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Posted April 20, 2005
Keegan Analyzes the Value of Intelligence in Winning Wars
Does intelligence win wars? No, but it helps, according to Keegan. What ultimately matters most are: will, numbers, and material. That is an honest conclusion, which obviously won't resonate too well with intelligence organizations like the NSA, CIA, MI6, FSB, Mossad, etc. However, it should make political/ideological leaders and defense contractors happy. Keegan examines the effect of intelligence in several campaigns/battles throughout the past 200 years - Nelson's pursuit of Napoleon in the Med, Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign, the Royal Navy hunt for Von Spee's squadron and for the Emden, Crete, Midway, the Atlantic U-boat campaign, and the search for Hitler's V-1 and V-2 weapons. In conventional battle, the importance of intelligence lies in locating the enemy, determining his dispositions, and unveiling his intentions. However, intelligence of itself doesn't win battles - even the best informed but outnumbered force will often be defeated by a stronger foe. Keegan demonstrates that time and again. Intelligence outside of battle, however, plays a more significant role. It can provide users with orders-of-battle, advance warning of new weapons technology, the internal situation of one's enemies (or even allies). And today, its value has increased dramatically thanks to modern electronic telecommunications, which can send info instantly across the world. (However, this has proven to be a double-edged sword to commanders on the ground who must now also cope with continual - often counterproductive - interference from anxious superiors.) In addition, the ease of electronic eavesdropping (signals intelligence - sigint) has caused Western intelligence agencies to rely almost exclusively on sigint to the detriment of human intelligence (humint). In conclusion, I understand Keegan to say that intelligence is overrated as a tool to win battles. Furthermore, Western intelligence agencies are perhaps dangerously over-reliant on sigint. In their battle with al-Qaeda, they have been frustrated by an organization which has recognized this weakness and hence largely refuses to use modern telco technology. Overall, an interesting book, but what I just wrote above largely summarizes its findings.
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