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  The Secret State: A History of Intelligence and Espionage

 Hughes-Wilson, J. (2017). The Secret State: A History of Intelligence and Espionage. New York, NY: Pegasus Books, Ltd.
  A Review-Essay by Steven Christopher Ippolito, Ph.D.

 List Price: $29.95
 Hardcover: 510 pages
 ISBN: 978-1-68177-302-5
 Publisher: Pegasus Books, Ltd.
 Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co.
 Publication Date: January 2017
 Table of Contents,  Twelve Parts; 42 Chapters, Bibliography, Glossary, Index, Figures, Tables, Maps. Statistics

“'Now, I shall go far into the North, playing the Great Game …'”
Rudyard Kipling (cited in Share, 2015, p. 1102).

A Tournament of Shadows -- Spies, Strategy, and War:

A Review Essay of the Secret State
John Hughes-Wilson's book, The Secret State: A History of Intelligence and Espionage is an excellent read. It is an examination of the practical aspects of intelligence and spying in history and world affairs. Hughes-Wilson is an effective writer; however, he is also verbally merciless. He has no politically correct sensibilities, and his penchant is to spare no one. The result is a strong treatment of the nature of intelligence and espionage, the second oldest profession as currently practiced, world-wide, by approximately 100 intelligence agencies (Pun, 2017). In the 19th century, the spy's profession was popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim, through the use of a term that has proven durable, historically: The Great Game (Campbell, 2014; Christensen, 2012). The game was a reference to the secret war waged between England and Russia, over land in Central Asia (e.g., Afghanistan) and, potentially, India, a conflict that adumbrated the Cold War of the 20th century (Share, 2015).

However, the principal combatants in this “war” were not soldiers; rather, they were covert operatives, diplomats, and scientists (e.g., geographers), all of whom were engaged, in the words of Count Karl Nesselrode, the Russian Foreign Minister in 1837, a veritable “'tournament of shadows'” (Share, 2015, p. 1106). However, the shadowy goings-on within the field of international jousting is an inevitable consequence of polity leaders' attempt to navigate the ship-of-state within the turbulent waters of the International System. Thus, a critical function of intelligence is to help guide the movement of government and shape its policies and official actions (Herman, 2008). The present work is of real value, particularly for students, in coming to an insight as to how the practical business of intelligence is carried out. The purpose of this review-essay, therefore, is to examine matters relating to espionage, spying, military affairs and grand strategic considerations, as they appear in Colonel John Hughes-Wilson's work, The Secret State: A History of Intelligence and Espionage, amplified by additional material from the academic literature.

The Author's Professional Background

John Hughes-Wilson, currently based in Cyprus, is a professional warfighter who retired in 1994 after 25 years of honorable service from the British Army with the rank of Colonel. His professional duties include tours of duty as a Special Forces operative, as well as service as a Senior British Intelligence Officer. In addition to these duties, Colonel Hughes-Wilson has served with NATO on the International Political Staff in Brussels, Belgium, and postings as Head of Policy, and service. In addition to his skill within the modern battlespace, Hughes-Wilson is a man-of-letters, a military historian (and novelist). In this capacity, he has been an Associate Fellow of RUSI, including service on RUSI Journal's Advisory Board, and is an Archives Bi-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. Some of his prior works include: Puppet Masters: The Secret History of Intelligence (2004); Military Intelligence Blunders (1999); and Blindfold and Alone (2001), co-written with Cathryn Corns.

Thesis and Purpose

In the Secret State, Colonel Hughes-Wilson's thesis is rather straightforward: “From the dawn of time, intelligence has mattered” (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 4). Paradigmatic aspects of strategic-security may undergo alteration, as, indeed, they have, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but for the author, yesterday's challenges will be the same tomorrow, as they are today; the exigencies of a highly complex, non-linear system, where strategic surprise is always a potentiality, the intelligence professional must be able “to collect, collate, interpret and disseminate timely, accurate intelligence…in a dangerous, fast-changing world” (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 474).

