The Importance of Intelligence to ‘Survival and Prosperity of Nations’

In this article, JANET SEKGARAMETSO-SENOSI* points that a nation’s intelligence should have an intimate relationship with statecraft so as to have much-needed potential for forecasting events by use of prior knowledge. She emphasises that the relevance of intelligence to statecraft is to avoid asking questions after disaster strikes

Anticipating unpleasant and possibly fatal security surprises is of paramount importance to intelligence capability in peace time. Scholars argue that the importance of intelligence is the survival and prosperity of nations because without it a nation can be attacked or encroached on by surprise, yet had it known it might have been able to prevent this.
The survival of a nation depends on the protection of its national interests. In broad terms, it refers to state sovereignty, territorial integrity, security for its people, its natural resources and the ability to pursue economic development. The protection of national interests is a nation unifier because it affects the entire population. In other words, if the country’s economy fails or succeeds, the people are affected one way or another.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created by the United States (US) Congress in the aftermath of World War II largely in reaction to the failure of American military intelligence to predict and warn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. This does not mean it has been immune to surprise attacks like the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York in September 2001. However, intelligence remains a sensory apparatus of the state. It is the means by which the state perceives both threats and opportunities in the national and international environment. It is worth noting that domestic and foreign intelligence gathering need to have clear and separate mandates to avoid overstepping each other, just like the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) in the US is “the lead agency for domestic intelligence whilst the CIA collects information regarding foreign countries and their citizens”.
Scholars define intelligence as information and knowledge that is relevant to statecraft (Freeman 2007, Herman 1998). Timely insight into intentions and capabilities of other states and dissidents is essential to defend and advance the national interests of the state in peace as well as in war. It combines the skills of covert collection with expertise in certain subjects such as science and innovation, economics, military and health. Intelligence provides information by special methods through which governments inform themselves. For example, countries had to gather medical intelligence to avert the COVID-19 pandemic which is now termed an epic intelligence failure of 2020. States have always collected intelligence information through diplomacy and have always had a sub-category of ‘secret intelligence,’ which involves collection by special means, seeking information otherwise not available. The use of spies, radio interception, code-breaking, covert photography and are some of the oldest methods of intelligence collection. The most famous intelligence collectors in the world are the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the American CIA and Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (KGB, succeeded by the FSB, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation). Intelligence is all about providing information and forecasts for others to act on. It should be noted that intelligence is not a decision-taking and executive institution like diplomacy.
Diplomats can gather intelligence as well and can cast their net widely in seeking information, but they to avoid infringing their host countries’ laws, or at least think seriously before so doing. Even where questions of legality do not arise directly, potentially useful contacts with oppositions and dissidents may be off-limits to diplomats. Intelligence officers, on the other hand, are less restricted in their contacts and can use means denied to diplomacy.
How intelligence works
Intelligence magnifies the mass, relevance, impact and irresistibility of power by allowing capabilities to be applied with precision. In other words, use of intelligence allows states to respond with the needed strength to fight the enemy because knowledge is power. Failure to give adequate attention to collection of intelligence is to gamble with the fate of the nation.
There are two main sources of intelligence, namely overt collection through news media, scholarly writing and diplomatic reporting, and clandestine or secret collection through espionage. Espionage is insight reporting into the military and the economic capabilities of foreign states and those who lead them. Espionage is as a result of states and societies that are most reluctant to reveal information and that seek most tirelessly to control it. Therefore, the clandestine or secret collection of information finds its greatest utility where it is most resisted.
Intelligence carries special weight wherever violence, military power and where secrecy is involved on current subjects such as armed conflicts, terrorism, international arms exports, nuclear proliferation, clandestine operations by foreign governments and other inputs to ‘security policy’. But the position is more open when governments need political or politico-economic assessments. For instance, intelligence carries more weight in North Korea, Iran and the Middle East as compared to Botswana where military proliferation is deemed to be at a lower scale.
The Role of intelligence
The role of intelligence services can be used to promote the cause of dialogue and reconciliation, both national and international and this role is viewed as essentially worthwhile, although intelligence service is but an instrument of political will to engage in dialogue. This can happen in cases when, for example, a country has reliably gathered intelligence about another country’s ill intention such as building a dam wall in a river that they share with another country and knowing fully well that it would cut of the economy and livelihoods of that country. This can lead to talks between the both countries to resolve the matter before the damage is done.
