Japan conducted a surprise attack in Port Arthur on Russia’s 1st Pacific Squadron when 10 Japanese destroyers extensively damaged the Retvizan and Tsarevich, two of Russia’s modern battleships. From the outset of war planning there was a strategic intelligence failure; the Russians had underestimated Japanese capabilities, as they had failed to adequately access the strength of the Japanese military forces. In addition, tactical intelligence prior to the outbreak of war was faulty, basic details such as the size of the Japanese army were inaccurate. An example of this is of the reports by Lieutenant Colonel G. M. Vannovskii, the military attaché assigned to Tokyo 1898 to 1903, who had underestimated the military strength of the Japanese army. Demonstrating this is the report on Japanese military personnel which recorded 200,000 men, when the Japanese forces were in fact 600,000 men. Lieutenant Colonel G. M. Vannovskii’s replacement Lieutenant Colonel Samoilov, was also not able to provide satisfactory intelligence on the Japanese, stating in his dispatch to the Main Staff on May 1903, that it was hard to gather intelligence on the Japanese because of a lack of open source material due to the closed nature of Japanese society. This illustrates the intelligence issue of the quality of collected information, as it highlights how inaccuracies at the collection phase weakens the whole intelligence process, and illustrates how incomplete details impact on how the information is analysed, the small pieces of information that are overlooked do contribute to the creation of the bigger picture.
Prior to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war there was a failure of tactical intelligence, the failure to provide sufficient intelligence to military commanders to provide a clear picture of Japanese capabilities and intentions, an example of this is the report by the First Manchurian Army. The First Manchurian Army's Intelligence Section had four functions: the first was combat intelligence which was carried out through patrols and reconnaissance, second was secret intelligence sending Russians and Chinese locals into Japanese defences, third analysing Japanese documents, and fourth interrogating prisoners of war. Despite the four functions of this intelligence unit they had a number of failings, primarily they were only able to gather intelligence on the Japanese through captured prisoners of war and documents gained through cavalry reconnaissance and infantry patrols. Though 366 Japanese prisoners of war were processed by the Intelligence unit, few of these POW’s could provide intelligence that was of use, and only twice did the unit capture Japanese documents that were valuable. The failure of intelligence collection inhibited the intelligence process, because of the lack of information; the intelligence unit was only able to accurately give information on Japanese movement 20 kilometres beyond Russian lines.
There were language difficulties which hindered the collection of intelligence before the outbreak of war and during it, the military attaché’s Vannovskii and Samoilov, and espionage agents did not have knowledge of Japanese, this had a negative impact on intelligence collection as it restricted their intelligence-gathering potential. Japanese language was not taught at the General Staff Academy which trained Russia’s military officers until 1905. The first Manchurian Army intelligence gathering unit had a lack of linguists, only one member from this intelligence unit understood Japanese, this inhibited intelligence collection and analysis. This illustrates a contemporary intelligence related issue, with the lack of foreign language knowledge and experts. This long standing issue within the intelligence community was highlighted through the intelligence failings of the 9/11 which again demonstrates the importance of linguists and foreign knowledge experts.
The relationship between the Russian civilian and military intelligence departments was characterised by interdepartmental hostility and rivalry, and a lack of coordination, this contributed to the intelligence failure. The tension between the ministries was caused by competition for limited financial resources, the military had a monopoly on information and was not willing to share as it could potentially allow other departments to receive more funding. Thus the collection and collation of military intelligence was not conducive to intelligence sharing.
In addition to this the intelligence system had a number of deep rooted structural and procedural defects stemming from when the military districts were formed in the 1860’s. The military districts had quasi-independence since its formation; this allowed for the military attachés to report to military district staff instead of a central bureau. Furthermore, until the formation of the First Manchurian Army 6 months into the Russo-Japanese war, there was no mechanism in place for systematically communicating intelligence to Russian generals. This demonstrates how organisational factors impact on the intelligence process, with competition over funding resulting in a lack of sharing of information. Compounding this issue was the met-set issues which characterised the military intelligence units, which had “group-think” issues, due in part to unchanging processes and mentalities surrounding intelligence and intelligence threats.
