National security intelligence is a vast, complicated, and important topic, with both technical and humanistic dimensions – all made doubly hard to study and understand because of the thick veils of secrecy that surround every nation’s spy apparatus. Fortunately, from the point of view of democratic openness as well as the canons of scholarly inquiry, several of these veils have fallen in the past three-and-a-half decades. The disclosures have been a result of public government inquiries into intelligence failures and wrongdoing (especially those in 1975 that looked into charges of illegal domestic spying in the United States), accompanied by a more determined effort by academic researchers to probe the dark side of government.
The Cold War was, in large part, a struggle between espionage organizations in the democracies and in the Communist bloc, illustrating the importance of a nation’s secret agencies. Sometimes spy services have been the source of great embarrassment to the democracies, as with America’s Bay of Pigs disaster, along with the questionable assassination attempts against foreign leaders carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), acting under ambiguous authority from the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. Harmful to the reputation of America’s democracy, too, were the domestic espionage scandals of the mid-1970s, the Iran-contra scandal a decade later, and, most recently, revelations about torture and other forms of prisoner abuse employed by the CIA and military intelligence agencies in the struggle against global terrorism. Intelligence mistakes of analysis can have enormous consequences, as well, such as when the United Kingdom and the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 based in part on a faulty assessment that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, was developing weapons of mass destruction that could soon strike London and Washington. Further, intelligence organizations and operations are a costly burden on taxpayers – costing some $75 billion a year in the United States, according to America’s Director of National Intelligence in 2010. For all of these reasons, national security intelligence deserves the attention of the public, closer study by the scholarly community, and improved accountability inside democratic regimes.
National security intelligence is a rich and exciting field of study, for researchers, policymakers, government reformers, intelligence professionals, students, and attentive citizens in every democratic regime. My volume offers an introductory look at this subject, with hopes of encouraging further study by scholars of all ages and a renewed dedication to intelligence reform by government officials and citizen activists.