By way of purpose, Colonel Hughes-Wilson's has attempted to re-examine the nature of intelligence as an ontological reality. Thus, for intelligence professionals it is necessary to examine “the actual mechanisms of intelligence itself, long regarded as a black and mysterious art practiced by anonymous men and women, far from the limelight” (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 50). In reviewing The Secret State, it has seemed to the present reviewer that, sub-textually, this work is an examination of the post-Cold War security environment, where strategy, policy-making, and intelligence gathering can no longer strictly construed in traditional nation-state, grand strategic terms. Indeed, if, as Pashakhanlou (2014) has argued, the transformation of the World Order has resulted in significant alterations within the World Order, intelligence professionals must now address non-traditional issues, from the standpoint of intelligence, to wit: “WMD proliferation, terrorism, rogue states, criminal arms trafficking and drug dealing, as well as new threats like cyber war and the seemingly endless threat of Islamic jihad” (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 471).

Moreover, Hughes-Wilson, in the present study, has established implicit linkages between the theoretical foundations of International Relations' (IR) theories and interpretations of the political dynamics of the post-Cold War era. For strategic-security theorists and policy-makers, such linkages cannot fail to have an impact on the tactical and operational aspects of specific intelligence operations, realities that are important to the ultimate formulation of Grand Strategy. For weal or woe, therefore, "intelligence will remain at the heart of the world's affairs" (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 474).

By focusing on the relationship between intelligence operations and Grand Strategic, as well as military issues, Hughes-Wilson has provided much valuable information for the reader.For example, Chapter One, "A Little History," (pp. 3-51; hardcover version) is a tour de force of the history of intelligence that includes the strategic-political-intelligence operations of Moses and Joshua, who after the Israelites' departure from Egypt, dispatched two spies to collect intelligence in the city of Jericho, prior to the Israeli invasion. The chapter then proceeds, chronologically, to the present digital age, examining virtually every important aspect of intelligence operations, in many countries, and in any number of operational undertakings. Colonel Hughes-Wilson has argued, cogently, that in every period of history, the needs of nations, military institutions, and policy makers necessitate the presence of "an old-fashioned spy on the ground. Some things in intelligence work [apparently] never change" (p. 42). This includes events in the early days of the American Founding.

George Washington: Spymaster

Caveat lector! Hughes-Wilson makes some disturbing claims, designed to raise the hackles of patriotic Yankee Doodle dandies. For example, in discussing George Washington, in Chapter One, the author pointed out that the first President, in his tenure as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, “always relied on good intelligence and ran chains of stay-behind agents deep behind British lines” (p. 23). Hughes-Wilson complimented Washington as the leader of a “highly-sophisticated intelligence service” (p. 22). In the same breath, however, he defined Washington as highly-effective “master of disinformation” (p. 23). However, he is less complimentary to the first President when he described him as “a cunning and unscrupulous intelligence officer and a spymaster of the first rank…capable of any immoral trickery in pursuit of his aims” (p. 23). Hughes-Wilson is equally hard on the reputation of another American original – Benjamin Franklin. The Colonel has hypothesized – something the present reviewer has never before heard or read – that Franklin was a double agent – essentially a traitor!

Benjamin Franklin…was in fat a British agent and spy throughout. The evidence is compelling. While American envoy to Paris he turns out to have had a code number, ‘No. 72', as a paid-up agent of William Eden, the head of the British secret service in London. Franklin dealt openly with the British secret service's head of station in Paris and allowed suspected spies to read his secret correspondence. The truth is, that the cunning old man was playing both ends all along to make sure he was going to be on the winning side – whoever won (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 24).

This is a new allegation; and one that is controversial, to say the least. The evidence for this is not known, at this time, to the present reviewer, but it compels further study. The possibility exists, too, that the experience of Yorktown and the independence of America continues to be a tough nut to swallow, even today, for certain patriotic Englishmen. For the moment, the matter must remain there.

