Information versus intelligence

I just finished reading an older book about Ultra[1]. Ultra, of course, was the code name for a British effort to defeat the German World War II cipher machine known as Enigma The author was heavily involved in the Ultra project, actually communicating intelligence from Ultra directly to Winston Churchill and other senior US and British government and military officials.

The book offers a few lessons about intelligence that still apply today, particularly to CI:

  1. While the Enigma machine was largely used to transmit information to and from senior German war officials, including Hitler, that is, at the very highest (strategic) levels, a large portion of its transmissions were filled with very tactical information[2], such as troop locations, planned movements, supply situations, etc. According to the author, these intelligence findings were also the most useful provided by Ultra to the Allied war efforts. Thus, one might argue that the strategic intelligence which was most actionable was actually tactical intelligence. Think about it.
  2. While decrypted messages were given to Churchill frequently, often daily, officers involved with Ultra did not transmit mere raw data[3]. They always inserted an observation or comment to provide context. In other words, they told an individual already familiar with virtually all of the past intelligence, what the new individual message being read actually meant[4]. To those of us in CI, there is a lesson there: if you are running an internal newsletter (and I’m not a big fan of this) make sure that you always provide context and analysis, and never just raw data, i.e. news clips. If you must send news clips, at least rewrite the headlines by using one of the words from SWOT: strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat.
  3. One of the problems that the Ultra program had occurred when it could not provide any new intelligence. Some of its end-users came to rely upon it so much that they were, to put not to fine point on it, helpless without it.[5] Enough said.

 

[1] F. W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret, Harper & Row, New York, 1974.

[2] See, e.g., pages 106, 116.

[3] “… [W]hen the Battle of Britain was starting to warm up, [Prime Minister Churchill] … now requested that any important signals we had been able to break should be sent over to Downing Street and that each message should bear a note as to its significance and why.” page 38.

[4] During the period when Great Britain was bracing for possible invasion by Germany, Operation Sea Lion, Ultra decrypted “a signal from the German General staff to say that Hitler had authorized the dismantling of the air-loading equipment at the Dutch aerodromes.… It was obviously a signal which required some explanation if Churchill was to be able to grasp its meaning. I, therefore, indicated its full significance on my cover headline. If the loading equipment was being dismantled, the [German] invasion [of Great Britain] could not take place….” page 58.

[5] “There is no doubt in my mind that [the users of Ultra for 2 ½-4 ½ years] had the enemy’s intentions handed to them on a plate, [and] had perhaps come to rely on Ultra to such an extent that when [Ultra] gave no positive indication of the coming counterattack [the Battle of the Bulge], all the other [intelligence] indications of the coming [German] counter-attack were not taken seriously enough.” pages 178 – 79.


One Comment on “Information versus intelligence”

  1. […] I just finished reading an older book about Ultra. Ultra, of course, was the code name for a British effort to defeat the German World War II cipher machine known as Enigma The author was heavily involved in the Ultra project, actually communicating intelligence from Ultra directly to Winston Churchill and other senior US and British government and military officials. The book offers a few lessons about intelligence that still apply today, particularly to CI.  […]


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