“Governments never tell their citizens what they know. They tell their citizens what they want them to believe.” Allen Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence (1953–1961)
In 1951, CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith gathered a committee of civilian experts in their respective fields. These were everyday people: doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, electricians, engineers, and skilled laborers. Studying a vast array of publicly available sources, they were instructed to derive as much classified information as they could, drawing from their skills and experience. Smith and his staff were stunned by the results.
Despite no formal training, they were able to document a near complete picture of national defense planning and intelligence gathering methods. Following the study, each participant was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and all documentation was destroyed or classified. Figuring the results to be a fluke, the agency re-ran the study with more groups. Same results, every time.
The most powerful secret of all is that secrets cannot be kept from an informed public.
When the government classifies something, what they’re really saying is, “You can probably figure this out, but we don’t want to make it too easy for you.”
Contrary to popular belief, employment of intelligence techniques isn’t just for governments and the military. Businesses gather intel on their competitors, and managers do so on potential new hires (in case you didn’t know what a resume is really for). Women deploy a vast intelligence network against men they want to date (in case you didn’t know what gossip is really for). Everyone has a use for it.
Though the modern history books rarely discuss him as such, George Washington was one of the best Intelligence Officers of his day. He often turned the British spies in his own ranks into allies. False leads, often planted by Washington himself, would waste their time, compromise their sources, or send them straight into an ambush.
The wisest leaders know: Information has an architecture of its own. By knowing a few parts, the rest falls into place.
No matter where applied, it is a tool of empowerment and protection. Citizens should be gathering intelligence on their government and other societal institutions. This is called Public Intelligence, also known as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)
Why? Governments and corporations cannot be counted on to expose their own corruption. This is why the First Amendment protects Freedom the Press.
The United States used to have the most informed citizens in the world. The mainstream media, formerly a great instrument of an informed public, has become an institution that, at best, fails at this. At worst, they deceive and distract the public about the real issues.
Informed, aware citizens should find ways to apply intelligence techniques their own lives and goals. Why is this so important? Because others are doing the same.
Speed of communications is the first consideration of any operation. Information is useless if it cannot be applied in time to influence decisions and actions. Fortunately, in the age of the Internet, we all have access to lightning-fast information from all corners of the globe. Perhaps for the first time in history, the public is becoming just as informed as any government or corporation, and perhaps even better so. The public doesn’t have a massive bureaucracy to deal with, or bosses to suck up to.
Every government and corporation pads statistics, doctors and fakes photos and video. You can be sure of it. They have professional departments with multi-million dollar budgets devoted solely to this function. So, they use these resources to twist stories to fit an agenda, or to perform damage control. How and why a story is distorted often reveals more than the story itself. The more obstacles between the public and the truth, the more damaging the information is being hidden.
Key Principle: Compartmentalization
The separation of different parts of information; Limiting what each person or entity knows to only what they need to know to complete their task. This limits the impacts of leaks, defectors and whistleblowers; It’s hard to spill a secret if you don’t know the whole secret.
Formal agencies unify compartments at higher level coordination centers, where select individuals are able to see a scope of the compartments below themselves. Yet, even they are parts of larger compartments, who also restrict the flow of information downwards. This is the real function of the 3-letter agencies: CIA, DIA, NSA. They coordinate lower-level efforts, many of whom do not know they are part of an intelligence operation. Corporations follow the same practices with their proprietary information.
Intelligence gathering and counterintelligence are always performed in separate compartments. You don’t want your measures and countermeasures to be compromised from one source. Psychological warfare (corporations call this advertising, the techniques are all the same) is separated from everything else. When putting stupid ideas in people’s heads, the last thing you want is for your subjects to realize you’re doing this.
One of the biggest habitual problems for intelligence operations of any kind is compensation for the work. Most intelligence work cannot be carried out with “on the books” funding, as it leaves a money trail that can be traced. Congress is historically a huge leak, as their budgets reveal much about ongoing operations. For this reason, many of the largest and most important programs are left outside formal budget and approval chains, or hidden within other activities.
Similarly, NATO also acted as a massive intelligence leak during the Cold War. Forced to share information on many programs through blanket agreements with other NATO nations, the Soviets would simply target the less secure nations (the French were their historical favorite) to gain access. It was nearly impossible to stop these leaks. Though NATO was a defense alliance, it was never a governing body, and therefore there was no such thing as treason to NATO. Thus, none of the leaks could be prosecuted as a crime. Trials resulting from an international incident might reveal even more than the original leak. If your enemy knows how it was discovered, they’ll know even more about your methods and operations.
This is the same reason why corporations limit discussion of trade secrets and business operations to their subcontractors and associates.
Most clandestine work is carried out with cash, gold, drug money, or foreign funds left untraceable. There are historical cases of persons suing the government for clandestine intelligence work carried out on their behalf. Courts have ruled that compensation for the work cannot be awarded through legal judgments, as this would disclose the operation itself.
I’ll be revisiting this topic in the future. For now, I’ll leave you with a quote:
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” – Thomas Jefferson