations in their efforts to support related educational activities.

Finally, a push to make the intelligence studies literature more cumulative would also be to make it more professional, more structured, and more disciplined which will increase its impact on broader literatures as well as among intelligence professionals. Currently intelligence studies as a field of knowledge is subordinate to other more traditional academic disciplines including political science, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and communications disciplines. Unfortunately, while the intelligence studies literature itself is extensive, many mainstream scholars do not sufficiently incorporate its knowledge and insight into their work.38

As a result, both conventional academic scholars and by extension the general public do not incorporate the extensive nuance reflected in the intelligence studies literature and instead frequently rely on broad brush generalizations and mischaracterizations. Improving the coherence and rigor of intelligence studies as an academic discipline will highlight the breadth and depth of the literature to those who were previously unaware of it.

Intelligence studies as an academic discipline was in its formative stages for about 20 years, from the mid-1980s through to the early 2000s. It then entered a form of adolescence resulting from the flow of interest and money in its direction after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Through the 2000s the literature has grown in terms of sophistication and abstraction, with much additional emphasis on key intelligence concepts and theories. As the field continues to mature, improving intelligence studies as an academic discipline will require a return to scholarly fundamentals and best practices in order to create a cumulative, comprehensive, and influential body of disciplinary knowledge for future scholars and practitioners to learn from and contribute to.


1 For a recent discussion of intelligence studies as an academic discipline, see Loch Johnson and Allison Shelton, “Thoughts on the State of Intelligence Studies: A Survey Report”, Intelligence and National Security 28/1 (2013) pp.109–20.

2 These recommendations are derived in part from remarks given at the Conference on Learning the Lessons of All-Source Intelligence Analysis sponsored by State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Intelligence Community Lessons Learned Center, Washington, DC, July 2008.

3 Sherman Kent, “The Need for an Intelligence Literature”, Studies in Intelligence Spring (1955) pp.1–11.

4 Washington Platt, Strategic Intelligence Production: Basic Principles (USA: Praeger 1957) pp.133–4.

5 Russell G. Swenson, “Meeting the Intelligence Community’s Continuing Need for an Intelligence Literature”, Defense Intelligence Journal 11/2 (2002) pp.87–96.

6 For more on the value of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence for conventional scholars and practitioners, see Jason Vest, “Artificial Intelligence”, Foreign Policy, 4 January 2006.

7 Peter Monaghan, “Intelligence Studies”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 March 2009.

8 Loch K. Johnson, “An Introduction to the Intelligence Studies Literature” in Loch Johnson (ed.) Strategic Intelligence (Westport, CT: Praeger 2007) pp.1–20; Kenneth G. Robertson, “The Study of Intelligence in the United States” in Roy Godson (ed.) Comparing Foreign Intelligence: The US, USSR, UK and the Third World (Washington, DC: Pergamon-Brassey’s 1988) pp.7–42; Geoffrey R. Weller, “Assessing Canadian Intelligence Literature: 1980–2000”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 14/1 (2001) pp.49–61; Len Scott, “Sources and Methods in the Study of Intelligence: A British View” in Loch Johnson (ed.) Strategic Intelligence (Westport, CT: Praeger 2007) pp.87–108; Eric Denécé and Gérald Arboit, “Intelligence Studies in France”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 23/4 (2010–11) pp.725–47; Gustavo Díaz Matey, “The Development of Intelligence Studies in Spain”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 23/4 (2010–11) pp.748–65.

9 Christopher Andrew, “Intelligence Analysis Needs to Look Backwards Before Looking Forward”, paper given at the New Frontiers of Intelligence Analysis Conference, “Shared Threats, Diverse Perspectives, New Communities”, 31 March–2 April 2004. Stephen Marrin, “Preventing Intelligence Failures By Learning From the Past”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 17/4 (2004) pp.655–72; John Hedley, “Learning from Intelligence Failures”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 18/3 (2005) pp.435–50; Len Scott and R. Gerald Hughes, “Intelligence, Crises and Security: Lessons from History?”, Intelligence and National Security 21/5 (2006) pp.653–74.

10 George Santayana, The Life of Reason (NY: Scribner’s 1905–6).

11 Jack Davis, “The Kent-Kendall Debate of 1949”, Studies in Intelligence 36/5 (1992) pp.91–103; Jack Davis, “Sherman Kent and the Profession of Intelligence Analysis”, Occasional Papers 1, no. 5, Washington, DC, Central Intelligence Agency, The Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis, November 2002; Jack Davis, “Sherman Kent’s Final Thoughts on Analyst-Policymaker Relations”, Occasional Papers 2, no. 3, Washington, DC, Central Intelligence Agency, The Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis, June 2003.

12 Thomas F. Troy, “The ‘Correct’ Definition of Intelligence”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 5/4 (1991–2) pp.433–54; Martin T. Bimfort, “A Definition of Intelligence”, Studies in Intelligence 2/4 (1958); Michael Warner, “Wanted: A Definition of Intelligence”, Studies in Intelligence 46 (2002) pp.15–22; Kristan Wheaton and Michael Beerbower, “Towards a New Definition of Intelligence”, Stanford Law and Policy Review 17 (2006) pp.319–30; Alan Breakspear, “A New Definition of Intelligence”, Intelligence and National Security 28/5 (2013) pp.678–93.

