Intelligence in Recent Public Literature
Compiled and Reviewed by Jon A. Wiant
This section contains brief reviews of recent books of interest to both the intelligence professional and the student of intelligence.
Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service. By Richard J. Aldrich. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 500 pages.
Spies and Saboteurs: Anglo-American Collaboration and Rivalry in Human Intelligence Collection and Special Operations, 1940-45. By Jay Jakub. London: Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1999. 280 pages.
Sixty years of the US/UK “special relationship” has tended to mask the tensions that percolated through the early years of Anglo-American intelligence cooperation in World War II. Two recent works–by Richard Aldrich and Jay Jacub–remind us of both the leadership collaboration that led to the creation of the Office of Strategic Services, America’s first central intelligence organization, and the intense rivalries among and between US and British intelligence and special operations services. Deeply divergent operational goals and conflicting political agendas often characterized the organizations, despite their shared anti-Axis strategic orientation. As both books well demonstrate, the organizations warred with each other as much as they worked against a common enemy. In the European and North African theaters, Jakub found many of the same bureaucratic conflicts that plague contemporary interagency cooperation, often acerbated by differences among the military commands that the intelligence units supported. Aldrich argues that divisions ran even deeper in Asia, as the Allies became increasingly wary of each other’s future ambitions in the region. Americans saw the British units as the shock forces for the restoration of colonial rule. The British, on the other hand, deeply suspected the OSS of supporting independence movements.
While Aldrich and Jakub tread some common ground, the books are substantially different in orientation as well as geographic sweep. Jakub is more interested in how OSS matured as a field-operating agency and increasingly developed the capacity for independence from its early British mentoring. Aldrich’s book ranges widely over a number of critical intelligence issues and is the more compelling of the two. His trenchant treatment of the achievement of strategic surprise against the British in Malaysia and Singapore and the Americans at Pearl Harbor is among the best summations in indications and warning literature. He deftly deals with the conspiracy theories that have confounded postwar examinations of the attacks, noting that such theories “offer us a reassuring vision of decision-makers as people who control events, [which] is more attractive than the idea of governments as victims of surprise.”
Both books benefit from extensive interviews as well as access to voluminous, recently declassified records from American and British wartime sources, including private papers. Indicative of the research challenge, each author makes special mention of his indebtedness to legendary archivist John Taylor for assistance in guiding him through the mountains of OSS material.
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Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw. By Mark Bowden. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001. 296 pages.
In the late 1980s, American law enforcement and intelligence organizations were involved in a major initiative with Colombian authorities to track down and bring to justice Medellin cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar. He was the first of the so-called cartel kingpins targeted by a joint campaign that benefited from significant American intelligence support augmenting Drug Enforcement Administration efforts. Mark Bowden–author of Black Hawk Down, the gripping account of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu–has once again demonstrated his marvelous rapport with the world of special operations. He details the activities of Centra Spike, “the most sophisticated surveillance team in the world,” and Delta Force, “the best team of manhunters,” in their 16-month campaign to get Escobar.
Bowden lists an impressive number of official interviews. Inevitably, however, in a book that relies on uneven sourcing of operational information, the reader will have some difficulty in sorting out fact from speculation in the tailored “war story.” And there is probably more detail on Escobar’s comings and goings than most will find necessary. Nevertheless, the author has produced a useful study of how a well integrated program of human and technical intelligence collection, particularly against cell phone communications, can take law enforcement operations to the narcotrafficker’s doorstep. The killing of Escobar on 2 December 1993, which Bowden suggests might have been the work of a Delta sniper, marked the beginning of the end of the murderous Medellin cartels. It set the stage for the growth of the Cali-based trafficking organizations whose less violent style and more compartmented activities left them less vulnerable to the targeting that led to Escobar’s demise.
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The Imperial War Museum Book of War Behind Enemy Lines. By Julian Thompson. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1998. 476 pages.
Sixty years after World War II, writing about wartime secret intelligence and special operations units remains a lively enterprise. The UK’s Imperial War Museum adds this volume to its impressive and growing list of publications that draw on the extensive museum holdings of official documents and private papers, the latter a trove of unique insights and accounts for the student of military and intelligence history. The museum commissioned Thompson, a retired Royal Marine Major General, to survey the accomplishments of British special operations organizations and assess their contribution to the Allied victory against Germany and Japan. In an overarching essay, Thompson critically reviews the role of special operations forces, discussing the inherent conflicts between offensive or direct action and the behind-the-lines intelligence gathering that these units were often tasked to do. He candidly examines why some operations succeeded while others failed, sometimes dismally.
Thompson is a lively writer. These are fine stories, well retold. His accounts of the Special Air Service and its offshoot, the Special Boat Service, are ripping good tales, as is his treatment of the heroic small boat raid on Japanese shipping in the Singapore Harbor and the wrenching failure of the subsequent operation. Thompson is at his sharpest, however, in his dissection of some of the wartime leaders. No reader will feel quite the same about Lord Louis Mountbatten, whose reputation, Thompson suggests, derived far more from his effective public relations machinery than from his operational genius. The author quotes British scholar Andrew Roberts, who describes Mountbatten as a “mendacious, intellectually limited hustler.” The Imperial War Museum recently acquired the private papers of Brig. Orde Wingate, architect and commander of the 20,000-man Chindit force, the largest group to operate behind enemy lines in World War II. Thompson draws on these papers to discuss the friction between Wingate and Mountbatten, by then commander of the Allied Southeast Asia Command. Thompson’s sharp critique of Mountbatten’s mismanagement of special operations extends to American icon Lt. Gen. “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell and his disregard of British intelligence and special operations units in Burma and their American counterparts. While Thompson’s descriptions of the harshness of behind-the-line operations is gripping, students of intelligence support to military operations will find great value in his examination of the intelligence contributions made by these units in the last year of the war as the allies resumed the offensive to drive the Japanese out of Burma.
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The Creation of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency: Congress’s Role as Overseer. Occasional Paper Number Nine. By Anne Daugherty Miles. Washington, DC: Joint Military Intelligence College, April, 2001. 105 pages.>
Leaks about the recommendations of the 2001 Presidential Commission on Intelligence Reform, chaired by Brent Scowcroft, have Washington once again bubbling with discussion about the reorganization of the Intelligence Community. Interested observers of how Congress handles the politics of structural change in the Community are well served by Anne Miles’s thoughtful and timely monograph on the creation of NIMA in 1996. The author skillfully tracks then-DCI John Deutsch’s proposal to combine the multitude of defense and intelligence organizations responsible for imagery analysis and geospatial mapping into a single agency. She details its path as it wended its way through the numerous Hill committees that had oversight and budget authority. While Miles is primarily concerned with Congressional processes and the play between authorization and appropriation committees, she also captures the importance of the powerful personalities involved with the NIMA vision and those who questioned the wisdom of the proposal.
Jon A. Wiant, is the Department of State Visiting Professor at the Joint Military Intelligence College.
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Posted: Apr 14, 2007 07:17 PM
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2008 07:23 AM