Intelligence in National Security Policy
№2 2003 April/June

Since the end of World War II, intelligence has evolved into one
of the three primary instruments employed in national security
strategies, together with diplomacy and military force. In fact,
the postwar years have ushered in not just intelligence per se, but
increasingly ramified “intelligence communities.”

In the United States, for example, these are the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency of the
Department of Defense, intelligence services in individual branches
of the Armed Forces, the National Security Agency, and a special
service of the Department of Energy. Furthermore, the U.S.
Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service have
foreign intelligence departments of their own (the foreign
intelligence of the IRS is considered to be one of the most
efficient secret services in the U.S.).

In Russia, the number of intelligence services multiplied
following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Soviet-era KGB broke
up into the Foreign Intelligence Service (Russian acronym SVR), the
Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information
(FAPSI), the Federal Border Guard Service (FPS), and the Federal
Security Service (FSB) which is intended to ensure internal
security but which by law also performs intelligence functions. In
a way, the State Customs Committee has intelligence functions as

Military intelligence occupies a special place in the
“intelligence community.” On the one hand, it comprises strategic
intelligence and operational reconnaissance, and in many cases is
subordinate not to the defense minister (who is of a higher rank)
but to the chief of the General Staff. This implies the existence
of at least two hierarchical levels separating the military
intelligence chief from the highest levels of administration. On
the other hand, strategic assessments, conclusions and concrete
information concerning the country’s military security, often
obtained “from a special point of view,” may be of great interest
not only to the defense minister but also to the top state
leadership. This explains why the military intelligence chief must
be able to report on major issues directly to the highest levels of
administration in the country (presumably in the presence, or with
the knowledge of, the defense minister and the chief of the General

The duality of this position of military intelligence is one of
the reasons why it is often reorganized and placed under the
command of different bodies. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, this
reshuffling occurred on a regular basis in the Soviet Union. At
this time, strategic intelligence was first made subordinate to the
defense minister, who belonged to the country’s top political
leadership, and then to the chief of the General Staff, who
occupied a position one step lower than the defense minister.

One of the most important tasks of the intelligence services is
to forewarn its government about events that may occur at a certain
time in the future and that pose a threat to national security.
Contrary to popular belief, this mission is accomplished not only
by means of reports from individual “super spies” or spy networks,
but also through an in-depth analysis of diverse information
obtained both overtly and covertly.

History demonstrates that an overwhelming majority of
intelligence services prefer obtaining information, storing it in
their top secret files, and then delivering to their leaders not
conclusions (or rather proposals), which require in-depth analysis,
but pure facts. This type of presentation is less hazardous for the
intelligence chiefs, but unacceptable to an overwhelming majority
of state leaders, especially if they do not possess a strong
analytical think-tank.

While issuing a warning about a particular threat, intelligence
services must pay special attention to the correlation between
general tendencies and information relevant to future developments.
An overwhelming majority of state leaders focus their efforts on
addressing current problems. This factor prompts intelligence
chiefs to supply mostly current information to their

Another task of the intelligence service is to prepare summary
reports on the political, military-political and economic
situation. It is also vital to provide analysis on the concrete
problems (or regions) defined by the state leadership as top
priority from the viewpoint of national security. These summaries
must be based on specific intelligence, obtained by means and
methods that are not available to the Foreign Ministry or the
Ministry of Economics. If intelligence services prepare summaries
on the basis of open sources (or worse, offer trivial, obvious
conclusions to their findings), state leaders will, in the best
case scenario, simply lose interest in such information.

Another important mission of the intelligence services is the
assessment of potential enemies (as well as potential allies and
neutral states).

This assessment of potential enemies consists of the following
two parts: assessment of capabilities and assessment of

The first part of the assessment requires obtaining information
on the combat personnel of the enemy armed forces, reserve units,
and the military equipment already in service, as well as those
systems under development. It must also assess the mobilization
potential in terms of the financial, industrial, agricultural and
manpower resources; this would also include assessing the
efficiency of control at all levels, the quality of combat and
operational training, and so forth.

