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"Some Aspects of Security" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. report on military security was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 39, December 2, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


In all branches of the intelligence service, the source of information determines its value. It is the origin that must be tested first, and not the information. Some interesting points about this general subject of security and certain of its related aspects are contained in the following article presenting ideas expressed by the noted military critic, Liddell Hart, excerpts of which were published in Military Intelligence Pamphlet, Vol. IV, No. 8, Union of South Africa.

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The fear of treachery, among the people of a country attacked, is one of the best weapons that an invader could devise, with the aim of creating confusion and distraction among the armed forces and the people behind them. The term, "Fifth Column" is recent, but the underlying idea is one of the oldest in the history of warfare. Yet there are few important examples in history of successful betrayals in wars against a foreign foe as distinct from civil wars.

On the other hand, there is much evidence of the damage caused by the fear of treachery. In the Franco-German War of 1870-1, the cry of "Nous sommes trahis"* played havoc with the defense of France. The same fear, intensified by being embodied in the new term "Fifth Column", played an even larger part in the collapse of France in 1940. The general state of suspicion went far towards paralysing all resistance to the invader. It was fear of the Fifth Column, rather than the activities of Fifth Columnists that did the damage. This is a danger we have to guard against in our security measures. We must keep our balance, lest in over-zeal for security, which is the negative side of war, we hamper our positive efforts. By an exaggerated use of the term "Fifth Column," we not only play the enemy's game but put a master-card in his hand, the joker. Do not be too quick to suspect anyone, but develop an attitude of critical doubt towards everyone. The line which a good intelligence officer should take is to maintain an attitude of discreet observation, while taking care to avoid generating an atmosphere of suspicion.

a. Working Rules for Intelligence Officers

The attention of the ordinary public tends to focus on anyone-

(1) who has a foreign accent;

(2) who is eccentric in behavior;

(3) who voices unpopular opinions.

It is a good working rule for intelligence officers to start by asking whether a particular suspect comes in one of these categories, then to ask whether suspicion was first aroused by the man himself, or by something particular he has done. Cases where no suspicion had been aroused prior to some particular incident are far more likely to be worth serious investigation. Even then a cool-headed judgment based on thorough military knowledge for sifting such cases is required, in order to gauge whether an incident reported could, in its setting, have a real military bearing.

Do not always use the same methods in attempting to apprehend the enemy agent. The more uniform the methods, the easier it will be for the enemy agent to avoid them by refraining from the obvious things that excite suspicion. There is just as much need to practise surprise in security work as there is on the battlefield.

The most serious leakages of information come from the top. Lower down in the scale of rank and position there is indeed often a tendency to run to the other extreme, and to withhold information that ought to be known by those concerned for the efficient performance of their job.

Such over-caution usually arises from an inability to discriminate between what does and does not matter--a lack of discrimination due to lack of knowledge. The real art of security is to be so open in discussing most things that the very existence of the few things that really matter is not even suspected.

In dealing with cases of careless talk, it is better to rely on admonition than on punishment. Most people who err in this way would be horrified if they thought that they were doing anything detrimental to the national war effort. A traitor sells his information privately, he does not broadcast it.

All security issues tend to be a compromise between the conflicting claims of mobility and security. It is a good general rule that when in doubt mobility should be given preference, as the offensive and time-winning factor. The German have profited greatly by sacrificing security on occasions, in order to gain time and ensure that personnel act in the light of the fullest possible knowledge. The German principle is that it does not matter if the enemy learns where you are going so long as you get there first.

b. Gathering Information

The positive side of intelligence work, namely the process of gathering information, is more of an art, and less of a technique, than the negative or security side.

Important as is the capacity to collect information, still more important is the ability to sift and evaluate it, to draw the right deductions from it. An intelligence officer who cannot see the wood for the trees is of limited help to his commander.

The qualities for the collection and interpretation of information are listed hereunder:-

(1) Knowledge--The importance of military knowledge, as the basis of intelligence, and thus in turn of generalship, has been emphasized by every great commander before and since Napoleon. The more military knowledge you have, the better your chances of appreciating the significance of something that, to an untrained mind, would seem trivial or irrelevant.

The need for being acquainted with the enemy's methods, especially his tactical methods, should be emphasized.

This is a side of intelligence where we [British] compare badly with some other armies, notably the German. Lawrence of Arabia once said: "The enemy I knew almost like my own side. I risked myself among them, many times, to learn."

(2) Sense of Relativity--The power of relating one thing to another, and the bits to the whole; a capacity for seeing the wood at the same time as the trees.

(3) Inquisitive Sense--Inquisitiveness or curiosity springs from the vital instinct to discover the truth about things. By this is meant "intellectual curiosity", which is the source of the scientific spirit.

(4) Accuracy--The greatest possible care must always be taken to ensure that your data is correct, that it is precisely worded and objectively presented.

Moreover the good intelligence officer must be able to gauge the reliability of the evidence which he assembles. While careful to discredit nothing without examination, he should doubt everything until he has verified it. This is particularly important as a guard against being deceived by the enemy--and remember that deception is the main instrument of strategy.

(5) Receptiveness--Having the quality of receiving or taking in what is actually communicated, as distinct from what you would wish to hear communicated.

This quality is equally important on the part of the commander.

Advice tendered by Intelligence should be based strictly on scientific inquiry. Any encouragement given to wishful thinking on the part of the commander, out of mistaken loyalty, is the greatest disservice which can be rendered to a commander.

(6) Creative Imagination--(the power of projecting your conceptions of what is going on behind the enemy's lines and in the enemy's mind.) Closely with this is the power to visualize a map, or rather the ground represented by that map. Sir John Monash (by general recognition perhaps the ablest commander we produced in the last war) had the power of creative imagination strongly developed, so that he could get a clear picture of the battle-front although remaining at rear headquarters.

c. Organization

Good information cannot be expected unless there are adequate personnel to obtain it, and of high enough rank in their particular sphere to enable them to make their voices heard. It is natural that commanders should feel that the number of officers and men allotted to intelligence duties is a subtraction from fighting strength. But experience shows that the subtraction is more than compensated by the value of having better and quicker information on which to act.

In periods of active fighting, you cannot expect to get information back in time to be acted upon, from commanders actually engaged in the fighting. They and their staffs will be occupied in thinking about what the enemy is doing. The principle of "liaison forward" should be adopted.

Every superior HQ should have its own qualified observers forward with the subordinate HQ to send back continuous and immediate reports of the development in the situation, instead of relying on reports received from the subordinate HQ. This system of "liaison forward," highly developed by the Germans, revives Napoleon's expert aide-de-camp system.

Every system of intelligence has the two problems to solve, that of obtaining information, and obtaining it in time. An intelligence staff must go out and seek information; but it must also locate itself where information is likely to be received. Much can be learned by applying the system adopted by the spider in spinning his web for catching flies.

*We are betrayed


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