I took this class last year, which I think was the first time it was offered as a semester course rather than a summer. It was really incredibly interesting and you really do learn a lot about tradecraft, open source, and the more technical parts of intel. He definitely knows his stuff, but sometimes the class lacked structure. To be fair this was because most of us stopped reading and then didn't have much to say (the books are just background and you will DEFINITELY learn more from him so take good notes). He often told us to speak more, so maybe he wanted more of a free flowing conversation. All in all, though I really enjoyed the class. It gives you a new perspective on international affairs. Now for the final and only paper, which he wanted to be 25 pages though he didn't seem to mind a couple over/under, you can and should set up papers with him to explore topics. He will help you, but only so much so if you don't have much background knowledge be sure to really do your research. For the oral exam, I think I got lucky because he asked me like 3 questions if that. They were fairly easy too (names and functions of organizations) when I had prepared for so much more. However, I think this was because we were running short on time. Another person who took it earlier had a ~40 minute exam if I remember correctly, so definitely study hard and know your stuff. Reading every week isn't necessary because you can just cram at the end, but it also probably helps you stand out in class if you know your stuff.
Professor Bininachvili is an interesting man, to say the least. His lectures are fascinating, and he is very knowledgeable. The course was long, but time passed quickly because of the interesting nature of the class. As others said, the work load is rather minimal --one paper and one oral EXAM, not just an interview (see later). Despite the greatness of the class and the prof himself, there are a few negative points. Prof B is cool when you chat with him outside of class on certain days, and on other days he is so rude and condescending that you feel like never talking to him again. It feels like he just looks at you and answers to you in a way because he really does not care about you have to say. I guess its just his character because there are other times where he is very nice and helpful... Just when you talk to him, I hope its on a good day because he can be very mean. He seems to have favorites The final paper and exam: There is one paper (10-12 pages) on pretty much any topic ( he must approve it). I do not think he has very high expectations for the papers and grades them almost overnight. The readings he assigns MUST be done, if not during the final oral exam you will be in trouble. The final exam was quite stressful and scary, as I said he is an imposing man who can be harsh at times. You have to know every important detail of the course and be ready to speak about it with him in the exam. You have to know the topics and be able to define them with ease --if not he will just send you off with a look of disappointment and give you a lower grade (regardless of the work you put into the paper). Then again he is a lenient and nice grader and understands that we are not experts in the field. Overall, I would suggest you take the course, its very interesting and Columbia offers nothing else like it. He is very knowledgeable and interesting, and you will learn a great deal --just be hard working and respectful and you will be graded accordingly. Regardless of the negative comments, he's really awesome and should get more involved in teaching at Columbia.
STRATEGIC INTELLIGENCE & POLITICAL DECISION MAKING The earlier reviews make Prof. Bininachviliâ€™s class seem like a cake walk. Yes, it is true that there is only a final paper, but the paper must be interesting and well-written, and he does not give everyone Aâ€™s. I worked hard for my A and read all the materials so that I could actually converse at the round table and be able to incorporate concepts into the paper. I know someone who I thought would have had an A, but got a B. So, there you go-not everyone gets an A in the class. He will also take off points if you miss class. (You must have a valid excuse) There are not that many classes during the summer session, so he expects you to attend. Do the readings to understand concepts and vocabulary pertinent to the field of strategic intelligence. Trust me; he knows who does the readings and who doesnâ€™t. Itâ€™s a small room and everyone sits at the table. He makes serious eye contact and gives everyone the floor when they have something to say. He is not one of the professors who goes on and on without pause. Prof. Bininachvili was always well prepared and used handwritten notes for his lectures that outlined the discussion points, but also knew how to keep the conversation fresh by inserting interesting case stories and personal anecdotes that only someone who has "been there" is able to do. The professor is highly knowledgeable in the subjects of intelligence, international and rogue politics. His vast knowledge of foreign intelligence agencies and historical cases was very impressive, especially those involving the KGB. This class deserves to be taught during the regular session. The content is much too valuable and serious to treat it lightly. This subject should be a requirement for all polisci/ international relations majors. Intelligence is what makes the world go aroundâ€¦diplomats and heads of states would be dead in the water without the men and women who conduct covert operations and the people who analyze data. It's not enough to learn about international politics through a traditional lens; you must contemplate the clandestine activities in order to develop clarity and understanding of the actions taken by our political leaders. He is a very elegant and intelligent man and I appreciated the fact that someone of his caliber and global experience would be teaching a summer course. He will teach you about the real world and the 'behind the scenes' things you do not read about in your history books. One of the highlights was when he had a guest lecturer from Washington, D.C. who has been a top notch administrator in every U.S. intelligent department and had been through it all. His talk was awesome. If you are intrigued with the Bond world and interested in learning more about the driving forces behind national security and political decision making, then take this class. You will see how world powers truly operate, cooperate, defy and counterspy. I give Prof. Bininachvili a slick thumbs-up for a very cool class.
This man is truly fantastic! He knows more about these subjects than any other professor you are going to get here during the school year or the summer. He is especially knowledgeable about Russia, the Caucuses, and Central Asia, areas that I had little interest in before his class but now find myself reading about in the news all the time. I'm a polisci major, and I haven't had another class that compares. If you have any interest in energy, intelligence, or how the real international political world works, take this class. It is really eye-opening and in fact it will make you realize how little you really do know.
Bininachvili is an interesting guy. Clearly, he knows what he is talking about. He speaks 8, maybe 9 different languages. He used to work for the Soviet Foreign Office (i think, but no one really knows....) His lectures are usually pretty captivating, and his ability to convey the reality on the ground in both the middle east (his used to work in Tehran) and the former Soviet bloc (he's from Azerbaijan) countries really makes you feel like you're learning <i>how the world actually works</i>. Overall, you learn a lot. Sometimes, the material can be confusing, especially when you start talking about the different names of russian and arabic or persian organizations. Moreover, he is funny, and it is clear that he likes to have a good time in and outside of class. I reccommend.