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02 January 2008

Chief Intelligence Officer, reporting

The recent resurgence in the use of the title of Chief Intelligence Officer has been hotly debated amongst many intelligence professionals. In properly elevated station, and applied narrowly to those of highest achievement and echelon, it is a dignified appellation that carries its proper weight without self-aggrandizement. However, like the term director, there is always the pressure of devolution which drives the title to ever lower ranks within the profession. It has also provoked a bit of a backlash by those that feel the title a modern influence from the CXO conventions that mark the corporate environment, and feel this to be improper in government. This is however a misperception – albeit a common one – as the title was given frequently in military organizations and other governmental structures in years past. The first reference which we are aware of originates when discussing the intelligence apparat in Malayia in 1811 – although it is caveatted by the potential that this may be a later appellation retroactively granted, given the publication’s date of 1907. A more explicit reference may be found in an 1871 volume, The soldiers pocket book for field service.

On the other hand, the commercial side of the house often rejects the title in order to keep intelligence away from a seat at the Board table along the other C-level officers. The private sector has long sought to free itself from the organizational structures of dead Germans, something the ever more baroque organograms of senior management posts amply attests. However, the role of a Chief Intelligence Officer dates back to the earliest successful commercial ventures, at the dawn of the first real trend of globalization. We are fortunate that a scholar of history at Florida State University, Dr. Marla Chancey, chose to examine the role of intelligence in the East India Company at the close of the 18th century for her thesis. The work - In The Company's Secret Service: Neil Benjamin Edmonstone and the First Indian Imperialists, 1780-1820 - conclusively documents a fascinating career and biography.

One can argue over the relative degree of actual privatization of the East India Company, given its role as an extension of British foreign policy. However, we can likewise point to any number of modern para-state entities which are perhaps even less “commercial” in nature, given a high degree of government involvement, but nonetheless merit consideration as privatized intelligence.

We should think Edmonstone’s example – assuming a seat on the board himself in later life - also speaks to the true potential of advancement after a long career in intelligence, despite many contemporary complaints regarding the supposed “dead-end” nature of the profession within the private sector. We think it far more likely that personality, and the nature of today’s employment environment – where a lifetime’s service to one institution is very likely something akin to a myth – will have greater impact the eventual summit of one’s career than in the discipline one pursues, especially for knowledge workers.

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