A History of US Communications Intelligence During WWII

Title:                      A History of US Communications Intelligence During WWII

Author:                 Robert Louis Benson

Benson, Robert Lewis (1997). A History of US Communications Intelligence during WWII: Policy and Administration. Fort George G. Meade, MD: Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency

LCCN:    Unavailable


Date Updated:  August 24, 2015

This monograph was produced by the Center for Cryptographic History at NSA, and is available for download from the Center’s Web Site.

The revelations about World War II cryptology—begun with the publication in 1974 of F. W. Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret and continued with extensive declassification of original documents—sparked a great reevaluation of wartime events. Most wartime decisions, operations, and events, even those long considered settled, have had to be reconsidered. The ULTRA revelations have also sparked a cottage industry of books, monographs, and articles based on the wealth of original documents declassified over the past two [before date of publication of this monograph in 1997] decades. A great many of these books have concentrated on the information content of communications intelligence reports, relating newly released COMINT to a particular commander, operation, or theater,

One lacuna[1] in the study of world war COMINT, therefore, is an examination of the organizations that produced communications intelligence and how they changed under pressure. Both the U.S. Army and Navy had relatively small COMINT organizations in the prewar period, and both expanded rapidly with the advent of hostilities. Expansion was only one aspect of the institutional challenges they faced: the processes which attended peacetime were inadequate for support of military operations on a global scale. With national survival and individual lives at stake, the services demanded more information—both tactical and strategic—and more timely distribution than ever before.

The U.S. military COMINT organizations for the first time engaged in close cooperation with a foreign ally, the United Kingdom. By the end of the war, the United States and the United Kingdom were linked in communications intelligence activities at levels perhaps unprecedented in international affairs, at least on a voluntary basis. To achieve this advantageous situation, the U.S. Army and Navy had to make considerable adjustments in organization and policy.

Rapid expansion, urgent requirements for information, international agreements—these factors forced the American COMlNT organizations into profound changes. While the services never completely solved the problems posed by these challenges, by war’s end they created structures and implemented policies which, however cumbersorne, achieved high levels of combat support, Understanding how the services changed from the organizations of 1940 to those of 1945 is an essential undergirding for understanding the production and use of COMINT product in World War ll as well as the postwar movement toward centralization.

Mr. Robert L. Benson has produced an important monograph about these changes. His careful research and writing about the what and why of Institutional changes and their far-reaching effects constitutes fundamental study of these complex issues, Mr. Benson’s book is strongly recommended for all who wish to understand the origins of modern COMINT, how It has grown, —and how COMlNT policy has developed.

[1] Lacuna—a gap or a missing portion or interval.

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3 Responses to A History of US Communications Intelligence During WWII

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