THE DARK ART:
Charles S. Viar
Although the origins of intelligence have been lost in the mists of time, the practice is at least as ancient as warfare. In what is perhaps the oldest written reference to an intelligence operation, The Book of Numbers recounts God’s command that Moses dispatch a reconnaissance team to scout the Israelite advance upon the Promised Land:
Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the Children of Israel. Of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, everyone a ruler among them…
Had the Canaanites possessed an effective counterintelligence capability, the story of the Israelite assault might have ended differently. For even a minimal foreknowledge of their intentions and capabilities would have made it possible for the Canaanites to organize a more effective defense. But as may be inferred from the Bible, they failed to detect the operation directed against them.
For that, they paid a fearsome price.
More broadly, intelligence also serves as a force-multiplier. Much as Archimedes Lever makes it possible to magnify mechanical force transmitted across space, covert and clandestine intelligence operations make it possible for states to enhance the power they project beyond their frontiers. History is littered with examples of small and middling states exercising disproportionate influence through the deft application of secret intelligence.
Given the enormous – and occasionally decisive – advantages conferred by effective intelligence in the Great Game of Nations, well-governed states seek to maximize the effectiveness of their own intelligence services and to protect themselves against hostile services deployed against them. Domestic security typically provides one level of defense, and counterintelligence another.
Although counterintelligence has been recognized as an integral component of state security since the Chinese military scholar Sun Tzu published The Art of War in the Fourth or Fifth century BC, the concept remains muddled. For almost two and a half millennia, the term itself has defied definition.
According to James Angleton, the legendary former Chief of CIA Counterintelligence, the term is ineffable. Although Angleton’s Deputy Chief for Operations generally concurred, he believed counterintelligence could nonetheless be described in terms of core functions. Angleton’s Deputy Chief for Analysis, however, disagreed with both. According to Raymond G. Rocca, counterintelligence is self-defined: it applies to any action undertaken to counter, i.e., negate, the efforts of hostile intelligence services.
Having studied under all three of the practitioners listed above, the writer of this paper eventually concluded Rocca’s understanding is more nearly correct; and has since argued that counterintelligence can be best illustrated by contrast. Where counterespionage – or security – seeks to neutralize individual spies and spy rings, counterintelligence attempts to neutralize hostile intelligence services as a whole.
In a more perfect world, intelligence services would aspire to comprehensive coverage of their targets. But in actual practice, physical, organizational, political, and budgetary constraints have traditionally forced them to limit their collection activities to data pertaining to the targeted state’s organization, capabilities, and intentions. More recently, intelligence services have been tasked with gathering financial, economic, and technical data as well; and with the development of remote collection techniques, the amount of raw data collected by major intelligence services has become staggering in both scope and volume.
From a theoretical standpoint, intelligence collection and analysis should not be especially difficult. But given the fact that intelligence services routinely devote a substantial portion of their resources to deception operations designed to deceive their adversaries, the task is far more difficult than it first appears. Tables of organization and orders of battle can be faked, deployment patterns and readiness indicators manipulated, and communications traffic played for purpose. Indeed, almost any sort of intelligence data can be fabricated and fed to foreign intelligence services through sacrificial spies, dangles, false defectors, and dispatched agents.
This inherent vulnerability to hostile deception operations lays bare what Angleton formally referred to as the Epistemological Problem:
Given the fact that foreign intelligence services routinely mount large and carefully crafted deception operations against us, how can we know what we believe to be true is actually so?
In less guarded moments, he called it “That damnable question.”
As intelligence practitioners will attest, it is a damnable question indeed. Nonetheless, there are two solutions to the problem – one partial, the other complete.
The first solution is to look at intelligence data in terms of a jigsaw puzzle extending across time. After fitting together as many of the pieces as possible, one may flag those that are known to be true beyond doubt. Subsequent pieces that fit with those may be presumed true, in the absence of contrary evidence.