Overestimating the enemy’s capabilities is often just as
dangerous as underestimating them. A classic example occurred in
World War II when the Soviet Union overestimated the armor
protection of the notorious German Panzer tanks on the eve of the
Nazi-Soviet war. As a result, the Soviet government decided to
cease production of the 45-mm antitank guns and launch production
of higher caliber antitank guns. However, the Soviet Union did not
have enough time to start production of that weapon before the war.
During the war it was discovered that the German tanks had much
thinner armor plating than had been previously believed, and the
45-mm shells of the Soviet army proved powerful enough to pierce
their metal.

Assessment of intentions is necessary for revealing whether or
not a potential enemy is planning to start a war. If it is, certain
questions need answers. For example, what kind of war will it
attempt to wage? What will be the scale of attack? What are the
political and military-strategic objectives? And where will the
enemy deliver its main and auxiliary strikes? Furthermore, while it
is necessary to understand the enemy’s intentions, it is, at the
same time, equally important to determine the enemy’s assessment of
our own armed forces, our strategic control system, intentions of
our state leadership and military command, and their efficiency.
Assessments of the latter kind are often not made, although they
may play a decisive role in the final outcome.

Following the 1939-1940 Soviet-Finnish war, which was a major
setback for the U.S.S.R., German military and political
intelligence services held a very low opinion of the Soviet
strategic control system, not to mention the state of the Soviet
Armed Forces control at all levels. They explained it by Stalin’s
reprisals against Army and Navy commanders and chief executives in
the defense and other industries. The author of this article has
not discovered any evidence that those assessments by the Nazi
state leaders and military command were ever reported to Stalin,
who had personally laid the foundation for these generalizations.
In the meantime, these assessments prompted Hitler to set maximal
objectives for his policy and military strategy concerning the
Soviet Union in 1941, which regarded the Soviet Armed Forces as a
“beheaded colossus with feet of clay.”

Due to the apparent lack of these assessments by the Soviet
intelligence services, Stalin apparently could not fully believe
that Hitler and the Wehrmacht command had plans to rout the
Soviet Armed Forces within weeks. Nor could he imagine that Hitler
hoped for a total victory in a blitzkrieg war when the Red
Army had as many soldiers as the Wehrmacht, as well as its
marked advantage in tank and aircraft strength. It should be
remembered that at that time, the Soviet defense industry had a
high mobilization potential. Hence Stalin’s hope, which was
persistent through the first few days after Germany attacked the
Soviet Union, that Hitler was pursuing some limited goals through
his actions, but that it would remain somehow possible to reach an
agreement with him. These factors caused Stalin to make serious
mistakes in his political and military-strategic decision-making on
the eve of the war and during its first few days.

Recent studies, based on Soviet and German archives, prove that
German intelligence services had no idea of the real military might
of the Soviet Union, especially of the huge scale of the industrial
war preparations in the late 1930s-early 1940s. This lack of
knowledge was due to exceptional secrecy that surrounded those
preparations in the U.S.S.R. It is believed that a demonstration by
the Soviet Union of its real military might could have provided a
deterring, sobering effect on Hitler and his top military

When analyzing this concrete historical situation, one must also
bear in mind that on the eve of Germany’s aggression against the
U.S.S.R. both countries were conducting an active disinformation
campaign against each other, which involved both diplomatic and
intelligence channels. In particular, Germany “leaked”
disinformation that the German leadership was divided over the
issue of war against the Soviet Union, and that the
Wehrmacht was actually preparing strategic actions against
Britain and the Middle East.

Total assessment of the enemy’s intentions requires an in-depth
political and psychological analysis of the main actors of the
enemy’s strategic control system, both as individuals and as “small
groups,” with their specific socio-psychological patterns of
behavior. Apart from official intelligence services, most
significant is the information coming from independent analytical
centers, as well as journalists and even writers who possess a
shrewd mind and a reliable insight into human nature.

An analysis of some recent and more distant historical episodes,
both in Russia and abroad, demonstrates that state leaders and
military command shape their ideas of the enemy not so much on the
basis of intelligence reports, but through their own impressions of
state leaders of other countries, of those countries proper, their
peoples, armies, and so on. These sorts of assessments are
established through personal contacts, from the media, and in more
rare incidences, from historical, sociological or political works,
even if these are popular publications (often these ideas stem from
complicated speculative inferences). Intelligence and diplomatic
assessments are often outweighed by the state leader’s personal
assessments of another country’s leader.

