Very Special Intelligence Mass Market Paperback – 1 Nov 1981
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I started reading this book the week prior to the attacks, having bought it off the shelves of the Army War College bookstore, whose judgment I have always respected, and I have been absolutely absorbed--thrilled--with the deep insights that this work provides on how best to manage an operationally-oriented watch center that does "all-source fusion" against a constantly changing real-time real-world threat.
It became clear to me as I worked through every word of this superior work that modern intelligence has become too bureaucratic and that all-source analysis has become too distant from both the sources and the consumers. The Operational Intelligence Center (OIC) whose story is told here worked with no fewer than seventeen distinct sources streams, each with its own idiosyncrasies, its own fits and starts--and it worked directly with its operational clients, fully appraised of friendly plans and intentions and able to provide workmanlike inputs at every turn. We need to get back to this approach!
There are a number of vital lessons to be learned from this book, which I recommend in the strongest terms as one of my "top ten" relevant *today*. Among them:
Sharing Secrets Matters. It was the Russians who helped the British get started in 1914 with a gift of a German Naval Signal book, and it was the Poles who saved the day early on in World War II with a gift of two working Enigma machines.
Ops Must Sleep With Intel. Too many times I have seen operators ignore intelligence because they do not understand it-there are too many breakdowns in communication along the way, and if the operators have not trained with, lived with, slept with, caroused with, their intelligence counterparts, the two cultures do not come together effectively in times of crisis.
Ops Cannot Do Raw Sources. The corollary of the above is that Ops simply cannot keep up with the nuances of sources and is not able to evaluate sources in context to good effect.
Intel Must Sleep With Ops. The intelligence propensity to compartment everything to the point of meaningless, and the "green door" mentality that is especially characteristic of the crypto-analysis community, amounts to a death wish. Some secret sources must be "ultra" secret, but some form of bridge is needed-the OpIntel Center (which the U.S. Navy, alone within today's US secret bureaucratic archipelago, does well) appears to be a vital and relevant solution.
Plots Must Be Co-Located and Ideally Integrated. Early separation and distance between the intelligence plot, the commercial shipping plot and the operational plot leads to waste and death. Ultimately an integrated plot, or at least a blue-green plot next door to the red plot, is absolutely vital to effective prosecution of real-time war.
Lose the Old Guys. The first thing that needs doing when preparing for a long war is to lose the old guys. No disrespect intended, but as has been documented time and again, those that get promoted in peacetime bureaucracies tend to be too conformist and too subservient to peacetime protocols to adapt well to unconventional and very fast-moving wartime conditions. [Present company always excepted!.]
Hire the Retired. This is not a contradiction. Old guys with big egos and high ranks have to go-but bringing in the best of the retired, generally at the field grade level, can have an extraordinary positive impact in the rapid maturation and stabilization of the full-speed-ahead wartime watch.
Doctrinal Disputes Kill. Unless there is a homeland defense doctrine that fully integrates and exercises the capabilities and internal cultures of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and civilian agencies (and civilian agencies!) there will be a year or two of major and almost catastrophic losses until it gets sorted out the hard way.
Home Arrogance Kills (UK Version). The persistent unwillingness of home side personnel to admit that their own security measures can be broken by clever enemies, and the general sloppiness of all hands with respect to Operations Security (OPSEC) will take a heavy toll.
Home Arrogance Kills (US Version). There is a theme with regard to the Americans. While their money and their manpower are gratefully accepted, their arrogance knows no bounds. They entered the war believing that there was nothing the British could teach them-further on into the war, the Americans risked Ultra by acting too aggressively on its information.
Red Cell Oversight Needed. One thing that jumped out at me from this book was the urgent need for having a very senior person-a retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for example, managing a Red Cell to provide oversight over operational decisions to exploit the most sensitive sources. [By this I mean, a senior authority who can overrule and forbid operations whose success might endanger the special source.]
Negative Reports Matter. I was really struck by the circumstances surrounding a German break-out up the Channel, in which a number of normally reliable and overlapping intelligence collection endeavors all were forced back by weather, broken down or what-not. From this I took the lesson that negative reports matter. By failing to report to the OIC on their non-status, they failed to focus the OIC on all the possibilities. Thinking the flank covered, the OIC left the flank open.
