Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

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.

This course is also open for inbound exchange students if they wish to take the entire minor Intelligence Studies; it is not possible to take single courses from this minor. Exchange students must be admitted by the FGGA International Office prior to the start of the minor; priority will be given to direct exchange partners of FGGA. For more information about the application procedure for exchange students, please contact the FGGA International Office at international@fgga.leidenuniv.nl.


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 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 interpret 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; and to apply the different concepts in the realm of a 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.

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%)

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

Compensation rule: Only assessments with the weight of 30% and lower are compensable. This means that one does not have to pass an assessment if it weighs 30% or less in order to pass the course, if the average of all assessments combined is at least a 5.5. In addition, assignments weighing up to and including 30% are not re-sitable, meaning that if one failed an assessment of 30% or less one is not allowed to redo it.

Resit of the paper will take the same form.

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 in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course, after registration for the entire minor.
Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. Important information about the course is posted here.
After enrolment for the course in uSis you are also enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.