Gustavo Díaz Matey
(MA on Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Salford, UK, Research Fellow at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain and Research Fellow at the Research Unit on International Security and Cooperation – UNISCI).


As a relatively new field of intellectual inquiry and scholarly debate, Intelligence Studies can be considered a stimulating discipline with a strong potential for development. Crucial background factors are in place for further progression. Vibrant debate, diverse subject areas, an increasing relevance and the opportunity to break new ground must be perceived as fundamental advantages to this field. Even perceived limitations can be interpreted positively, especially when discussing the nature of Intelligence Studies in terms of development.

Considering that intelligence has been practiced in its different forms since the dawn of Time, it seems paradoxical that it has only been ‘an academic discipline for half a century.’(1) Moreover, until recent years its historical acknowledgement has been at best, intermittent less still its further development as an academic discipline. Christopher Andrew succinctly supports this assertion stating that, “almost no historian of the Second World War nowadays fails to acknowledge the important role of signals intelligence (SIGINT). By contrast, most histories of post-war international relations omit (without explanation) all reference to Signal Intelligence (SIGINT)”(2).

Furthermore, the view of many scholars and intelligence professionals, succinctly espoused by Walter Laqueur that “all attempts to develop ambitious theories of intelligence have failed”(3), would lead observers to a conclusion that Intelligence Studies suffers from chronic limitations. It has been nearly five decades since intelligence first emerged as a subject of serious academic study with the publication of Sherman Kent’s Strategic Intelligence for American Foreign Policy. The development of intelligence studies as a sub-field of international relations has continued rising ever since.

The subject is firmly established in teaching and research centres in various countries within Europe and North America, as a result, the study of international security has been increasingly influenced by a better understanding of the role of intelligence in policy-making and the study of the intelligence cycle. Although certainly true in the embryonic stage of the discipline, this tenet seems unconvincing. The efficacy of applying this view to present and future developments seems highly contentious.

The conceptual framework in which intelligence is studied must continue evolving and adapting to the new conditions and possibilities of the early twenty-first century. As more intelligence and intelligence related material than ever before enters into the public domain, scholars of international relations must take greater account of it and study of the role of intelligence. Intelligence is all but absent, in the work of most international relations theorists and it does not figure in any key International Relations theory debates between realist, liberal, institutionalism, constructivist and postmodernist approaches. It is interesting to note that, while there exists an implicit assumption that the study of intelligence falls within the realist field, contemporary neo-realist writers have largely ignored intelligence in their reflections. The neglect of intelligence is apparent in areas such as Humanitarian intervention; even though it is clear that intelligence has various roles to play.

The advantages of Intelligence Studies as a relatively new field of intellectual enquiry far outweigh the limitations. The opportunity to break new ground, the multidisciplinary quality of the field gives a distinct advantage over many academic subjects. Whilst some historians would argue against the full inclusion of the Intelligence Studies Community into the wider spheres of International Relations and contemporary history, their arguments are likely to become more tenuous over time. The quality of intelligence literature of the last fifty years has made it starkly apparent that the decision making process and intelligence have an interconnected relationship. Considering this point of view, it would not be implausible to suggest that the more established historical fields would significantly benefit from the inclusion of Intelligence Studies.

In this regard, open sources bring the opportunity to develop intelligence studies as a subfield of international affairs. After all, scholars and researchers routinely work on questions where sources are hard to find. Furthermore, any student of contemporary history of politics knows that government files are far from being the only sources of value to the researcher. Autobiographies and published diaries of intelligence officials, as well as masses of press accounts, parliamentary documents and criminal court records are available today, which deserve careful study for those who are interested in the field of intelligence. Traditionally the study of intelligence was a practice of after actions reports. For further development it will be fundamental that intelligence studies takes a longer view, and looks for deeper patterns. Indeed, the development of intelligence studies is a question of creating an academic culture for intelligence as a fundamental part of the modern state machinery.

A satisfactory definition of intelligence remains a significant, if elusive, element of intelligence studies. For many scholars this lack of clarity is evidence of a field of study still in its infancy. Michael Warner supports this view, saying that “here is an opportunity: a compelling definition of intelligence might help us to devise a theory of intelligence and increase our understanding”.(4) Definitions of intelligence cannot be appreciated without a sense of the past; that sense of the past must call attention both to things that must be overcome, and aspects of established intelligence practice that must be preserved or acknowledge as essential elements of continuity. It can be convincingly argued that despite the lack of a precise and agreed upon definition, the various theories of intelligence already formulated provide a theoretical framework to work with.

The lack of consensus does not lessen the importance of the definitions already at hand. The problems that have arisen from most definitions are that they have failed to cover one or another element of intelligence. Therefore these definitions, although limited, do prove to be appropriate starting points for exploring the field of intelligence studies. The importance of eventually developing a consensus on a definition of intelligence cannot be lessened though. Lawrence T. Mitelman suggests that this is a crucial precedent and that “without some theoretical apparatus, it is immensely difficult to establish standards of relevance or levels of priority” (5).

Now more than ever, Intelligence Studies has the opportunity to take its place as a research area outside the realm of intelligence services and government commissions. It deserves to be studied deeply to achieve not only a better understanding of the functions of the most secret parts of government, but also as means to educating the citizens of a country; as intelligence services will always be an element of governments in democratic societies.


1 Kahn, David: “An Historical Theory of Intelligence”, Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 16, No. 3
(Autumn 2001), p. 79.
2 Andrew, Christopher: “Intelligence and international relations in the early Cold War”, Review of International Studies, No. 24 (1998), pp. 321-330.
3 Laqueur, Walter (1987): World of Secrets: The Uses and Limits of Intelligence. London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson Twentieth Century Book, p. 8.
4 Warner, Michael: “Wanted: A Definition of Intelligence”, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 46, No. 3 (2002), p. 15.
5 Mitelman, Lawrence T.: “Preface to a theory of intelligence”, in ttp://
v18i3a03p_0004.htm. Now in:

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