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08 February 2008

The use of leaked documents in intelligence studies education

This issue has been weighing upon us for some time, and has sparked perhaps the most violent debate of any subject within a field already crowded with passionate viewpoints. It takes on new prominence this week with the actions of another intelligence studies professor (names are omitted to protect the guilty) at one of the more prominent institutions out there.

We are unabashed supporters of the use of declassified intelligence documents – including finished intelligence papers, raw cables and other message traffic, and any imagery that might be available. These are almost without exception historical in nature, and thus we also advocate the use of unclassified notional intelligence documents produced in the model of current approaches (differing only in those areas that classification requirements dictate). We admit that the latter requires a lot of hard work – both in finding the unclassified or declassified examples from which to build templates, as well as creating the notional products that the students will rely upon in class or in an exercise. Many academic programs simply forgo this altogether for this reason – understandably so, but frankly in our opinion to the detriment of students that need exposure to “real world” intelligence in a form that may be properly used in a classroom.

However, the use of leaked classified documents in education is another matter entirely. Too many prominent names in intelligence studies publishing pad out their books with leaked documents, many of which can be said to be exceptionally damaging to United States interests in the subject under discussion. We have over the years grudgingly assigned these texts, as the better authors still offer some value to students despite the damnable offense of perpetuating leaks. What is most unfortunate in these cases is that those authors – by virtue of unique analysis or concise presentation of complex topics – would be entirely compelling without the leaks, yet apparently do not have the confidence to stand on their own, or the intellectual integrity to present their own work unaided by stolen secrets.

Such matters have long troubled the field – and frankly, have done much damage to the establishment of a respected intelligence studies academia that interacts with its professional counterparts in a mutually beneficial fashion, instead of through parasitic and self-serving profiteering.

There is however a more disturbing recent trend, one abetted by the evolving issues that come hand in hand with widespread electronic dissemination of intelligence products, and the inevitable friction that occurs when attempting to cope with the proliferation of classified networks and channels under wartime conditions. This new issue is the unprecedented availability of still classified documents (and other media) in their original form; leaked from improper handling - or worse yet, deliberate disclosure - onto the public Internet. These are becoming distressingly common enough that there are even now sites dedicated to the propagation of such leaks.

Without commenting on any specific incident, it is understandable that some civilian academics might see these are rare opportunities to provide a window into current intelligence practices for their students. It is also entirely likely that the “cool” factor may have overwhelmed good judgment when dealing with these cases. But we are exceptionally concerned that these classified materials not be routinely incorporated into unclassified academic instruction. Nothing will do more damage to the discipline as quickly as such an outcome.

First, among those students in many unclassified classrooms there are those that hold current clearances or other professional affiliations that impose a proactive and affirmative burden on the individual to report the improper handling of classified materials. It is unconscionable for an instructor to impose through their own deliberate actions this burden of time, paperwork, and ethical dilemma on a professional student.

Secondly, for those students that do not hold current clearances, many will one day face the polygraph process – and the discussion of a half remembered document from a long ago professor is not the most productive way to encounter the less than tender mercies of that process. As it is, too small a percentage of those students will successfully pass vetting; the intelligence studies academia does not need to be encouraging additional obstacles that will further negatively impact those numbers.

Lastly, we fear the creation of perverse incentives for future leaks should this practice become more widespread. We could easily see such pressures being placed entirely inappropriately on serving professionals who are alumni of major intelligence studies programs by their former instructors, or anonymous leaks occurring at the end of a professional’s tour in anticipation of a future academic posting. We cannot condone any activities that would potentially create any similar incentives – especially when such pressures might well result in the end of meaningful professional and academic collaboration partnerships in the intelligence studies field.

We know the difficulties in crafting an intelligence curriculum to be taught a the unclassified level, but have long felt strongly that to do so forces a focus on the fundamentals of tradecraft unhindered by the restraints of specific organizational niches. While there are many things that simply cannot be taught at the lowest levels, most are frankly more appropriate to a professional in service training and education program as opposed to the outside academic environment in the first place.

It is in part due to these actions that many community professionals entirely discount the role of outside academics – and we fear that with each passing incident, this perception becomes harder to fight. Given the behavior of some academics, it is a perception that may not even be wrong. We recall one particular foreign born instructor who, prior to his dismissal with prejudice from a particularly prominent program, had set out to deliberately acquire as many leaked materials as he could lay hands upon. This created serious difficulties for other academics and students in the program – many of whom were employed in consulting capacities for various official institutions. This is an example that should never have been allowed to be repeated – and current incidents are a slippery slope on that road.

Let us be clear: we at Kent’s Imperative condemn leaks in all forms, and those that would find benefit from them, in the strongest possible terms. Each academic institution which hosts an intelligence studies program should address this issue through internal policy – preferably tied to its academic code, which should consider the improper use of classified information as damnable as the kindred crime of plagiarism. If there is any role for the International Association For Intelligence Education in the promulgation of best practices throughout the field, it is in such matters.

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