Report: Marking the CIA’s 75th Anniversary: Reflections on the Past, Visions of the Future

The Intelligence Project has published its latest report on December 6th, 2022. This report is derived from a conference hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project. “Marking the CIA’s 75th Anniversary: Reflections on the Past, Visions of the Future” explored the agency’s history and inflection points that shaped US policy. Five panels examined successes, failures, popular culture, career trajectories, historical perspectives, and looked ahead to anticipate new requirements over the next 75 years. Participants reflected upon origins and evolution, specifically how the agency adapted to meet new challenges, and whether the organization has remained consistent with the original mission. In sum, the CIA’s 75th Anniversary Conference at Harvard reflected on the agency’s past while yielding important lessons for the next generation. 

The Intelligence Project seeks to build a new generation of intelligence practitioners prepared to serve in a rapidly changing world and to help future policymakers and intelligence consumers understand how best to interact with intelligence to gain a decision advantage. Building on multi-disciplinary research being conducted at the Belfer Center, from history to human rights and cyber technologies, the Intelligence Project links intelligence agencies with Belfer researchers, Faculty, and Kennedy School students, to enrich their education and impact public policy.

Intelligence Practice: Rapidly changing technology, epochal geopolitical shifts, and evolving conflict dynamics, will all severely challenge the work of intelligence agencies in the decades to come. Traditional threats such as terrorism, great power competition, and espionage, have been joined by new challenges posed by cyber-attack, massively scaled disinformation, and climate change. The Intelligence Project examines the intelligence methodologies, technologies, human cadres, and organizational structures, which will shape how well intelligence agencies protect nations facing these challenges. It does so through weekly term-term speaker and discussion events, which explore fundamental questions about the use and abuse of intelligence by governments— past, present, and future.

Intelligence and Policy: For many aspiring policy-makers, the first time they are exposed to the capabilities and benefits of the intelligence community in policy-making happens when they arrive at their first government job authorizing them a security clearance.  This is too late to prepare to wade through the reams of classified data, which can either illuminate or obfuscate reality depending on the ability of a reader to interpret it. The Intelligence Project acquaints students and Fellows with the intelligence community and its strengths and weaknesses for policy making.  Discussions with active and retired intelligence practitioners, scholars of intelligence history, law, and other disciplines, help students and Fellows prepare to best use the information available through intelligence agencies while avoiding the pitfalls of over-reliance on intelligence products in making policy.

Recanati-Kaplan Fellows Program:  The Intelligence Project sponsors the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation Fellows Program, which educates the next generation of thought leaders in national and international intelligence and supports their research to develop policy-relevant knowledge for the most pressing security issues.

Elbe Group: As US and Soviet forces converged in Germany in the final days of WWII, soldiers from both armies met at the River Elbe near Torgau. That historic meeting of comrades, united in the face of common threats, is the inspiration for the creation of the Elbe Group to maintain an open and continuous channel of communication on sensitive issues of US-Russian relations.  The members of the Elbe Group are senior retired military and intelligence flag officers, all of whom have strong connections back into their governments. It is an unprecedented gathering of senior veterans from the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), Ministry of Defense, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Defense (DoD).


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Harvard Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project 
9 February – 27 April | Spring 2023 
Thursdays, 4:30-6:00pm 
Classified Location within HKS

Applications Closed for Spring 2023 

Study Group Co-Convenors: 
Dr. Michael Miner, Harvard Lecturer and Intelligence Project Associate
Dr. Calder Walton, Intelligence Project Research Director
Dr. Maria Robson-Morrow, Intelligence Project Program Manager

Contact Emails:

The Intelligence Study Group is designed for Harvard students considering careers in government or the private sector as well as those interested in a broad introduction to intelligence. Over the course of 11 sessions, participants study fundamentals, history, methodology, and organizations. The group uses case studies, scholarly works, and vibrant discussion to examine how intelligence enhances decision-making, supports policy, where it fails, and the differences between democracies and one-party states. Sessions are co-convened by members of the Belfer Center Intelligence Project including Harvard Lecturer Dr. Michael Miner, Intelligence Historian Dr. Calder Walton, and Project Manager Dr. Maria Robson-Morrow. In addition, many sessions feature special guests from the Belfer Center Intelligence Project's core group of fellows, offering deep practitioner experience and insight on world affairs.

Participation is limited to 40 students determined by application. The application will remain open until February 1 with initial decisions shortly thereafter.

Core Text: Lowenthal, Mark M, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, 9th edition (2022). We will provide students with an electronic copy.

