Men of Intelligence

Title:                      Men of Intelligence

Author:                 Major-General Sir Kenneth W. D. Strong

Strong, Kenneth (1972). Men of Intelligence: A Study of The Roles And Decisions of Chiefs of Intelligence From World War I to The Present Day. New York: St. Martin’s Press

LCCN:    78183881

UB250 .S66 1972


Date Updated:  February 24, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

General Strong judges twelve intelligence officers of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States and the roles they played. In addition, he includes chapters on the relevance of spies and some thoughts on the relationship of intelligence to decision making in government and business. Of the intelligence officers he examines, the Germans are the largest number. Strong includes figures who are not too well known but who played important roles—one such is William Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee in World War II. The treatment is necessarily broad since the dozen are covered in some one hundred twenty-five pages of text and are seen from the vantage point of the military intelligence officer. The work contains some very interesting stories and valuable observations on those he knew. Strong regards and defines intelligence as the end product of a process of coordinating and evaluating information and as the structure for producing this product. He does not include the activity of collecting data as part of his definition; this is usually reflected in his approach to his subject and the emphasis in his writings. Ambrose in Ike’s Spies[2] criticized Strong for trying to place the blame on Allen Dulles for his own error on the National Redoubt question and characterized Strong’s report in March 1945 on this as “one of the worst intelligence summaries of the war.” All the same, Strong has some very perceptive observations about Dulles’s personality. There may not be total agreement with his views on the value of spies (compare his opinion with that of R. V. Jones in The Wizard War[3]) but his remarks on the success of Soviet espionage will meet with greater consensus. Readers will note that Strong said Gauche, the principal French officer concerned with estimating German strength from 1935 on, gave “extraordinarily accurate analyses.” Yet in August 1939, on the edge of war, Gauche estimated there were between one hundred forty and one hundred fifty German divisions when actual German strength was ninety-eight. Strong’s analysis of the reasons for German intelligence failures against the Soviets in World War II fails to consider the effectiveness of Soviet security and counterintelligence-despite Strong’s repeating Stalin’s remark, made to Air Marshal Tedder, that the identification and repression of the enemy’s espionage apparatus was as essential to an attack as the accumulation of supplies. His belief that the Soviets misestimated when they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 has become less supportable with time.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[4]

An historical review of intelligence leaders from WWI to the recent past [as of 1980]by a senior and knowledgeable British intelligence officer. The author describes the successes and failures of a selected group of German, French, British and American intelligence chiefs, most of whom he knew personally. His emphasis is on the need for centralized direction of intelligence and the necessity for close coordination between intelligence chiefs and policymakers.

Here are some comments by Roy Berkeley:[5]

At the head of Carlyle Square in London, all but hidden by the neighbouring house and by foliage is Site 36: 21 Carlyle Square. In intelligence work, it’s not all Minox cameras and a quick dash for the border. They also serve who only sit and administrate. In this modest house lived Victor Frederick William Cavendish-Bentinck (later the ninth Duke of Portland), who for most of WWII was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

The JIC had been formed in 1936 to co-ordinate intelligence from SIS and the three armed services. Only in 1940 under Churchill, though, was it given real authority and by then its purview also included the new SOE and the intelligence agencies of Britain’s new allies. The five-man JIC was served by a Joint Intelligence Staff only double that size. William Casey, chief of OSS’s Secret Intelligence branch in London during WWII (and director of CIA 40 years later), was impressed. He considered the JIC “typical of the British genius for having tight little groups handle functions that in the U.S. spawned huge bureaucracies.”

Eisenhower’s top intelligence officer in SHAEF deemed Bentinck “the outstanding intelligence officer of his time.” Excessive praise? Consider these two qualities mentioned by Patrick Howarth[6], Bentinck’s biographer: his ability to elicit everyone’s views no matter how many officers senior to the speaker might be present, and his ability to speak his mind to men at higher levels. Howarth contrasts wartime decision-making in Britain and in Germany; the best intelligence can count for nothing if subordinates fear their leader or distrust each other. But even Bentinck couldn’t manage what he .called “this awful quarrelling between MI6 and SOE.” And he had his own difficulties with SOE. He had produced the report properly blaming SOE for the Englandspiel disaster (see Site 75, 140 Park Lane) and he later said, “SOE would gladly have murdered me. I arranged with Victor Rothschild that if I suddenly died he was to carry out an autopsy.”

Bentinck chaired a meeting of the JIC every Tuesday morning in the Cabinet War Rooms; as the war progressed he lived there. But Churchill, writes Howarth, “having issued the directive which in effect established the JIC as the supreme intelligence body, did not himself rely wholly; or even primarily, on it as a source of information.” As Bentinck later put it, “Churchill had a tendency to create his own intelligence,” becoming increasingly dependent on Ultra decrypts.

Bentinck’s observations were often accurate. He correctly predicted that Germany would invade the USSR (later calling it Hitler’s greatest single mistake) and he early looked upon the USSR with unblinking realism. During his time with the JIC he had occasion to meet Philby, Blunt and the others. He thought Philby “a queer fish”, which seems reasonable enough, but he was wide of the mark when he thought Blunt “rather a dull dog.”

Near the war’s end Bentinck saw the necessity of keeping the JIC structure in peacetime. “I’d noticed that there were junior officers in the intelligence divisions in the Air Ministry, the War Office and the Admiralty all doing the same job, writing the same things, gathering the same information, most of it not secret in any way. I thought this should be rationalized. I put it up to the Chiefs of Staff, and they took it. The departments didn’t like it at all.”

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[7]

The author examines the roles and decisions of a dozen chiefs of intelligence of four major powers from 1914 to the present. Almost half of the book is devoted to tracing the evolution of major intelligence decisions of Britain, France, and Germany through World War II.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 436-437

[2] Ambrose, Stephen E. (1981, 2012), with Richard H. Immerman. Ike’s Spies: Eisenhower And The Espionage Establishment. New York: Anchor Books

[3] Jones, R. V. (1978). The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence, 1939-1945. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan

[4] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 60

[5] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 80-82

[6] Howarth, Patrick (1986). Intelligence Chief Extraordinary: The Life Of The Ninth Duke of Portland. London: Bodley Head

[7] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 68


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5 Responses to Men of Intelligence

  1. Pingback: The Wizard War | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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  5. Pingback: Blackstock Selected Bibliography of Fifty Titles | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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