In­tel­li­gence in­volves art along with science


“Here is a book you should have, Mr. Di­rec­tor,” and with that Jac­que­line Kennedy handed CIA di­rec­tor Allen Dulles a copy of “From Rus­sia with Love” by Ian Flem­ing, the latest novel in the se­ries fea­tur­ing lethal Bri­tish agent James Bond. Their 1957 en­counter in Palm Beach bears on con­tin­u­ing con­tro­ver­sies, and too many re­cent em­bar­rass­ments, in­volv­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment in­tel­li­gence.

The con­ver­sa­tion is re­counted by Peter Grose in his im­por­tant book “Gen­tle­man Spy,” a com­pre- hen­sive bi­og­ra­phy of Dulles, who was a world-class net­worker. That skill was im­por­tant to his rise to the top of the highly com­pet­i­tive world of in­tel­li­gence. Mrs. Kennedy’s hus­band had emerged as a se­ri­ous con­tender for the 1960 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s fond­ness for Bond nov­els sparked the durable movie fran­chise. The movie Bond’s fetish for high-tech equip­ment, how­ever, con­trasts with the Bond of Flem­ing’s nov­els.

On Aug. 16, The New York Times re­vealed in a front-page story that tele­com gi­ant AT&T has been co­op­er­at­ing in­ti­mately with the top-se­cret Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) in rou­tinely re­view­ing the elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion records of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and oth­ers.

Both Dulles and Flem­ing served as in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers dur­ing World War II, when close co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Amer­i­can and Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence be­gan. Agent Flem­ing rec­om­mended in de­tail the sort of Amer­i­can who should head a new of­fice in New York. Dulles fit Flem­ing’s de­scrip­tion pre­cisely, and was hired.

Dulles later man­aged oper­a­tions in Switzer­land, a neu­tral op­er­at­ing ground for agents of the Al­lies and Nazis. A vast cast of char­ac­ters in be­tween en­com­passed fa­nat­ics, fools, fraud­sters and ge­niuses. Elec­tronic sur­veil­lance ex­isted, but the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and chal­lenges were over­whelm­ingly hu­man.

Allen Dulles han­dled an over­whelm­ing job skill­fully, con­trib­uted to ul­ti­mate Al­lied vic­tory and was picked by Dwight Eisen­hower to run the CIA. The agency’s gen­er­ally ef­fec­tive com­bi­na­tion of hu­man and tech in­tel­li­gence nev­er­the­less did not pre­vent the dis­as­trous Bay of Pigs in­va­sion early in JFK’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The NSA tra­di­tion­ally fa­vors so­phis­ti­cated elec­tronic means. In March 2013, Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per tes­ti­fied be­fore the U.S. Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence. He ar­gued any alarm over elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing is mis­placed, and ex­plic­itly de­nied col­lect­ing mass data on Amer­i­cans.

Ac­cord­ing to him, busi­ness as usual con­tin­ued, and there was no cause for alarm — or de­bate. Not sur­pris­ingly, con­tro­versy fol­lowed Ed­ward Snow­den’s June 2013 rev­e­la­tions on gov­ern­ment data col­lec­tion.

The re­newal of the Pa­triot Act, ini­tially passed shortly af­ter the 9/ 11 at­tacks, in­cluded lim­i­ta­tions on sur­veil­lance. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has added re­stric­tions.

U. S. gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance of large num­bers of cit­i­zens is not un­prece­dented. Long be­fore 9/11, Cold War con­cerns led to com- para­ble prac­tices, some of which were illegal.

In 1967, amid civil rights and anti- Viet­nam War protests, U. S. Army Gen. Wil­liam P. Yar­bor­ough, As­sis­tant Chief of Staff for In­tel­li­gence, ini­ti­ated un­prece­dented ex­ten­sive do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance in­volv­ing Army In­tel­li­gence and the CIA as well as the NSA.

In the fol­low­ing decade, public ex­po­sure by the U.S. Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee led by Sen. Frank Church (Demo­crat, Idaho) cur­tailed the pro­gram. Var­i­ous re­forms fol­lowed. The ear­lier mul­ti­a­gency spy­ing em­pha­sized both elec­tronic and hu­man sur­veil­lance. The NSA to­day min­i­mizes hu­man di­men­sions.

Un­fair crit­ics af­ter 9/11 den­i­grated the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion for cut­ting back on hu­man in­tel­li­gence. Mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity bud­gets gen­er­ally were re­duced af­ter the Cold War. Amer­i­cans fa­vor tech­nol­ogy tools, re­flected in the cuts.

We must re­sist this im­bal­ance. Ac­cu­rate im­por­tant in­tel­li­gence is dif­fi­cult to col­lect and eval­u­ate ef­fec­tively even when mul­ti­ple means are used. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War.” Con­tact him at

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