The Mechanics of the Great Game

Chapter Three, (pp. 56-57; hardcover) is an introduction to the mechanics of the Intelligence Cycle. This is a rigorous process that consists of five component parts: 1) Direction; 2) Collection; 3) Collation; 4) Interpretation; 5) Dissemination. The business of intelligence does not occur haphazardly. Modern intelligence agencies act in accordance with the needs of the civilian leadership; however, in the case of military institutions or commanders-in-the-field, the decision to gather information that is later processed into a finished product: intelligence, begins with the military commanders or national leaders who need certain information; in either case, the decision maker (e.g., president, Prime Minister, commanding general) begins the process based upon need; it is he or she who must articulate specific Essential Elements of Information (EEI).

This gives rise to specific directions, usually in the form of a question: “Does nation X have weapons of mass destruction? This mobilizes agencies or military units to go forth and attempt to collect that information by means of a plan, the EEI, spelled out above. Various methodologies are then activated to collect the information (technological means; human spies, and the like); the gathered-up information (it is not yet intelligence, in the formal sense) is then collated into a ready accessible database. Thereafter, the collated information must undergo analysis for means of interpretation. Analysts and policy makers ask the meaning of the information. At the end of the cycle, the information, now processed into finished intelligence is disseminated to policy makers and national leaders for subsequent executive action.

In order to complete this cycle, that is, to bring the collection plan to fulfillment, different methodologies are employed. These have traditional names, depending on the means by which the information has been gathered in raw form, prior to analysis and interpretation. Almost all terminate in a common suffix: INT, an abbreviation for “intelligence.” They include: HUMINT (human intelligence), information gathered by spies, by theft, guile, purchase, and the like. SIGINT is signals intelligence; it is information gathered by technology. Imagery Analysis or IMINT is another technological way of collecting information, for example, satellites; drones, and the like. A related methodology is TECHINT, technical intelligence is gathered by radar and sonar, frequently deployed by naval vessels. Nowadays, thanks to the digital revolution, there is an abundance of information available in open source methodologies, called OSINT. Today, newspapers, the 24-hour news cycle, and a variety of other methods, allows information to become intelligence, in the service of nation-states and policy makers. Another source of information that can become intelligence is through diplomatic and government sources, deployed to foreign countries.

An important aspect of the intelligence process is “a device called the ‘indicators and warning display'” (p. 65). This is a document in chart form that provides indications of what other countries are doing, at any given moment. This can include such information as the location of troops, the location of ships or fleets, whether or not reservists are being mobilized, unusual frequency of radio transmissions or communications, and the like. In the present work, Colonel Hughes-Wilson devotes chapters to the various individual modes of gaining information. These methodologies, from HUMINT to OSINT can involve devious, and even criminal activity. It is here, for example, that intelligence enters, paradoxically, into an authentic tournament of shadows, a realm of potential moral conundrum, and a conjunction of intelligence and overt criminality come together, a situation that is likely unavoidable.

It is here that intelligence can become skewed into covert action. This term, covert action or covert operations, are political action operations whose goal is to arrange events and outcomes in foreign counties, outside the legal mechanisms of those countries' governmental and legal systems, and, in all likelihood, outside the political will of that country (Barry, 2008; Church, 2008).

The Paradox of Intelligence and Criminality

The present work relates a number of such instances whereby the paradox of intelligence and criminality enter into a rather striking conjunction. This is especially evident in cases involving treason and the actions of traitors, including such notables as Benedict Arnold, in the Revolutionary War (Kilmeade, 2013). In Chapter Six (pp. 75-80; hardcover), the author describes the case of John A. Walker, a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Navy, and a traitor to the United States, whose motivation was purely mercenary. According to Hughes-Wilson (2017), Walker, whose naval career began in 1955, as an attempt to avoid criminal conviction and incarceration. Facing the prospect of jail time, Walker was given the opportunity to avoid the stigma of being labeled a criminal by entering into military service. From this point, the stage was set for a worse criminal career. Some years, later, as a sailor who was deeply in debt, Walker decided to solve his problems by walking into the Soviet Embassy and selling “the code settings for the US Navy's top-secret encryption device, the KW-7” (p. 75). With the aid of North Korean naval assets, the Soviets then arranged for the capture of a U.S. spy ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo on 23 January 1968. The Pueblo's SIGNINT material was then dispatched to the U.S.S.R., along with cipher machines. The treachery of Walker continued till 1976; he even compounded his crimes by enlisting the aid of his wife, Barbara, and recruited another serviceman, Senior Chief Petty Officer Jerry Whitworth as part of the conspiracy. As his retirement from the Navy approached, Walker also enlisted the aid of his son, Michael, also a sailor and also an older brother, Arthur, who had also been an officer in the U.S. Navy. The case came to light in 1984 with an investigation by the Naval Investigation Service (NIS) now called NCIS, and, finally, in 1985, the FBI arrested the conspirators. Historically, the Walker Ring represents a very dangerous example of traitorous treachery, one in which Boris Solomatin, Walker's handler later called “'the most important spy ever recruited by Russia''” (p. 80).