Tommy Brown Matters. The book ends on a marvelous note, pointing out that without the heroism of Tommy Brown, a 16 year old cabin boy and youngest recipient of the George Medal as well as two other adults who died in the process of grabbing vital enemy signals materials off a sinking vessel, the allies would have been deaf for much of 1943. At the end of the day the best technical intelligence comes down to a brave human who risks all to make it possible.
Most of my other reviews of intelligence non-fiction can be found by seeking out online
Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)
All reviews lead back to their Amazon page, and are sorted by category (e.g. all on CIA, on NSA, etcetera).
Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth, & Trust
Admiralty was indifferent to challenge posed by U boats pinning hopes on ASDIC , a device capable of tracking down submerged objects. Attention centered on neutralizing the threat of powerful German naval surface units. Insufficient number of vessels operating under geographical constraint, firing faulty torpedoes meant U boat offensive at the beginning lacked punch. Strategic landscape changed after the fall of France .U boat bases were established along the Biscay coast as Britain's maritime communications became more vulnerable to disruption.
At the outset when Admiralty's ASW measures were rudimentary Special Intelligence formed the first line of defence against U boats. This was derived by penetration of German U boat naval enigma ciphers. Apart from this there were conventional forms of intelligence such as agent reports, D/F fixes , air reconnaissance. Data was plotted in a huge board affixed to the wall of submarine tracking room of OIC. Tolerably accurate picture of U boat dispositions, where patrol lines formed and how this manoeuvred in relation to convoys was obtained by the Admiralty. Information let precious convoys evade U boat picket lines, a thing called evasive routing. Precautionary measures were taken while make use of extraordinary fund of information. Any operational activity associated with Special intelligence was linked with other less precious sources of information such as photographic reconnaissance, agent reports D/F fixes. Some times delay in decrypting signals caused by change in cipher settings prevented pin pointing U boat patrol lines and guiding shipping around them.
Concurrently, B Dienst (crypto analytical branch German naval intelligence) successfully hacked convoy routing signals that helped Admiral Doenitz know moves made to outwit him. Author explains why when both sides were deciphering opponent's signals the fact escaped notice. To a some extent it can be attributed to lack of experience staff and increasing pressure of war at sea. Before an analysis could be made ( why suddenly U boat patrol lines were altered, why this convoy or an independent was intercepted) another crisis burst upon the scene and the study had o be abandoned. In short, struggle against U boats was a radio intelligence war on a grand scale where fortunes fluctuated widely.
Operational record of OIC offers a mixed picture, On the credit side it provided intelligence that allowed British Home Fleet hunt down Bismarck. Intelligence facilitated rolling up of logistical support chain (Etappendienst) that nourished marauding units of Kriegsmarine that targeted British merchant shipping on the high seas. In the list of disappointments include failure to prevent the escape (channel dash) German battle ships from the Biscay ports, disaster that engulfed convoy PQ-17 ferrying supplies to Russia.
Author while underscoring role of special intelligence also alludes to other measures adopted to defeat U boats . Increased availability of shipping led to formation of escort support groups. This apart from reinforcing protection to convoys threatened ,held back hunted U boats independently. They were guided to the targets by special intelligence.. Tactics for destroying U boats were refined and made more lethal by the introduction of weapons like Hedgehog. Introduction of 10 cm radar deprived U boats the ability to operate on the surface at night forcing it to dive and lose contact with convoy. Advent of escort carriers, VLR aircraft together with occupation of Azores,Ascension islands meant mid Atlantic air gap was closed for good. Continuous air cover could be provided for the convoys along its entire voyage across the Atlantic.
Finally, author unlike modern chroniclers of U boat war ends the book on a grim note. The coming XXI,XXIII type boats fitted with powerful electric batteries that allowed cruising submerged for lengthy periods of time at great speeds again made vessels immune to detection from air. So closing stages of conflict U boats regained cloak of invisibility. Doenitz, however, had to halt operations as all U boat operational bases along Biscay, Baltic coasts were lost to rampaging Allied armies.
Book was a terrific read. First published in late 1970s based on declassified archival material released to Public Records Office Kew,London.Passage of time has not dimmed its luster. Highly recommended for those interested in naval dimension of World War II.
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