One book I won't be throwing out just yet is Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups, written by a retired UK Colonel who clearly knows what he's talking about. I found it a surprisingly easy read for a history book, even managing to make his discussion of the battles I knew nothing about (Barbarossa, Yom Kippur, Singapore and Dieppe) as interesting as the ones I did (Falklands, Gulf War I, 9/11, Pearl Harbor).He traces the causes of the failures - often on the apparently victorious side as well as the defeated - showing that sometimes it was scared Intelligence Officers saying what they knew the Dictator wanted to hear, sometimes it was a failure of collation, sometimes of not having good enough dissemination, and sometimes lack of direction from the top. The lack of coordination between the intel agencies in the USA comes under particular fire: a full 6 decades after Pearl Harbor, the same structural problems prevented the mass of intelligence ahead of the Al-Qa'ida attacks of 9/11 being collated and acted on. The UK's Joint Intelligence Community (JIC) approach is normally held up as the example on how to do it, but even then it failed over the Falklands. He also said it failed over its 'sexed-up' dossier published to the public to persuade them of the need to invade Iraq in 2003, though here his analysis didn't go far enough. If the press reports are right, this was less of an issue in the JIC, and more the inevitable problem of intelligence from on a few MI6 agents that couldn't be corroborated.On almost the last page Hughes-Wilson offers a rather bleak summary and outlook for intelligence:

For whatever pearls of infonnation can be put before any nation's leaders or policy makers, as long as there are human beings in the system, then the system is vulnerable to the vanities and frailties of humanity: another Mountbatten, too ambitious and concerned with his own personal advancement to worry about collecting proper intelligence: another complacent set of civil servants thinking "it can't happen to me" like the British in Malaya; or diplomats who could not distinguish good old-fashioned lying and deception to sort out capahilics from intentions, like those duped by Saddam Hussein in the Gulf. Human nature will not change, nor will the relationships between bureaucrats and their masters.

Hopefully he'll write more to suggest how best to minimise these problems, and to suggest what's the right balance of funding for intel and conventional operations, given that both will fail some of the time.Recommended: not just for intelligence buffs, but for those who want to get a quick overview of some of the most pivotal (or at least infamous) military events of the twentieth century.

AuthorJonathan Clark