While intelligence is mostly known for its classified nature, a good portion of intelligence work is conducted using open source methods. OSINT, or open-source intelligence as it is referred to, is a valuable tool critical to any bit of analysis. A responsible intelligence analyst always takes into consideration the OSINT available. While it cannot (or should not) be used to reveal the sources and methods behind sensitive intelligence collection techniques, OSINT often provides the context, perspective, and background information the analyst needs in order to make an accurate intelligence assessment.
On that note, the Central Intelligence Agency maintains a website, available to the public, that provides a myriad of great info for any readers interested in learning more about intelligence, becoming an intelligence officer, or learning how intelligence has played a role in determining our foreign policy since the time of George Washington: Consider it your open source gateway to all the context, perspective, and background information you need to build an accurate picture of the craft of intelligence.
As with anything else in life, there is often far too much to do and not enough time to do it. The same applies to the amount of reading material on this list. Regardless, the CIA’s Suggested Reading List, under Intelligence Literature, is a valuable resource not to be overlooked. It contains an extensive list of intelligence literature that provides “a wide spectrum of views on intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency… [covering] history, technology, opinion, and… key personalities associated with intelligence.”
A few topics of interest the list covers include:
- World War II and before
- the CIA and the days of the OSS
- Biographies and memoirs of CIA officers
- Counterintelligence operations
- Covert action operations
- the War on Terror
Suggested Reading List
From this list, I have only read about nine of the selections (after ingesting countless reports for a living you can only take so much more reading). A few good titles that I have enjoyed (not exclusively from CIA’s list) are below, with links to Amazon that provide more info on the books themselves. I also provided some commentary for the works I felt were the most fundamental to understanding intelligence.
The Craft of Intelligence, by Allen Dulles
Probably the most fundamental work on intelligence as a craft. The book is very well structured and provides a great foundation for the understanding of intelligence. Parts of it are a bit dry, but finishing it gives readers all the info they need to press into more complex intelligence operations, disciplines, and analysis. Definitely an intel “classic.”
For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush, by Christopher Andrews
I haven’t started this one yet, but have heard great things. It’s often said that intelligence is the world’s second-oldest profession, and this book supposedly does a great job of demonstrating its utility going back to the days of the Revolutionary War.
First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror In Afghanistan, by Gary Schroen
“First In” describes the covert CIA efforts to unite the Afghan Northern Alliance in the fight against the Taliban immediately following 9/11. It reads like a thriller, yet it is an actual firsthand account of the work completed by CIA officers to set the stage for follow-on military operations. These guys were in-country prior to any military forces and did tremendous work building a solid foundation from which effective U.S. military operations could be waged.
The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives, by Ted Gup
This is probably my favorite read on Agency operations because it highlights the human elements of intelligence, including the trials and tribulations our nation’s unknown heroes have gone through on our behalf. It was originally recommended to me by a CIA case officer as the go-to book to have your family read before you pursued a career with the Agency. It is well worth the read; I’ll let the book speak for itself.
Read Next: Finding needles in haystacks: The future of military intelligence?
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander, by Gary Bernsten
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism, by Robert Baer
The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organization, by James Bamford
Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post-9/11 Spy Class, by TJ Waters
Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, by Richard Heuer
Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, by Mark Lowenthal
Disclaimer: SOFREP is in no way suggesting you go out and buy these books, not unless you genuinely want to read them in an effort to learn more! I am also not affiliated with the CIA, or its reading list, in any way. I am just an intelligence professional seeking to learn more about my craft. Happy reading and thanks for listening.
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