Why Intelligence and Policymakers Clash

Robert Jervis
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Summer 2010
Academy of Political Science
Policymakers say they need and want good intelligence. They do need it, but often they do not like it, and are prone to believe that when intelligence is not out to get them, it is incompetent. Richard Nixon was only the most vocal of presidents in wondering how "those clowns out at Langley" could misunderstand so much of the world and cause his administration so much trouble. Unfortunately, not only will even the best intelligence services often be wrong, but even (or especially) when they are right, they are likely to bring disturbing news, and this incurs a cost. As Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Richard Helms said shortly after he was let go in 1973, he was “the easiest man in Washington to fire. I have no political, military or industrial base." Although DCI James Woolsey's view was colored by his bad relations with President Bill Clinton, he was not far off the mark in saying that the best job description for his position was "not to be liked."