Moreover, in addition to “group-think”, there are a number of psychological factors which contributed to the intelligence failure, as historian William Fuller has noted, there were a number of serious defects within the individuals who worked in the intelligence community. There were mind-set, and group mind-set issues which negatively impacted on the intelligence process. Racism had impacted on Tsar Nicholas II perception of Japan, their militaristic capabilities and intentions, particularly of war imminence. Tsar Nicholas II perceived the Japanese as little more than a group of “little brown monkeys,” this resulted in an underestimation of the threat that the Japanese posed. Historian David Schimmelpenninck Van Der Oye has concluded that the intelligence failure was not a product of the intelligence cycle and of structural shortcomings but rather stemmed from ‘blind overconfidence born of complacency and racism’ of Russian leaders Tsar Nicholas II down to military generals. This indicates a key intelligence issue, the issue of intelligence serving to either confirm or deny existing assumptions and decisions.
By the end of the Russo-Japanese war Russian military intelligence has undergone a large transformation; a new level of professional had emerged due to the experience gained by Russian MI during the war. This in part inspired a series of reforms in the post-war period. In addition to this, intelligence failures reveal a number of lessons, the intelligence failures during the Russo-Japanese war highlighted the need for reform of the intelligence community in the tsarist empire. This resulted in deep and broad ranging reform across the intelligence community. To improve intelligence sharing between the military and foreign policy departments Tsar Nicholas II established the Council of the State Defense in 1905, which allowed for unification of both parties. Within military intelligence there was reform, intelligence sections were established in all of the districts, and these districts reported to the Main Directorate of the General Staff headquarters in St. Petersburg which was established in 1905. The Main Directorate served the purpose of overseeing intelligence cycle in the armed forces. In addition to this there had been improvements made within the intelligence cycle with the relationship between policy making and intelligence, now intelligence began to be focused on a long-term threats, with a focus on Austria-Hungary, China, Germany, Japan and Persia. Lastly, the military intelligence annual budget was increased from around 50,000 rubles in 1903, to 500,000 rubles in 1910, thus demonstrating the new importance placed on intelligence by policymakers, and highlights the deficiencies that the smaller budget had on the intelligence process.
The reform of the intelligence community after the failure of the Russo-Japanese war led to Russian secret services becoming one the most powerful intelligence units prior to the outbreak of WWI. This is demonstrated by records that illustrate that Russia’s military intelligence, by 1912 had gained an in-depth understanding of the German war plan, and was able to accurately predict when the Germans would implement it.
The July 1586 Babington plot provides an example of an intelligence success, the successful discovery of the plot, and seizure of the conspirators illustrates how a successful sixteenth century intelligence unit operated and how the intelligence process facilitated in the discovery of the plot. Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I of England employed counter intelligence methods to detect the assassination plot.
The Babington plot was a plan by Sir Anthony Babington, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and a number of catholic conspirators, to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I in order for Mary Stuart to claim the English Crown. The conspiracy began in March 1586 and developed over the following months until July 1586 when Babington wrote a letter to Mary Stuart communicating to her that he and a number of catholic conspirators were planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, in order for Mary Stuart to claim the British throne.
Mary Stuart escaped from Scottish rebels in 1568 by seeking refuge in England, however the 1570 papal decree Regnans in Excelsis granted English Catholics the authority to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, and as Mary Stuart was heir to the throne English throne, she was considered a threat to Elizabethan rule. Mary Stuart was held in incarceration due to the threat that she posed to Elizabethan rule. Mary Stuart was held at Chartely Hall during the duration of the Babington plot, her only means of communication was through written letters.
Walsingham had created a system to intercept Mary Stuart’s letters, though Mary Stuart and Babington had corresponded in cipher, Walsingham had tasked Thomas Phelippes, his cipher secretary to decrypt the code, which he was successfully able to do. Thus when Babington sought approval from Mary Stuart to authorize the assassination, Walsingham was able to intercept this and take action to prevent the assassination.
Elizabethan espionage was the work of individuals collaborating not whole departments, it was controlled by individual officers of state, but ultimately had a collective, national purpose. Walsingham used a number of intelligence processes that were pushing the boundaries of conventional intelligence at the time, such as his use of multiple sources on one target. His intelligence methods have been viewed by many as stating the revolution of intelligence, and are still being employed in the intelligence field today.
