Fragile Friendships: Partnerships Between the Academy and Intelligence

Intelligence Community

2017-12-12 /

Dr. Matthew D. Crosston is Vice Chairman of and Senior Research Fellow in the Cybersecurity Program at the Institute of National Security Studies (Tel Aviv, Israel). Previously he was Professor of Political Science, Miller Chair for Industrial and International Security, and Director of the International Security and Intelligence Studies Program at Bellevue University, Bellevue, Nebraska. A graduate of Colgate University, with an M.A. from the University of London, and a Ph.D. from Brown

University, he has done post-doctoral work at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for cyberwar ethics, Dr. Crosston has expertise in Russianarea studies, political Islam, and global conflict. He previously taught at Clemson University and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).



Formal university and college Intelligence Studies degree programs have experienced a pronounced growth in recent years, exhibiting a richness in diversity and engagement in both institutional type and instructional delivery. At face value American academia seems about to embark on a new era of cooperation and understanding with the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). But in seeking to determine whether progress in this development is as significant as is hoped in Washington, DC, this study reveals a persisting historical concern and academic bias that constrains the latent collaboration.

 With concerns are over where to house the academic major, how to support campus visits from intelligence representatives, pursue government grants, or how to assess the IC’s influence on specific types of student bodies, Intelligence Studies as a formal degree still faces battles and skepticism on

campus. Finally, this work ascertains the impact—positive or negative—these fragile friendships now have on American national security interests and on the future of newly emergent IC personnel.

 Four main sections comprise the present investigation. First, are the issues that are still seriously debated within the pedagogy of Intelligence Studies degree programs. This discussion is not so much about how to best structure and deliver an intelligence program. Rather, it gives testimony to some fundamental questions that seem resistant to consensus. More importantly, it reveals the continued struggle of Intelligence Studies to being taken as a legitimate academic and intellectual discipline, rather than as some purely applied professional training endeavor. 

Second is assessing the persistence of the developing field’s perceived negative history. Modern pessimism and suspicion toward the world of intelligence among academics is not based solely on dubious campus activities conducted over fifty years ago. While that history has clearly not been forgotten in the ivory tower, modern corollaries make academic hostility toward the IC in some ways even more vitriolic.

Third, in a disturbing off-shoot of that skepticism, some academics try to tie the IC’s interest in recruiting students of color as blatantly racist and exploitative. 

Finally, the negative impact of distorted social media has grown as powerful agencies and organizations have purposely structured themselves as opponents of intelligence and seek to label universities affiliated with national security interests as enemies of academic freedom and compromised bastions of ethical development. In concert, a complicated picture is thereby revealed: while more universities actively participate with and propose projects to the U.S. national security and intelligence infrastructure, a strong counterweight across the academy strongly opposes such activity.

 This study reveals that, despite a continued negative environment from several sectors of the academic community, collaboration between the IC and academy continues, if begrudgingly. The fears of what collaboration means are powered by often distorted remembrances of history, exaggerations of external curriculum influence, the supposed undermining of academic freedom, and conspiracies about the “bogeyman” activities supposedly innate to the IC. Yet the reality is that such collaboration has

helped deepen the accuracy of intelligence analysis, thus arguably leading to the development of positive policy changes that alleviate suffering around the globe rather than contribute to it.

While reports emerge from other countries like the Russian Federation, which allegedly has a system of explicit FSB intelligence vetting of scientific research papers and control of the venues in which articles can be published and even of what conferences faculty are allowed to attend, to produce additional studies that bring to light the contrasting atmosphere, environment, and details of how the academic and intelligence communities partner in America is important.The point of such studies is not to reveal anything classified or to expose information that might compromise assets or interests in the field. Rather, they will go a long way to reforming what is still a wildly inaccurate and off-base attitudinal chasm between these two communities. As that attitude is reformed, and perhaps improved, collaboration can be demythologized and partnerships can expand. At the moment too much demonization takes place of the

collaborative work that holds the potential to do great global good.