The scholarly study of intelligence has grown steadily into what is now a distinct sub-field of history and political science. Recent events – notably jihadist attacks on the US, Spain and the UK and the war on Iraq and its aftermath – have generated debate and controversy about the use and representation of intelligence. A plethora of official inquiries have fuelled debates into the ‘intelligence failures’ involved. This essay explores how lessons might be learned from the history of intelligence for contemporary debates and controversies. An overview of the issues includes discussion of how different approaches are apparent between American and British perspectives. Challenges and opportunities for applying lessons from the past are explored and a case is made for greater engagement between academia and officialdom.