...to frustrate a designing enemy, and nothing that requires greater pains to obtain."
December 1777. Winter has set in at Valley Forge. General George Washington's ragtag militia needs all the help they can get. This week's post provides insight into one small part of General George Washington's experience with military intelligence. Three important themes emerge from the historical record:
- Leaders must have a strategy for both collecting, and using intelligence
- Dedicated men and women - a network - are required, and they must be developed and recognized
- Leaders need innovation and imagination to overcome natural and man-made obstacles to success
Washington is frequently cited as an expert practitioner of the intelligence craft; with his tactics, operations and strategy extolled across numerous books and essays. Washington understood the value of intelligence at an early age, quoted here, from a letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania, over 20 years before the American Revolution:
"There is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing enemy, and nothing that requires greater pains to obtain. I shall, therefore, cheerfully come into any measures you can propose to settle a correspondence for this salutary end; and you may depend upon receiving (when the provinces are threatened) the earliest and best intelligence that I can procure." [Source]
|Letter from Col George Washington to Robert H. Morris, Governor of Pennsylvania|
But, as author Michael Schellhammer points out in George Washington and the Final British Campaign for the Hudson River, "...it was a commonly held position that military spying was an illicit pursuit" considered below the level of gentlemen and suitable only for "unsavory characters."
Despite Continental notion, Washington developed his network early, with the roots of his Long Island spy ring established while growing up in Setauket, New York. This insightful Spy Museum lecture, from historian Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan, tells the story.
There is no greater example of the dedication between a leader and his intelligence network, than correspondence between General Washington and Major John Clark. This series of over 60 letters exchanged from1777 to 1778, provides insight into the human challenge, the uncertainty of the day, and the mutual respect. Washington works carefully with Major Clark, guides him, and ultimately helps him transition from service. In one letter dated 4 Dec 1777, Washington embarks upon plot to both deceive the British, and collect critical enemy information. This short National Geographic video describes the disinformation campaign waged with Major Clark's assistance:
Over 230 years later, nations across the globe face threats no less challenging. Some are embroiled in outright civil war while; others, like the United States, are able to address security challenges before outbreak of war with the help of diplomacy and intelligence...guided by our interests stated in the President's National Security Strategy (PDF)...and our history. What do we expect of senior leaders today in terms of an intelligence strategy to support our national interests....and how should it change compared with the past? Do we have the right people and innovation in place, to mitigate the risks of a changing world? Do we still need to "frustrate a designing enemy," with an intelligence system that pressures our Constitutional values, our relations with allies, and ourselves? Epictetus said in The Discourses, "make the best use of what is in your power, and use the rest according to their nature." So, decide - are we making the best use?