Although this approach has considerable merit – including especially the way it facilitates intuitive judgments – the results it generates are both probabilistic and tentative. The likelihood that new data may significantly alter the pattern is high.
In contrast, the second solution can provide definitive answers – but only rarely, when two relatively unlikely events occur simultaneously: 1) a high-level penetration agent confirms the validity of specific intelligence data, and 2) a code break “backstops” the veracity of the confirming agent. In the world of intelligence, certainty depends upon serendipity.
The recruitment of high-level penetration agents is rare, and code breaks are even more so. They occur together perhaps once a decade, and when they do intelligence analysts emerge from their garrets to enjoy a brief moment of clarity. But when the agent is lost or the codes are changed, they are condemned to wander once more through what Angleton termed “The Wilderness of Mirrors” – an Epistemological Hell from which neither truth nor falsehood may be surely obtained.
Determining the validity of intelligence data thus depends in part on recruiting from the enemy’s ranks senior political office holders or high-ranking government officials, and in part upon breaking their codes. But once effected, these unlikely circumstances open a window to other intriguing possibilities – including, specifically, offensive counterintelligence operations designed to penetrate, infiltrate, and suborn the target’s intelligence service in order to play it back against the state it serves. The ultimate goal of such operations is to entice or provoke the targeted state into undertaking ruinous and self-destructive actions.
As Angleton observed, successful politicians and senior government officials are a remarkably homogenous lot. For the most part, they derive from roughly comparable social circumstances and share core formative experiences in common. They attend the same schools – or at least the same types of schools – and are imbued with the same canon. They also hold remarkably similar beliefs and values, and share certain characteristic attitudes regarding the larger world. Together these form something akin to a collective psyche, or what Angleton termed the “Mind of the State.”
If states have minds, they also have states of mind – and as with individuals, it is their state of mind that makes them most vulnerable to deception. For a state of mind is a predisposition to belief or action; and if that predisposition can be accurately gauged, tempting or provoking the targeted decision-makers to ruin becomes a plausible exercise in perception management.
If there is a single failing common to decision-makers throughout history, it is an excessive faith in intelligence. For reasons that remain obscure, decision-makers seem unable or unwilling to grasp the implications of the Epistemological Problem Angleton described. Despite ample warnings, they almost invariably place far more credence in intelligence reports than they deserve; and it is upon this most basic failing that offensive counterintelligence plays.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote “Supreme excellence is to subdue the enemy without fighting” and argued this end may best be achieved by manipulating the “Golden Threads” of intelligence – that is, the lines of communications that connect agents recruited from within the enemy’s camp to one’s own. The first Golden Thread may be activated by sacrificing deliberately misinformed low-level agents for capture, dangling double agents for enemy recruitment, and dispatching false defectors to the enemy’s camp. The second is brought into play by querying the agent-in-place to determine how the enemy decision-makers have interpreted the false information they delivered. If the information evokes the intended state of mind, the false message can be reinforced by repeating the process in different ways. If not, it can be modulated until it does.
By these means offensive counterintelligence operations can create a false picture of reality in the minds of targeted decision-makers, much as an artist paints an image upon a sheet of canvass. Brush stroke by brush stroke, the attacking service can exploit the enemy intelligence service it has suborned to systematically manipulate the Mind of the State.
The many critics of offensive counterintelligence argue that strategic deception operations of the size and scale suggested above are far too complex and complicated to be practical, as they are doomed to eventually collapse under their own weight. The criticism is true at least in part, but nonetheless disingenuous. Intelligence operations of any sort have a relatively short shelf life; and unless shut down by those that initiated them or uncovered by their intended targets, they will ALL eventually collapse for similar cause.
Perhaps more to the point, modern history is strewn with examples of successful strategic deceptions including the TRUST operation of the 1920’s, which saved the nascent Soviet state from ruin; the Soviet-sponsored WIN operation that forced the United States to abandon its post-war efforts to liberate Eastern Europe; and the Anglo-American deception operation that made possible the successful invasion of Normandy in 1944. All of these operations were conducted in the manner outlined above, and each inflicted massive damage upon the states they targeted.
