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Intelligence Failure Theory

Thomas E. Copeland

Subject International Studies » Intelligence Studies

Key-Topics intelligence (information gathering), national security, risk

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444336597.2010.x


Comment on this article   The scholarly literature on intelligence frequently turns to analysis of intelligence failures, often understood as the failure to warn of important events – surprises – like 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Historically, scholars have focused on causal factors such as organizational obstacles, psychological and analytical challenges, problems with warning information, and failures of political leadership. More recent scholarship utilizes new insights from business, psychology, and complexity theory. The scholarship in this area is rich and comprehensive, and has identified many of the conditions under which previous intelligence failures occurred. There is general agreement that intelligence failures and surprise are inevitable, a conclusion that has important consequences for how governments and publics execute intelligence reform and perceive the likelihood of its success. So as a corpus of knowledge, intelligence failure theory has proven quite successful at describing and explaining failures. However, scholars have been unable to generate a predictive approach for understanding where and when future failures are likely to occur. Furthermore, there is little agreement about the nature of intelligence success – the performance standards for which are not met in cases of intelligence failures. This makes ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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