An Historical Precedent

October 2, 2018

From time to time, I run into an historical nugget that offers a link between competitive intelligence today and the distant past.

Most of the time, we talk about how CI was heavily influenced by what happens in government, and how modern CI borrows heavily from the government model. However, in the past, that was reversed.

Take, for example, this extract from a wonderful biographical history of the international banking family the Warburgs:

“Max Warburg attained eminence in the heyday of imperial intrigue [the “eve of World War I”], when statesmen picked countries ripe for exploitation on unfurled maps and bankers served their will. Private bankers were ideal channels for such covert action because they didn’t answer to shareholders or publish balance sheets. They also prized intelligence and operated with sphinxlike discretion that mimicked diplomatic activity.”[1]

[1]Ron Chernow, The Warburgs, Random House, NY, 1993, p. 141.

A Suggestion


I have finished rereading very well-done book which carefully indicates to the reader the differences among hard facts, highly likely facts, and conclusions based on an analysis of incomplete evidence.

Warning – the book deals with the Holocaust.

The book is Richard Breitman’s, The Architect of Genocide – Himmler and the Final Solution[1]. Specifically, I am referring to Chapter 8 (“Cleansing the New Empire”), and Chapter 9 (“Heydrich’s Plan”)[2].

In those chapters, Professor Breitman analyzes everything from meeting notes to travel schedules, and from the parallel use of language to the way in which orders were communicated and followed by the Nazis in organizing and conducting the brutal murders of millions. In so doing, he clearly delineates “incontestable facts” from his own “deductions”[3] in a style that those of us in intelligence would do well to emulate.

I recommend reading this, if only for that careful style.

If you prefer another topic with a similar style, I can suggest any of Ron Chernow’s wonderful biographies, including Washington and Hamilton. He also clearly separates hard facts (“it happened”) from his interpretation or analyses (“probably”, “likely”).

[1] Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

[2] Pp. 167-206.

[3] As he puts it, “Not everyone will agree with all my deductions – which are identified are deductions, not incontestable facts.” Op. cit., p. 32.