Kent and Kendall Visions of Intelligence

Sherman Kent is widely recognized as the foremost practitioner when it comes to the analysis of the American intelligence history[1]. He was one of the founders of the United States intelligence community and heads this important organ for about two decades.  He is credited for writing one of the first books that addressed the broad topic of intelligence analysis systematically. This is a reading that is still considered relevant in today’s studies globally.

Throughout his illustrious career, Kent strove to ensure that there was always a sense of professionalism in the intelligence system. He is also credited for his help in founding the professional journal for the CIA and inspiring the formation of the Centre for the Study of Intelligence (CSI). Having the title of the ‘father of intelligence analysis’, one would expect that Kent’s views on intelligence would not be challenged by anybody. Willmoore Kendall, Kent’s colleague is one renowned person who publicly criticized his views on intelligence. This paper explores the differences between Kent and Kendall visions’ of intelligence.

Kent’s best known writing about intelligence is described as prescriptive and not descriptive. Kent wrote work from a form of self-imposed exile that was a result of the US dismemberment of his research unit after world war I. This was the government’s effort to retain control of intelligence. In his writing, Kent wrote what he thought should exist in the landscape of intelligence analysis as opposed to describing what existed at that time[2]. He also outlined what he believed should be the relationship between policymakers (consumers) and the intelligence analysts.

According to Kent[3], most consumers such as Hitler always had brilliant hunches but failed because they never tried to analyze their intuitions but instead chose to consider them as a natural and infallible basis of truth. They failed to probe their intuitions more deeply. In Kent’s perception, reality was profoundly platonic. According to Kent, nearly all lines that subscribe to strategic intelligence come from the very essential conviction that for whatever occurrence or situation, there only exists a single truth. Kent argued that research was the only probable way that could yield truth or at least come up with an approximation that is close to the truth[4].

Willmoore Kendall was among the four colleagues whom Kent acknowledges for having reviewed his manuscript and offered him invaluable advice. Ironically, he is one of the most significant voices that criticized Kent’s view of intelligence. Kendall, a very intelligent man, had a very different background from that of Kent. By all conceivable accounts, he was considered an antithesis. His personality was such that he was always at loggerheads with his colleagues consequently unable to stay on speaking terms with people he worked with. Judging from his transcripts, it was clear that he had a very low opinion of the people he considered intellectually inferior.

Kendall had a chance to review Kent’s Strategic intelligence for a journal when he was still at Yale. In his review, he criticized Kent heavily. His review was broken down into two parts. The first part criticized the numerous inconsistencies that he observed in Kent’s argument. In this regard he gave particular interest to the subjects that he thought Kent failed to give full and conclusive attention. The second part of his review was a critique of the state of mind of Kent which Kendal thought had four significant shortcomings[5].

Firstly, Kent thought that the intelligence needs during a war and peacetime were similar. This is a stance that Kendall refuted as being a very dangerous mistake[6]. During a war, Kendall proposed that intelligence should be more tactical as opposed to peace time when it should be strategic. He argued that Kent’s state of mind viewed the course of occurrences as a tape that is printed in a machine and the work of intelligence was to translate to planners what it read. He rejected also Kent’s proposal to divide the intelligence into domestic and foreign as he thought this hindered the capacity of analysts to examine the impact of certain state actions. The second problem that Kendal noted was what Kent proposed that intelligence should be conducted by professionals as producers while policy makers are the consumers[7]. He though this practice turned analysts into research assistants to the policy makers, something that should not be the case.

In his third criticism, Kendall thought that Kent’s idea of intelligence research fell short[8]. Kent was labeled as being more of a puzzle solver than a mystery solver that Kendall was. Finally, Kendall though Kent was being uncritically optimistic with his view of intelligence[9]. Kent assumed that at any one time there would be sufficient people to perform tasks that intelligence depended upon. Kendall argued that with the exception of the field of history, there was a very short supply of specialists who would perform intelligence duties.

Kent and Kendall were both very bright scholars who made significant contributions to intelligence. The two shared very different points of view. Kent is credited for laying a very strong foundation to the analysis of intelligence. Kendall on the other hand argued from a school of thought that differs greatly from Kent. Through his argument, he is able to expose significant shortcomings of Kent’s Strategic Intelligence point of view. One might be inclined to think that Kendall preempted Kent’s work to an extent that left it irrelevant. That is however not the case. Both scholars make valid points and it is important to study each with an open mindset.

[1] Donald Steury. 2008. Introduction: Central Intelligence Agency(US). Retrieved < >

[2] Kent Sherman, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949).

[3]  Kent Sherman, 1949

[4]  Kent Sherman, 1949

[5] Kendall Willmoore, “The Function of Intelligence,” World Politics, Vol 1, No. 4 (July 1949): 545

[6] Kendall Willmoore, 1949

[7] Kendall Willmoore, 1949

[8] Kendall Willmoore, 1949

[9] Kendall Willmoore, 1949

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