Is there an economist who has never heard of the industrial revolution? That question was posed by the author, Christopher Andrew, to emphasise the importance of knowing the history of one’s profession. Yet, he continues, British intelligence in the Second World War had no idea of the role of espionage when first, Phillip II then Napoleon, attempted to invade Britain. The lessons learnt since, had been valuable, but Andrew’s point is that a closer study of intelligence history would be even more so. The importance of knowing, let alone understanding, the history of the intelligence in one’s country can be contrasted by the difficulty of even finding records from which an academic historian might study. That is why academic historians ignore the role of intelligence when writing about political and international-relations history.
The chapter on Muhammad and the rise of Islamic intelligence is a rare treat, compelling reflections on the fact that the Muslim adversary, Israel, today has one of the most sophisticated and effective intelligence, and yet, Muhammad began the Muslim intelligence about 620 BCE. Andrew’s account of Elizabeth I and her super spy-in-chief, Sir Walsingham has intrigue and excitement, and the story included plots of assassination, not by the Pope, but by Mary Stuart’s Catholic followers.
Andrew covers espionage and intelligence in Britain, France, and America in the formative years; and in the case of France, from the ‘Revolution’ to Napoleon and beyond. After a detailed account of intelligence and counter-intelligence in Europe before the First World War, he continues with the most exciting parts of the book – espionage in the two World Wars, and the Cold War that followed. In his concluding chapter, Andrew shows from 21st century events including the interrogation of Saddam Hussein, Snowden, and Wikileaks, that intelligence is crucial and equally, that we must understand how intelligence gathering has changed in the age of digital technology.
One glaring shortcoming of this book, as has been pointed out by another reviewer, is that there is the conspicuous absence of intelligence from and against the Communist countries, Russia and China, in particular. The Arab-Israeli wars would have yielded much information and lessons in intelligence, as would the Vietnam War, and the Iraqi wars. Perhaps Andrew has a volume II in mind?
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