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The Kent-Kendall Debate of 1949

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Analysis and policy
 
Sherman Kent's Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy, published in 1949, is probably the most influential book ever written on US intelligence analysis. Indeed, Kent's carefully drafted blueprint for meeting the challenges facing intelligence in the postwar world has regularly been cited by defenders and critics alike of the performance of the Central Intelligence Agency. Almost all experienced Agency analysts are generally familiar with Kent's themes, though probably more from informal discussions than from a careful reading.

One of Kent's most finely honed doctrines addresses the relationship between producers and consumers of intelligence analysis. Effective ties, while manifestly essential for the well-being of both groups, were difficult to achieve. Kent's recommended fix: to warrant scholarly objectivity, provide analysts with institutional independence; to warrant relevance, urge them to strive to obtain "guidance" from policymakers.1

Willmoore Kendall's "The Function of Intelligence," a 1949 review of Strategic Intelligence, agreed with Kent on the importance of getting right the relationship between experts and decision-makers but on little else. Kendall's bold and prescient arguments deserve more attention from both students and practitioners of intelligence analysis.

Kendall rejected what he depicted as Kent's ideal of bureaucratic scholars processing information to understand the outside world for the benefit of bureaucratic policy planners. The function of intelligence as Kendall saw it was directly to help "politically responsible" leaders achieve their foreign policy goals, in large measure by identifying the elements of an issue that were susceptible to US influence. Additionally, Kendall observed that if the intelligence mission was to illuminate decision-making with the best that expert knowledge can provide, Kent's aversions to taking account of domestic US politics and social science theory were self-defeating.2

This article first sets out the major lines of doctrinal disagreement between Kent and Kendall in the context of the late 1940s. It then sketches the impact of the opposing views on CIA doctrine and practice during the ensuing 40 years. Finally, it addresses requirements for effective producer-consumer relations in the 1990s, a period in which challenges to both policymakers and analysts are likely to increase even as resources committed to national security become scarcer. If for no other reason, doctrinal choices require thoughtful examination at this juncture.

Kent's Perspective

Kent, born in 1903 into a politically prominent California family, spent some 20 years before World War 11 at Yale University, as undergraduate and graduate student and as faculty member. His major interests were the teaching of European history and the study of 19th century French politics. His world and political views then and subsequently would characterize him as an eastern establishment liberal. A colorful one though, as indicated by the many references to his earthy vocabulary and humor.3

Kent was a 37-year-old assistant professor at Yale in 1941, when he answered the call to scholars for enlistment in the national defense. He joined the

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Posted: May 08, 2007 09:01 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 09:01 AM