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12 May 2007

Non-western intelligence traditions

Our earlier post regarding ongoing (and thankfully, in this case disrupted) PRC HUMINT activities reminded us of how poorly the intelligence studies academia has historically served its students when examining non-western intelligence traditions. It has ignored the robust body of primary source materials, and largely discarded the concepts of comparative intelligence studies which saw some interesting research during the latter years of the Cold War.

Now, one can understand this to a degree, given the emphasis not merely on theoretical understanding but practical and interdisciplinary application which by necessity dominates a field in wartime. And it is clear that the American way of intelligence, just as in the American way of war, is not embraced by much of the world due to its superiority of concept and implementation,

This does not mean there are not still lessons to be drawn from other sources. In fact, in our careers we have found some of our best approaches to difficult problems were borrowed from Russian doctrine and case studies. Without having had exposure to that line of thinking, it would have been impossible to craft a creative new application for the techniques.

To this end, we recommend the excellent series by the old China hand Ralph Sawyer, who spends his days translating ancient Chinese military classics with contemporary commentary. He is frankly a one man Foreign Military Studies Office... and although the work can be at times dry, it is certainly well worth the effort. Of particular interest to the well read intelligence professional are his two works, the Tao of Spycraft and the Tao of Deception.

We would also recommend the slightly older editions of Soviet Military Intelligence in War, as well as the recent series of memoirs from former Soviet and Eastern Bloc case officers such as Oleg Gordievsky, Victor Cherkashin, and Markus Wolf. In addition, a few years back a unique collaboration between the former KGB/SVR rezident Oleg Tsarev and the famous former Western intelligence officer who writes pseudonymously under the moniker Nigel West was published as “The Crown Jewels” – also well worth the time and effort. Indeed, all of the Mitrokin and VENONA work is also quite applicable to such study.

In short, there are plenty of excellent texts which could easily be used in a classroom – and a wealth of case studies and historical materials in other contexts that could also be adapted to lecture. (Should any academic institution wish to establish a class on the subject to fill the gap in their offerings, feel free to reach out to us - we know of just the right individual.)

We would also be greatly pleased to see such a class established if only to harness the minds of its students towards directed research in the modern comparisons that have yet to be effectively studied to such depth. Inherent in the non-western intelligence tradition are the philosophies and conceptual basis from which many of the current non-state and asymmetric adversaries are derived. We have seen some attempts to categorize and study their methods of warfare (see Tactics of the Crescent Moon, or the Other Side of the Mountain for excellent examples of such efforts), but we have yet to see a similar focus on the intelligence side the equation. There is plenty of room for aspiring young students to make substantial contributions to the literature in this area.

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