Traitors and Treachery

On the other side of the Atlantic, Hughes-Wilson has described other traitorous examples. These include the so-called Cambridge Five in England, an ideologically-aligned group of traitors that included the well-known names of Burgess, MacLean, Philby, Blunt, and Cairncross. All were Cambridge University classmates, as well as members of a secret college society, The Apostles. Their recruitment by agents of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, while all were students in the early 1930s, was, primarily, for ideological reasons. Moreover, as spies go, the Cambridge Five were highly-effective as espionage practitioners. Indeed, it would be another two decades, in the 1950s, when the treachery of Burgess et al. -- including the damage the caused to the West and the cause of freedom -- would finally come to light.

In the United States, Ana Belen Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, betrayed her country for Cuba from 1985 till 2001. Her, motive, too, was love of Cuba and communism, and hatred for America. Ironically, Montes' anti-American, anti-Reagan views were well known at the time she was hired for government service. After her treachery was discovered, the full depth of the damage Montes did to America was revealed to America and the Congress learned what she had perpetrated. Her response was rather chilling in its ideological implications. Writing to a nephew later, she set forth: “'I don't owe allegiance to the US or to Cuba or to Obama or the Castro brothers or even to Cuba'” (p. 87). Little wonder that her colleagues often called her the Queen of Cuba.

Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent, who betrayed America to the Soviet Union, is another case described in The Secret State. This is a difficult case to analyze, in that investigators and historians are torn between understanding Hanssen's motives as emanating from egoistic motives or mercenary greed. Rather successful in his traitorous behavior, Hanssen betrayed America for 22 years; he even managed to conceal his identity from his Russian clients for more than two decades. Hanssen's treachery can be measured in blood; he betrayed a number of Russians who were agents for America to Russian security forces. One of these double agents was code-named Tophat, General Dmitry Polyakov, of the GRU, who was a major source of information from Russia to America. Hanssen's betrayal of Tophat resulted in his arrest and execution. The Age of Hanssen came to end, abruptly, on 18 February 2001, when Hanssen, who had been identified by now, was arrested by the FBI; he is now serving a life sentence in solitary confinement, as of this writing, in Supermax, Florence, Colorado.


In examining some of the traitorous instances described above, it was Loch and Wirtz (2008) who once described some of those in the ranks of intelligence operatives “as the most venal of individuals in a society” (p. 54). They then compounded this ostensibly slanderous description by defining intelligence assets as individuals with a history of criminality. Indeed, the paradox of intelligence is that a nation's security may depend upon an “alliance with drug dealers, liars, thieves, and assassins” (Loch & Wirtz, 2008, p. 54). If so, it comes as no surprise that an indistinct, mercurial quality clings to the profession of spy, a quality equally applicable to the covert operative, engaged in paramilitary operations (Share, 2015).

This, perhaps, is the genesis of the Fleminesque, James Bond aura, the popular – though inaccurate -- understanding of the spy as a morally unrestrained, sensually-oriented, psychopathic personality, engaged in all manner of international crime, for God, Country, and the security of the world (Burnett, 2014; Moran, 2013). If the James Bond image is inaccurate, rightly or wrongly, the conjunction of intelligence, espionage, and law-breaking is not. Still, the question of whether one approves, or not, of one man stealing the national secrets of another country (e.g., covert action) (Cormac, 2017; Wall, 2011) can be answered by determining who is doing the stealing vis-à-vis the victims of such theft. The answer to that question will determine whether one lauds intelligence operation as necessary and heroic patriotism, or deride and condemn them as illegal, or even acts of war (Pun, 2017).

