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 
10 February – 21 April | Spring 2022 
Thursdays, 4:30-6:00pm 
Classified Locations across HKS 

Study Group Facilitators: 
Paul Kolbe, Director of the Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project
Dr. Calder Walton, Intelligence Project Research Director
Dr. Michael Miner, Harvard Lecturer and Intelligence Project Research Associate
Dr. Maria Robson Morrow, Intelligence Project Program Coordinator

Contact Emails:

The Intelligence Study Group is designed for students considering careers in government or private sector intelligence, as well as for those interested in a broad introduction to the use and abuse of intelligence. Over the course of 10 sessions, participants will become familiar with intelligence history, methodology, organizations and practice. The Study Group will use historical examples (‘Applied History’), current readings, and discussion to examine how intelligence enhances policy decision-making, where it fails, and the differences between intelligence in liberal democracies and one-party states. The sessions will be led by former senior CIA officer Paul Kolbe, Director of the Belfer Center Intelligence Project, and intelligence historian, Calder Walton, Belfer Intelligence Project Director of Research, Maria Robson Morrow, Intelligence Project Program Coordinator, and Michael Miner, Intelligence Project Research Associate and Harvard Instructor.  

Participation is limited to 30 students and is determined by application. 

Core Text: Lowenthal, Mark M, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, 8th edition (2019)

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 the 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. 
  • Discuss why intelligence failures occur and what can be done to prevent them. 


Participation is limited to 30 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 highly encouraged. As with all Intelligence Project seminars, the study group operates under Chatham House Rules.

The application window will run from Friday, January 7,to Monday, January 31. To apply, please use the application button below.

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 – 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 4 – 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 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 – Covert Action and Influence 

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

Session 7 – 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 8 – 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 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 – Ethics and Intelligence 

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