Studying and Teaching Intelligence: The importance of interchange

By Ernest R. May


Editor’s Note: The following is the keynote address to the Symposium for Teaching Intelligence which was sponsored on 1 and 2 October 1993 by CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence.

Last summer, a friend of mine was driving on Cape Cod just after a severe storm. A state trooper waved him down. Up ahead a large tree had fallen across the road. He worried that he had missed a “road closed” sign. The trooper bent down, rested his elbows on the window, and said, “If a tree falls when no one is around, does it make a sound?” My friend’s comment:  “Only in Wellfleet!”

In a sense, we are dealing here with a different version of that old metaphysical conundrum. If scholars and journalists do not know what intelligence agencies have done, can they be said to have done anything? More practically, if scholars and journalists do not tell citizens what intelligence agencies have done for them in the past, why should the citizens expect intelligence agencies to be useful in the future? And the reality is that most scholars and serious journalists do not know enough about the real history of the Intelligence Community to explain to citizens why Congress should drop money into that black box.

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