Intelligence & National Security in American Society

Since the earliest days of the Revolution, American leaders have engaged in intelligence activities to uncover the plans and intentions of state enemies (external and internal), to inform our foreign relations, and often to influence the course of events abroad to our advantage.  To be successful, such intelligence activities must be planned and conducted in secret thereby creating a tension between our national security interests and a democratic political process that depends fundamentally on openness and transparency to gain the informed consent of the citizenry.  From its founding through the end of World War II, the US engaged most strenuously in intelligence during times of war.  This practice lessened critical scrutiny of secret activities that were broadly understood as necessary to defend the nation.  The onset of the Cold War and establishment of a large peacetime intelligence bureaucracy - -  combined with revelations of domestic political activities and widespread interference in foreign political processes - - brought this tension into sharper focus and led to reforms aimed at providing more disciplined management and oversight of US intelligence.

More recently, disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about electronic surveillance programs and a congressional report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert detention and interrogation program ignited a public debate that is still underway about the adequacy of intelligence oversight and, more broadly, the appropriate role for intelligence and national security in modern American society.  In this PRP, students will study and conduct research on US intelligence along with the full range of existing and proposed mechanisms to constrain its activities and ensure US intelligence routinely serves rather than undermines our national interests.  In addition to more traditional management and oversight tools within the executive and legislative branches, students will survey and evaluate newer and emerging participants in this process, including the courts, media (both traditional and “ new"), and an expanding number of non-governmental organizations and interest groups that seek to track and comment on US intelligence activities.  The current Director of National Intelligence, the statutory head of the US intelligence community, has pledged a new era for public transparency in intelligence with the stated goal of correcting misperceptions, articulating the need for effective intelligence, and enhancing public trust in the profession and our security institutions.  The course will focus particular attention on this “ transparency” initiative and seek to assess its core elements, limitations, and durable impact.  The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (pending confirmation) will serve as the primary client for the PRP final report that will include recommendations for improving the functioning and credibility of the studied oversight mechanisms.  The congressional oversight committees (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) will likely serve as secondary clients.

Students will initially build a solid foundational understanding of the structure and activities of the US intelligence community through lectures (faculty and guest), readings and informed classroom discussions.  After introducing relevant research concepts, methodologies, and techniques, students will design a research plan and create a project time-line.  The plan will guide research by student teams into each major class of management and oversight that impacts the conduct of US intelligence.  This phase of the project will include specialized readings and interviews with current and former practitioners.  Interviews will be conducted in Washington, D.C., as well as in Austin with senior visitors invited to campus in connection the Intelligence Studies Project.  The final PRP report will be briefed and delivered to the client and other stakeholders in Spring 2016 in Washington, D.C.  This PRP will be well-suited to students interested in intelligence and national security topics, but equally to those with an interest in law, journalism, political theory and civil liberties.