Roger Hilsman

Roger Hilsman was Director of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) under President Kennedy and Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs under President Johnson. After retiring from the government, he was professor of government and, later, Professor Emeritus of Government and International Relations at Columbia University. Dr. Hilsman died on 23 February 2014 at the age of 94. Matt Schudel, "Roger Hilsman, Foreign Policy Adviser to JFK, Dies at 94," Washington Post, 8 Mar. 2014.

Hilsman, Roger. American Guerrilla: My Life Behind Japanese Lines. New York: Brassey's (US), 1990. 1991. [pb]

According to Surveillant 1.2, Hilsman "commanded a battalion of Chinese, Shan, Burmese, and Karen guerrillas that operated behind enemy lines in Burma.... At the war's end, Hilsman led a POW rescue mission to Manchuria -- where the prisoners included his own father." Windmiller, I&NS 6.4, notes that Hilsman served with Merrill's Marauders before joining OSS' Detachment 101 in Burma. "[T]his is a very readable description of what it is like to fight a guerrilla war, and what lessons can reasonably be drawn from it."


Hilsman, Roger. The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Struggle Over Policy. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.

Cutler, Proceedings 122.7 (Jul. 1996), comments that Hilsman uses "newly disclosed information from the Soviet side, as well as his own vantage point" (he headed State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the time) to produce an account that "is hair-raising and inspiring while providing a unique viewpoint of this moment of superpower confrontation." For Halpern, Surveillant 4.4/5, Hilsman's position as one of the principals in this crisis makes his views important, but his emphasis on the importance of the Scali-Feklisov/Fomin back channel suggests that he has not updated the story with current documentation and research.


Hilsman, Roger. "Does the CIA Still Have a Role?" Foreign Affairs 74, no. 5 (Sep.-Oct. 1995): 104-116.

With regard to espionage: "The most important thing to be said about espionage is that even though the take can occasionally be crucial, relatively little information comes from espionage, and very rarely is it decisive.... Given the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, espionage is obviously something the United States can do without. The costs exceed any possible gain."

With regard to covert action: "Covert action has been overused as an instrument of foreign policy, and the reputation of the United States has suffered.... Covert political action is not only something the United States can do without in the post-Cold War world, it is something the United States could have done without during the Cold War as well."

With regard to open-source collection: "[T]here are no risks involved ... [in] the work of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which monitors and records broadcasts in various parts of the world. It is no different from reading other countries' newspapers."

With regard to code-breaking: "The National Security Agency should continue its work in trying to break codes and protect those of the United States."

With regard to satellite reconnaissance: "Clearly, the United States should also continue satellite reconnaissance in all its forms."

With regard to analysis: The CIA still has "an important role to play" as an "independent research and analysis organization.... The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, and at least those divisions of the Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence agencies dealing with political questions should be transferred to the CIA."


Hilsman, Roger. "Intelligence and Policy-Making in Foreign Affairs." World Politics 5, no., 1 (Oct. 1952): 1-45.


Hilsman, Roger. "On Intelligence." Armed Forces and Society 8 (Fall 1981): 129-143. [Petersen]


Hilsman, Roger. Strategic Intelligence and National Decisions. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1966.

According to Pforzheimer, this "controversial academic study on the theory of intelligence is provocative, but not easy reading." Not all intelligence specialists agree with Hilsman's views. The book was written before Hilsman's stint as Director/INR. To Constantinides, "[s]ections of the book vary in quality and style"; the part that "describes the attitudes of various categories of individuals, from decision makers to academics and critics of intelligence" is probably the best.

[Overviews/Gen/To89; WhatIsIntel?]

Hilsman, Roger. To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1967. New York: Dell, 1968. [pb]

Abbot E. Smith, Studies 11.4 (Fall 1967), says that this "is an excellent book, well organized, well written, well worth reading.... There is a great deal about the CIA." Hilsman treats the CIA "fairly and judiciously.... He emphatically denies that the Agency is or was ... an Invisible Government." Pforzheimer finds that the parts of the book on President Kennedy and the CIA and the Cuban Missile Crisis "are of particular interest. Hilsman's comments are highly subjective and frequently very provocative and debatable."

Holland, "The Politics of Intelligence Postmortems: Cuba 1962-1963," IJI&C 20.3 (Fall 2007), p. 426, argues that "Hilsman's position [at the time and in this book] was that of loyalty to the Kennedy administrarion rather than the facts."

[CIA/60s/Gen; GenPostwar/60s/Gen & MissileCrisis]


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