Key Learning Outcomes: 
Participants will:

  • Gain an understanding of the intelligence cycle and its relevance to the government and private sector, including the relationship between intelligence professionals and their policy maker customers. 
  • Learn major intelligence collection disciplines and their application to analytical problems faced by governments and private sector. 
  • Apply analytic methodologies and identify common impediments to accurate intelligence analysis. 
  • Develop understanding of covert action principles and techniques and assess their relevance and limitations. 
  • Examine counterintelligence issues to include insider threats and cyber espionage. 
  • Explore the use and abuse of intelligence by governments-- both democratic and dictatorial-- and the impact that intelligence can have on international affairs. 
  • Assess present-day intelligence and national security crises through lens of historical precedents. 
  • Examine applications of intelligence beyond government agencies.
  • Discuss why intelligence failures occur and what can be done to prevent them. 


Participation is limited to 40 students determined by application. The study group is open to all Harvard students, faculty, fellows, and staff. No prior experience with, or knowledge of, the topic is necessary. Participation in discussion and weekly attendance is expected by successful applicants. The study group will be conducted under Chatham House Rules and located on the HKS campus. We will meet on Thursday afternoons from 4:30PM to 6:00PM beginning February 9 through April 27, 2023.

The application will remain open until February 1 with initial decisions shortly thereafter. To apply, please fill out the information below, and we will contact you as space allows.

Course Syllabus: 

Session 1 – Introduction: What is Intelligence?  

  • Study group introductions, overview, and expectations 
  • Intelligence authorities and organization: the US Intelligence Community
  • The Intelligence Cycle: from initial tasking to final intelligence assessment; customers and stakeholders; what are the questions?
  • Key definitions: FI, CA, CI; what is intelligence and what is not? The difference between intelligence and espionage
  • Intelligence oversight 

Session 2Intelligence Collection: HUMINT

  • Human intelligence, from ancient times to present 
  • Agents – the epitome of espionage  
  • The agent acquisition cycle 
  • Vetting and Validation, handling, and termination 
  • Traditional vs. war-zone collection
  • Cases: Penkovsky, Tolkachev, Gordievsky 

Session 3 – Intelligence Analysis  

  • What is the question?
  • Embedded assumptions of analysts, policymakers, and executives 
  • Needs of decision-makers - pros and cons of accommodating them
  • Analytic Traps:  Psychological bias, past is prologue, ethnocentrism, mirror imaging, politicization.
  • Estimative language and assessment of probability

Session 4– Technical Collection 

  • Artificial Intelligence and Espionage
  • SIGINT Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
  • Big collection, big data, big problems, big results
  • Intelligence, surveillance, and privacy
  • Private sector surveillance state 

 Session 5 – Intelligence Failures, Intelligence Successes 

  • How and why intelligence failures occur
  • Unpacking 9/11 and intelligence reform
  • Iraq weapons of mass destruction
  • Intelligence successes
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Afghanistan - anti Soviet campaign
  • Bosnia and Kosovo 

Session 6 – Ethics and Intelligence 

  • Ethics in liberal democracies governing intelligence collection (“spying”) and covert actions.
  • Case study examples of ethical dilemmas.

Session  7 – Covert Action and Influence 

  • Political and economic operations  
  • Paramilitary operations 
  • Cyber and media  operations
  • Presidential findings
  • Iran, Bay of Pigs, Dr. Zhivago       

Session 8 – Counterintelligence: The Wilderness of Mirrors 

  • Definitions of counterintelligence (CI), counterespionage and counter-surveillance
  • Insider Threats – Espionage, Workplace Violence, Cyber and Terror
  • Vetting and validation tools – investigation, polygraph, ops tests
  • The five ‘Cambridge spies’
  • Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, Edward Snowden, Jerry Lee                                                                                  

 Session 9 – 2020 Intelligence-Policy Nexus 

  • Intel providers, consumers, and policy customers 
  • Barriers to effective use of intelligence 
  • How intel providers fail their customers
  • Getting it right: systems, products, relationships, and trust

Session 10 – Intelligence in Democracy and Dictatorships 

  • Compare and contrast of intelligence use in one party dictatorships and liberal democracies
  • Intelligence as a political tool
  • Russia, China, and authoritarian systems: FSB and MSS
  • Authorities, legitimacy, accountability, and transparency

Session 11 – Private Sector Intelligence

  • Compare and contrast the application of intelligence in government and in the private sector

  • Intelligence’s role in mitigating security and geopolitical risks to people, assets, and operations, and serving as a force multiplier for corporate decision making

  • Intelligence teams and structures in the private sector

  • Public-private intelligence liaison