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Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs) Hardcover – February 4, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University. He is the author of many books, includingThe Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, also from Cornell, and, most recently,American Foreign Policy in a New Era.


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Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs
  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; First Edition edition (February 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801447852
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801447853
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #832,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on April 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Undoubtedly the most interesting portion of this very interesting book, is the CIA sponsored post-mortem report on why the Iranian Revolution caught CIA by surprise. Remarkably, this report is presented in full with very few redactions and includes the critiques of the report by senior CIA officials. As such it makes for fascinating reading.
The brief given to Jervis (then a part time CIA consultant) and an unnamed CIA officer who was to assist in this work was to concentrate on the specific issue of the analytic tradecraft employed by CIA Iranian analysts prior to the revolution. On the whole Jervis and his shadowy assistant produced what appears to be a very fair report. This report concluded that given the information available to them, the two CIA political analysts assigned to Iran did a pretty credible job. One of these analysts was actually an Iranian target expert and Farsi linguist.
Yet it is clear that these analysts took a very narrow view of their specialty and failed to place political events in the context of social and economic changes then effecting Iran. They also failed to make use of open source information on Iran or examine the strong Shia religious influences affecting Iran. As Jervis noted in his report what was then CIA's office of political analysis failed to communicate with its office of economic analysis. Further the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Iran failed to communicate with any of the analysts working Iran or to provide any guidance to them. Although his brief specifically did not include collection issues, Jervis also noted that the U.S. Embassy staff in Tehran (including CIA officers) included no Farsi speakers and did not have significant contacts outside of the Iranian Government.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By HMS Warspite TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In 2010's "Why Intelligence Fails", author Robert Jervis offers some clear-eyed, rigorous analysis of two of the US Intelligence Community's more infamous alleged failures. Jervis is an academic by trade, but not an accidential tourist in the Intelligence Community, having served as an outside consultant.

The book has four parts. In an extended introduction, Jervis discusses his own background, including potential biases, and his personal interactions with the US Intelligence Community.

The second part is Jervis's official postmortem on the failure to predict the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1978, written for the CIA and only recently declassified. The third part is Jervis' review of the 2003 Iraq WMD controversy.

In the Iran and Iraq case studies, Jervis supplies valuable context on the respective analyses and finds that the analysts, based on the information available to them, came up with plausible and reasonable assessments, that happened to be wrong. Further, although he identifies both procedural and factual errors, he is skeptical that changes would have produced significantly better results, due in part to the nature of the respective targets.

The final portion of the book is a broad discussion of the interaction between the intelligence community and policy makers, focusing on why that interaction is so hard to get right, and why periodic reorganizations of the intelligence community fail to fix the problems.

"Why Intelligence Fails" can make for dry reading. However, Jervis' analysis is an antidote to an often incorrect public general consensus. This book, especially the last chapter, is very highly recommended to intelligence professionals, and the general reader looking for a reasonably apolitical perspective.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steven Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why does intelligence fail? Is there anything we can do to address failure? Those are key questions addressed by political scientist Robert Jervis. His methodology is appropriate: he uses two case studies to examine intelligence failure and how one might diagnose failure and improve matters to reduce the odds of major failure in the future.

The two case studies are the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Shah and the inaccurate intelligence on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the run up to the Iraq War and the deposing of Saddam Hussein. The first of the case studies is based on Jervis' own report to the CIA after the failure of intelligence in the Iran event. Here, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the United States was caught unaware. Intelligence breakdowns of one sort or another were a part of this (from descriptive rather than analytic intelligence, pre-existing beliefs about what was going on, and the like). While Jervis notes some means of addressing problems, he notes that it would not be certain that--even then--the rapid fall of the Shah would have been clearly predicted.

The second case study is the failure of intelligence regarding WMD in Iraq. The book examines the nature of the failure and then tries to explain that failure. Among factors leading to failure--confirmation bias (seeking information to demonstrate that there were WMD), individual analysts'/operatives' failures (e.g., trusting Curveball, a source of information on Iraq who was, as it turns out, not a reliable source).

How to address intelligence failure? Jervis is critical of the "reforms" initiated within the intelligence community.
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