From The Planes, Raılways and Telegraph: A Short Hıstory of Modern Intellıgence

Emergence of Modern Intelligence

The evolution of intelligence affairs, and the emergence of modern intelligence organizations require a close look at the history of modernity. Intelligence is as old as history. As Gill and Pythian state, the rise of intelligence as a means of security could be traced back to antiquity and before. From Moses’ story in Old Testament to Chinese general Tsun Tzu of fourth century BC and Thucydides’ comments on Peloponnesian War battled in antic ages, gathering information from the enemy has been a concept related to intelligence history.[af] Gill, Peter, and Phythian, Mark. (2012). “Intelligence in an Insecure World”. pp. 40 [/af] When early modern period came, a semi-systematical use of spies became a widely-seen phenomena in the prominent empires of the time. However, the concept of spying was far from today’s professional understanding of the job. The merchants, ambassadors and even family members of these people who told stories from foreign lands were not occupied with a specific intelligence activity. Intelligence gathering activity was an ad hoc affair and could not be evaluated as fully systematic.


The emergence of modern intelligence agencies in terms of professionalism have found their impact in 19th century and at the beginning of 20th century. In 1825, Russian Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery was founded by Tsar Nicholas I and replaced by the Special Police Department which is commonly known as Okhrana in 1881. Other intelligence departments emerged as specific divisions in military institutions of other western states in and after 1850s. On the other hand, British War Office established an Intelligence Branch in 1873. In 1883, naval intelligence unit was formed in the United Kingdom army. Early United States intelligence branches were founded during 1880s. The social upheavals and revolutions of 19th century had shaped characteristic of intelligence units.


The first professional intelligence units focused on internal intelligence with regards to political opposition in the western states. For instance, Russian Okhrana’s special monitoring activities were targeting Russian opponents to the Tsarist regime and even its personnel operated in major European cities as they monitored Russian revolutionaries there.[af] Richelson, Jeffrey T. (1995). “A Century of Spies”. pp. 4-7 [/af] However, the prominent commonality of the early intelligence branches was that they existed under military organizations.


World War I came in a time that technological innovations had a significant impact. Telegraph had been used since 1840s, steam-driven trains and ships was being widely used in 1860s, Gugliermo Marconi successfully sent voices and signals through air, finally Wright Brothers succeeded plane flights. These technologies and their capabilities were used by belligerent forces of World War I and the war brought a total destruction. The Great War’s legacy could be assessed in terms of the development in intelligence affairs. The specialization of intelligence business reached beyond its limits and the scope of intelligence capabilities was widened. That extension created major developments in modern intelligence community. In 1914, the employment of telegraph by diplomatic units was a general application and the intelligence collection was at a higher level.[af] Herman, Michael. (1996). “Intelligence Power in Peace and War”. pp. 22 [/af] A final impact of World War I on intelligence affairs was the most important: separation of intelligence business as a different bureaucracy from the armies.


World War II which is known as Total War also brought, perhaps, the most prominent characteristics to the intelligence institutions that still exist today. The most crucial legacy of World War II was the advancement of technology in terms of technical intelligence. The war also resulted in the advancement of evaluation techniques and institutionalization of the analysis departments especially in the United States intelligence community that learned a lot after the tragic Pearl Harbor attack.

Cultures of Intelligence

While evaluating the foundation and effect of different intelligence organizations, it is also a significant point to be emphasized that cultures of intelligence which is especially affected by the states’ national security cultures have played a vital role for the emergence of characteristics of the organizations. According to Davies, British and American intelligence agencies and their difference characteristics reflect the differences between both countries’ historical traumas that created different national security threat perceptions.[af] Davies, Phillipe H. (2002). “Ideas of Intelligence”. Harvard International Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 62 [/af]


As the United Kingdom finds its trauma in South African campaign of 1899-1903, which is known as Boer War, the United States’ intelligence community was strongly shaped after 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Failure in Boer War taught British intelligence that a systematic collection would be needed in order to influence different geographies. Pearl Harbor attack was a result of lack of evaluation rather than collection of intelligence. Abundance of information and intelligence was requiring better assessment techniques. As British intelligence community made efforts on the advancement of collection techniques, their American colleagues specialized more on analysis. Turkish case of intelligence also had roots in national security traumas. Sevres Agreement after World War I and the military elite’s raising place in the foundation of the new republic resulted in an intelligence organization which was under the control of military.

American, British and Russian Intelligence Agencies in the World Politics

After World War II intelligence organizations completed their structural foundation and started to have an impact on world politics. Both World Wars had crucial effects on prominent intelligence organizations in the world. The organizations adapted themselves to the new dynamics of world politics.


  Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was formed in 1947, under the presidency of Harry S. Truman. The United States President signed the National Security Act which had also the foundation of CIA. The main necessity behind the emergence of CIA was not only the strategic surprise in 1941’s Pearl Harbor incident. There was a requirement for the centralization of intelligence activities according to security policy authorities in the United States. Franklin Roosevelt’s authorization on the creation of a central intelligence body that hold up British Secret Intelligence Service as an example had directed the United States authorities to found Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942. After a short time, the organization was dissolved and CIA was founded with the National Security Act in 1947. OSS was a war-time intelligence organization and formed under Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, after the war, despite the opposition from military authorities, President Truman decided to from CIA. In 1949, a specific Central Intelligence Agency Act was legalized, allowed CIA to use confidential fiscal procedures and exempted it from disclosing its organizational details, salaries, and number of personnels.[af] Lowenthal, Mark M. (2012). “Intelligence: From Secret to Policy”, pp. 42 [/af] It is clear that the formation of American central intelligence bureaucracy finds its roots in Pearl Harbor attack and need for a more proper evaluation. As Kahn states, Pearl Harbor “surprise attack” destroyed the national myth of isolation and invulnerability.[af] Kahn, David. (1991). “The Intelligence Failure of Pearl Harbor”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 5, pp. 138-152 [/af]


