Friday, August 27, 2010

Forewarned is forearmed

In peace and war, forewarned is forearmed.

Knowing your opponent's intentions gives one the flexibility to repay an account in full and with interest.

However much energy, resources or determination one devotes to the quest for improved battle sense, the end result is never enough. There's always room for that additional nugget of data, that Easter egg uncovered that will make a report shine or give it unprecedented prescience and value.

No less important is knowing what to do with all the information amassed.

There are some secrets that will have to remain so forever. There are collaborators whose selfless and tireless service to the common cause cannot be unmasked.

During the Second World War, Allied commanders made doubly sure that success in breaking the German Enigma signals was protected and screened by elaborate disinformation. The Ultra intelligence gleaned from reading German signals - some of these decoded before the German recipients decoded their's - could not be used unless a plausible source could serve as the possible source of the tipoff.

On occasion, Ultra intelligence could not be acted upon because there was no plausible source which could have alerted Allied forces. For example, Ultra intelligence about U-boat sailing schedules could not be acted upon unless the Germans could be convinced that a loitering Coastal Command aircraft or patrolling warship had spotted the submarine.

To Allied commanders, the ability to read their enemy's mail was a godsend. The absence of any overt indications of thanks should not be mistaken for a lack of a deep sense of gratitude on their part.

Many books have been written about Ultra, more than a handful of movies have enthralled people about the shadowy world of intelligence work.

Even so, some aspects have never been unveiled and never will be.

More than 70 years after World War Two, the network of Allied agents in occupied Europe who helped downed fliers reach friendly territory has never been detailed. This network of informants and friendly agents served with distinction but have never been recognised publicly.

Their courage working behind enemy lines, fighting their opponent with total commitment, made a telling contribution to the war effort. Their service has been guarded by grateful handlers who repaid their loyalty by protecting their identities till today.

High level intelligence is also said to have come from within the ranks of the Axis High Command. After the war, several Axis generals aired the suspicion in their auto biographies that turncoats could have sabotaged the war effort.

Theories about double agents fuelled witch hunt paranoia among the Axis . But they could never quite get a grasp of the extent, number or determination of collaborators who had infiltrated their ranks. It must have been frustrating and professionally debilitating to sit in a room not knowing who would leak the precious secrets.

Even the best efforts of the Axis passive (PCI) and active counter intelligence (ACI) machinery proved no match for selfless individuals who knew in their heart they were doing the right thing. The infiltration was so effective and thorough that multiple sources of information helped corroborate tipoffs.

Used with discretion, these tipoffs exacted a heavy price from Axis forces. Attacks hatched by the tipoffs were relentless and committed to mission success.

Once information superiority was lost, it was only a matter of time before the Axis lost the war. They were made to pay a heavy price indeed for opening the account.

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