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Intelligence Night

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ilya Berkovich.

The workshop is back this Easter term with a session dedicated to intelligence featuring two speakers.

Daniel Larsen (Christ’s)

At the Nexus of Intelligence and International History: A Novel Approach to Signals Intelligence

Thanks to the world’s signals intelligence agencies, the unintentional conduct of “open diplomacy” was one of the hallmarks of the twentieth century. For historians, however, explaining the precise impact of this intelligence on international affairs remains largely impossible. The techniques both of international history and of intelligence history have been unequal to solving this problem. This paper aims to outline a novel methodological approach for exploring the role of signals intelligence in international diplomacy. By offering a revised understanding of what we consider to be a “diplomatic message”, it seeks to provide historians with vital new tools to unlock the mysteries of signals intelligence’s impact on world affairs.


Dr Rory Cormac (King’s College London)

Internationalising Insurgencies: Strategic Intelligence and Competing Understandings of Imperial Decline

A key role of strategic intelligence between 1945 and 1970 was to internationalise colonial insurgencies by placing local violence in a broader context. This was designed to help policymakers understand the relationship between tactical developments in the theatre and broader thinking relating to the Cold War and/or imperial decline. Having outlined this important function of intelligence, this paper explores two issues relating to insurgencies. Firstly, internationalising colonial violence was occasionally counterproductive. Forcing the intricacies of internal conflict into a framework dominated by the Cold War led to the denial of local agency and misunderstandings of the causes and nature of an insurgency. This created much acrimony between various political departments. Secondly, the British intelligence assessment system relies on interdepartmental consensus. The final product, however, belies the often vigorous debate and tension which pervades the intelligence process. Different departments held diverging and competing views on the nature of colonial violence, its place within the international sphere, and its relationship to broader trends. Strategic intelligence therefore serves as a fascinating vehicle through which to explore how the ‘official mind’ in all its complexity viewed colonial insurgencies against the backdrop of the Cold War and imperial decline.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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