Have We Recreated the OSS?

Check out my blog posting over at the International Spy Museum’s site where I discuss what the killing of Osama Bin Laden tells us about the role of the CIA in warfighting.


Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 3:36 AM  Leave a Comment  
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A Jihadist Manual on Intelligence

I recently posted an item over at the International Spy Museum blog that readers of this blog might find interesting.

I quote here the first paragraph of that posting:

A manual on intelligence captured during the course of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Coalition Forces offers a unique take on intelligence from a jihadist perspective.  Coalition forces found copies of the 300-some page manual on intelligence at Al Qaeda-associated facilities, notably at the Kandahar home of Mohammed Atef (aka Abu Hafs al-Masri), Al Qaeda’s military chief until his death in November 2001.  This particular manual was written not by Al Qaeda but by a group that was once ideologically aligned with it, the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG).  EIG has since renounced violence.  However, this document, which probably dates to the late 1980s or early 1990s remains behind as a snapshot of the views of elite Arab jihadists about the world of intelligence at the time. …

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 12:15 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Intelligence is Cramping Al Qaida’s Style

The second issue of Inspire the English language magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) popped up online on 11 October….It is striking how much the various authors featured in the magazine seem concerned about the threat posed by the intelligence and security services, both of the United States and of Arab countries.  They make clear that the security forces have tremendous advantages that impinge on virtually every part of the jihadists’ lives….

For the remainder of this posting, please go here to the website of the International Spy Museum where I am the Historian.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 3:09 PM  Leave a Comment  
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INFOWARCON (2): Deception

Continuing to discuss INFOWARCON….

Yesterday I heard some brief remarks by Brigadier General Thomas Draude on the subject of deception.  General Draude had been in charge of the Marines’ deception operations during DESERT STORM.  You will recall that the Marines and the Navy had made a big show out of preparing an amphibious landing in Kuwait that never came, apparently pinning down several Iraqi divisions in defending the beaches.  As an aside, Kevin Woods’ work on DESERT STORM from the Iraqi side doesn’t have a clear optic on this, but it does suggest that the Director of Iraq’s General Military Intelligence Division suspected a deception but that Saddam appears probably to have bought the story that General Draude was trying to sell.

Deception, General Draude said, must be believable.  This may sound like a banal observation, but he said that once words gets around that a commander is planning a deception that the strangest, weirdest people in the entire command will “come out of the woodwork” with all sorts of bizarre and unbelievable ideas.  The wise commander will ignore these people.  After all, he said, the point of a deception is to “confuse” the enemy not to “amuse” him.

Ideally, a deception will give the enemy a logical, sound course of action (COA) that just happens to be false.  General Draude suggested using a COA that the command really had considered executing but had ultimately rejected.  Then the trick is to let the enemy see what we want him to see and deny him vital indicators that might point unambiguously to the truth.

Deception should be built into a plan from the very beginning, the General advises.  And the key intelligence considerations are:

  • Who makes the key decisions on the enemy’s side?  How does he think?
  • What do we want him to do? (The issue is not what do we want him merely to think.)
  • Finally, is the target buying the deception?  If not, we may have to actually execute the deception plan as a real operation!

Finally, General Draude noted that his favorite book on deception was Ewen Montagu’s The Man Who Never Was, the classic about “Major Martin of the Royal Marines” who washed ashore in Spain in 1943 carrying documents hinting that the Allies would invade Sardinia instead of Sicily which was the real plan.  On a purely personal note, I have a special place in my heart for that book.  It is the first book on deception that I read and one of the very first that I read in military history.  I got it in probably fourth or fifth grade (Ms. Linden or Mrs. Strehle).  It came from the Scholastic Book Service and I imagine that I paid about 35 cents for it.  It was worth every penny.  Here it is:

My grade school copy of The Man Who Never Was

I will now take it carefully back to my bookshelf.

