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
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
The qualities for the collection and interpretation of information are
(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.
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