Stalin’s attitude to all warnings by both political and military
intelligence on the eve of the June 22, 1941 aggression by Nazi
Germany against the Soviet Union is an extreme historical example.
A well-known Soviet military intelligence officer,

Mikhail Milstein, who analyzed this situation in his memoirs,
concludes sadly: “Paradoxically, up to the first minutes of the
carnage, Stalin trusted only one man – Hitler.”

In any major country, high-placed officials, when making
important military-political decisions, as a rule do not rely only
on political or military intelligence. Both services have their
natural advantages and shortcomings, which must be well understood
by any state leader. The latter should therefore be neither naively
euphoric, nor overly disdainful, toward the intelligence services
and their capabilities. Unfortunately, both attitudes are not
uncommon and they occasionally reveal themselves in rather odd

State leaders must never expect (nor demand) “absolutely precise
information” from the intelligence services on all issues with
regard to strategic decision-making. Actually, the great successes
of the intelligence services – when the information they obtain
“hits the mark” and makes a significant contribution to strategic
decision-making – are quite rare; nevertheless, they are very
valuable and require large-scale preparatory work to succeed. A
good example of such work was exemplified by Soviet intelligence in
the 1940s when they discovered the secrets pertaining to the
development of the atomic bomb. This significant intelligence
helped the Soviet Union to expedite the development of their
nuclear weapons. As a result, there soon emerged a system of
nuclear deterrence between the Soviet Union and the United States,
which played a major role in preventing a third world war. This
could have occurred as early as the 1950s due to the war in Korea
(there was considerable debate in the U.S. concerning the
implementation of nuclear weapons at this time).

Just as there is a “friction of war” in the military sphere,
there is a “friction of intelligence” in secret spy operations. And
the bigger an intelligence service is, the greater the

If intelligence is properly organized, high-quality intelligence
information may have a decisive effect on strategic
decision-making. Rejecting this information for one reason or
another may have catastrophic consequences, as was the case with
Stalin on the eve of June 22, 1941.

When the average man-on-the-street, or even individuals within
the top political circles, speak of intelligence, they often refer
to “top spies” who became famous after they planted themselves in
the “enemy lair” where they were able to steal sensitive
information. Although these popular “in-the-field” operations are
of tremendous importance, there is another type of intelligence
work which remains virtually unknown to the uninitiated: the
painstaking selection of information received from various sources,
checking and rechecking its authenticity, and then putting the
information through rigorous analysis. Finally, there must be a
formulation of conclusions concerning the prospects for future
developments, together with possible actions by state leaders,
commanders, governments, military agencies, and general staffs.

Moreover, over the last 20 to 25 years there has been a
tremendous growth in the role of electronic intelligence. This
invariably involves the use of satellites, as well as ground-, sea-
and air-based systems for intercepting radio messages, telephone
conversations and data exchanges via the Internet; there is also
the need for various kinds of systems for breaking into
confidential computer networks, and so on. Another important aspect
of this type of intelligence is the processing and selection of
information, together with the preparation of these final reports
for intelligence chiefs and top political leaders.

A majority of intelligence services in major countries have
turned into burgeoning bureaucratic organizations where the
distance between those collecting intelligence and those reporting
it to political leaders is becoming too long. This bureaucratic red
tape impedes the necessary links between politics, national
strategy, military strategy and intelligence, and results in the
loss or distortion of important information.

This excessive bureaucratic red tape transforms intelligence
agencies into inertial institutions which are too slow and sluggish
to face new challenges.

As a matter of fact, all intelligence services experienced an
increased inertia through the decades of the Cold War, which now
hampers their efforts to counter new national security threats. “I
request information on the main terrorist centers and their
leaders, as well as their ties with drug-traffickers in Europe,”
one Western European statesman confided to the author of this
article in the late 1990s, “but they bring me lists of commanding
officers of the Leningrad Military District [of Russia’s Armed
Forces] instead.”

The general inertia of the secret services was a major cause of
the “greatest setback” of the U.S. state security bodies when they
failed to prevent the “megaterror” acts in the United States on
September 11, 2001.