Moral, strategic, and legal judgments, notwithstanding, intelligence gathering is a critical component of military operations, and the unfolding of a nation's Grand Strategy and policy making (Miller, 2016). In examining this issue more than a decade after the end of the Cold War, Feder (2002) hypothesized that it is necessary for policy makers grasp the movements of global relationships and the manner in which they are likely to evolve (p. 112). This requires what Feder (2002) referred to as political science forecasting, a view that was honed by his work for about 17 years as a researcher and political scientist-analyst in the Directorate of Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Research and Development. For Feder (2002), the critical question was not what would happen in a predictive sense, but, rather, how can the analyst and policy maker not suffer the trauma of strategic surprise, an unfortunate reality of the 11 September 2001 experience (Scott & Jackson, 2008).

In his powerful and magisterial treatment of strategy, overall, Freedman (2013) has pointed out that despite Clausewitz's dismissal of the importance of intelligence operations, the profession of espionage would be recognized by warfighters and national leaders as one of real importance, to wit: signals intelligence (breaking the enemy's secret codes), or the capacity of air assets to photograph the enemy's military installations and troop movements, and, more recently, the ability to conduct cyber-operations. Amongst the matters described in Secret State is the case of Edward Snowden, an Army veteran who in 2005 became employed at the National Security Agency, Hughes-Wilson (2017) has described him as possessed of an I.Q. of 145.

Snowden would later become employed as an information technology specialist with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was considered to be one of the more important “technical and cybersecurity expert[s] in the country” (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 305). After the NSA., Snowden worked for Dell computers; yet, later, he returned to the NSA as a civilian contractor. It was here that Snowden, according to Hughes-Wilson (2017), discovered that the NSA was spying on ordinary American citizens' phone calls and Internet usage. Alarmed at this seemingly illegal development, Snowden allegedly copied the NSA documents that proved this illegal surveillance was taking place; thereafter, he left his employment on a pretense that he needed medical treatment. Then:

On 15 March 2013, just three days after what he later called his ‘breaking point' of seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress', Snowden quit his job at Dell. Clapper had told the Senate Committee that the US government does ‘not wittingly' collect data on millions of Americans …. That answer was shown to have been a downright lie … Clapper was forced to apologize to the Senate intelligence committee, explaining that he gave the ‘least untruthful' answer he could in an unclassified setting (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, pp. 306-307) (emphasis added).

Another matter described by Hughes-Wilson (2017) is that of the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee's databases. A number of legal scholars, including President Obama asserted rather forthrightly that this action was both a violation of international norms, as well as a violation of international legal statutes (Ohlin, 2017). By contrast, however, the United States, has said virtually nothing about the matter of the so-called Stuxnet Affair, in which a computer virus (e.g., worm) was inserted, surreptitiously, inside Iran's nuclear centrifuges, at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility. This was clearly an act of illegal cyber-sabotage, and its perpetration has raised questions regarding the deployment of cyber assets as a form of warfighting, in terms of international law (Edinger, 2014; Singer, 2015).

Colonel Hughes-Wilson (2017) discussed the Stuxnet attack, referring to it as “a serious and disturbing development on least three levels” (p. 435). These included the fact that the originating point of the worm has never been officially identified, though most assume it was either Israel or the United States; secondly, the specific worm used in the attack was highly sophisticated, and not likely the product of a non-state actor with limited resources; lastly, there were more victims than simply the Iranians who were the obvious targets. Perhaps more disturbing, as an example of covert operations, were the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists who were working at facilities like Natanz in November 2010 (Hecker & Milani, 2015). Since 2007, five nuclear scientists in Iran have been assassinated.

