Intelligence and the Law

Intelligence and the Law 444x718

IWP 681
4 credits 

Course Aims

Controversy and turmoil are often found today at the intersection of intelligence and the law. Yet this is not unique to the modern era. Intelligence agencies' powers and duties have waxed and waned throughout American history, moving with the rise and fall of national security threats, electoral mandates or fluctuations in public opinion. Partisans have also sought to enshrine their views into law for political gain. This is all reflected in the legal system that today governs U.S. intelligence activities.

At first blush, this controversy and turmoil might cause the aspiring national security professional to shy away from the subject. Yet a solid understanding of intelligence law is necessary for the professional. It gives the professional a better grasp of intelligence powers and duties, thus allowing for their more effective exercise. It provides an understanding of the legal and historical foundation for those powers and duties, thus allowing them to be placed in their proper context and perspective. It provides an insight into the issues raised by a democratic society's conduct of intelligence activities in the modern world. All of this, in turn, allows the professional to fashion effective solutions to modern-day national security challenges which are consistent with our history and form of government and to seek, when necessary, changes to the law.

This course seeks to provide that solid understanding to the current and future intelligence professional. It also seeks to provide a legal framework in the hope of supporting and strengthening the student's understanding of material presented in other Institute courses, including those on counterintelligence, covert action, intelligence and policy and national security policy. What the course does not seek, however, to do is to make those who take it into law students.

Course Content

It is assumed that the student has had little to no legal or intelligence background or training. Thus, the course will begin with an overview of the basic concepts in law and intelligence. In this regard, the Toni Jaeger-Fine work "Mastering the U.S. Legal System: A Beginners Guide" is intended for use throughout the course as a tool to help students read and understand the legal materials and concepts presented in the course. Given the wide scope of the fields of law and intelligence and number and diversity of topics within each, the course will be offered generally at the survey course level, although we will examine certain crucial topics in some depth.

We begin by tracing the foundation and development of key laws and legal concepts through American history from the Revolution up to the present, including the examination of treason, espionage, neutrality and the legal structures established to combat fascism and Communism. We'll look at the creation of the modern day national security structure, including the National Security Act and the establishment of the various Intelligence Community agencies. We'll see how that structure changed through Vietnam and Watergate, the Reagan and the 9/11 eras, ending most recently with the creation of the Director of National Intelligence. We'll examine what is classified information and how it is protected generally and in various legal proceedings. We'll look at intelligence collection on U.S. persons, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). We'll examine the interaction between intelligence and the criminal law. We'll look at interactions between the Executive and Legislative Branches involving the conduct and the reporting of intelligence activities. We'll examine specific legal issues of interest such as assassination. We'll conclude with a look forward at cyberspace, space and other developing issues.

Semester Available


Summer Semester

Principal Professor


   Paul Schilling
Professor, Intelligence and Law {read more}