The opposition to intelligence

This is likely not of much interest to most people, but it’s something I noticed while reading a book…

I’m reading Keegan’s Intelligence in War right now, and noticing an interesting trend: Many militaries, but the American military more than most, tend to disparage intelligence work, on the mindset that it’s all well and good, but it’s force and valor that win battles, and the intel branches are where to stuff people who couldn’t hack it at traditional warfare.

Keegan seems to implicitly share this judgement; his book is trying to argue that intel is less valuable than it first seems, essentially since even in battles where one side had an intelligence advantage, that advantage alone was not enough to guarantee victory.

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this. It’s clear that intelligence alone doesn’t guarantee victory, and that all the “traditional” military abilities, not to mention the usual chaos and vagaries of battle, are fairly significant determinants. But there’s a systematic pattern by which intelligence, properly gathered, well-analyzed and systematically deployed, can grant a commander in the field both an element of surprise and a much better initial deployment of resources. Even in cases where intelligence was insufficient (Keegan cites the German invasion of Crete during WW2, against which the British defenders had excellent intelligencce), the good intel was still a major advantage to the defenders. (The British did, after all, cut all of the attacking Nazi paratroop divisions to ribbons)

Yet the pattern persists – “traditional” warfare officers and their adherents, military historians included, seem completely determined to describe intelligence as an almost unnecessary backwater, despite the visible increase in its significance and importance in the age of SIGINT.

Bloody ridiculous.

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Published in: on January 31, 2004 at 14:37  Comments (5)  
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5 Comments

  1. Intel is very important, but it’s worthless without commanders who are able to develop plans of action that take advantage of it. Kagan (not Keegan, a different guy) made an interesting point in his commentary on the Peloponnesian War: Many great military leaders are remembered on the basis of their courage in doing something risky and winning in spite of all odds. However, there are plenty of military leaders (perhaps more) who were equally courageous but failed, and are therefore not remembered. The kind of leader who actually wins wars (as opposed to just getting all the credit) is the more cautious, methodical kind who has the wisdom to listen to and act according to intelligence.

  2. As the above said, the generals have to be smart enough to properly use it. But then there’s also the fact that the military is an organization steep in tradition (as is the fire service). Anything new is heavily eschewed for the tried and true, except in the case of bigger and better weapons.
    I think that most generals don’t know how to properly use it, and therefore don’t try, and therefore think it’s not useful.

  3. If this is a recent book, then he’s sadly mistaken and seriously out of touch with the community about which he is writing.

  4. He wasn’t advocating the position – I just saw traces of it in the way he thought. Something which I’ve seen from other places as well, although much less recently than in the past. The book itself was quite interesting.

  5. You’d be amazed at our current abilities and the way we direct, collect, process, disseminate, and utilise intel.
    This is the Information Age. Those that can’t cope with the new paradigm were marginalised and removed long ago.


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