The Rise and Fall of Intelligence: An International Security History
Michael Warner. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014. 406 pp. Illus. Notes. Biblio. Index. $28.50.
Reviewed by Captain Steven E. Maffeo, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
Potential readers—including those in the intelligence business—could be confused by this fascinating book’s title. Michael Warner does not mean, by using the word “fall,” the end of the profession of intelligence nor the dissolution of the world’s intelligence and security services. What has fallen is the decades-old state monopoly on sophisticated intelligence capabilities, surveillance, and espionage.
Before he fully lays out his case in support of that thesis, Dr. Warner treats the reader to a marvelous historical sweep, ranging from Sumer in 3,200 BCE to Edward Snowden, now in Moscow. Warner is fully qualified to take us on this journey. He has been a student and teacher of intelligence for over two decades. Currently he serves as a U.S. Department of Defense historian; he formerly worked as a historian at the Central Intelligence Agency and for the director of National Intelligence. He has taught at American University, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University.
While many pages of Rise and Fall are devoted to the West, the major countries engaged in World War II, and to the principal actors of the Cold War, Warner makes commendable efforts to maintain a global focus throughout the book. Moreover, he does not merely provide a historical timeline and a display of facts, but delivers superb analyses of why his dates and facts are significant throughout.
Dr. Warner’s introductory chapters clearly review the history of espionage and the slow evolution of organized intelligence. He skillfully traces the ancient beginnings of the business. Although he strangely overlooks the Romans, it may well be their efforts were too rudimentary to merit much discussion. Warner passes fairly quickly from ancient to modern times (I would have liked at least a brief stop in the Napoleonic era), but then becomes very focused upon reaching World War I. His subsequent discussion of world-wide intelligence evolution during the 1920s and 1930s is fascinating.
I found Warner’s analysis of intelligence in World War II particularly engaging. He calls the event a “war of shadows and ambiguities,” and rightly gives credit to an inventive British intelligence system desperately trying to stave off starvation and invasion. He explains how the relatively unsophisticated American secret services were galvanized, by June 1940, as concerns about British survival, German hegemony, and Japanese aggression gripped the U.S. government. Warner’s brief analysis of pre-war U.S. Navy intelligence and cryptologic efforts against Japan is excellent. He argues that the Western Allies had more intelligence successes than did the Axis because they were willing to share information and because they were more willing to realistically consider unpleasant hypotheses. He is extremely critical of the brutality of the Soviet security agencies but at the same time gives them high marks for behind-the-lines operations, espionage, and partisan warfare “on a scale that might never be rivaled.” He also gives the USSR great credit for “human” intelligence, which was so good that at times “it even rivaled ULTRA [the highest level cryptanalysis] in the richness of strategic insight.”
Rise and Fall’s discussion of Cold War intelligence is equally fascinating, parading an extremely wide range of topics. Particularly interesting is Warner’s account of the development of satellite programs, the growth and change of intelligence bureaucracies in the Warsaw Pact, and the post-war births of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and several other significant organizations. Warner sees the fall of the USSR as greatly complicating the work of Western intelligence agencies, quoting CIA director R. James Woolsey: “Yes, we have slain a large dragon, but we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes. And in many ways, the dragon was easier to keep track of.”
The significant issue that Rise and Fall focuses on is the revolution in information accessibility—and of course this is where Warner builds his thesis about the “fall.” The development of the World Wide Web means that enormous amounts of sophisticated information are now available to incredible numbers of people. In fact, the intelligence organizations that emerged from the Cold War were, by the end of the century, overwhelmed by the technological change presented with the gigantic and startling global telecommunications revolution. Yet, with all these challenges and changes, “intelligence capability still improved dramatically in the years after 9/11. The threats of terrorism and cyber operations forced reorganization, higher proficiency, and innovative techniques.”
But intelligence, for the first time in decades, has become once again a competitive endeavor for every nation and now potentially every person. “Digital technology gave virtually all nations—and even angry and determined groups and individuals—suites of intelligence capabilities that for a century had been almost the sole province of the richer and more advanced states.”
