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US Intelligence Community: From Past to Present Essay

The US Intelligence Community can be traced back to the days of the 1776 Revolution. The nation’s first spyhead, General George Washington used spies to accurately pinpoint the movements of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The British Army also employed spies to identify potential dissidents in the mostly loyalist South. The Revolution also produced the country’s first cryptanalyst, Dr. Benjamin Church. Dr. Church posed as a member of the Boston ‘school’ while providing essential intelligence about rebel activities to General Gage, the British commander of Boston.

After his appointment as chief surgeon of the Continental Army, he continued to provide necessary information to the British. Dr. Church position was compromised after Samuel West deciphered a letter the former sent to the British. Dr. Church was sent into exile. What generally struck me was the participation of Benjamin Franklin in spy games. Franklin became the chief of the country’s first formal intelligence-gathering agency – the so-called ‘Committee of Secret Correspondence. ’ This agency was formed in 1775 with the primary goal of gathering information about sentiments towards the Revolutionary War in Europe.

However, the agency extended its authority. It authorized its ‘employees’ to use necessary methods in ‘influencing support for the Revolution in Europe. ’ Franklin, through a secret negotiation, asked France to provide French troops. France offered both its army and navy to support the American revolutionaries. After the Revolution, the American Intelligence Community adopted an isolationist stance. The agency became one of the primary organizations tasked to the building of a nation.

Espionage was viewed as a tool for defense – never a utility for increasing colonial influence. As a result, the French, Spanish, and British had little trouble learning American activities. During the War of 1812, US authorities were able to pinpoint British movements in the continent (and the intention of burning Washington). However, no one knew how to use the procured information. American intelligence was inept and supra-inefficient. The first major leap in the development of a sophisticated intelligence system came during the American Civil War.

Both Union and the Confederacy used spies not only for information-gathering but also for sabotage. Allan Pinkerton formed an intelligence community tasked to providing war information to General McClelland. In the South, General Robert E. Lee relied on the so-called ‘Canadian Cabinet’ – a group of Southern leaders who directed espionage against the Union. Although both sides were able to develop efficient intelligence systems, many military commanders belittled the importance of intelligence in military campaigns.

It was only during American’s entry to the First World War that American military commanders began to see the real advantages of an effective intelligence community. This can be exhibited by the creation of the convoy system. American spies in Europe sent vital information about the activities of U-boats in the Atlantic (its movements, potential targets, and strategy). Based on the information, the President ordered the creation of a convoy system which could protect merchant ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. After the First World War, the United States had a very efficient and effective intelligence community.


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