National intelligence and Science

Title:                      National intelligence and Science

Author:                  Wilhelm Agrell

Agrell, Wilhelm (2015) and Gregory F. Treverton.; National intelligence and Science: Beyond The Great Divide in Analysis and Policy. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press

LCCN:    2014024770

JF1525.I6 A4325 2015


  • “Intelligence is currently facing increasingly challenging cross-pressures from both a need for accurate and timely assessments of potential or imminent security threats and the unpredictability of many of these emerging threats. We are living in a social environment of growing security and intelligence challenges, yet the traditional, narrow intelligence process is becoming increasingly insufficient for coping with diffuse, complex, and rapidly-transforming threats. The essence of intelligence is no longer the collection, analysis, and dissemination of secret information, but has become instead the management of uncertainty in areas critical for overriding security goals—not only for nations, but also for the international community as a whole. For its part, scientific research on major societal risks like climate change is facing a similar cross-pressure from demand on the one hand and incomplete data and developing theoretical concepts on the other. For both of these knowledge-producing domains, the common denominator is the paramount challenges of framing and communicating uncertainty and of managing the pitfalls of politicization National Intelligence and Science is one of the first attempts to analyze these converging domains and the implications of their convergence, in terms of both more scientific approaches to intelligence problems and intelligence approaches to scientific problems. Science and intelligence constitute, as the book spells out, two remarkably similar and interlinked domains of knowledge production, yet ones that remain traditionally separated by a deep political, cultural, and epistemological divide. Looking ahead, the two twentieth-century monoliths—the scientific and the intelligence estates—are becoming simply outdated in their traditional form. The risk society is closing the divide, though in a direction not foreseen by the proponents of turning intelligence analysis into a science, or the new production of scientific knowledge”– Provided by publisher.


  • Machine generated contents note: — 1. Introduction: The Odd Twins of Uncertainty — 2. Framing the Divide — 3. What Is Analysis? Roads Not Taken — 4. Intelligence Challenges in Scientific Research — 5. Exploring Other Domains — 6. Common Core Issues: Intelligence Analysis, Medicine, and Policy Analysis — 7. Challenges for Intelligence — 8. Politicization: Disseminating and Distorting Knowledge — 9. Beyond the Divide: Framing and Assessing Risks under Prevailing Uncertainty.


Date Posted:      September 6, 2016

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[2]

Wilhelm Agrell served with Swedish intelligence in the Middle East and is now a professor of intelligence analysis at Lund University, Sweden. Gregory Treverton, formerly with RAND Corporation, is a visiting scholar at the Swedish National Defense College and also Chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the United States. In National Intelligence and Science the authors discuss a factor common to intelligence and science—”remarkably similar and interlinked domains”—knowledge production. This is not to say the two domains have identical objectives. Scientists seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake without considering practical applications. Intelligence analysts, on the other hand, pursue knowledge to answer questions relating to global threats. Yet both function in an atmosphere of uncertainty, balancing constant demands for transparency while working to minimize failures and gain public confidence. However, the authors suggest that academia and intelligence are also “separated by a deep political, cultural, and epistemological divide… and another problematical divide… caused by overstated uncertainty and loss of trust”; (p. 3) these are considered in detail.

Put another way, while many forces stimulating scientists and analysts in the production of knowledge differ, those methods employed by the scientist are worth considering for use by the analyst. The authors, therefore, look beyond the traditional intelligence model and investigate analysis “as one of several modes of knowledge production for action, modes not limited to intelligence but increasingly transcending other fields including… the public role of science.” Following this path, they suggest, may lead “far beyond traditional boundaries and definitions… to the discovery of approaches and methods” that could fundamentally “alter the existing security intelligence domain.” (p. 4) The authors envision “a less distinct dividing line between collection and analysis” and even a possibility in which “collection becomes analysis and separate roles cease to have any meaning.” (p. 5)

In less elevated rhetoric, the authors explain the “aim of the book is how the concepts of relevance and uncertainty in intelligence and science to policy have developed and converged.” (p. 9) They see intelligence analysis as a system in transition; the book’s subsequent chapters deal with examples in intelligence analysis and various scientific disciplines that indicate that a process of convergence is occurring. These include the role of social media, and the problems of failures, uncertainty, client relations, and politicization. Looking to the future, they foresee “the need for the development of hybrid organizations” where experts “interact on a more continuous and integrated basis.” (p. 197)

National Intelligence and Science is an intellectual challenge. It offers new thinking for those concerned with how analysis needs to evolve while meeting the demands of the present.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Spring 2016, pp. ). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

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