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Intelligence and Surprise Attack


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Breaking the First Law of Intelligence Failure 1. Why Does Intelligence Fail, and How Can It Succeed? Part I: The Problem of Conventional Surprise Attack 2. Pearl Harbor: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom3. The Battle of Midway: Explaining Intelligence Success4. Testing the Argument: Classic Cases of Surprise Attack Part II: The Problem of Terrorist Surprise Attack 5. The East Africa Embassy Bombings: Disaster Despite Warning6. New York City: Preventing a Day of Terror7. The 9/11 Attacks: A New Explanation8. Testing the Argument: Why Do Terrorist Plots Fail? Conclusion: Preventing Surprise Attacks Today Appendix: Unsuccessful Plots and Attacks against American Targets, 1987-2012 Notes Bibliography Index

Promotional Information

Erik Dahl's Intelligence and Surprise Attack reflects the experience of a practitioner and the rigor of a scholar. It is a serious work that deserves attention in the world of ideas and the world of action. -- Thomas G. Mahnken, Jerome Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security, US Naval War College In this important book, Dahl advances the study of surprise attack by looking at intelligence successes as well as failures, stressing the value of warnings that are precise enough to merit action, and reminding us that warnings will influence only those who are prepared to heed them. The theory is developed very well and the case-studies are exemplary. -- Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of Political Science, Columbia University Building on in-depth historical studies of American intelligence failures and successes spanning seven decades, and on his own invaluable experience as a career intelligence officer, Erik Dahl provides a new answer to the old question of when and why intelligence fails. Emphasizing the importance of specific, actionable intelligence, Dahl explains the mistakes of the past and suggests how they might be avoided in the future. Intelligence and Surprise Attack is a fascinating study of both conventional and terrorist surprise attack, and essential reading for all serious students of the theory and practice of intelligence. -- Jack Levy, Board of Governors' Professor, Rutgers University Erik Dahl combines a practitioner's experience in the intelligence field with an academic's theoretical sensibility in an astute comparative analysis that places our inability to prevent the 9/11 surprise attacks in historical perspective. His book is a worthy addition to the literature on intelligence failures. -- Martha Crenshaw, senior fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University Most scholars who have written about intelligence have concluded that failure is inevitable, but Erik Dahl has taken a different, ground-breaking approach. He outlines, in this very readable book, ways to make intelligence successful and avoid surprise. This is a work that many readers will find useful and should be on the bookshelf of every intelligence analyst. -- Arthur Hulnick, Associate Professor of International Relations, Boston University

About the Author

Erik J. Dahl is an assistant professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is also a faculty member of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) at the Naval Postgraduate School. Previously, he was a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, an instructor of joint military operations at the Naval War College, and served as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy.


A defining book in understanding intelligence failure. It deserves to be a text studied heavily by students of intelligence, practitioners and policymakers. -- Kristian Gustafson International Studies Review Where this book breaks new ground is in the examination of warning of terrorist attack, an area where there is comparatively (and surprisingly) little in the way of scholarly research and publication ... Professor Dahl has produced a well-written and thought provoking book that provides well-researched analysis of what makes warning intelligence work. It is a worthy addition to the scholarly literature on indications and warning and 'Intelligence failure.' Proceedings A seminal work of original scholarship and should be a part of every community and academic library Security Studies & Intelligence collection. Midwest Book Review It encourages the comparison of cases of intelligence failure and success and thus fills an important gap in existing literature on intelligence failures and paves way for future research. Furthermore, it provides a valuable dataset on unsuccessful terrorist attacks against Americans and American targets for future research ... It is an important book and in time will find its place among other classic and prominent works on the phenomenon of surprise attacks. Intelligence and National Security Too many assume failure is inevitable, but [the author] shows that it isn't and explains how to make intelligence far more reliable to avoid future surprise attacks. The Intelligencer

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