Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Meeting Notes: November 19, 2008

"The Art of Intelligence Warfare in the Eighteenth Century," John K. Rowland

Dr. Rowland lives in Northern Virginia and did his undergraduate and graduate at George Washington University, The College of William & Mary, and Ohio State University. He is a retired full colonel and is also retired from the National Defense Intelligence College.

Dr. Rowland made a number of points and I will try to describe them as follows:

1. Modern definitions don’t work when you are talking about military intelligence because the military intelligence of the 17th to 18th Century was very different from our modern view of military intelligence. This has to do with a number of factors including technology, distrust, modern conceptualizations, organizational rivalries, etc.

2. One of the key works of the military intelligence literature of the 17th & 18th century was Turpin de Crisse in his essay “Art of War” in 1754. Actually, Dr. Rowland had referenced a number of reading suggestions as read ahead material which may be accessed by clicking on the “readings suggestions” tab to the left on our website.

3. The 18th Century definition of military intelligence was all significant military and political information regardless of the source, etc.

4. The objectives of 18th Century military intelligence were as follows:

a. Highest priority were the enemy plans and intentions.

b. Knowledge of the campaign area relating not only to the physical set up (geography, terrain, roads, towns, forage sites, etc.) but also the cultural matters.

c. Enemy, enemy - where is the enemy? In other words, the location of the enemy was, of course, of paramount importance and we have to remember that that was very difficult to ascertain.

d. Characteristics of the fortifications.

e. Quality and experience of the commander involved.

f. Discovery of false intelligence.

g. Warnings about what to avoid.

5. One of the key elements of military intelligence and the problems relating to same was whether or not you were going to be ambushed and that was something to be avoided at all costs if possible.

6. What were the techniques of collecting military intelligence? These were some of the ones which Dr. Rowland pointed out:

a. Counter intelligence or “doublespies”.

b. Funding.

c. Multiple agents.

d. Motivating spies by paying them off.

e. Articles that appeared in the newspapers.

f. Concealment, codes, ciphers, invisible ink, etc.

7. What were the sources of the military intelligence? Dr. Rowland pointed these out:

a. Country people, including spies and scouts.

b. Insider information.

c. Prisoners and deserters.

d. Captured documents.

8. What were the causes of military intelligence failures? Again, Dr. Rowland pointed out these examples:

a. Faulty intelligence consisting of fragmentary information and information that was untimely.

b. Faulty analysis of what was really going on.

c. People just not paying attention because of “wine, women and song”.

d. Information not being trusted, poor teamwork, etc.

9. There are often faulty assumptions that accounted for military intelligence failure such as:

a. People assumed that maps existed when in fact they didn’t.

b. Assumptions that the locals had the capacity to fight when they didn’t.

c. Spies and agents were motivated by money.

d. It was very easy to enter into enemy camps and staffs.

e. Often commanders would just “guess at it” and these guesses might be uneducated.

f. Failure of a particular force to adapt to conditions such as the British failing to adapt to American warfare.

10. Finally, Dr. Rowland pointed out some military intelligence failures with four particular people in American history: General Braddock, Thomas Gage, John Burgoyne and George Washington. In fact, Dr. Rowland had a number of slides which showed the different ways in which these particular four people either failed or attempted to succeed and with each of them he started off the slide with a map showing the situation at hand.

11. With respect to Braddock, he indicated that his operational experience was moderate and his intelligence experience was minimal because he had no combat experience. He didn’t know much about the country and he was very often surprised.

12. As far as Lt. General Thomas Gage was concerned, he thought his operational experience was significant and his intelligence experience was moderate but his knowledge about the country was poor as far as the geography and distances were concerned. He was very surprised about the powder alarm in August of 1774, Concord in April of 1775 and, of course, Bunker (“Breeds”) Hill in June of 1775.

13. With respect to Lt. General John Burgoyne and the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, he indicated that Burgoyne’s operational experience was significant as was his intelligence experience. However he had poor or only moderate knowledge about the country and he certainly was surprised in many ways.

14. Finally, Dr. Rowland pointed out Washington’s mistakes in the Battle of Long Island on August 31, 1776. He indicated that Washington’s operational experience and intelligence experience were both moderate but he wasn’t too aware of the countryside and especially of the roads on Long Island and, of course, the paths that the British came through which enabled them to get the best of Washington.

In conclusion, Dr. Rowland talked about the European aspects of remembering and rediscovering military intelligence all the way from classical Rome. He pointed out that they needed to update these military intelligence techniques because of new technologies especially those that enhanced mobility and speed. It is important to note as was pointed out in one of the questions, that sometimes in today’s world the commanders have lost touch with exactly what is going on because all they get is the “committee approved” sense of what is going on when in fact the commanders really need to see and feel the facts themselves so that they can make “educated” guesses as to what in fact should be done.

We had a spirited question and answer session and Dr. Rowland’s talk was very enjoyable and most informative.