Institutionally, the relations between the intelligence services
and the decision-making political bodies are not in harmony,
especially in peacetime. The same dilemma refers to official
relations between an intelligence service and a state leader. The
reason for this stems from the fact that their modi operandi are
basically different. A political body is primarily public, whereas
intelligence by nature is covert and secretive. Even in the world’s
“oldest democracy” – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland – the identities of the chiefs of its political
intelligence – the Intelligence Service – were kept secret up to
the 1980s.

After the September 11, 2001 “megaterror” act, the interests of
U.S. politics and the interests of U.S. intelligence and
counter-intelligence organizations clashed over whether or not
proof of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in that act should be made
public. Politically, that would have been of paramount importance
for both domestic and foreign audiences (as it would help form an
international anti-terrorist coalition). However, the secret
services wanted their sources of information and methods used to
obtain it to remain highly classified.

When intelligence emerges from the shadows of politics, it is
usually a forced incident caused by some major failure of
intelligence coordination, or through some scandal involving an
operation outside of the legal jurisdiction of the intelligence
services (as was the case in the 1970s when the CIA was accused of
illegal operations on U.S. territory, which was the prerogative of
the counter-intelligence bodies).

In the late 1970s, this author analyzed many historical
situations while, at the same time, examining the provided
informational support for the military-political decision-making
process. The following is a brief summary from that study
concerning the paradoxes of intelligence.

The first paradox: the more valuable and uncommon is the
information gathered and presented by an intelligence body, the
less the heads of state will trust it. Furthermore, the full
perception of this sort of information may prove very

The second paradox: the more valuable a spy, the more difficult
it is to use the vital information he gathers in the interests of
big politics, for fear of revealing the spy and his network. Every
intelligence chief must constantly consider the safety of his
information sources. There have been many cases in history when
particular statesmen, participating in negotiations with their
counterparts from other countries, have openly flaunted information
that had been received from an intelligence source. Naturally, the
unfortunate source was quickly discovered by the opposing side and
permanently removed.

Occasionally, the desire to ensure the absolute safety of a spy
may reach a point where the top leaders of a country are denied
necessary information at a most critical time. A classic example
presented itself in 1941 when U.S. naval intelligence acquired
access to highly classified information shortly before Japan’s
attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. president, who is the official
commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, was actually excluded
for some time from receiving Japanese diplomatic cables deciphered
by American cryptographers. The military feared a leak of
information somewhere on the presidential staff. It has been
revealed to this author by various sources that there existed
similar apprehensions among Soviet and Russian intelligence
services with regard to their own heads of state.

It has also been revealed by Soviet political intelligence
veterans that for many years the KGB stored voluminous and highly
classified files concerning major developments in Western military
policies. This information could have been processed by the Soviet
Defense Ministry’s military specialists (whom political
intelligence lacked) to be reported to the political leaders.
However, the KGB did not share this vital information with other
government agencies and departments in order not to increase the
number of people who knew about its existence.

* * *

Theoretically, intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies
are essentially different bodies equally ensuring the national
security of the country. Indeed, counter-intelligence itself very
often made major contributions of vital information and assessments
to the heads of state and the military command. During World War
II, for example, the Soviet Union’s military counter-intelligence
agency (Smersh), which Stalin made subordinate to himself
personally, became an essential source of military and
military-political information for the Supreme Commander.

On many occasions, valuable “external” intelligence was provided
not only by the KGB’s 1st Main Department, but also the 2nd Main
Department, which was officially in charge of counter-intelligence
activities alone, as well as the 5th Main Department, which was
engaged in “combating ideological subversion.” Therefore, it would
be wise for the heads of state not to scorn intelligence which is
supplied by counter-intelligence means. On the other hand, any
intelligence service performs counter-intelligence functions at the
same time in order to ensure its own security, as well as to
prevent acts of espionage within its country.

The above activities must be strictly regulated by laws,
classified bylaws, the mutual orders of various services and other
necessary procedures in order to avoid the redundant duplication of
functions (as was stated above, however, this duplication is
sometimes inevitable and even necessary). This will also work to
prevent unnecessary rivalry or other conflicts which may damage the
activities of the secret services.

Drawing specific boundaries between the branches of intelligence
and counter-intelligence, as well as between other intelligence
services – especially between political intelligence and military
strategic intelligence – is a very sensitive task requiring
constant supervision from the highest levels of administration,
which relies on its intelligence as an invaluable instrument of
Russia’s national security policy.