  British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) which is commonly known as Mi6 (Military Section 6) assigned for foreign intelligence duties, while Security Service Mi5 (Military Section 5) focused on interior intelligence and counterespionage. When looking at Secret Intelligence Service’s precessors, Secret Service Bureau came to the surface as a modern intelligence organization which was founded in 1909, right after Boer Wars. The Bureau was operating under joint control of British Naval Army and the War Office. It was responsible for foreign intelligence especially in the overseas territories of the Empire. A specific specialization of the organization was upon the maritime assets of Britain. It was because of the necessity to gain information from the Imperial German Navy which was the main rival of British sea forces at the time. During World War I, the Bureau could not show significant achievement and intelligence was gained from commercial networks and the United Kingdom’s allies.  In 1920, the organization took its current name as Secret Intelligence Service. During inter-war period, the organization even collaborated with Nazi Gestapo against communism. When World War II took place, SIS combined human intelligence activities and technical efforts. Cryptanalytic initiatives were among them. Enigma technology was deciphered at the time and many of Adolf Hitler’s strategies were learned by British authorities.[af] Richelson, Jeffrey T. (1995). “A Century of Spies”. pp. 168 [/af] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill founded Special Operations Executive during the war time years and that contributed to the British intelligence activities until its abolishment in 1946. A proper analysis upon the British intelligence culture could be about its obsession on collection phase of intelligence cycle. British intelligence community has been professionalized in collection especially since World Wars. Diaries and memoirs show that while British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appreciated the intelligence officers’ activities, he was not interested in intelligence analysis as a product prepared by Secret Intelligence Service. That was because of his obsession on evaluating inputs on his own.[af] Richelson, Jeffrey T. (1995). “A Century of Spies”. pp. 175 [/af] Another cultural and characteristic speciality of the country’s intelligence is its capacity problem in aerial reconnaissance through wars. It was also because of the country’s geography as an island state and ignorance of foundation of a well-equipped air force.


  On the other side of the continent, Russia has completed the foundation of its final intelligence agency, Committee for State Security which is commonly known as KGB, after 1954, the groundbreaking of cold war. Precessors of KGB were small intelligence units which were founded after 1917 Revolution, such as Cheka, NKVD, GPU, OGPU, NKGB and MGB. KGB was assigned to do its precessors’ work in a coordinated style and was attached to the Council of Ministers. The agency was responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, operative investigatory activities, and guarding Soviet Union’s borders and Communist Party leadership. Russian intelligence community’s experiences were highly occupied with interior opponents from Tsarist regime to communist state order. Thus, the foreign activities of KGB and its precessors were regarded as a function to sustain stability and security of the state too. While CIA and British SIS approached to foreign intelligence as means of commercial or political influences, Russian intelligence organizations focused on the stability of state order.


Soviet intelligence efforts, in the first part of 20th century, were to discover the military plans and intentions of adversaries such as Britain, France, Germany, the US and Japan. Accordingly, main purpose of the foreign activities was to obtain western industrial and economic secrets, to foster communism by internal uprisings abroad and neutralize exiled White Russians. Soviet intelligence played a role during Spanish Civil War between 1936-1939 in this manner.


  The United States’ intelligence history before World War II was upon the control of domestic problems such as rising anarchism and communism. Before the total war, US foreign intelligence was operated through military and naval attachés. As British intelligence’ success to read encrypted codes with Engima, US intelligence also achieved same duties. Cryiptographic organization the Black Chamber’s head Herbert O. Yardley and army Signal Intelligence Service’s head William Friedman became successful in reading coded documents.[af] Richelson, Jeffrey T. (1995). “A Century of Spies”. pp. 176 [/af]


  The evolution of intelligence organizations during the first half of 20th century had significant impacts on world politics. Indeed, there was a bilateral impact. As intelligence organizations were developed after technological and strategical innovations raised by their rival institutions, the development of intelligence bodies also created an impact on the world politics. Decoding techniques and improvement of Enigma technology resulted in new technological developments in other spheres of life. The foundation of CIA and its clandestine structure which took its legitimacy from a legal act allowed its involvement in major political events such as 1953 Iran coup and 1954 Guatemalan coup. Soviet intelligence also played an important role in late 1940s communist revolutions of Eastern Europe.

Conclusion: Dangerous New Boys

Intelligence, as an old business as far as history, has found its specialization in the modern era in which modernization of nation-states was held. Intelligence became more specialized, professionalized and institutionalized during the period of 19th century and early 20th century. Both World Wars directed intelligence organizations into new adjustments and improvements in terms of organizational structure, analytical thinking and technology.


  First half of 20th century created an impact on intelligence organizations. However, in turn, new improvements in intelligence organizations of the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia also created a significant impact on world politics. The pattern of highly internationalized world politics and new dynamics of international relations during World Wars I and II, affected intelligence activities in aforementioned countries. During the first years of Cold War, intelligence organizations proved that their new structures and techniques had an impact on world politics. Main characteristic of the bipolar world which included the extension of power struggles to even far places of the world, caused that any country from any geography of the world could be targeted by CIA or KGB.

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