• Valentina Koumoulou

Silent Warfare: Understanding the world of intelligence by Abram N. Shulsky and Gary J

By Valentina Koumoulou


“Intelligence is an activity midway between diplomacy and war”

Have you ever wondered if all the spy movies have a little bit of truth in the scenario? Are the ways they approach “targets” or the jargon they use on communicating with their “handlers” even close to what is really happening inside the intelligence agencies? Well, this book gives an answer to those questions. The authors introduce the reader to the world of intelligence.




Secret Service at Your Service - The Meaning of Intelligence

Intelligence is inherently connected to the competition among nations. From that realistic approach, the authors follow their key thesis, that intelligence “will, like diplomacy and military force, remain a regular statecraft”. In fact, it can be used not only for security reasons, but also for economic, or political gains. The debate over the legitimacy of the field has been growing due to the fact that it has somehow become accepted “as a normal part of the public debate concerning government activities”.


More specifically, on one side are the social scientists who are willing to analyze and try to predict political, economic, social, and military matters. They believe in “demystifying intelligence and encouraging the flow of ideas between the intelligence and academic communities”. That way, it would be helpful for intelligence to go even farther toward its goal of becoming more like social science. On the other side are those who believe that the purpose of public writing about intelligence “was to expose alleged misdeeds and incompetence”. Furthermore, it would help bring about change for the better in the way intelligence agencies operated.


The book would not be interesting though, without spilling the tea a little bit. That being said, it has a great deal of historical material (real cases and names) that was declassified from World War II and the Cold War. Moreover, it explains the methods of collecting information, such as espionage, aerial photography, interception of communications, and research using publicly available documents, radio and television broadcasts, and the Internet. There is also the distinction between “domestic intelligence” and “transnational threats” which thoroughly explains how different approaches are followed after the categorization of threats.


Know your friends and foes - Elements of Intelligence

In the book, there is also a distinction over the “elements of intelligence”, such as collection, analysis, covert action, and counterintelligence. Many examples of how these types of intelligence work include infamous names, such as Eli Cohen, Fritz Kolbe, Mata Hari, John Walker, Larry Wu-Tai Chin. Another interesting element of the book is that it describes how countries, like China, the USA, Russia, or the UK, use their agents and specific types of missions, covers, “sleeper agents”.


“Intelligence is as much a struggle with an enemy as is armed combat; the difference lies in the means employed.”


A very important chapter of intelligence is the “source”, given that the intelligence product has to be legitimate and its source trustworthy. There is a main distinction between the sources. One method would be someone whom the intelligence officer, after preparing the ground, actively recruits into the service of the intelligence agency. Another method would be “walk-ins”, people who volunteer to assist the intelligence agency of a foreign country, sometimes literally by walking into its embassy. Between these two categories, there is different handling of the agents in order to prove their loyalty. In fact, “sources may be motivated by ideological, ethnic, or religious loyalties that are stronger than their ties to the countries of which they are citizens”, meaning that special vetting is needed during training.


With regards to the afore-mentioned, something that is often overlooked is how prepared sources or agents with cover must be. To be more specific, an emphasis on knowledge of foreign societies and cultures is highly important. “Expertise can be fostered by a study of the language and history of a country, by an awareness of its religious and cultural traditions, and so forth”.


In order for the reader to have a wholesome knowledge of how the world of intelligence works, there is a chapter with the issues that exist in intelligence services. An elemental problem is the “double agent” paradigm. A double agent is someone who plays the game both ways and is allegiant to no-one. There is the chance that he was caught in the middle of a case and instead of being found in a ditch or held in prison, he is “turned” in order to conduct espionage for the opposite side.


What makes a secret really a secret? - Levels of classification

Furthermore, basic levels of classification are mentioned (confidential, secret, and top-secret) and there is a detailed description of how governments deal with these. What is also an interesting debate throughout the chapters is whether the government and intelligence agencies should be linked or independent from each other. This debate is trying to make the reader understand that analysts should be objective while analyzing intelligence information regardless of political gains or according to policy. Intelligence is subordinate to policy but in the sense that its activities are directed toward serving the policymaker.


Another factor that has upgraded intelligence services is globalization, in the sense that it has made information instantly transferable from one side of the world to the other. It has significantly increased the flow of information across borders and has created many new information channels. This has made it easier for analysts to cross-reference their sources, making sure the information has the highest level of accuracy possible. Given the fact that analysts constitute a basic element in the intelligence process, it goes without saying that without the human factor, important details might not have been noticed or their significance understood. For example, when photos are being taken by satellites for intelligence purposes, the human eye is crucial to distinguishing a possible ambush or a deception detail that even a highly developed machine could not recognize (the most famous example being the Cuban Missile Crisis).


What´s your next mission - My conclusion

Finishing my literal mission through the world of intelligence, this book debunks, what we see in movies. Here facts are presented with a clear and wholesome view of how intelligence works and which are a few issues that could be encountered within this world. Moreover, the cases mentioned as well as the names make it even more exciting to go through. Last but definitely not least, to someone who would like to become a part of these agencies it is a great guide and tool before going through training. Why? Because along with the technicalities it shows possible role-models, failed and successful missions and ways to not screw up. While I was reading it, I felt the thrill of being a source, a double agent, and a handler at the same time. It was like being immersed in a world of detailed vetting, productive anxiety, and finally, fulfilling accomplishment.


Image References: A. (n.d.). Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence, 3d Edition 3rd Edition, [Digital image]. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://www.amazon.com.au/Silent-Warfare-Understanding-World-Intelligence-ebook/dp/B005CWJ82W


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