"In this cogently argued and revealing book, Jervis, a veteran CIA consultant, uses the Iranian and Iraqi cases to dissect why, in some circumstances, intelligence fails to provide accurate analysis to policymakers. . . . The section on Iran . . . identifies a number of errors with respect to intelligence on Iran, ranging from the mistaken belief that the shah was strong enough to undertake decisive and sustained action against his opponents to underestimating the role played by religion and nationalism in Iranian society. In the section on Iraq . . . Jervis contends that the fundamental reason for the WMD intelligence failure was that it made the most sense to assume that the country possessed WMD, given the Iraqi government's previous behavior. Highly recommended for all interested academic and general readers."—Library Journal (15 March 2010)
"In Why Intelligence Fails, Jervis examines two important U.S. intelligence lapses—the fall of the Shah in Iran and WMDs in Iraq—and tries to account for what went awry. After both, the CIA hired Jervis—a longtime student of international affairs—to help the agency sort out its mistakes. He thus brings an invaluable perspective as a smart outsider with sufficient inside access to appraise the agency's blind spots."—Gabriel Schoenfeld, Wall Street Journal, 24 February 2010
"There is no one better than Robert Jervis at dissecting intelligence, and this book is proof. Happily, at long, long last he has managed to free his three-decade-old inside postmortem on intelligence failure during the early stages of the Iranian revolution from the dark of classification, and he has coupled that with his recent writings on intelligence's woeful performance over those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that weren't. His conclusion is both wise and discomfiting: In both cases, doing better 'would have been to make the intelligence judgments less certain rather than to reach fundamentally different conclusions. Furthermore, better intelligence would not have led to an effective policy.'"—Gregory F. Treverton, RAND Corporation
"Why Intelligence Fails is a valuable and unique book combining a quasi-memoir from an eminent political scientist, well-applied theory, and two important case studies, with a healthy regard for 'insoluble dilemmas of intelligence and policy-making.'"—Bruce W. Jentleson, Duke University
"This is the sort of thorough, integrative, and provocative work we've come to expect from Robert Jervis. Students of the craft will find much to debate and ponder in this thoughtful assessment."—John McLaughlin, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University
"Jervis's practical experience is as a consultant with the CIA, and he offers a refreshing analysis and defense of this engagement with a government agency. Why Intelligence Fails feels like a reflection on a lifetime of thinking about intelligence. . . . The case studies (one of which is a slightly redacted version of the lessons-learned report Jervis wrote for the CIA about the Iranian Revolution, complete with comments made on it by senior CIA figures) ably highlight the lessons Jervis wishes us to take away from his study. Most importantly, he argues that further reforms of the intelligence machinery—a favorite reflex of politicians—will not necessarily produce improvements to intelligence product."— Robert Dover, International Affairs
Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University. He is the author of many books, including The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, also from Cornell, and, most recently, American Foreign Policy in a New Era.