At the heart of effective statecraft lies the burden of ascertaining the best available truth about the capabilities and intentions of a state’s allies and adversaries. Equal to the high stakes of intelligence performance is the difficulty of the tasks involved. The importance of knowing one’s enemies confronts the enemies of intelligence in a contest that often enough favors the latter. Because intelligence failure is inevitable over time, intelligence agencies are subject to intense external and internal scrutiny. Feeling burned by previous intelligence failures, political leaders may question, sometimes repeatedly, the veracity of the conclusions their intelligence analysts provide; in the extreme, whole-scale organizational and procedural reforms can be imposed so to avoid the commission of similar mistakes in the future. One under-studied form of internally-derived correction that comes in the wake of major intelligence failures is the degree of urgency with which intelligence judgments are rendered.
For decades, political scientists have been taught that it is dangerous if not forbidden to search on the dependent variable. By looking only at cases in which the effect of interest occurs, we cannot infer causation because the factors that we think are powerful may be only necessary conditions, which means that they can be present in cases in which the effect does not appear. They then cannot readily be labelled as causes in the sense of distinguishing between instances in which the effect is present and those in which it is absent. Yet almost all studies of intelligence failures have looked only at the failures themselves, without making comparisons with successes. This was true even of scholars who not only knew about this problem, but had stressed it in their teaching. I can say that with some confidence because I am in that category. While I urged others to look at successes as well as failures, I did not do so. Erik Dahl, one of our reviewers, recently used this methodology, but our reviewers agree that until this volume, no one had sought such careful and controlled comparisons that are developed here.Continue reading
If intelligence has now received sufficient attention so that it is no longer the hidden dimension of international politics, Soviet intelligence still fits this categorization. Our three reviewers welcome Jonathan Haslam’s lively overview of the subject and commend him for drawing on so many of the documents which, although revealing as far as they go, remain tantalizingly limited. As Paul Pillar, a career government official with excellent scholarly qualifications, notes, “Near and Distant Neighbors deserves to be read as a standard work on Soviet intelligence.”
What are preferred ways for members of the academic community to undertake analytic outreach with their counterparts in the intelligence community on important issues, such as emerging biotechnology threats? What are the impediments and opportunities most likely to shape a productive engagement between academic scholars and intelligence analysts on the topics of assessing biotechnology trends and bioweapon threats to U.S. national security?
The Treaty on the European Union (EU) stipulates that one of the key objectives of the Union is to provide citizens with a high level of safety within an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ). Given that the fight against terrorism is a prominent aspect of this general objective, it is remarkable that, in spite of its political relevance and decade-long history, it has only relatively recently received due attention in the academic community. At the time of writing, only a handful of post-9/11 edited volumes and special issues have focused on specific aspects of the EU counterterrorism efforts and initial monographs on the subject have only been relatively recently published by the three editors behind this special issue: Javier Argomaniz has produced a theoretically informed assessment of the coherence of the EU response, Oldrich Burres has examined the extent to which the EU can offer an added value in the fight against terrorism in Europe and Christian Kaunert  has studied how counter- terrorism has been a driver in the process of construction of the EU’s AFSJ.
How political leaders and their intelligence agencies assess the long-term intentions of their adversaries in international politics, how their assessments change in response to changes in the adversary’s capabilities or behavior, and the extent to which political leaders rely on their intelligence agencies are old questions in the study of international relations. The assessment of long-term intentions is an extraordinarily difficult task, and the development of generalizable theory about the process is equally difficult. Keren Yarhi-Milo’s recent book, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations, is an enormously valuable contribution to our understanding of these questions. Unlike many studies of intelligence, it is well-grounded in international relations theory, and it effectively builds upon theories of social psychology, cognitive science, and organizational theory. Yarhi-Milo distinguishes herself from many other theorists by emphasizing that the assessment processes of political leaders may differ from those of state intelligence organizations, but at the same time she integrates both within a single overarching theoretical framework. Yarhi-Milo tests her theoretical arguments against leading alternative interpretations in three sets of important and revealing historical cases: British assessments of Germany’s intentions from 1934-1939; and U.S. assessments of Soviet intentions during the years leading to the collapse of détente (1976-1980) and during the end of the Cold War (1985-1988). Yarhi-Milo’s in-depth comparative studies utilize historical archives, published documents, and, for the U.S.-Soviet cases, interviews with key participants.
From the very beginning of the nation’s history, intelligence has been set aside as a conspicuous exception to James Madison’s advocacy of checks-and-balances, spelled out in his Federalist Paper No. 51. The ‘auxiliary precautions’ that this key participant at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (and later America’s fourth President) — the safeguards he had helped build into the Constitution — were never applied to America’s secret intelligence activities. It has been the norm around the world for nations to treat their intelligence services as something special and apart from the rest of government. These agencies wear a cloak of secrecy, have unique access to decision-makers, and are given considerable leeway to carry out their duties without the usual review (in democracies at least) of programs, personnel, and budgets by overseers in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. A nation’s leaders were expected to avert their eyes as the secret services broke laws overseas (a routine occurrence) and engaged in unsavory activities, even assassinations and coups d’état, that would be deemed highly inappropriate for other government agencies.
The U.S. intelligence failures associated with 9/11 and with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction generated renewed interest in the question of intelligence failure, the study of which had been disproportionately influenced by the study of the failures at Pearl Harbor, Barbarossa, and Yom Kipper. The Iraqi WMD case in particular focused more attention on the question of the politicization of intelligence, an age-old problem but one that had been neglected in studies of the classic cases. The subsequent scholarly literature has focused on the policy question of the proper relationship between intelligence and policy, and on the causal questions of where and when politicization is most likely to occur and the role it plays in the processes leading to intelligence failure.
Intelligence is an odd area of study. While it has always been fascinating to the general public, until recently it was the “missing dimension” of foreign policy, ignored by serious scholars because information was lacking and it had the stigma of being the playground for cranks if not frauds. The increasing availability of documents, a changed political atmosphere, and a flood of books and journals have created a very different situation. A second unusual characteristic is that while some of the recent studies have been written by people who have worked in the academy, more are produced by scholars who have spent time in the intelligence community (IC) and by former members of the IC.
With The Threat on the Horizon, Loch Johnson adds to his distinguished record of publications on the topic of United States intelligence. The book is part monograph, examining the Aspin-Brown Commission tasked with reforming intelligence in the 1990s; part autobiography, drawing on Johnson’s role as the Chairman’s assistant on the Commission; and part policy analysis, using the first two sections to draw out more general observations on the intelligence process.