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Response to Review of The Image of the Enemy: Intelligence Analysis of Adversaries since 1945

I am grateful to Charlie Hall for reading The Image of the Enemy so carefully. His review is a good one which summarizes the chapters well and makes well-judged observations about them. It is a very positive review; he makes only one criticism, which is that the book is really made up of two parts, the first four chapters and the last four, and the introduction and conclusion devote more attention to the first part than the second. Let me reply to this criticism before I comment briefly on his review.

The reason the introduction and conclusion comment more on the first four chapters is that they concern the Cold War. Since it is now over, government records on the intelligence analyses of some of the main Cold War protagonists have now been opened for public inspection. In American, German and British archives, a wealth of intelligence and other relevant government files are now available. Even in Russia, thanks to the memoirs of former Soviet officials and KGB officers and the intelligence records smuggled to the West by the KGB defectors Vasili Mitrokhin and Oleg Gordievsky, enough information has entered the public domain for a picture to be formed of what intelligence the Soviet leadership received and how well it handled it. Raymond Garthoff, Ben Fischer, Matthias Uhl and I have made use of these sources to determine how well the intelligence agencies and the policy-makers they served performed. Our chapters make up the first part of the book.

The four chapters which make up the second part concern British intelligence on the Provisional IRA (PIRA or the IRA), Israeli intelligence on Palestinian terrorism, Pakistani intelligence on India, and American intelligence on Islamist terrorism since 1989. Three of these conflicts continue to the present day; the last, PIRA’s campaign of terror violence against Britain, is a recent and painful memory. Comparatively little archival material is available concerning the intelligence analyses studied in these chapters; it is, therefore, much harder than in the Cold War case to draw general lessons which bind these four case studies together. However, each offers lessons for the student of intelligence, which is why these chapters belong in the book. The purpose of the book is not to make all the chapters advance one argument. It is to enable each to offer lessons for intelligence analysts, policy-makers and students of intelligence and international relations, bearing in mind the important lessons drawn by Ernest May from the pre-1945 case studies in his book, Knowing One’s Enemies.(1a) All the chapters in The Image of the Enemy draw such lessons as they can about intelligence analysis and the reception of intelligence by policy-makers; all bear May’s maxims in mind; all relate to the period since 1945; so all belong in the same book.

As I write above, Charlie Hall’s summaries of the chapters are good and his comments sensible ones. Therefore, I wish only to refer the reader to points which he may have overlooked. Raymond Garthoff goes further than Charlie Hall says. He not only writes that ideology blurred Soviet leaders’ view of the United States; he argues that this put in motion a vicious cycle of intelligence reporting, whereby the leadership’s hostility to the United States put pressure on Soviet intelligence agencies to pass on intelligence which accorded with – and reinforced – that hostility. Garthoff regards the most important factor in diminishing that hostility as the personal contacts Soviet leaders had with their American counterparts. So diplomacy was more valuable than intelligence in this respect. Eunan O’Halpin addresses the same theme in his chapter, pointing out that British ambassadors in Dublin had a good understanding of Irish politics and passed it on to London.

In my chapter, I argue that the German Democratic Republic (GDR)’s foreign intelligence service, the HVA, did not go as far as the KGB: though it was not willing to confront the GDR’s leaders with intelligence analyses which contradicted their thinking, it passed on much information which they did not agree with or like. This factual style of reporting is probably as good as intelligence analysis in the Soviet Bloc got. It was not as good as the intelligence analysis of the US intelligence community.

Ben Fischer is less sympathetic to the United States’ National Intelligence Council than Charlie Hall says: he makes clear that the authors of National Intelligence Estimates on the Soviet Union, in the heyday of détente in the first half of the 1970s, were influenced by their political masters’ support for détente and reached conclusions about Soviet policy which assisted American engagement with the USSR. The US intelligence community produced much good analysis on the USSR, but it also tried – albeit subconsciously – to make détente work.

While Matthias Uhl’s chapter may be episodic, it examines key moments in West Germany’s Cold War and is a good partner chapter to Ben Fischer’s. Both chapters shed light on Western intelligence analyses of states seen as militarily and politically threatening to their respective governments; they also examine the relationship between these governments and their intelligence agencies. Ben Fischer shows that the US intelligence community had a good relationship with its government – so good that intelligence analysts took on the biases of the policy-makers they served. By contrast, the West German government relied little on the analyses it received from its intelligence agencies; this was, bizarrely, one thing the governments of the two German states had in common.

All the chapters in the second half of the book are, in whole or in part, about terrorism. Julian Richards’ chapter is in part about the involvement of Pakistani Intelligence in terrorism (in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan itself); the other three chapters concern intelligence support to counter-terrorism. The academic literature on these subjects is too thin and the chapters are a valuable addition to it. Charlie Hall writes that the British greatly exaggerated the threat which PIRA posed. While Eunan O’Halpin does indeed write of British alarm at the threat posed by PIRA, he also points out that Britain’s greatest mistake, in the words of a former Director-General of the Security Service (MI5), was ‘not taking the IRA seriously enough early enough’. Another important theme of his chapter is Britain’s underestimation of the significance of loyalist terrorism, which is a surprising aspect of the conflict since it was loyalist violence which caused the Troubles in the first place.

Tamir Libel and Shlomo Shpiro had to deal with strict government secrecy: Israel does not make its intelligence analyses public. Nevertheless, they show that Israeli intelligence agencies have been more successful at giving warning of terrorist attacks than at monitoring the development of Palestinian opinion. In my view, the major issues raised by their chapter are whether aggressive policy-makers like Binyamin Netanyahu will allow Israel’s intelligence agencies to depict the proclivities of the Palestinians as they really are, in view of the political sensitivity of these findings, and whether Israel has more enemies than it can adequately monitor. I hope that media coverage of Israel and further academic research will shed light on these matters.

Julian Richards also had to cope with strict government secrecy. However, two factors were in his favour: Pakistan’s dismal record of military defeat by India, which has brought errors of its military leaders and intelligence officials to light, and exposures made by a brave Pakistani press. His chapter underlines how important these two factors are in holding even the most secretive parts of government to account. Richards shows clearly that Pakistan’s military leaders looked down on Hindu India. They disregarded intelligence which did not accord with their sense of superiority. Pakistan’s defeats to India in war sent it – and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate – down the road to terrorism.

Mark Stout’s chapter on US intelligence on Islamist terrorism is a good one, as Charlie Hall says. However, since he is writing about the present day, he likewise has no access to crucial information. One unanswered question arising from his chapter is precisely how intelligence is influencing US government policy on terrorism, save by providing targets for its lethal drones. Another is how effective even an intelligence community as huge as the American can be when its adversaries are scattered across large parts of the world and live among populations unsympathetic to the United States.

As I write above, every chapter in the book draws lessons about intelligence analysis and the reception of intelligence by policy-makers from which those interested in intelligence will profit. The first four chapters reach sound retrospective judgements on the information support given to their governments by some of the leading intelligence agencies of the Cold War. The second four chapters shed much-needed light on how and why Pakistani Intelligence has become involved in terrorism and on the information support given to recent and contemporary counter-terrorist campaigns. Every chapter shows that the Cold War record of intelligence provides much support for the maxims Ernest May distilled from intelligence’s performance in the first half of the 20th century. The entire book demonstrates that intelligence has from 1945 to the present day played an important role in the decision-making of governments around the world.


  1. Ernest May, Knowing One’s Enemies (Princeton, NJ, 1984).Back to (1a)