Unfortunately, the United States abandoned its national counterintelligence capability in December of 1974 – and with it, the ability to mount large-scale strategic deception operations. Redefined and re-envisioned by successive administrations, counterintelligence had been reduced to little more than a security function until the Clinton Administration partially resurrected it after disastrous and overlapping penetrations of the CIA and the FBI were uncovered in the 1990’s. Expanded and reorganized in the aftermath of 9-11, a National Counterintelligence Executive now exists as a semi-autonomous supervisory agency. And yet despite the many long overdue reforms that have been undertaken since 2001, U.S. counterintelligence remains hobbled by an obtuse and legalistic definition, conceptual confusion, tangled jurisdictions, and – above all – by institutional timidity. For while offensive counterintelligence operations are now officially recognized, they remain tightly controlled and rarely sanctioned. They are tactical operations, most often mounted in reprisal.
Despite ample modern precedents, strategic deception operations of the sort advocated by Sun Tzu and refined by Angleton remain beyond the pale. This is unfortunate and – for those that seek to limit the suffering caused by armed conflict – deeply disconcerting.
For in the Great Game of Nations, offensive counterintelligence remains the only plausible means for achieving victory without war. If only in theory, it is the primary offensive instrument of state.
Published by the Center for Intelligence Studies.
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Robin Hood, Barack Obama
And the Norman System of Elite Perpetuation
Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States has been widely hailed as a watershed in American history. Among the general populace there is a widespread sense that Obama’s victory has brought one era to a close, and opened another. But for many black Americans, the election holds an even deeper and more poignant meaning: four centuries after their ancestors were first brought to these shores in chains, 143 years after the emancipation of their descendents, and 44 years after achieving lawful equality, Obama’s victory heralds the success of a centuries long struggle for acceptance by the larger and predominantly white society. For as one black commentator remarked, “Having the legal right to apply for membership is one thing. Being accepted by the Membership Committee is quite another.”
Within the context of the American experience, this interpretation is doubtless true. But when viewed from the larger historical perspective of the English-speaking peoples, the African-Americans’ struggle for acceptance seems more deeply rooted in an ancient system of elite co-option and perpetuation. For nine centuries beyond the Civil Rights Movement stands the ghostly apparition of William the Conqueror, who guides it still.
Centuries of relentless strife followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. According to historians and archeologists, not single book was penned nor a single stone structure erected for more than two hundred years; and it was not until Charlemagne consolidated power as King of the Franks in 771 AD that a semblance of political authority was restored. After successful military campaigns in Saxony, Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, Spain, Poland, Hungary and beyond, on Christmas Day of 800 AD Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Imperator Romanorum in St. Peter’s Basilica. Having checked the Saracen advance in Spain and subdued the East, Charlemagne imposed a series of sweeping and far-reaching reforms that rationalized currency, civil administration, military organization, education, and even the ecclesia. Had the Fates not turned against him, Western Europe might well have experienced a Golden Age of peace and prosperity.
But it was not to be. Even before Charlemagne claimed the purple, Norse raiders landed upon the tidal island of Lindisfarny in 793, and sacked the abbey there with such ferocity that it shocked a world accustomed to casual brutality. Apparently emboldened by the success of the raiders, Danish King Godfred built a rampart across the length of the Schleswig Isthmus seven years later, and – from the safety of the 30 kilometer earthwork – launched a series of devastating attacks upon Frisia and Flanders. Although Godfred was assassinated before he could fulfill his boast of marching upon Charlemagne’s capital at Aachen, scores of other Norse warlords and kings-presumptuous stepped forward to take his place. For the next 255 years, the orderly and peaceful world that Charlemagne had imposed upon the West was recast by the relentless and savage attacks of the Vikings.
The two and a half centuries of war that began with the sack of Lindisfarny Abbey not only altered the course of European history, but transformed European society, governance, and geography as well.
