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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.1 (2002) 104-106

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Book Review

Military Intelligence: A History

Peter Gudgin, Military Intelligence: A History. Phoenix Mill, U.K.: Sutton Publishing, 1999. xix, 236 pp. £19.99/$36.00.

To those whose personal fate and well-being have never depended on military intelligence, or who have not borne responsibility for the lives of subordinates thrown into harm's way, the very phrase military intelligence may seem alien, a misnomer, or even a contradiction in terms. To effective commanders and prudent policy makers, however, military intelligence represents--or should represent--a godsend and an integral component of military art, national security, and strategic thought in peacetime as in war.

It is for the large and ever expanding lay audience that retired British Army officer, Major Peter Gudgin of the Royal Tank Regiment, has written his primer, Military Intelligence: A History. The author has geared his work, anglocentric in its content and sources, to the interests of his countrymen, but its value extends beyond borders. Military Intelligence endeavors to provide the framework needed to understand and interpret the profusion of works--ranging from the sensational to the weighty to the inaccurate--that have appeared on espionage and intelligence in recent years, particularly in Great Britain.

Intelligence is a field awash in acronyms, many of which overlap with military affairs, and the dramatic advances in technology since 1945 have accelerated their profusion of acronyms. Some of the acronyms designate intelligence activities (HUMINT, SIGINT, ELINT, IMINT); others stand for component organizations (SIS, DIS, GCHQ, MI 5); and still others designate techniques (ECM, DF, MAD) or equipment (RPV, KH-11). Their widespread use in both technical and popular literature represents a hurdle for the uninitiated, but mastery of the most common ones has become a de facto requirement for both the specialist and, increasingly, the interested layman. In both the narrative and an extensive list of abbreviations, Gudgin explains or decodes most of these hieroglyphics. The reader will notice, however, that some acronyms are specific to the United Kingdom. Thus, "order of battle" bears the designation ORBAT rather than OB, the standard in the United States.

Gudgin speaks with the authority of an insider. Although he does not elaborate on his background, it is clear that much of his expertise--especially on signals intelligence (SIGINT) issues--stems from first-hand experience as an intelligence collector, collator, and distributor. This approach offers advantages but harbors risks as well. Woven throughout his narrative are timeless insights, occasionally arrayed next to personal crusades in which he invests considerable emotion. His insights include comments on the expansion of intelligence requirements and operations in response to increases in the range of weapons systems and improvements in technology; the even greater need for intelligence in peacetime than in war, as a hedge against the outbreak of hostilities; the debilitating effect of pendulum swings in funding that have accompanied changing political perceptions of "the threat" and repeatedly undermined intelligence efforts; the failure to learn institutional lessons; and the inherent need for [End Page 104] the integration of intelligence and operations at all levels. His crusading centers on somewhat overdone criticism of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) based on the need to protect intelligence sources, methods, and personnel--unquestionably an essential consideration. Although my own experience with FOIA has not been uniformly positive, the legislation provides an expeditious means of prompting the review and declassification of documents that truly no longer warrant being kept secret and would otherwise remain under wraps for decades because of the mind-boggling volume of such material. Declassification decisions call for caution and informed discretion.

The author writes skillfully and enlivens his text with revealing, colorful anecdotes, among them one on "tradecraft." As cover for Operation Silver, the tapping of Soviet communication lines in occupied postwar Vienna, the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, colloquially known for historical reasons as MI 6) established a Harris tweed clothing shop in a house near the Soviet cables. To SIS's chagrin, the cover quickly backfired because the shop became so popular that...