Review: Very Special Intelligence

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars

Brilliant, Relevant Today, OpIntel Thrills, Deep Insights,

September 30, 2001

Patrick Beesley

This is a brilliant piece of work, and extremely relevant today. Had America had an Operational Intelligence (OpIntel) Plot (24/7 operationally-oriented put it all together all the time watch center), I daresay the terrorist attacks on America would have been prevented in good time.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.

Vote on Review
Vote on Review