A Spy in the Fold: Reducing Uncertainty Through Intelligence

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-5330-2577
Dictus, Christopher, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Potter, Philip, Politics, University of Virginia
Owen, John, Politics, University of Virginia
Copeland, Dale, Politics, University of Virginia
Hitchcock, William, History, University of Virginia

From 2007 to 2018, the US spent almost $900 billion on its intelligence community. In 2022 alone, the White House requested more than $60 billion for the National Intelligence Program. What does all that money buy? To what degree does intelligence influence conflict decision-making? I contend that investments in intelligence buy reduced uncertainty. By gaining credible information about the intentions; capabilities; and resolve of both allies and adversaries, American policymakers can make more considered grand strategic decisions. In this dissertation, I establish what I call balance of information theory. This theory posits that when policymakers have greater intelligence, which is more credible than other data streams, fewer crises emerge in the first place. Moreover, in the event of an armed clash, intelligence helps to prevent unnecessary escalation. Using text as data analysis on a novel dataset of the President’s Daily Brief from 1961-1973, I demonstrate that high-grade intelligence leads to a 7.5-14 percentage point decrease in the likelihood of crisis events. Case studies on the Six-Day War and Cuban Missile Crisis help to elucidate the mechanisms of the argument, illustrating the degree to which quality intelligence can help minimize the severity of international crises. A case study on the 1967 order of battle controversy in the Vietnam War, meanwhile, shows what happens when intelligence is subverted by political processes. I conclude with policy recommendations, a consideration of the limitations of the analysis, a discussion on the importance of intelligence in the present day, and an outline of potential future research opportunities.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Intelligence, Conflict Decision-Making
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