The first of these transformations involved the hyper-militarization of Europe. Throughout his reign, Charlemagne had relied upon massed formations of infantry drawn from free-holders. After his death, Charlemagne’s successors found the slow moving infantry formations they had inherited were unable to cope with the Vikings’ sea borne attacks. In response to the threat, they constructed fortifications manned by permanent garrisons along Europe’s coasts and estuaries, and placed ever-greater emphasis upon rapid-reaction forces composed of heavily armed horsemen. Because the cost of horses and armor was beyond the means of most free-holders, large land grants were awarded to select individuals in exchange for hereditary lifetime service as armored cavalry.
This led to the second great transformation, in which a military aristocracy displaced the proto-democratic system of free-holder infantry commanded by officers that were – often – elected by the soldiers they led. As Charlemagne’s successors mobilized their nations for war without end, a new form of feudalism characterized by an increasingly rigid and hierarchical social structure inevitably arose.
But the third great transformation was by far the most consequential. For it was the Viking occupation of North Western France that set in motion an ironic chain of events that gave rise to the English-speaking nations of the world, and to the system of elite renewal and perpetuation that governs them still.
The European mobilization took more than a century to complete, and by then the Empire had been divided into three. During this time, the Vikings gained control over the entire length of Europe’s coastline and established sizeable settlements in England, Scotland, Ireland, and North West France. Aided by shallow-draft boats that could be operated with equal ease in the white waters of the European littoral and the continents’ rivers and larger streams, the Norsemen began moving inland. In 885 the Vikings marched upon Paris; and had they mastered siege equipment, they might well have taken the French capital. But the Vikings’ lack of military engineers saved the city on this and other subsequent occasions, as increasingly effective French defenses inflicted an ever-larger toll upon them. Wearying of the game, the invaders signed a treaty with the French in 911. In exchange for French recognition of their conquests, they agreed to convert to Christianity, acknowledge the King of France as their master, and defend the French coast against their still warlike kin. Thus did the Duchy of Normandy arise.
According to most historians, the Normans were quickly assimilated. Few in numbers and overwhelmingly young and male, they intermarried freely, adopted the French language, and raised their children as Frenchmen.Yet even after the passage of a century, they remained distinctive. For as Geoffrey Malaterra observed, the Normans were:
Specially marked by cunning, despising their own inheritance in the hope of winning a greater, eager after both gain and dominion, given to imitation of all kinds, holding a certain mean between lavishness and greediness, that is, perhaps uniting, as they certainly did, these two seemingly opposite qualities…
They were enduring of toil, hunger, and cold whenever fortune laid it on them, given to hunting and hawking, delighting in the pleasure of horses, and of all the weapons and garb of war.
Flexible, adaptive, and innovative, the Normans won renown as exceptionally able soldiers and – more importantly – supremely competent governors.
All these traits were still in evidence 156 years later when William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. The illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, William asserted a tenuous claim to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. Opposed by the Archbishop of York – who had crowned Harold Godwinson as King – but supported by Pope Alexander II, William landed an army of 7000 men at Pevensey Bay in Sussex before marching upon Hastings. There on the 14th of October, William imposed his claim by defeating Harold’s English army in a hard-fought battle. Coroneted in Westminster Abby on Christmas Day, King William spent the next fourteen years quelling the land.
Prior to the Normans, conquerors frequently employed various types of genocide to subdue the conquered: the defeated males were most often slaughtered, the females were either taken as slaves or sold into slavery, and the forcibly vacated lands were resettled by the victors. Although King Clovis had eschewed the tactic in order to create a unified French nation, Charlemagne nonetheless employed it against portions of Germany three centuries later. But annihilating the enemy was not an option for William – for like his progenitors in Normandy, he lacked the demographic resources to colonize the lands he had conquered. With perhaps 5000 knights drawn from an estimated 2000 aristocratic families, William’s only option was to establish a modus vivendi with the two million Anglo-Saxons he had subjugated.
