THE SECRET STATE by John Hughes-Wilson


A History of Intelligence and Espionage
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A nuts-and-bolts look at the history and uses of intelligence.

Veering off from his earlier Military Intelligence Blunders (1999), this more technical manual by British military historian Hughes-Wilson gives a solid overview of the importance of secret intelligence and case studies of successful and failed spying, from the earliest times to leaks by Edward Snowden and Al Jazeera. First, the author gives a quick survey of the history of intelligence, specifically in war, with an eye toward Machiavelli’s canny statement: “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” Secrecy and surprise are tantamount to making good decisions, and Hughes-Wilson asserts, “military defeats are almost invariably associated with intelligence defeats.” He cites Hitler’s foolhardy attack of the Soviet Union without grasping Stalin’s ability to muster nearly 600 divisions against the Nazi onslaught. The author delineates the process of intelligence gathering (the “intelligence cycle”) and the difference between HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence). The former entails the motivations of the spy himself: money, ideology, coercion, ego, or grievance. Hughes-Wilson offers famous examples of each, such as the stunning identity of a Soviet spy “at the very top of the Nazi war machine,” code-named “Werther,” whose intelligence was crucial in defeating the Nazis on the eastern front: the personal secretary to Hitler, Martin Bormann. SIGINT includes code-breaking, such as the work of the fabled Room 40 in the Old Admiralty Building in London during World War II and the U.S. Navy’s cryptological breakthroughs in the summer of 1942, which allowed it to trap the Japanese fleet off of Midway Island. Surveillance (e.g., the Cuban missile crisis) and deception (D-Day) garner their own chapters, followed by the famous cases in which interpretation and dissemination of vital intelligence was ignored—most famously in the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the author rightly notes, technological leaks (e.g., Wikileaks), terror, and cyberwar present new intelligence challenges.

A vigorous survey with specific case studies and a useful bibliography for further study.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68177-302-5
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2016


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