Led by Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA and advisor on the National Security Council (NSC) to four presidents, The Brookings Intelligence Project will examine the nexus between policymaking and intelligence. He will be supported by a team of resident and non-resident researchers, including Federal Executive Fellows from the CIA and National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), and former senior intelligence community leaders, such as John McLaughlin, former Deputy Director at the CIA, Paul R. Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence community who last served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, and Daniel Benjamin, former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department. The Project is unique in that it is the first program at a major research institution to focus on intelligence from the perspective of the policy process.

The Project‘s work will center around two overlapping core questions:

  • What is the anatomy of intelligence success and failure and its relationship to policy decisions?
  • How can intelligence be better crafted to serve effective policymaking?

To answer these questions, the Project’s initial research will focus on:

The Role of Intelligence in Policymaking. Although intelligence is often described as ‘speaking truth to power’ or even as a crystal ball for predicting the future, it is better understood as a way to help leaders make policy decisions in a complex environment. Intelligence will often be flawed, but when it is effective it will help policymakers make better decisions than they otherwise would have.

Setting Intelligence Priorities. Today’s agenda includes issues that range from emerging nuclear programs in places like Pakistan, Iran and North Korea to human trafficking and environmental degradation. A particularly important role for intelligence is helping policymakers avoid strategic surprise. Because resources are limited and other, often unclassified, sources of information exist, intelligence officials may leave an issue uncovered or lightly resourced and focus instead on what they feel are core intelligence issues, leaving some policymakers dissatisfied. In addition, the intelligence community is responsible for building up expertise on enduring issues that span administrations even though priorities of policy officials frequently change with the advent of a new team. Without sufficient input from policymakers, however, the intelligence community may choose priorities that are not useful to or ignore important parts of an administration’s agenda.

Covert Action. Covert action is an area where the line between policy formulation and intelligence operations inherently blurs. While it is among the most controversial actions an administration can take, it has also become a particularly vital foreign policy tool in 21st century policy as the United States faces an increasing number of security threats that transcend traditional geographic or diplomatic boundaries. Drawing on case studies, the project will examine the anatomy of covert action successes and failures with an emphasis on the interaction between policymakers and intelligence operatives in order to advance critical lessons.

Intelligence Liaison Relationships. Relationships with foreign intelligence services are areas of critical interplay between the policy and intelligence communities. In democratic states, the liaison relationships parallel the traditional diplomatic and military relationships and need close coordination. In other authoritarian states, the intelligence chief may often be the second most important decision-maker in the country. Consequently, the intelligence channel becomes the most important mechanism for conducting diplomacy. Yet there has been very little if any systematic study of such liaison relationships and their place in policy formulation and development.

The Role of Intelligence in Counter Terrorism. Long before the 9-11 attacks, counter terrorism had emerged as a major priority for the intelligence community. Today, it is at the top of the priority list. Collecting and analyzing intelligence on terrorist threats and taking action to thwart them is a unique and difficult challenge. The project will examine successes and failures in the counter terrorism arena and the interactions between policy and intelligence communities in the field.

The Brookings Intelligence Project will produce article and book length studies to examine these and other issues, as well as serve as a convening body for both public and private events.