Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century

By Nigel West; Heike Bungert et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Secret intelligence is not an invention of the twentieth century. Probably as long as states have existed, they have sought information not openly available about real, potential, or imagined internal and external enemies. Individual agents, internal police forces, or small secret service organizations have collected and analysed intelligence to provide guidance to policy-makers in foreign and domestic affairs and to the armed forces for military purposes. With the increasing globalization of international relations and in particular with the rise of modern, electronic means of communication during the last 80 years, however, the need has arisen for well-funded and well-equipped intelligence agencies capable of coordinating the various sources of information and able to digest an ever increasing amount of raw data. The two world wars, the ideological conflict between totalitarian and democratic states in the 1920s and 1930s, and especially the Cold War have led to the rapid expansion of information gathering, propaganda warfare, and covert operations.

Secret intelligence and special operations have always fascinated the general public. Spy novels, avidly read by hundreds of thousands all around the world; movies featuring James Bond and Maxwell Smart; and sensationalist accounts of agents’ exploits, however, have long discouraged scholars from seriously considering the history of intelligence as an integral part of the history of international relations, military history, and social history. Thus, intelligence has long been the ‘missing dimension’ in historical research. This has changed dramatically in the course of the last two decades. It is today increasingly accepted that serious research in international relations and particularly military history must take secret intelligence into account. The gradual opening of archives and records and the declassification of massive numbers of documents, particularly in the USA and the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), have shifted a once elusive and tainted field to centre stage.

In an effort to broaden the scholarly research on secret intelli-

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