A number of key areas of the ‘success’ of the Babington Plot were not on balance, the first point is the consideration of the context within which Walsingham was operating. There was a risk that intelligence gained may confirm old suspicions, or that new threats were formed and reinforced out of old suspicions, in addition there was the threat that intelligence from foreign agencies may have been manipulated either consciously or unconsciously to meet his requirements. This point is discussed in a sixteenth century account of the Babington plot, where Father Robert Southwell criticized Walsingham, declaring that that Walsingham ‘had made a conspiracy, engineered and guided it, merely to serve sordid political ends.’
Secondly, Walsingham has been criticized for the use of torture a means to extract information from suspects. During the 1586 interrogation of Anthony Babington and 13 of his accomplices, the use of torture was employed. This has been criticised as undercover agent Anthony Tyrell had penetrated the group to gain intelligence on the assassination attempt, thereby demonstrated that the use of torture was merely a political tool. The confessions recorded by the suspects were used as evidence against Mary Stuart in her trial; Mary Stuart was subsequently found guilty and was beheaded in 1587. This evidence, combined with the tampering of the final letter Mary Stuart wrote to Babington led many to conclude that the plot and proof of Mary Stuart’s involvement were concocted; this was due mainly in part to Walsingham’s involvement with the intelligence process.
There was key area of difference between the two events in how the intelligence process related to policy makers decision making, in the case of the Russian intelligence failure there was not enough emphasis placed on the value of intelligence, this was due to psychological factors and group-think. Walsingham, in contrast, valued intelligence and used it to make informed decision on national security threats. However, both events are similar in the way that intelligence was used to confirm existing assumptions; this is a key area of weakness in both events.
There was a key difference between the events in how intelligence was used to support decision making, Walsingham placed more value on intelligence, this is demonstrated numerous times throughout the interception of the Babington plot, particularly towards the end of the plot where he held off on making a decision until more intelligence was gathered. This illustrates the intelligence issue of how incomplete details impact on how information is analysed, and also illustrates how small details impact on how the decision maker evaluates the situation. As with the Russo-Japanese war Russian intelligence on the Japanese was incomplete, this contributed to poor decisions by the policy makers.
Walsingham also allocated a larger budget to the intelligence sector than Tsar Nicholas II, this was primary due to Walsingham understanding the value of intelligence, this is illustrated the quote attributed to Walsingham which states that ‘knowledge is never too dear’.
In conclusion, Russia’s intelligence failure to predict the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war and of intelligence failures during the war illuminates the important role intelligence plays in decision making, and demonstrates the impact of not placing enough emphasis on it. The intelligence success of the Babington plot provides a comparison to the intelligence failure and illustrates key differences in the use of intelligence, demonstrating how the intelligence cycle comes together to aid the decision maker. A number of key intelligence related issues are demonstrated throughout both events, firstly of the role of intelligence in aiding decisions, and the impact of the use or misuse of intelligence has, secondly, on how psychological and organizational factors impact on the intelligence cycle, thirdly both events demonstrate how the context within the intelligence unit is operating impacts on the use of intelligence and on its impact on analytical processes. Though the Russian suffered an intelligence failure, there were long term gains from this event, intelligence failures often drive reform which strengthens the intelligence community and the intelligence process through the identification of key areas of weakness and addressing key issues, as the reform of Russia’s intelligence community after 1905 demonstrates. Russian’s intelligence failure offers guidance to today’s IC leaders, who are striving to make the community more integrated and efficient as it provides a clear example of how intelligence sharing and relationships between the intelligence communities impact on the overall product. In addition to this, intelligence successes often have aspects which were not on balance, primarily in the Babington plot with Walsingham’s use of torture to extract intelligence, additionally with how intelligence can be shaped to meet existing threats. Both events highlight the necessity of intelligence and the importance it plays, and demonstrates that ‘the strongest boxer cannot defeat the foe he hasn’t studied or cannot see’.
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My love of history began during high school at Kerikeri High, following this I completed a Bachelor of Arts in History, minor in Medieval and Early Modern History at the University of Auckland in 2013. Instead of taking the traditional route of History honours I explored the courses offered in Australia and New Zealand and decided to do a Master's in Policing, Intelligent and Counter Terrorism course at Macquarie Univeristy, Sydney which I am currently undertaking.