Intelligence In An Insecure World by Peter Gill and Mark Phythian (2012)

“However, it is clear from both the regularity and costs of intelligence failures, including the ethical level, that intelligence is too important to be left to the spooks.”

“This is not necessarily a problem for democratic governance if governments are trusted not to abuse the rights of citizens and others in their pursuit of information and conduct of security policy.  But the historical records suggest that officials should not be allowed to work away in complete secrecy, not because they are necessarily dishonest or corrupt (though they may be both), but because it is wrong in principle and, as the historical record shows, a combination of security fetishism and secrecy can quickly lead even the most upright officials to abuse the rights of others.”


This is easily one of the more significantly important books on this subject that I’ve ever read.  They get bogged down in some semantic boondoggles but what they are trying to accomplish in this book is hard and the thickness of the prose and analysis is necessary to afford some legitimacy to what they are trying to accomplish for intelligence studies.

This is not just a book about intelligence failures.

It’s also not just another historical review of intelligence agencies and employees and missions.

Don’t think this is simply another post-9/11 policy critique.

It’s not simply a post-9/11 intelligence critique either.

It is an attempt to mate the study of intelligence with other previously well developed social sciences in order to not only avoid reinventing the wheel but to also give some serious thought to a myriad of facets of intelligence.  Even if they don’t agree with it, if the professional intelligence community read this book (and other closely related ones) and made the attempt to either follow the rationales or replace them with superior ones then we would enter a golden age of intelligence that would enjoy unprecedented success both in collection, in action, in product, in consumer and in public perception.

If I could ever make a contribution to the discussion, especially since the liberal arts are outside my normal purview.  It would be to add the word “work” to intelligence and re-brand the subject of intelligence studies as “Intelligence Work”.  From the physics definition, a force is said to do work when it moves a body some distance, however small, in the direction of the force. Thus a force does work when it results in movement.  This would exemplify the two branches of intelligence: analysis and covert action.  Intelligence work implies work in the field of intelligence but it also implies intelligence being more than just facts and more than just analysis but also more than just work.  It gives plenty of semiotic connotations and possible interpretations.  It’s also a fairly accepted term already for this type of career.

Seriously, stop reading and go read this book.  Get the 2nd edition or newer if you can.

The one thing I keep seeing repeated despite changes in administrations or policy is the same behavior and tactics repeated over and over and over (Bay of Pigs style appeals to indigenous “oppressed” populations grateful for Western interference, Phoenix Program kidnappings and tortures, resistance to outside change, dubious claims of defending democracy while clearly destroying it as often as possible) with the same unheeded appeals for better oversight, change, regulation and reform.