Professional (and creative) writing at the CIA
“Invisible Ink: At the CIA’s Creative Writing Group” splashed across social media last week. The humorous travelogue is worth reading as novelist Johannes Lichtmas tries (and fails) to negotiate for a speaking fee, battles parking, and is surprised by how free spies are to write.
But the piece got me wondering—does the CIA have a professional journal?
Studies in Intelligence
The CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence sponsors Studies in Intelligence, just as the Army maintains a system of journals to provide useful articles and to stimulate military thought. Intelligence is a quarterly journal that publishes unclassified and classified articles on the methodology and history of intelligence that is now in its 68th year.
Notably, Studies in Intelligence partially meets the web-first, mobile-friendly standard advocated for by the Harding Project. Their slick website works well on mobile devices and phones, but readers must download PDFs to move past the introduction.1 Unfortunately, their archives hard to use. On the website, the archives go back to 1992, with author, title, and topic guides similar to what Infantry produces for a larger pool of articles, and then the rest of the unclassified holdings available at the National Archives. Given that so much of the CIA’s work is classified, continued emphasis on the printed form may make sense for them.
As with the Army’s journals, Studies in Intelligence has evolved over time. The CIA credits Sherman Kent with piloting Studies in Intelligence. Kent’s forceful first article asserted the requirement for a literature to mature the profession that should sound familiar to readers here.2 Kent argues:
As long as [the intelligence] discipline lacks a literature, its method, its vocabulary, its body of doctrine, and even its fundamental theory run the risk of never reaching full maturity. I will not say that you cannot have a discipline without a literature, but I will assert that you are unlikely to have a robust and growing discipline without one.
And he persuaded the CIA’s senior leaders of the importance of a journal. In an early issue, the Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles, wrote in an introductory essay that Intelligence would serve “as a dynamic means of refining our doctrines . . . [that] cannot but improve our capabilities to turn out a better product.” Since the 1950s, Intelligence has published hundreds of articles and evolved into its current form.
Today, the unclassified excerpts of Studies in Intelligence contain five sections. First, historical pieces. The current issue includes an article on General Marshall as special envoy to China in the 1940s. Second, methodological pieces. Three articles on artificial intelligence fill this section in the current issue. Third, commentary. A sole article on the humanities and intelligence comprises this section in this issue. Fourth, tradecraft. An article on the introduction of “devils advocate” analytical approaches after the 1973 war is the sole article on tradecraft in this issue. Finally, there is a section on intelligence in public media. The current issue includes eight pieces reviewing books and media, and a recommended reading list for intelligence professionals. Notably, all of the articles in the unclassified excerpts are by retired or non-CIA personnel, at least according to their bios, suggesting articles by active CIA personnel are classified.
Studies in Intelligence and the Army’s journals both demonstrate a remarkable commitment to freedom of thought. Kent fought for and established Intelligence at the CIA in the 1950s as leaders today must protect and advocate for our journals today.
Kent’s article “The Need for an Intelligence Literature” is remarkably readable and definitely applicable to the Army as well. I strongly encourage readers to skim through or read the entire thing.