REVIEW: Intelligence in War. Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to al Qaeada

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Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda

By John Keegan.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 387 pages.

In his new book Intelligence in War, John Keegan asks the question of just how useful intelligence information is in wartime. His answers are at times surprising, but well supported by fact.

Keegan examines the role played by intelligence in several campaigns, including Nelson’s pursuit of the Napoleon in the Mediterranean, Jackson’s Valley Campaign, and the pursuit of Von Spee in World War I. He also examines a number of World War II campaigns, including the Battle for the Atlantic, Crete, and Midway. There is also a chapter on military intelligence since World War II that examines intelligence in Falkland and Gulf Wars, and the recent War against al Qaeda.

Prior to the invention of wireless communications, it was extremely difficult, and often impossible, for commanders to collect military intelligence in anything close to real time. Ships of Nelson’s time were limited to searching for an enemy within line of sight. Keegan shows how even under these conditions, Nelson made skillful use of such fragmentary information as he could collect to bring the French fleet to book in Aboukir Bay. Stonewall Jackson likewise could collect little information about the enemy in real time, but he could and did make excellent use of cartographic intelligence. Keegan examines how Jackson used superior knowledge of the Shenandoah Valley to gain an advantage over the Union forces. The Valley, like much of Virginia, was unmapped at the start of the war. Jackson ordered detailed maps prepared, and these, combined with sympathetic local guides, proved extremely useful in the Valley campaign.

With the 20th Century came wireless communications and signal intelligence. Signal intelligence could provide a commander with real time information about the enemy’s strength and..

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