A conceptualization of intelligence

Essay 2008 4 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Miscellaneous


A conceptualization of intelligence

Given the evolution of the term intelligence during the last decades, it is easily comprehensible that its pristine meaning becomes blurry. In fact, intelligence “means many things to many people [and] boiling it down to one single definition is difficult” (Warner, 2007, p. 15). The growing “application of the concept or perhaps the illusion of intelligence analysis to various information processing activities that are not really intelligence in the professional sense of the word” (Agrell, 2002, p. 4) increases the difficulties to formulate a precise and applicable definition. Nevertheless in a “business as old as recorded history, one would expect to find a sophisticated understanding of just what that business is, what it does and how it works” (Warner, 2007, p. 15). Therefore it is the more astonishing that “all attempts to develop ambitious theories of intelligence have failed” (Laqueur, 1985, p. 8). In the following this paper will analyze some problems of finding a universally agreed upon definition of intelligence before the attempt to find a own conceptualization.

The reasons for the difficulties to find this universal definition of intelligence are manifold, however one of the main obstacles is the unclear understanding of what intelligence is within the intelligence community (IC) itself. In his discussion “Wanted: A definition of ‘intelligence’” Michael Warner discloses the discordance about the term intelligence within the IC by comparing a range of definitions (see Warner, 2007). This discussion reveals the fact that “each expert tends to view the term through the spectacles of his own speciality (Bimfort, 18.09.1995). The problematic of defining intelligence becomes even more obvious if one recognizes that Warner refers only to an American point of view, neglecting the often fundamental different interpretations on an international level.

Davies argues that “profound divergences emerge within two closely related and closely integrated intelligence communities which are also share a common language and political culture” (Davies, 2002, p. 66) by comparing the national intelligence concepts and institutions of the United States and Great Britain. Further he recognizes that “where there is little or no common cultural and institutional heritage the divergences run deeper, increasing the risk that decision makers and intelligence practitioners may misunderstand what foreign agencies are essentially about” (Davies, 2002, p. 66).

Aside from the different interpretation of intelligence on a domestic and international level, simplification constitutes another problem for the formulation of an appropriate definition. In particular the consumers of intelligence tend to use the terms information and intelligence synonymously. In fact, for them, intelligence is information since “policymakers and commanders need information to do their jobs, and they are entitled to call that information anything they like” (Warner, 2007, p. 17). A simplification that sometime is reflected in definitions of intelligence. The Department of Defence Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms for example states that intelligence is “Information and knowledge about and adversary obtained through observation, investigation, analysis or understanding” (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 12.04.2001, p. 208). Another definition states that “Intelligence is information, not available in the public domain, relating to the strength, resources, capabilities and intentions of a foreign country that can affect our lives and the safety of our people” (Walters, 1978, p. 621). Both definitions fail to give a comprehensive explanation of intelligence since “for producers of intelligence […] the equation of ‘intelligence = information’ is too vague to provide real guidance in their work” (Warner, 2007, p. 17).



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Macquarie University
Definition Intelligence




Title: A conceptualization of intelligence