This is why Warner says intelligence rose and then fell in the 20th century. “It briefly gave the superpowers and their allies a monopoly on the latest and many of the most effective collection techniques, together with the analytical wherewithal to evaluate the take.” However, the Internet and other technological advancements have made intelligence power vast and ubiquitous. One ramification is that “the most intrusive techniques are now being mastered by people with few incentives to restrain themselves in their use.” Still, he stresses that the fall of “intelligence” is not necessarily bad or good; that still remains to be seen.
Dr. Warner’s Rise and Fall of Intelligence is a spectacular contribution to the literature. In it he covers an enormous amount of complex and nuanced material in an extremely easy style, yet his substantial chapter notes and bibliography fully support the academically inclined reader. Were I ever again to teach the history of intelligence, Rise and Fall would unquestionably be my primary text.
Defiant: The POWs Who Endured Vietnam’s Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned
Alvin Townley. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014. 418 pp. Maps. Illus. Notes. Biblio. Index. $27.99.
Reviewed by William A. Taylor
In Defiant, Alvin Townley (author of Legacy of Honor, Spirit of Adventure, and Fly Navy) recounts the inspiring saga of the leaders of American POW resistance during the Vietnam War. This group, known as the Alcatraz Eleven, included Jim Stockdale, Jim Mulligan, Jeremiah Denton, Harry Jenkins, Howie Rutledge, Sam Johnson, Bob Shumaker, Nels Tanner, George Coker, George McKnight, and Ron Storz. The North Vietnamese Camp Authority collectively labelled these men the “most dangerous, ungovernable, militant, intransigent, and, most importantly, influential with other prisoners.” The book will likely appeal to military leaders, service members, veterans, and general readers alike interested in POWs specifically or the Vietnam War generally.
Townley’s purpose is to portray the tragedy and triumph of the Alacatraz Eleven and their families back home in the United States. This assemblage, along with many other POWs, spent time in captivity at the notorious prison that the French named Maison Centrale and American POWs subsequently referred to as the Hanoi Hilton. Because of their militant leadership within that facility, their captors first isolated and then moved them to a remote compound in Hanoi that the POWs nicknamed Alcatraz. Most of the eleven spent more than two years there before returning to the Hanoi Hilton on 9 December 1969.
Townley reminds readers that the POWs were not alone in their hardships. The majority of them were in their twenties or early thirties and had families back in the United States who suffered tremendous agony and also displayed courageous leadership. The wives crusaded on their husbands’ behalf. Led by Sybil Stockdale, Phyllis Rutledge, and Louise Mulligan, among others, they pressured the Washington bureaucracy to change its official policy from “Keep Quiet” to “Go Public” and eventually formed a national organization emphasizing the POW/MIA campaign to the American public.
Meanwhile, the men led an organized resistance campaign against the North Vietnamese Camp Authority. They heroically attempted to uphold the 1949 Geneva Convention and the Code of Conduct and highlighted the blatant disregard of both by their North Vietnamese captors. The POWs disseminated an inventive code, known as AFLQV or “American Football League Quid Victorious,” that converted taps into letters and allowed them to communicate regularly. Townley notes that “few things would prove more valuable . . . to every single American who would arrive at the Hanoi Hilton.” He also recounts the many arduous battles in their struggle. Jerry Denton bravely used Morse code to blink “torture” during a forced 1966 television interview. Jim Stockdale created BACK US, “aiming to bind his men together in their opposition to the Camp Authority and set community standards by which they could live. . . . The BACK US code soon united POWs across the prison system.” George Coker and George McKnight boldly escaped in 1967 and travelled 15 miles down the Red River before the North Vietnamese recaptured them.
The book’s primary research is based on personal interviews with POWs and their families, including members of the Alcatraz Eleven. This is a particular strength of the volume and infuses the story with insights from the participants themselves. Townley augments these interviews with letters, material from digital history collections, newspapers, magazines, journal articles, and books, especially those authored by former POWs. He organizes his work into 23 chapters situated between a prologue and epilogue. Townley also includes useful sketches of the Hanoi Hilton and Alcatraz by Mike McGrath.
