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19 November 2007

Blogs and (intelligence) scholarship

Via the TaxProf Blog, we note the proceedings of a conference designed to examine the impact of blogging on the study of law. The parallels of many of the key arguments for the intelligence academy are quite striking indeed.

Recent years have seen not only the dramatic expansion of the intelligence studies field, but also attempts by a number of parties to impose their own control on the manner in which the field is evolving. These efforts have varied from proposed standards bodies to commissar style denunciation of new programs as mere “training” for vocational skills. Some are motivated by the best intentions of furthering professionalization, and some are regrettably little more than rent-seeking.

We have been greatly surprised that the expansion of the actual work of teaching intelligence has not led to nearly the flowering of the literature of intelligence that one might otherwise expect. For those most part, intelligence faculty simply do not publish – in the community’s own organs, or in the public journals that have arisen in the space. Now this may be in part explained by the moribund state of the field’s traditional publishing opportunities – but we doubt such an explanation complete, especially in this age of lightweight digital dissemination such as SSRN. Nor are we content to ascribe the lack of new material simply to the effects of tenure – though many a sleeping backwater might offer tempting distractions to those who enjoy lifetime employment, too few intelligence studies educators actually have their tenure in hand (not least due to the relative newness of many intelligence studies programs.) Likewise we find it difficult to assign blame to the consulting pathways that many intelligence professors also pursue, given the importance of networking and thought leadership in building intellectual capital for consulting assignments. (Indeed, we find that many of the scholar/bloggers of our acquaintance cite their blog as a more productive source of engagement opportunities than the institutions which supposedly provide them a place to stand respectably in the public square.)

There are many arguments both for and against blogging in pursuit of furthering the intelligence literature. In our opinion, not everyone is cut out to blog – and many, for reasons of classification and operational security, cannot (at least in public form) for entirely valid and understandable reasons. Yet this is no excuse for far too many intelligence educators – from those who work primarily if not exclusively in the unclassified, open source realm to those many now that focus on the pre-induction student pipeline at the university level.

We would strongly second the warning first given to the legal scholars as also quite fitting for those in the intelligence studies field: evolve or die.

The form into which intelligence studies evolves does not have to be a blog, but it has to be a mechanism which will advance the literature and the scholarship - and in a manner which has relevance to the native 21st century intelligence community, not merely the quaintly archaic exchange of dead trees that marked the industrial age era. Evolution does not come without risk – of professional differences and disputes, of public errors and their required corrections, or of the revision of one’s thoughts and writings in light of debate and further discourse. But in this it is no different than other forms of scholarship – merely conducted on a shorter timeline, with a self-selecting audience that is in many ways far broader in expertise, and often far more deeply studied, than the author might expect. Yet this is how the profession grows, and it is the imperative that was laid upon those who would make claim to its examination to pursue that growth.

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