The Kent-Kendall Debate of 1949

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conditions calculated to encourage thought" (emphasis in the original). He would supply the analysts, via telephone to the field, with "the data that really matter," information on currently developing situations, rather than with "out of date" traffic and documents.

Kendall's major salvos against Kent concern "the relation of intelligence to policy in a democratic society," a matter of vital importance "since it is American policy on which the future of the free world seems to depend." He agreed with Kent on the need for "guidance" from policymakers to get the intelligence job done, and on the absence of such guidance "as regards the great decisions about foreign policy." He chides Kent for not facing up to the danger to the nation from such an alarming state of affairs.

More specifically, Kendall charges Kent (and the reigning leaders of intelligence) with a "compulsive preoccupation with prediction (emphasis in the original), with elimination of 'surprise' from foreign affairs."
The shadow of Pearl Harbor is projected into the mists of Bogota, and intelligence looks shamefaced over its failure to tell Secretary [of State] Marshall the day and hour at which a revolution will break out in Colombia. The course of events is conceived not as something you try to influence but as a tape all printed up inside a machine; and the job of intelligence is to tell the planners how it reads.
Kendall sees the intelligence function as helping the policymakers "influence" the course of events by helping them understand the operative factors on which the US can have an impact. His most specific language appears in a footnote which starts with examples of "absolute" (and thus inappropriate) predictions: "'General DeGaulle will come to power this day six months'; or Japan will attack Pearl Harbor on x-day at y-hour.' " His example of a "contingent" or appropriate prediction:
"The following factors, which can be influenced in such and such a fashion by action from the outside, will determine whether, and if so, when, General DeGaulle will come to power."
Kendall had two additional criticisms of what he considered Kent's flawed theory of producer-consumer relations. He sees Kent's endorsement of the traditional separation of intelligence from domestic affairs as self-defeating, if the goal of the intelligence unit is to bring to bear the knowledge on which foreign policy decisions are to be made. According to Kendall, Kent's definition of mission:
... puts [foreign affairs] in the hands of a distinct group of officials whose "research" must stop short at the 3-mile limit even when the thread they are following runs right across it, and yet which tells itself it is using the scientific method. (This ends up with intelligence reports that never, never take cognizance of United States policies alternative to the ones actual in effect, such problems being "domestic matters.") 20
Finally, he charged that Kent, yet again endorsing current practices, would have the intelligence unit laboring for a mid- rather than top-level audience. Kendall rejected the intelligence function as research assistant to bureaucratic "policy planners," such as George Kennan at the State Department.

The issue here is fundamental: if you conceive the intelligence function [as Kent does], you are excluding from its purview what this writer would call its most crucial aspect-i.e., that which concerns the communications to the politically responsible laymen of the knowledge which, to use Mr. [Walter] Lippmann's happy phrase, determines the "pictures" they have in their heads of the world to which their decisions relate.21

Was There a Debate?

I have found insufficient evidence to conclude that a Kent-Kendall debate took place in the late 1940s-some kind of doctrinal shootout between

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