Driven by necessity and design, William adopted a policy of conciliation. The civilian populace went unmolested, and in exchange for an oath of allegiance the surviving Anglo-Saxon nobles were permitted to retain their lands and titles. A series of bloody revolts, however, soon compelled him to adopt a more forceful strategy. As he despoiled the rebellious countryside in a deliberate effort to starve Northern England into submission, William also initiated a massive program to fortify and garrison strategic sites. Between 1068 and William’s death nineteen years later, the Normans are believed to have built more than 500 motte and bailey castles across the English countryside. But unlike similar fortifications the Normans had constructed in France, these were not designed to defend against foreign invasion. Their purpose was to ensure Norman rule through a policy of intimidation and reprisal.
By the time William died in 1087, Norman control was complete. But while subdued, the English countryside remained sullen; and rebellion was an ever-present possibility. With an estimated 92 per cent of the Anglo-Saxon nobility killed in battle or stripped of their titles, lands, and governing authority for insurrection, the native population looked upon the new regime as an alien occupation. It was within this context of seething anger and resentment that the legends of Robin Hood first arose.
Whether Robin Hood actually lived remains an open question. Although some historians believe the legends are loosely based upon an actual figure, most are inclined to view them as folk tales reflecting the longings of a conquered people for a hero to deliver them from bondage. According to the first interpretation – the one favored by Hollywood – Robin Hood was a champion of social justice. But according to the second, he was most likely a conflation of various Anglo-Saxon resistance leaders that battled the Norman Occupation from the forests and swamps of central England. The first makes for rollicking fun and adventure; the second gave rise to a political strategy of elite renewal and perpetuation so subtle that it has passed almost unremarked for nine centuries.
In a 1991 motion picture, John Irvin touched upon this strategy. In his film, Robin Hood is depicted as an Anglo-Saxon noble that has managed to retain his title, lands, and authority by virtue of his friendship with a powerful Norman Lord. But after clashing with his patron over the brutal mistreatment of one of his English serfs – and then publicly disparaging Norman justice – Robin is declared an outlaw. Fleeing to Sherwood Forrest to escape arrest and execution, Robin initiates a carefully calculated and tightly focused insurrection. His goal is not to drive the Normans from England, but merely to force them to acknowledge the rights of the conquered population. His loyalty to King Richard – and the Norman system of rule – is never in doubt.
Barely noted is the fact that Robin’s insurrection played into Norman hands. Having failed in their initial attempt to conciliate the defeated Anglo-Saxons, and lacking the manpower to forever maintain their rule by force, the Normans are acutely conscious of their need for Anglo-Saxon support to perpetuate their power. Guided by this coldly realistic understanding of their predicament, Robin’s Norman antagonist deftly exploits the conflict to achieve William’s original goal by granting under duress concessions the Normans would have freely made had the English not rebelled against them.
Political elites are self-defined: they are the few that make the decisions for the many. Regardless of the manner in which elites are selected – though brute force, inheritance, or democratic election – they are ubiquitous. For in every nation, the many are ruled by the few.
Although that tautology is maddening for philosophers, the more difficult problem posed by elite rule is biological. Because the likelihood of lineal succession declines with each generation, elites face relatively rapid extinction. For that reason, family, ethnic, or even racially based elites cannot perpetuate their control for historically meaningful timeframes without co-opting new members from the ranks of those they rule. This problem was well understood in Ancient Rome, where exceptional citizens drawn from every corner of the Empire were routinely elevated to Senatorial Rank, and perhaps even better in Norman England. Given their meager demographic resources, the Normans had no choice but to eventually co-opt the conquered Anglo-Saxons, and bring them into their system – perhaps not as equals, but nearly so – with the promise that their children or at least their grandchildren would one day achieve full equality. By co-opting Robin and his Anglo-Saxon followers, the Normans triumphed in apparent defeat.
