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24 August 2007

The literature of intelligence and the changing face of academic literature

One of the critical drivers of our Imperative has long been the need for a (better) intelligence literature. We have been sorely disappointed by too many years of attempts to rehash the old tired refrains of the debates that were outdated and overtaken by events long before the world changed and the Long War was joined in earnest. And for all the growth in the number of academic institutions and privatized intelligence shops, we have seen precious little in the way of innovation in the literature. (In part, this is excusable given the innovation which is occurring at the sharp end – and the lack of time and energy to write about them available to those practitioners which are fully engaged in the fight. But this is unforgivable in the academy and in the rear echelons… and note we do not define those solely on geographic terms.)

The stagnation of the field’s intellectual exchange and discourse is in no small part due to the lack of evolution in the major institutions of the literature to keep pace with the times. While some very good papers get written and published, they are few and far between in the major journals traditionally associated with the field. There have been even fewer new publications introduced into the field, despite a scattering of research across a dozen interdisciplinary outlets which clearly indicates a need for a larger publishing base – especially outside of the classified world. (And as much as we love Studies and Tradecraft Review, these august tomes offer very few opportunities to tap into the insights which might be offered by outside contributors. But then again, that was not their original mission, and it would be unfair to criticize a well honed tool such as a scalpel for failing to perform as a hammer…). The major presses in the academic world are too bound up in issues of copyrights and the slow, slow publication processes of yesteryear to effectively transform the literature.

We thus take great interest in the changes which are currently sweeping the academic literature in other fields. Among such changes have been the moves towards open access publishing, as well as the increasing proliferation of non-traditional alternatives for distribution and reputation-based evaluation.

We thus note an interesting concept of “fantasy” journals which was floated in economic circles (along with ideas for other incentives to encourage the growth of that field’s literature.) It is a most interesting idea, which could be rapidly implemented for the intelligence literature, and seems to offer good benefits towards encouraging readership of key papers among the less connected, busier, or newer members of the community which have not traditionally seen the consumption of this literature, let alone the participation in it, as a career priority.

This also brings us also to the idea of a virtual journal, which we have seen floated from time to time. We find it incredibly significant that among the most influential military publications of the day is the entirely virtual Small Wars Journal, which itself must grapple with many of the same tensions of operational security, publication review, and attribution issues that many have claimed would doom such an open publication effort. Yet SWJ successfully offers an appropriate forum for what are among the best writings by the leading thinkers in the counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and stability / support operations domain. There is little reason to believe that a virtual journal for the intelligence literature would fare worse.

We anticipate the development of such an effort in the very near future. Prospective contributors are welcome to contact us for further details in advance of the initial call for papers.

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