British Books That I’ll Probably Have to Buy

The new official history of MI-6 by Keith Jeffery has hit amazon.com and amazon.co.uk (hardback and paperback).  The book will be out in September, except for the paperback edition which will be September 2011.  Unlike Christopher Andrew’s official history of MI-5, which goes more or less to the present day, Jeffery’s book only goes to 1949.  Still, that’s four more years into the Cold War intelligence history than the Brits normally talk about in an official capacity.  I met a retired senior MI-6 official at an IISS event a few weeks ago and he explained the difference between the time spans covered by MI-5’s book and MI-6’s as follows: the sensitive stuff that must be protected is usually information pertaining to recruited agents.  Recruiting agents is the core business of MI-6, but not so MI-5.  In fact, he indicated that for a long time such business was sort of a backwater within MI-5.

By the way, Prof. Jeffery is going to be the external examiner in my dissertation defense in a month, so I have a double interest in this book.  As my dissertation is about American intelligence during World War I, I’ll be particularly interested to see what he has to say about MI-6 activities during that war.  Previously, the main work on that subject that I’ve used is Andrew’s Her Majesty’s Secret Service which is an excellent book, but dates all the way back to 1987.

Englandspiel: The England Game : SOE’s Worst Wartime Disaster is another forthcoming book in the UK that sounds interesting.  The blurb about it on amazon.com says:

The England Game – ‘Englandspiel’- was SOE’s most humiliating spy disaster of the Second World War and Germany’s most successful counter-espionage operation. German counter-intelligence penetrated the Dutch SOE network and fooled London into believing their agents were free and sending genuine radio messages in 1942-43, resulting in the deaths of 47 SOE agents and hundreds of civilian helpers, and the loss of 12 RAF aircraft on SOE missions. MI6 could easily have helped SOE prevent the disaster that unfolded in Holland by passing on and acting on the intelligence they received – but it wasn’t in their interests to do so.

This disaster sounds rather like Operation Berezino which the Soviets ran against the Germans during World War II and the early Cold War WiN operation that the Communist Polish service ran against the Brits and the Americans.  (See Robert Stephan’s, Stalin Secret War: Soviet Counterintelligence Against the Nazis, 1941-1945 for Berezino.  For WiN see Steven Dorril’s book on MI-6 as well as this website and this nascent website.)

Finally, and on a much more personal note, I’m intrigued to discover at amazon.co.uk a book entitled The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome.  The blurb about it says:

Arthur Ransome is best remembered as the author of the series of books that began with Swallows and Amazons and sold millions of copies around the world. But before he became the jolly Lakeland storyteller, offering idyllic images of brave children messing about in boats, Ransome had spent a decade in Russia and lived a very different life as a spokesman for authoritarianism and violence. He went there in 1913 as a struggling young freelance writer and made friends with leading Russian liberals, and wrote a fine book of tales based on Russian folk legends. But as the country sank into chaos and war, Ransome was caught up in the whirlwind of revolution. Always impressionable and eager to please, he gained the confidence of the Bolshevik leadership and became, for three crucial years, their main defender and propagandist in the West. His reports in the “Guardian” were uncritical and disingenuous. “MI6” considered him an agent of a foreign power; British officials argued that he should not be allowed to return to Britain. Yet at the same time, while Ransome was so intimate with the Communist leadership that he could get exclusive interviews with Lenin – who he portrayed as an avuncular, folksy, straight-talking politician – he was also offering to help elements of the British intelligence services with information about what was going on in Russia.

I spent my third grade year living in England and while I was there I discovered Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books in their 1960s Puffin edition.  I was immediately enthralled.  In terms of books that captured my imagination as a young boy, there are the Swallows and Amazon series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.  Everything else is a distant also-ran.  This series is on my living room bookshelves even as we speak.  The picture of Ransome on the back of the books showed him as an avuncular bald man with round glasses and an enormous white moustache that the most manly walrus would have to envy.  When I became a little older and more historically savvy, the fact that his bio blurb on the books said he had reported from places like Russia and China suggested to me that he probably had an interesting life and interesting politics, but nothing more.  I’m delighted to find a book that talks about his life and describes his interaction with World War I, the Russian Revolution, and British intelligence.  Judging from the introduction to the book, which amazon.co.uk will show you in part, the connection to British intelligence appears to have been Sir Basil Thomson, the head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch.  If Ransome’s writings were as pro-Communist as the blurb suggests it will be interesting to judge whether his contributions to British intelligence outweighed the propaganda value to the bad guys of his writings.

Happy reading!