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Intelligence Failures


Admission requirements

This course is designed for the minor Intelligence Studies. It is not possible to follow single courses of this minor. You need to be enrolled in Usis for the minor to be accepted to this course. There are 75 places open for registration, on a first come first serve basis, where LDE students are given priority.


During the past thirty years the so-called intelligence revolution that took place during the Second World War and the Cold War found its way into academic courses and literature. One of the aspects that has undergone the most post-mortem evaluations is that of intelligence failures. Intelligence failures often attract a lot of public attention. Whereas from the point of the intelligence community successful intelligence operations should remain secret as long as necessary, they often cannot help to prevent their failures from coming out into the open. Some of these failures become national traumas, from the failure to act on available information about an impending Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, to the 9/11 2001 attacks. Such intelligence failures often become the object of national investigations and therefore produce a lot of source material that comes into the public domain and is therefore available for academic scrutiny.

In this course, besides discussing the historical aspects of different failures, attention will be paid to methodological aspects of the intelligence failure, including the β, (the chance that one doesn’t discover a relationship between two phenomena). The focus, however, is on how an effective warning could have been given. For this, the student will be taught on how to produce a so-called critical indicator and warning analysis. The student will write a paper, both dealing with a specific failure, and to produce a warning report, including critical indicators, of how a warning could have been given in that specific case.

Course objectives

  1. The student is able to identify and explain different biases in the field of intelligence;
  2. The student is able to understand different examples of intelligence failures;
  3. The student is able to identify the different aspects of a ‘warning failure’;
  4. The student is able to characterise and classify an intelligence failure;
  5. The student is able to formulate a research question as a warning problem in order to prepare an analysis.
  6. The student is able to select relevant literature for his/her case; and to assess these sources;
  7. The student is able to produce a warning report, including critical indicators



Mode of instruction

7 lectures of 3 hours by instructor and guest lecturers.

Participation in lectures, discussions and exercises is required in order to obtain a grade. One lecture may be missed. Being absent more than once will lead to expulsion from the course.

Assessment method

Midterm research design

  • 25% of total grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade must be compensated

Final paper

  • 75% of total grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

Students will also be permitted to resit the 75% final paper if they have a calculated overall course grade lower than 5.50 or with permission of the Board of Examiners. The midterm research design needs to be compensated.

Details for submitting papers (deadlines) are posted on Brightspace.

Late hand in penalty: 1 minus per day, and after three days we do not accept the assignment any longer.

In the case of written assessment methods, the examiner can always initiate a follow-up conversation with the student to establish whether the learning objectives have been met.

The Course and Examination Regulation Security Studies and the Rules and Regulation of the Board of Examiners of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs apply.

Reading list

TBA on Brightspace


Registration via MyStudymap or uSis is possible from Monday July 17, 13.00 h, after registration for the entire minor.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course. Furthermore, announcements and modifications will be communicated via Brightspace. Students have the responsibility to stay informed and are thus advised to regularly check Brightspace for updates.

After registration for an exam you still need to confirm your attendance via MyStudymap. If you do not confirm, you will ultimately be de-registered and you will not be allowed to take the exam.

More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.

Please note: guest-/contract-/exchange students do not register via MyStudymap but via uSis. Guest-/contract-/exchange students also do not have to confirm their participation for exams via MyStudymap.



This course can only be taken as part of the minor Intelligence Studies.
All sessions will be in English. Exams and assignments need to be written in English.
Please be aware that the resits will take place in January.