13 Sherman Kent, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1951) p.vii.

14 For recent progress on intelligence theory, see Gregory F. Treverton, Seth G. Jones, Steven Boraz and Phillip Lipscy, Conference Proceedings: Toward a Theory of Intelligence Workshop Report (Arlington, VA: RAND National Security Research Division 2006); Peter Gill, Stephen Marrin and Mark Phythian (eds.), Intelligence Theory: Key Questions and Debates (London: Routledge 2008); Stephen Marrin, “Intelligence Analysis Theory: Explaining and Predicting Analytic Responsibilities”, Intelligence and National Security 22/6 (2007) pp.821–46.

15 See “The Problem of Objectivity and Integrity” in Kent, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy, pp.195–201.

16 Willmoore Kendall, “The Function of Intelligence”, World Politics 1/4 (1949) pp.542–52, p.550.

17 Davis, “The Kent-Kendall Debate of 1949” p.95.

18 Roger Hilsman Jr., “Intelligence and Policy-Making in Foreign Affairs”, World Politics 5/1 (1952) pp.1–45, p.45.

19 Ibid., p.25.

20 Ibid., p.44.

21 Arthur S. Hulnick and Deborah Brammer, “The Impact of Intelligence on the Policy Review and Decision Process”, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, DC, January 1980.

22 Stephen Marrin and Philip H.J. Davies, “National Assessment by the National Security Council Staff 1968–80: American Experiment in a British Style of Analysis”, Intelligence & National Security 24/5 (2009) pp.644–73.

23 James B. Steinberg, “The Policymaker’s Perspective: Transparency and Partnership” in Roger George and James Bruce (eds.) Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press 2008) pp.82–90.

24 Josh Kerbel and Anthony Olcott, “The Intelligence-Policy Nexus: Synthesizing with Clients, Not Analyzing for Customers”, Studies in Intelligence 54/4 (2010) pp.1–13.

25 Klaus E. Knorr, “Foreign Intelligence and the Social Sciences”, Research Monograph No. 17, Center of International Studies, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, June 1964.

26 Thomas L. Hughes, The Fate of Facts in a World of Men, Headline Series No. 233 (NY: Foreign Policy Association 1976).

27 Roger Hilsman, Strategic Intelligence and National Decisions (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press 1956) pp.123–37.

28 Godson, The New Study of Intelligence, pp.1–6; Robertson, “The Study of Intelligence in the United States”, pp.7–42; Christopher Andrew, “Historical Research on the British Intelligence Community”, in Roy Godson (ed.) Comparing Foreign Intelligence: The US, USSR, UK and the Third World (Washington, DC: Pergamon-Brassey’s 1988) pp.43–64.

29 Anthony Olcott, “Revisiting the Legacy: Sherman Kent, Willmoore Kendall, and George Pettee – Strategic Intelligence in the Digital Age”, Studies in Intelligence 53/2 (2009) pp.21–32.

30 Stephen M. Walt, The Renaissance of Security Studies, International Studies Quarterly 35/2 (1991) pp.211–39.

31 This is the knowledge advancement portion of the professionalization process. Stephen Marrin and Jonathan Clemente, “Modeling an Intelligence Analysis Profession on Medicine”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 19/4 (2006–7) pp.642–65.

32 J. Ransom Clark, “The Literature of Intelligence: A Bibliography of Materials, with Essays, Reviews and Comments, Muskingum University, 1998–2012” <>

33 George C. Constantinides, Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography (Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1983); Marjorie W. Cline, Carla E. Christiansen and Judith M. Fontaine (eds.), Scholar’s Guide to Intelligence Literature: Bibliography of the Russell J. Bowen Collection (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America 1983); Neal H. Petersen, American Intelligence, 1775–1990: A Bibliographical Guide (Claremont, CA: Regina Books 1992); The Future of Intelligence Analysis, Vol. II, Final Report, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, 10 March 2006; Greta E. Marlatt, “Intelligence and Policymaking: A Bibliography”, Naval Postgraduate School, December 2010.

34 Robert A. Denemark (ed.), International Studies Encyclopedia (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell 2010) <> with specific intelligence-related publications listed here: <>

35 AFIO Weekly Intelligence Notes #37-10, 5 October 2010 <>

36 Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow (eds.), Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of US Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945–1990, BCSIA Studies in International Security (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press 2006) pp.ix–x.

37 Stephen Marrin, “Intelligence Studies Centers: Making Scholarship on Intelligence Analysis Useful”, Intelligence and National Security 27/3 (2012) pp.398–422.

38 Amy B. Zegart, “Cloaks, Daggers, and Ivory Towers: Why Academics Don’t Study US Intelligence” in Loch Johnson (ed.) Strategic Intelligence (Westport, CT: Praeger 2007) pp.21–34. Also see Amy Zegart, “Universities Must Not Ignore Intelligence Research”, Chronicle of Higher Education, 3 July 2007. For examples of intelligence studies works that are good treatments of the subject but fail to address existing scholarship, see Richard Posner, Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11 (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield 2005); Douglas Hart and Steven Simon, “Thinking Straight and Talking Straight: Problems of Intelligence Analysis”, Survival 48/1 (2006) pp.35–60; David Omand, Securing the State (NY: Columbia University Press 2010); Ken Lieberthal, The US Intelligence Community and Foreign Policy: Getting Analysis Right (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution 2009). For an exception consisting of a treatment of intelligence which also cites the relevant intelligence studies literature, see Robert Jervis, Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 2010).