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18 December 2007

Other intelligence histories

The history of intelligence, for as much attention as it receives within the comparative confines of the intelligence studies field (especially in comparison to the hard business of actually doing intelligence through analysis or operations), still is practically unexplored territory in so many respects. Likewise, what has been explored has been so poorly communicated back to the mainstream of academia. We recall a conversation, not too long ago, with a respected doctor-professor of diplomatic history at a major institution (name omitted to protect the guilty), in which this supposed subject matter expert admitted he had never once heard of the use of cryptanalysis in decoding intercepted diplomatic and personal letters throughout Europe from the 1500’s onward through the Peninsular War (the rough span of his supposed preferred period of study.)

Real intelligence history requires primary sources, and that requires work beyond the typical rehashing of tired tropes that characterizes so much of the cottage industry of intelligence reform. But if the intelligence studies discipline does not involve its counterparts in other departments, particularly amongst the historians, there is little hope of surfacing further source material from the deep archives and scattered collections of surviving material. This especially challenging given that the field has never been itself a primary subject of index, and that those unacquainted with the practice of the tradecraft are often hard pressed to recognize the materials which reference activity (versus organization or declared intent).

We, as a field and as scholars, must also give credit where it is due, and diligently reference the works of those historians which have pursued the hard work of uncovering and interpreting real primary sources. There is much that has been overlooked in the stacks, and the cross-pollination of these ideas from other areas would do much to enlighten our chosen paths of study.

For this reason we would like to bring particular attention to the often overlooked work of Dr. Karl De Leeuw of the University of Amsterdam, who has done much to shed light on unique aspects of intelligence history from a Dutch perspective. In particular, several of his more interesting pieces (from our humble vantage point, anyhow) have focused on cryptographic history to a quite surprising depth.

Among these publications are several articles in the journal Cryptologia (itself too frequently forgotten amongst the more qualitative practitioners of intelligence studies due to its high levels mathematical content), including “Johann Friedrich Euler (1741-1800): Mathematician and cryptologist at the court of the Dutch Stadholder William V” and “The Dutch invention of the rotor machine, 1915-1923”. Equally interesting is a piece in the Historical Journal, which examines “The Black Chamber in the Dutch Republic during the War of the Spanish Succession and its Aftermath, 1707–1715”.

Students and other self-reflective practitioners would be well advised to acquaint themselves further with the overlooked segments of research applicable to the field that circulates in areas outside of the well-trod paths of their contemporaries.

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