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24 July 2007

The intelligence officer’s virtual bookshelf

With the academic year fast approaching, and many students deployed in the far flung reaches of the globe where the mails are not always the fastest, we thought we might highlight a few electronic resources which might ease the burden of weight for those forced to carry around their research on their backs. (We suppose there are also more than a few more conventional students who might appreciate the ability to keep their critical references handy on portable media.)

Among the most useful of the unclassified resources in the intelligence studies field has been the DTIC public STINET (scientific and technical information network) – not least of which as it offers much of the military academia’s voluminous output of papers and studies, particularly those of the War Colleges, which have been released for unlimited distribution. The scope of the body of work available through these releases is so significant that when we are engaged in the difficult task of teaching intelligence, we would nearly always strike marks against students who offered their own research without reference to sources derived from this remarkable collection of prior thought on almost every subject of interest to the field. (There is simply too much material, easily accessible, and of significant interest, to be overlooked so casually. It was typically one of the first signs of insufficient rigor.)

We also have been recently acquainted with the ever growing collection of out of copyright works assembled by the Open Content Alliance and distributed through the Internet Archive. Many of these works were previously overlooked in the field in all but the best equipped of libraries. And while there is a modern conceit that all of the literature of intelligence began in the post WWII era, there is a surprising body of work that emerged post Civil War (although only Pinkerton’s boasting tends to enjoy any mention), and in the aftermath of the Great War. For those looking into the early origins of intelligence as an organized activity, these are excellent original texts made widely available.

We are gratified to see a number of publishers beginning to open up electronic archives of their production output. There will always be far too many volumes for any individual to peruse manually, and to acquire in hardcopy. However, the application of the search engine to these works can open up specific authors to much wider appreciation, and can surface material with interesting relationships to ongoing areas of academic interest that may have previously gone unnoticed. One of the more recent of these is the Praeger Security International database (subscription access, but in our humble opinion worth the fee, certainly from an institutional perspective.) Unlike the current focus of say a Jane’s (resource valuable in its own right, but one that all are no doubt familiar with), the PSI database offers the full text of a number of books frequently assigned as standard texts within the intelligence studies field. It is an excellent place to start if one wishes to assign additional readings to newer analysts and other students, without imposing on them the cost of the entire volume for one or two chapters. (Although most good analysts will want the full text, but that is entirely typical of those enthralled in service to a frequently shared obsession.)

We would also be remiss if we failed to note the increasing number of titles publicly released from the National Defense Intelligence College (formerly JMIC). A number of their more recent works are now a core part of the canon of intelligence literature that every new analyst and student should be acquainted with.

We are most pleased to see the growing accessibility of the literature of intelligence, and hope this next academic year’s papers, and thesis/capstone projects, will benefit as a result. For too long, material has been locked up in limited circulation and often hard to acquire hardcopy, distributed hand to hand as grey literature or even samizdat. That was not the way to build an intelligence profession, and we have suffered for it.

We are also interested to see the longer term and higher order effects of the virtuous cycle we believe is created by increased access to the literature – especially for those institutions which value and foster such accesses (vice those that would continue business as usual.) We expect a certain normative effect, where the previous excesses of false prophets may be muted by a wider exposure to that which may show them in true light. We also hope to see an end, or at least a reduction, in the endless and fruitless attempts to reinvent the wheel, and to recast analytical tradecraft in an individual’s image. There will also remain a place for the methodologist, and the innovator, in adding to the body of best practices and enriching the community of interest; but we hope that knowledge of the wider scope of the profession will help place those contributions in context.

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