Another importance of intelligence is that it has an input in foreign policymaking at the top level of strategy where national and international security is involved. For instance, policymakers look to intelligence for objective and accurate evaluations and forecasts, free of policy preconceptions. Intelligence may fail through reinforcing policymakers’ received wisdom, through its own preconceptions, or through one of the many other causes of intelligence failure; or policymakers may just ignore it. But in failure, as in success, it is one of the major elements on which foreign policy draws.
Intelligence has a role to play in diplomacy as well. A case in point is when diplomats are the recipients of threat assessments and technical advice for diplomacy’s defensive security measures. However, this has often resulted in the lives of embassy staff being under threat because as diplomatic people, premises and communications have long featured as intelligence targets. Eighteenth-century ambassadors could be corrupted by their receiving governments so as to give information about the countries they represent. Intelligence attacks on embassies and their staff, using agent penetration, entrapment or other means of recruitment, and electronic attacks and other bugging devices became a well-publicised part of the Cold War.
Furthermore, intelligence is important to nations because national reputations for good intelligence carry international weight. The United States’ possession of unrivalled intelligence, particularly from satellites, is accepted as an element in American hegemony and the influence that springs from it. British diplomacy similarly gains from being thought to be well informed on a worldwide basis. A nation’s record of good or bad security, reflecting the quality of its defensive intelligence, has a similar influence. A country’s intelligence performance is how much it was able to avert a disaster. However, many countries’ intelligence services, including the CIA, have failed to intercept terrorist attacks. Even so, intelligence successes still indicate that the survival and prosperity of a nation is based on the quality of its intelligence services, how they can predict future outcomes and prevent catastrophes.
Therefore, it will be irresponsible for statesmen to simply ignore or discount intelligence because of the types of information, such as satellite images of inaccessible military facilities, are genuinely useful and unobtainable from other sources. Hence the use of intelligence by adversaries is a weapon that needs to be countered like any other. Leaders have varied in their appreciation and use of intelligence. For example, George Bush Jr. was given intelligence that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but he decided to ignore that advice and went ahead and attacked Iraq.
A nation’s intelligence should not be seen as just another bureaucratic asset but one existing in an intimate relationship with statecraft so as to have much-needed potential in forecasting events, and that can be done with the benefit of having prior knowledge. “The reason the farsighted ruler and his superior commander conquer the enemy at every move, and achieve success far beyond the reach of the common crowd, is foreknowledge. Such foreknowledge cannot be had from ghosts and spirits, educed by comparison with past events, or verified by astrological calculations. It must be from people – people who know the enemy’s situation” (Lord 2003).
Of paramount importance intelligence is useful to decision-makers when information from all sources is collected and analysed and then summarised in the form of judgements about the likely course of future events. Gaps should be identified and filled in with further overt or clandestine collection. This should be done by specialists in intelligence collection and analysts are charged with describing, explaining and predicting trends and events. The demands of statecraft are that statesmen have to comprehend trends and events by their size and shape and direct them. Only then will nations survive and prosper.
Additionally, nations are fully aware that they are being spied on by foreign states; thus a state must protect itself against their efforts through counter-intelligence. States’ counter-intelligence services attempts to prevent foreign states from gathering information relevant to hostile statecraft. This means that information such as arms proliferation needs counter-intelligence because it can upset adversaries and create unfriendly relations, as evidenced by the Iran and the US. American-Iranian relations have deteriorated partly due to the gathering of intelligence and counter-intelligence by Americans in Iran and vice-versa.
Botswana, like any other country, requires intelligence for its survival and prosperity because when a state fails to gather, analyse and interpret intelligence, the country’s national interests will be compromised. The economic prosperity of a country relies on stable employment and decent standards of living. Its security and safety is protected by laws that protect citizens, borders that can be defended under attack, a government that resolves differences with other countries peacefully, and most profoundly, ensuring that the country’s goals, beliefs and values are protected and respected in relation with shared world views. It is therefore of paramount importance that our national interests are protected by intelligence services to avert any national disaster, otherwise the country will experience economic downfall, drug cartels, money laundering, harbouring of rebels and organised crime, and even regrettable deaths. The relevance of intelligence to statecraft is to avoid asking questions after any disaster strikes.
Masters of Arts in Politics and International Relations 2013
University of Botswana