The Art of Intelligence

  • Published

The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crumpton. Penguin Books, 2012, 327 pp.

The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service provides Henry Crumpton’s account of his personal experiences serving the government over a 20-year period. He uses a chronological approach, beginning with his initial interest in becoming an agent and concluding with comments about the end of his career. The style of writing is such that the book is easy to read, is interesting, and contains one person’s views about the role of an agent who participated in the agency’s clandestine activities, not so much as an administrator but as one who actively participated in basic, daily intelligence operations. Although these operations varied in types and places, Crumpton indicates that he seemed to excel in recruiting agents who would provide him with information passed up the chain of command to high-ranking political leaders such as the president.

After an initial training period with the CIA and at the age of 25, Crumpton landed in Africa––where he spent much of his career—and immediately began spotting, developing, pitching, and recruiting spies. He notes that this was his life’s mission, and he knew it. Near the end of his career serving in various parts of the world, Crumpton had the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree at Johns Hopkins University in the School of Advanced International Studies, where he compared his prior intelligence experiences with various historical theories about the intelligence profession.

The author’s life as a professional intelligence operative provides us with some basic but important information about the profession. For example, he notes that those who are recruited as spies could be influenced to do so by ego, money, ideology, and even revenge. This could help teach current intelligence agents the necessity of recognizing motive when recruiting a spy.

Another interesting point is Crumpton’s view of the characteristics of the best intelligence officers: they are the ones who have accumulated a broad range of diverse and enlightening experiences before joining government service. This might mean that a liberal arts education––having studied a variety of subjects such as psychology, history, political science, and sociology––could prove to be a useful academic background for an intelligence operative, since these courses can offer important insights about what motivates people. Crumpton suggests he himself was more successful for having had this type of educational background as opposed to a more specific area of study such as mathematics or science.

The Art of Intelligence also offers valuable insights about how to protect an intelligence agency from being compromised by another country, namely that there is no better way to catch a hostile service’s spy than having a penetration of that service. To back up this observation, he points out that a large percent of Americans who were working for the enemy were discovered as a result of CIA sources within the ranks of these enemy or hostile countries. Knowing this should make our intelligence agencies continue to work hard at penetrating these foreign intelligence agencies, since they undoubtedly are some of the best sources of information about who within our own government is betraying this country.

Crumpton’s comments about differences between the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) should prompt those in the intelligence business to acknowledge those differences, particularly how they affect gathering information deemed important to the security of this country. Perhaps the differing information-gathering approaches are natural in government work because of varied concerns of each agency. Nevertheless, Crumpton notes them, calling to our attention that the FBI sought greater relationships with foreign law enforcement representatives than did the CIA and at times wanted to develop its own sources abroad.

Crumpton shows that American interest in intelligence activities has varied over time. For example, with the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, some individuals seemed to have less concern about the role of intelligence and its importance. Yet this changed substantially after the 11 September 2001 attacks. This understandably caused a reevaluation in this country of American intelligence activities and led to an increased concern about its effectiveness. Hence, today the United States seems more on guard and certainly more aware of the importance of intelligence operations because the cost of not doing so could be high.

William E. Kelly, PhD

Auburn University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."