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Title: Constructing Cassandra : the social construction of strategic surprise at the Central Intelligence Agency, 1947-2001
Author: Jones, Milo
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2009
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This dissertation takes a post-positivist approach to strategic surprise, and examines the identity and internal culture of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) through the lens of social constructivism. It identifies numerous social mechanisms that created and maintained four key, persistent attributes of the CIA's identity and culture between 1947 and 2001. These features are: 1) homogeneity of personnel; 2) scientism and the reification of a narrow form of 'reason'; 3) an overwhelming preference for 'secrets' over openly-available information; and, 4) a relentless drive for consensus. It then documents the influence of these elements of the CIA's identity and culture in each phase of the intelligence cycle (Tasking, Collection, Analysis, Production and Dissemination), prior to four strategic surprises: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, the collapse of the USSR, and al-Qa'ida's terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. It concludes that these key aspects of the CIA's identity and culture created the antecedent conditions that allowed these four strategic surprises to occur, and thus prevented the CIA from fulfilling its mandate to 'prevent another Pearl Harbor'. This conclusion is supported by contrasting the majority views at the CIA prior to these events with the views of 'Cassandras' (i.e. individuals inside or outside the Agency who anticipated the approximate course of events based on reasoned threat assessments that differed sharply from the Agency's, but who were ignored or sidelined). In so doing, this work shifts the burden of proof for explaining strategic surprises back to the characteristics and actions of intelligence producers like the CIA, and away from errors by intelligence consumers like politicians and policymakers. This conclusion also allows this work to posit that understanding strategic surprise as a social construction is logically prior to previously proposed, entirely positivist, attempts to explain or to prevent it.
Supervisor: Wiener, Jarrod Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: J Political Science