Unable to negotiate an accord with an amorphous and leaderless population, the formative nature of Norman oppression – and the Anglo-Saxon resistance it deliberately provoked, molded, and shaped – eventually provided the necessary preconditions for the accommodation that eluded William. For appalling as it may be, it is nonetheless a fact that equality means little if not hard-won; and it is upon this perverse quirk of human nature that William’s successors built their system of elite perpetuation:
Exploit the conquered for as long as you are able. But when you can no longer rule by force alone, apologize for the past, co-opt their leadership, and bring them into the system - first as underlings, and then eventually as equals.
Although rarely recognized and never publicly acknowledged, this system is clearly identifiable throughout the histories of England, its successor state Great Britain, and the larger British Empire; and it remains everywhere in evidence throughout the English-speaking world today. With the exception of the American colonies – an aberration occasioned by an unassimilated King plagued by episodic madness – the British have never fought to retain power over their subjects abroad. After periods of more or less lengthy oppression, they invariably accommodated the demands of their imperial subjects in accordance to the formulae above, by apologizing – however insincerely – for past injustices, co-opting the leadership of the once conquered, and acceding to their demands. In the process, they created a global English-speaking elite whose interests are closely tied to their own.
The Norman system of elite perpetuation is a part of America’s cultural legacy, and it is likewise evident throughout our history as well. Like the Normans in England, British settlers tried first to achieve a modus vivendi with the Native American tribes, but when that failed they adopted a policy of control strikingly similar to that employed by William. Indeed, the wooden forts that sprang up upon the colonial landscape were almost identical to the Norman motte and bailey castles that preceded them.
This pattern continued to manifest after the American colonies seceded from the British Empire. For as British historians are quick to note, the Anglo-American elite that emerged from the Revolutionary War was deeply ambivalent about extending the blessings of liberty to all; and for that reason, the more cautious faction that prevailed reached back into history to ensure the survival of the still-tentative Republic. Beginning with the Alien and Sedition Acts, each succeeding wave of immigrants was subjected to rigid controls and often-egregious exploitation. But as they organized in response, they were able to secure their rights in protracted struggles often aided by war. German immigrants of the 1840’s commanded battalions of more recent Irish immigrants in the Civil War, as Irish immigrants and their descendants’ commanded battalions of Italian, Polish, and Jewish immigrants in World War I. By the time of the Second World War, the descendants of involuntary African immigrants were commanding units of their own; and after that war, multi-racial formations as well. And like other groups before them, they legitimized their struggle against injustice through service. For like the Robin Hood of legend, they took pains to ensure their loyalty to the larger system was never in doubt.
Within the American experience, the African-Americans’ struggle for equality and acceptance is often regarded as a special case because their forbearers were brought to these shores in chains. But when one steps back and views their efforts from the broader sweep of history, it seems much closer to the traditional pattern. For while it is tempting to attribute the oppression of African-Americans to racism alone, it is an oft-forgotten fact that European immigrants had been freed from serfdom for at least one generation, and often several more. Thus from the perspective of the elite, the less onerous treatment they received was appropriate to their condition. In contrast, the African-Americans were in fact if not in name a conquered people; and for that reason the treatment they received was more akin to that the Normans visited upon the Anglo-Saxons. For while the legal status of African-American slaves was slightly worse than that of Anglo-Saxon serfs, their conditions of servitude were virtually identical. One need only substitute a motte and bailey castle for a plantation manor to grasp the point.
Viewed from that perspective, Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States is far more than a triumph for African-Americans. It is also a triumph for the Norman system of elite renewal and perpetuation, which first arose in Occupied England and later spread throughout the English-speaking world to become the unstated global norm.
For almost a millennia, that system has employed deliberate oppression and carefully calculated accommodation to slowly and methodically mold and shape an ever-more inclusive political elite that now spans the world. For by accident or design, it was William the Conqueror that set in motion the process of global integration; and it is his ghostly hand that guides it still.