‘Intelligence, Crises and Diplomacy: Lessons from History?’, 7-9 May 2005

The ‘Intelligence, Crises and Diplomacy: Lessons from History?’ conference, organised by the CIISS in Aberystwyth, brought together intelligence experts from across Britain, continental Europe, the Middle East and North America, built upon our 2002 conference ‘Journeys in Shadows: Understanding Intelligence in the Twenty-First Century’. The aim in 2005 was to explore a variety of past and more contemporary case studies (ranging chronologically from the 1920s to the present day) in order to discern their implications for the use of secret intelligence.

Ever since intelligence was described as the ‘missing dimension’ of international affairs, the development of intelligence studies as a subsidiary of international politics has continued to flourish, and the subject is now widely taught in Europe, North America and beyond. Over recent years the study of international security and history has been enhanced significantly by greater understanding of the role of intelligence in national security and foreign policy decision-making. A great deal of intelligence research has been carried out by historians making use of documents drawn from government archives, a methodology evident in many of the papers offered at the present conference. Advances in the release of archival material, accelerated by the end of the Cold War, as well as by changing attitudes to official secrecy (embodied in England and Wales by the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act in 2005), and by a greater openness on the part of many security and intelligence services themselves, have all facilitated research, understanding and debate. Recent controversies, including those surrounding the apparent organisational deficiencies of the American intelligence apparatus and allegations of the political manipulation of intelligence information in the run-up to the attack on Iraq in 2003, have focused additional public as well as more specialised attention on how the role of intelligence can shape contemporary politics and security.

This conference came at an opportune time for discerning any ‘lessons from history’ to further the understanding and use of intelligence and formed the basis for the book:  Len Scott and R. Gerald Hughes (eds), Intelligence, Crises and Security: Prospects and Retrospects  (London: Routledge, 2008).