How "Wisdom" Differs from Intelligence and Knowledge in the Context of National Intelligence Agencies


How "Wisdom" Differs from Intelligence and Knowledge in the Context of National Intelligence Agencies

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It is customary at this point to spend considerable time defining key terms like wisdom, intelligence and knowledge. I will come back to that after cutting to the bone of the topic at hand. Wisdom has a longer time horizon than either intelligence or knowledge. It spans a greater scope of concern, and reflects a set of values infused into knowledge that include compassion as a core component. It requires a deep understanding of human nature, because it is only called upon during crises of human affairs. All the rest is details, which can distract from these cardinal truths. With respect to issues of international security, this difference is exemplified by cases like Afghanistan (1979-89), Guatemala (1954) and Iran (1953-79). In each case focus on short-term, narrowly defined and mainly American national interests resulted in significant tactical victories. The long-term cost has been generating intense hatred of America among hundreds of millions of people worldwide. That hatred has diffuse military and economic consequences that are difficult to measure, but by any measure are profound. Of course there are excuses for this sacrifice of long-term, general welfare for short-term, narrow goals. But such excuses should not obscure the great price to thoughtful intelligence professionals, who undoubtedly do care about the future of their countries and their children.


This short, think-piece was first presented at a meeting of the International Studies Association in Portland, Oregon, USA in February, 2003. It has been presented at many other intelligence conferences and Universities in many other countries, but has never been published in a journal, partly because it is so short, and relatively clear. This is not the preferred form for more academic publications. However, it also attracted many requests for presentation in many countries, and even five years work helping a recovering police-state to reform how it trains its intelligence professionals today.

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Andregg, Michael M.. (2003). How "Wisdom" Differs from Intelligence and Knowledge in the Context of National Intelligence Agencies. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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