Bridging the Intelligence-Policy Divide: A Progress Report

By: James A. Barry, Jack Davis, David D. Gries, and Joseph Sullivan


“Intelligence failure” is a frequent topic of discussion in news media and academic journals.  The focus usually is on a failure of the Intelligence Community to predict events abroad-a dramatic development like the overthrow of the Shah of Iran or a longer-term trend like the collapse of Communism. Observers also criticize policymakers who fail to heed intelligence warnings, as in the Vietnam war or US involvement in Lebanon. But there is a third type of weakness that can reduce the effectiveness of intelligence and policy: the failure of communication between intelligence officers and policy officials.

In recent years, both intelligence officers and policy officials have taken important steps to improve understanding of each other and to bridge the cultural gap that can reduce effective communication between the two groups. With this in mind, the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence and Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy have sponsored an ongoing dialogue between current and former intelligence officers and policy officials in the hope that discussion of their experiences will provide valuable insights for current and future practitioners. This article summarizes the results of about 20 interviews and three seminars that include more than 60 intelligence officers and policy officials.