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A Look Back ... Sherman Kent: The Father of Intelligence

Last week the Central Intelligence Agency celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis. When the school was established by the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) in early 2000, it was not a hard decision to select Sherman Kent as its namesake. Kent dedicated his career at CIA to producing intelligence analysis to support policy decisionmakers.


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Sherman Kent was born on December 6, 1903 in California. His family was well-known in business and political circles. Kent’s father served three terms as a U.S. Congressman. Rather than following in the family’s footsteps, Kent chose to devote himself to the academic world.

Kent attended Yale University where he studied European history. In 1926, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and in 1933 he received a doctorate in history. Kent’s love for the world of academia inspired him to take a position as a history professor at Yale in 1935. During the next several years, he spent his time preparing lectures, teaching and researching.


The Call to Service

With the beginning of World War II, Kent’s priorities shifted. He felt called to serve his country. In 1941, Kent joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the forerunner of today’s CIA. He took a job with the Research & Analysis (R&A) Branch — the predecessor of the DI — where he showed a talent for all aspects of producing intelligence analysis.

It wasn’t long before Kent was promoted to chief of the Europe-Africa Division. As chief, Kent oversaw the production of analysis that supported the planning of Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of Axis-controlled North Africa. As a result, the R&A Branch earned a reputation with the military as a valuable asset in winning the war. Kent also contributed to studies that helped shape governmental structures for war-ravaged Germany.


A Love for Analysis

After World War II, Kent returned to academia, first as a professor at the National War College, and then at his alma mater for three years. During his time at Yale, he realized that analysis was his new love and felt compelled to write what would become his best-known work, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. The book was published in 1949 and soon caught the eye of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Gen. Walter Bedell Smith.

In 1950, DCI Smith summoned Kent to Washington, D.C., to continue his intelligence work. Kent was assigned to help Harvard historian William Langer in organizing the Office of National Estimates (ONE), a group of experts that produced intelligence assessments for top policymakers. Kent succeeded Langer as chief of ONE in 1952. As chief, Kent shepherded ONE through difficult times, including accusations from Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other Cold War events.


The Father of Intelligence

Kent’s greatest contribution to the Intelligence Community was the development of a formal analytical “tradecraft” and method. Kent emphasized that intelligence analysis must be relevant, rigorous, and insightful.

In addition to a standard tradecraft, Kent believed it was important to establish an intelligence literature institute and a journal for intelligence professionals. He was instrumental in the founding of Studies in Intelligence in 1955. Kent served as the first chairman of the editorial board for Studies.


Leaving Behind a Legacy

In 1967, Kent retired from the CIA. He died in 1987 at the age of 84. In 1997, the CIA posthumously honored Kent with the “Trailblazer Award” in recognition of his role in shaping Agency history.


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Posted: May 06, 2010 10:20 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:38 PM