Townley recounts the traumatic events that the Alcatraz Eleven endured, such as the Stockdale Purge of 1967 and the Blue Book Purge of 1969, among others. Throughout, the strength of military service members and their families shines through even the darkest trials. Their undaunted courage, tenacity, and honor in the midst of unimaginable adversity set a tremendous example. Their legacy also extends beyond ordeals at Alcatraz as Jim Stockdale became a candidate for U.S. vice president, Jerry Denton served as a U.S. senator from Alabama, and Sam Johnson continues to serve as the U.S. congressman representing the Third District of Texas. Alvin Townley’s Defiant is a worthy tribute to the Alcatraz Eleven, all American POWs, and their families who collectively personify sacrifice, perseverance, and triumph in the service of this great country.
War of the Whales
Joshua Horwitz. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 355 pp. Notes. Illus. $28.
Reviewed by Howard Ernst
On its surface, Joshua Horwitz’s new book, War of the Whales, is the story of a mass whale stranding in the Bahamas in March of 2000 and the scientific, legal, and political firestorms that the stranding created. As such, the book offers a well-documented account of the incident, revealing how political and military leaders dealt with a growing body of evidence that linked the Navy’s use of active sonar to marine mammal mortality, not only in the Bahamas but around the globe. But like the life of the whales described in Horwitz’s work, much of the action in this book lays beneath the surface. Here we see a clash of cultures between Big Navy, the environmental community, different factions within the scientific community, and actors within federal regulatory agencies. The book delves deeply into these competing communities, revealing the War of the Whales for what it is: a clash of competing values.
Throughout the book, the U.S. Navy acts as one would expect. Faced with growing security concerns, naval leaders place the safety of their personnel and the readiness of the fleet ahead of lesser concerns regarding animal welfare. Given the real threat of super-quiet submarines that were first developed by the Soviet Union and are now spreading to China and North Korea, the Navy views large-scale training, which includes the use of active sonar, as an absolute necessity to national security. Passive sonar, which operates like an underwater microphone, has proven to be an ineffective tool for locating and tracking the latest class of super-quiet subs. The Navy rightly argues that active sonar, which uses sonic blasts to locate enemy submarines, is an essential component to mission readiness.
Horwitz’s book also reveals an environmental community, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), launching an uphill legal battle to protect marine mammals from the impact of the Navy’s active sonar program. By delving deeply into the life and work of Joel Reynolds, a legendary environmental attorney with the NRDC, Horwitz paints a complex picture of this group. Rather than extremists who oppose all uses of active sonar, the environmental community, under Reynolds’ leadership, is depicted as seeking to strike a balance between national security concerns and animal welfare. Moreover, Reynolds proves to be as careful in his legal strategy as he is in his underlying position, choosing legal battles that offer a legitimate chance of victory and pursing settlements when realistic settlements are available.
Of the actors in play, the regulators at the National Marine Fisheries Services and the establishment scientists at places like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, feel the most heat from Horwitz’s spotlight. Horwitz’s research reveals that Fisheries, the agency charged with regulating the environmental impact of the Navy, was not only outgunned by the Navy, but showed little interest doing its job. And the mainstream scientific community, if this book is accurate on the matter, shamefully put their own Navy-funded research grants ahead of objective analysis. More than that, they ostracized the one researcher who dared to connect the dots on what happened in the Bahamas in March of 2000.
But further beneath the surface, the story is about even more than a clash of cultures; it is about the actual individuals who operate within those cultures. It is about people like Ken Balcomb, a whale scientist with a background in naval service, who happened to be on sight the day of the Bahamas stranding and who forcefully pursued the truth, even as his own marriage and health unraveled, and his colleagues in the scientific community turned their backs on him. It is about Joel Reynolds, the NRDC attorney that took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The book reveals how the desires, ambitions, and goals of individuals influenced the policy process in unpredictable ways.
While some people will certainly take exception to various aspects of this book, I found it to be a fascinating read and incredibly informative. This is a powerful book and will be of great interest to anyone concerned with marine mammal protection, the uneasy balance between the competing desires for national security and environmental protection, or the messy politics of scientific inquiry. I only wonder if some of the real world actors in this drama would have behaved differently, perhaps better, if they knew their actions would be made public.