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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 for the minor to be accepted to this course.


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 into the open. Some of these failures become national trauma’s, 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) Apart from these to elements, attention is paid how an effective warning could have been given. For this, the student will be taught on how to produce a so-called indicator and warning analysis. The student will write a paper, both dealing with a specific failure, and to develop indicators of how a warning could have been given in that specific case.

Course objectives

  1. The student is able to interpret different biases in the field of intelligence;
  2. The student is able to assess and classify sources;
  3. The student is able to compare outcome-oriented and process-oriented research;
  4. The student is able to state different examples of intelligence failures that occurred during the Cold War and after the Cold War;
  5. The student is able to identify the different levels of ‘warning failure’;
  6. The student is able to characterize and classify an intelligence failure and to apply the different concepts in the realm of failure;
  7. The student is able to analyze a specific case of intelligence failure;
  8. The student is able to formulate a research question, to prepare a research design and to answer the research question.
  9. The student is able to develop warning indicators for a specific case.


To be announced by OSC staff.

Mode of instruction

7 lectures of 3 hours by instructors and guest lecturers.
Attendance is obligatory.

Course Load

Component % Hours
Attendance mandatory 21
Mid term research design 25% 10
Final research paper 75% 40
Reading and self-study* 69
Total 100% 140

*On the basis of reading approximately eight pages per hour.

Assessment method

Mid term research design (25%)
Final paper (75%)

Attendance is obligatory. Being absent more than once may lead to expulsion from the course.

The Course and Examination Regulation and the Rules and Regulation of the Board of Examiners will apply



Reading list



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Ms. W.J.M. Aerdts LL.M MA


This course can only be taken as part of the minor Intelligence Studies.