The Intelligence Studies Project offers fresh perspectives on how to keep the nation safe.
Fifteen years after the September 11 attacks, the United States has successfully prevented additional catastrophic terrorist attacks by dealing critical blows to Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups. While those extremists are in decline, ISIS and other jihadist groups are on the rise around the globe.
Good intelligence is essential to protecting the country from terrorism and also to helping elected leaders develop sound policies to address other threats. Lurking dangers include the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, escalating cyber attacks, and instability caused by rogue states and aggressive great powers.
In 2013, the university established the Intelligence Studies Project (ISP) as a partnership between the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for National Security and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. The ISP emerged out of a conviction that the activities of the U.S. Intelligence Community are increasingly vital to safeguarding our national security yet understudied in academia.
Stephen Slick, the project’s director, served on the National Security Council staff under President George W. Bush and was in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service for 28 years. The ISP, he says, aims to be a premier university center for the study of U.S. intelligence through new course offerings, research projects, and related public events.
“Intelligence is increasingly indispensible to our national security and prosperity, yet the secrecy required to gather information about our adversaries runs counter to our democratic principles and open society,” Slick says. “There is a role for great universities in helping achieve a sustainable balance between America’s security interests and our ideals.”
This past academic year, the ISP sponsored a unique policy research course for graduate students in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Led by Slick and Clements Center Executive Director Will Inboden, “Intelligence and National Security in American Society” explored how the United States supervises and oversees its large, highly complex intelligence agencies.
A major public conference in Austin on the same theme complemented the course and was attended by President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, and other senior officials. Slick will lead another seminar next spring, this one for Plan II undergraduates, focusing on intelligence and national security policymaking.
“The study of intelligence has long been disregarded by many universities,” Inboden says. “With the ISP, UT Austin is leading the way in remedying this neglect.”
The ISP is one of several security-focused projects undertaken by the Clements Center and the Strauss Center. The professors who lead those centers — Inboden of the LBJ School and Bobby Chesney of the Law School — speak and write frequently about the terrorism threat. Other areas of focus include history and strategy, the British-American alliance, cybersecurity, the legal architecture of national security, the rise of artificial intelligence, and cartel violence in Mexico.
“Our university is especially well positioned to study these cutting-edge questions,” Chesney says. “Our campus culture embraces interdisciplinary collaboration, and these are problems you just cannot fully address without that sort of approach.”
The centers and especially the ISP are key components of the vision for a national security network branching across the UT System. That network is one of several strategic priorities identified last fall by Chancellor (and former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command) Bill McRaven, who enumerated a set of “Quantum Leaps” the System’s institutions can pursue collectively. Inboden and Chesney have been named the co-directors of the National Security Network initiative.
The centers recently launched an effort to endow an intelligence studies chair named for Admiral Bobby Inman, BA ’50. Inman, a former director of the National Security Agency and deputy director of central intelligence, is a beloved professor at the LBJ School. The Inman Chair will be held by the ISP director and will support research and teaching to help prepare students who wish to serve as intelligence professionals and leaders.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered keynote remarks at a recent gala that brought hundreds of supporters together to launch the chair campaign. “The Inman Chair in Intelligence,” Gates told the attendees, “will be a cornerstone for this program and honors him by carrying forward his legacy of intelligence leadership and service to our country.”
The enthusiasm in the room that night confirmed not only Inman’s friends and colleagues’ eagerness to honor him but also the ISP’s intrinsic appeal. That bodes well for the project, because philanthropy will be key to establishing UT as a leader in the study of American intelligence and its role in safeguarding the nation.
Learn more at intelligencestudies.utexas.edu.
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