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Degree Requirements and Curriculum

The Master of Arts in Strategic and Intelligence Studies (MASIS) is a one-year degree that will prepare future leaders and operators for sound decision-making at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, by enabling them to task, parse, and prepare a wide range of data and raw intelligence.

Become an Expert

Gain expertise in major strategy and intelligence topics such as terrorism, extremism, cybersecurity, disinformation, political warfare, covert operations, sanctions, special operations, and economic espionage. Build the skills to work effectively in careers in the US Department of Defense, US Intelligence Community, and the related private and nonprofit sectors.

Sample Course Schedule

Term Courses Duration Credits
Pre-Term Boot Camp 1 Week 2
Fall Strategy I
Intelligence I
Elective
Elective
15 Weeks 4
4
4
4
January Intersession Capstone Research Seminar 2 Weeks 2
Spring Strategy II
Intelligence II
Elective
Elective
15 Weeks 4
4
4
4
Summer Capstone 6 Weeks 4


Pre-Term Boot Camp

The Pre-Term Boot Camp is designed to be an identity-forming group experience for the cohort to take place in and around Washington, August 23-August 27 and two Saturdays during the fall term. The boot camp will include an introduction to the program and topics in intelligence, strategy, covert action, military basics, open-source intelligence and policy making, exercises and simulations, an intelligence walk around Washington DC, and a Staff Ride to Antietam National Battlefield.*

*The Intelligence Walk and Staff Ride may be conducted virtually pending COVID-19 regulations.

Cohort Core Courses

Strategy I

Instructors: Tom Mahnken and Tom Keaney

This course provides an overview of the field of strategic studies from the mid-19th century to the present, which deals with the preparation and use of military power to serve the ends of politics. Class discussions will examine the theory of strategy, to include concepts found in Carl von Clausewitz’s On War and Sun Tzu’s Art of War; the process of strategy formulation and implementation (e.g., challenges of strategic assessment, matching policy and strategy, interaction with the adversary, and war termination), as well as the domestic and international context of strategy.

Strategy II

Instructors: Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel

The sequel to Strategy I, Strategy II explores both the theory (e.g., the origins of war, the nature of strategic thought) and practice of strategy (drawn from 20th and 21st century military history) in greater depth, focusing in particular on application. The course uses case studies to discuss strategic decision making in a range of settings: peacetime competition, irregular warfare, wars for limited aims, and protracted coalition wars. Readings include theory and historical material, some of the latter resting on independent student research. The course combines lecture and discussion, and assignments that center on memoranda and a group project.

Intelligence I

Instructors: John McLaughlin, Tom Mahnken, and Thomas Rid 

The course offers a foundational overview of the discipline of intelligence. Structured around three themes: the policy context in which US intelligence services perform their missions, the professional techniques of intelligence – human source operations, technical collection, analysis and covert action -- and enduring issues, such as counterintelligence, deception, ethics, oversite, and relations of competition and cooperation among intelligence services. The course features a combination of lectures, discussions, field trips and practical exercises designed to give students experience in intelligence writing and briefing.

Intelligence II

Instructors: John McLaughlin, Tom Mahnken, and Thomas Rid 

Intelligence II builds on Intelligence I, with a focus on in-depth case studies and primary source documents. This course will look at a range of intelligence operations, and specifically explore the transition into a new technological environment in the 21st century, specifically the role of cyber operations. Students will engage in a detailed discussion of covert action operations as carried out by the United States, adversary countries, and allies, both from an offensive and from a counterintelligence perspective. The course will also examine the full range of covert actions to include information operations, political action, economic action, government competition, and paramilitary work; use historical examples and declassified intelligence to examine how countries have sought to influence adversaries’ fortunes in politics, information, and war; and weigh the effectiveness of these techniques, the political context from which they emerged, and their consequences both intended and unintended. During the course, students will participate in an exercise designed around a covert action based on material presented in the course.

Sample Electives* 

  • Air Power and Strategy
  • American Defense Policy
  • Behavioral Sociology of Conflict
  • Defense Analysis
  • Digital Forensics and Incident Reporting (DFIR)
  • Diplomatic Disasters
  • Disinformation
  • Economic Sanctions and Statecraft
  • Genocide and Mass Violence
  • Illicit Finance
  • Insurgency and Irregular Warfare
  • International Bargaining and Negotiation
  • Military Adaptation under Fire
  • Operations Analysis
  • Psychology and Decision-making in Foreign Policy
  • Technology and War
  • The Nature and Character of Cyber Conflict

*subject to change

Capstone

Students will select one of two capstone options, either a thesis or a brief focused on strategic intelligence and national security. Each student will be assigned an advisor early in the year. The advisor will provide or facilitate supervision of the work leading toward the capstone requirement. The thesis is a thoroughly researched and well-sourced 8,000–10,000-word research paper. The thesis will be supervised and graded by the student’s advisor, as well as by a second SAIS faculty member with a specialization in that field of study. The brief is a thoroughly researched and documented 3,000–4,000-word issue paper presented in a 15-minute briefing, followed by a 30-minute Q&A session with at least two faculty members to probe the briefing’s depth and quality. The Research Seminar will prepare students for both the capstone thesis and brief.