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Introduction: Challenges to Intelligence Collection

“Intelligence remains our basic national instrument for anticipating danger—military, political, and economic.”—President George H.W. Bush

In preparation for our first “Challenges to Intelligence Collection” week, our CIMSEC editors observed a surprising lack of published information on intelligence collection, both in the general world of scholarship and here at CIMSEC, despite intelligence collection being one of the most controversial topics in the media in the past year. Furthermore, few organizations have adapted as drastically to institutional and operational changes since September 11th as the intelligence community. Yet the body of knowledge on this subject remains conspicuously sparse.

Recently, John O. Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, delivered the keynote address at the first annual “Ethos and Profession of Intelligence” conference. In his address, Director Brennan admitted “the Central Intelligence Agency does not hold a lot of public conferences. Our foreign counterparts tend to hold even fewer—as in zero”. [2]  Subsequently, our valiant contributors will attempt to address this uncharted academic terrain. We will publish new articles that address and identify possible operational, procedural, and cultural impediments to efficient intelligence operations.

Georgetown University and the CIA hosted the “Ethos and Profession of Intelligence” conference on June 11th, 2014 in Georgetown’s historic Gaston Hall. Despite the overt anachronism of discussing cyber attacks and geospatial intelligence under Gaston’s neo-Gothic paneling, the elaborate setting emphasized the role of intelligence as a historically significant aspect—and perennial fixture—of the United States’ national defense organization. Conversely, panelists’ discussions addressed pressing concerns for the future of the intelligence community, such as evolutions in cyber technology, the emerging importance of public sector involvement, and the precarious balancing act between domestic transparency and community integrity. [2]

Ultimately, the conference emphasized the irrevocable tension between meeting the demands of the future while still maintaining the core tenants of the intelligence profession. The mere fact that the CIA was willing to participate in a public conference represents exactly how far the intelligence community has evolved in the past decade. The joint CIA-Georgetown University conference marked the CIA’s first-ever public national security conference, suggesting that as the intelligence community rises to meet the demands of the future, the CIA intends to lead this evolution. At the same time, the careful and intentional inclusion of the word “Ethos” in the conference title involuntarily invokes the Aristotelian appeal for credibility and the enduring need for trustworthy intelligence professionals. [3] It is also reminiscent of the gravity of the intelligence mission; in the domain of intelligence, the ability to persuade is often a matter of life and death.

In a similar vein, CIMSEC will feature articles this week that connect the intelligence community’s past to its demands for the future. Our contributors will demonstrate how far intelligence collection has evolved since the end of World War II and portend the challenges that will threaten specific intelligence communities in the future. Likewise, form will follow (editorial) function; we will feature previously published articles on Naval intelligence, cryptology, and emerging technology, highlighting the need for continued discourse on this subject and CIMSEC contributors’ willingness to address this significant knowledge gap.

Jillian Danback McGhan is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and a former instructor at the United States Naval Academy. She is currently a student at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a research assistant for the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorist Events (CREATE). The views expressed here are her own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, Georgetown University, or CREATE.

[1] “Remarks for Central Intelligence Agency Director John O. Brennan as Prepared for Delivery at the Conference on the Ethos and Profession of Intelligence, Georgetown University”, 11 June 2014. https://www.cia.gov/news-information/speeches-testimony/2014-speeches-testimony/remarks-for-cia-director-brennan-at-georgetown-conference.html.

[2] Video footage of the conference, including all panel discussions and remarks by CIA Director John O. Brennan and former FBI Director Robert Muller, can be found on the CIA’s website: https://www.cia.gov/news-information/blog/2014/cia-georgetown-conference-livestream.html

[3] For a refresher on Classic rhetorical appeals, see the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory’s summary “Aristotle’s Rhetorical Situation”,   https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/625/03/.

 

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