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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.


Over the past thirty years, the so-called intelligence revolution that occurred during the Second World War and Cold War became a core concern in the academic literature and in intelligence studies programmes. Among the aspects that feature prominently in those debates are post-mortem evaluations of crisis preparedness and the notion of intelligence failure. Whereas from the point of the intelligence community successful intelligence operations should remain secret as long as necessary, allegations of failure tend to be publicly discussed and actual failures come out into the open. These instances are often subject to national inquiries, producing much relevant material for academic scrutiny. Some of these failures have become national traumas, such as the failure to act on available information about an impending Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 2001 attacks.

In this course, in addition to exploring various cases of intelligence failure (or alleged failure), students will be introduced to conceptual discussions, theoretical expectations and methodological aspects. They will engage with the question of how effective warnings could have been issued in specific situations. For this, they will be taught how to produce a critical indicator and warning analysis. Students will also be encouraged to reconstruct the idiosyncratic context in which intelligence producers and policymakers interacted when confronted with a given crisis. They will apply their knowledge in a group exercise in which they unpack a specific failure, as well as in the final exam. The cases covered in this course include well-known historical failures in the U.S. context as well as recent cases of relevance to European foreign policy.

Course objectives

Upon finishing the course, students will be able to:
1. understand the core concepts and debates around intelligence success versus failure;
2. identify and explain different biases and other constraints when producing intelligence;
3. understand specific challenges in the intelligence-policy interplay for the cases covered;
4. discuss various examples of intelligence failures;
5. identify the different aspects of a ‘warning failure’;
8. produce a warning report, including critical indicators;
9. select and work with the relevant literature for the assignments.


On the right side of the programme front page you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of instruction

The course will consist of seven 3-hour sessions, which will be taught by the course convenor and guest lecturers. Each of these will include interactive lectures, in-class formative assignments and group sessions.

Participation in each session as well as in the group exercise and final exam is required in order to obtain a grade. One session may be missed.

Assessment method

Midterm group exercise

  • 25% of final grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade must be compensated

Final exam

  • 75% of final 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 exam if they have a calculated overall course grade lower than 5.50 or with permission of the Board of Examiners. The midterm group exercise needs to be compensated.

The corresponding Brightspace course will become available one week prior to the first session. Details for submitting the assignments will also be posted there.

Late hand-in penalty: 1 point 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 TBA 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.

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.



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.