These murders raise certain “issues of principle” (Meisels, 2014, p. 207), or in philosophical terms, jus ad bellum (just war) issues. In this case, the targets were civilians, their work for their nation's armaments industry, notwithstanding. Yet, it is an open legal question whether the murder of civilians in this case is, strictly speaking, terrorism, or even illegal, in all circumstances (Meisels, 2014). In the case of civilians assisting suspect regimes in the production of weapons of mass destruction, is thought to be one way of removing the legal constraints of such actions. Theoretically, the murder of a nuclear scientist represents a lesser manifestation of the criminal act or the so-called actus reus (Bejetsky, 2015). Another way of examining this issue's morality, or lack of it, is to inquire if and “when a few acts of killing can substitute for large scale war” (p. 232). Hence, rationalizations of this kind are not completely unknown. In World War II, for example, the United States considered an assassination attempt against the physicist, Werner Heisenberg, who was thought to be helping the Third Reich develop an atom bomb; later, in the 1950s, agents of the Israeli Mossad assassinated a number of Arab scientists, including, it is believed, Dr. Ali Mustafa Mosharafa, an Egyptian theoretical physicist (Meisels, 2014).

Scott and Jackson (2008) have hypothesized that there is a need to ground any discussion of intelligence in the wider discussion of “the history and theory of international theories” (p. 25). Their view is that the significance of intelligence work is virtually absent in the theorizing of International Relations' theorists, whether these are post-modernist views, or those related to realism, liberal institutionalist, and constructivism. However, if IR theorists have not chosen to engage, historically, with intelligence matters, it has also been the case that intelligence professionals have not necessarily sought out the leading theorists of IR relations (Scott & Jackson, 2008). This lack of engagement, therefore, if it is to be corrected, and give rise to a greater degree of strategic-security for private citizens, requires a multi-disciplinary approach.

Intelligence and Military Affairs

In The Secret State, the author has defined the role of intelligence, as it directly relates to military affairs. In Chapter Eleven (pp. 116-134; hardcover), Hughes-Wilson described the role of intelligence at the Battle of Kursk, as part of Operation Citadel, begun in April 1943, after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. According to the author, a rather senior intelligence operative had been insinuated into the higher echelons of the German Wehrmacht. Codenamed, Werther,” this operative was able to betray virtually all Nazi military intelligence that came into his possession. Werther communicated via an intelligence network in Switzerland, known as the “Lucy Ring.” Between 1941 and 1945, nearly 2500 communications were sent to Russia, usually directly to Joseph Stalin, himself.

Interestingly, Werther's identity has never been definitely revealed, though there are a number of researchers who have concluded that Werther was likely Martin Bormann, who seems to be the best candidate, in that he was the “one man…who had the opportunity to access all the intelligence reported to Stalin” (p. 119). According to Hughes-Wilson, Bormann was last seen on 1 May 1945, as the last Nazi bunker erupted into flames; he was never seen again; and his body was never found. What is known is that Werther, whoever he was, communicated virtually every move the Nazi's were to make Russia to the Soviets. Even the imminent invasion of Russia by Hitler in Operation Barbarossa was communicated in advance, though Stalin chose to ignore it, to his detriment. According to Hughes-Wilson, Stalin would not commit the same error twice. This served the Communist dictator well; at the Battle of Kursk, a rather spectacular tank battle that the Nazi's had expected would be a great victory. With the foreknowledge of the German war plans, the Communists prepared by planting 400,000 mines. Nearly 40 percent of Russian land forces had been moved into place, with the knowledge of the coming German movements; anti-tank weapons were in place, and the results, thanks to Werther, was that the Battle of Kursk virtually destroyed the Wehrmacht in East, and hastened the end of the war.

Bradley Manning and Julian Assange

To conclude this review essay, the recent case of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and a military man, Bradley Manning, who helped perpetrate one of the worst security breaches in 2013, shall be considered. The author, Hughes-Wilson has described these matters in Chapters 27 and 28. Manning, a soldier in the U.S. Army, eventually released “the largest set of classified documents ever leaked to the public” (p. 294). These documents included approximately 250,000 diplomatic cables, and approximately 500,000 official Army reports. There was also a Cablegate loss of 251,287 documents from the State Department. Most of these cast the United States in a bad light, and provoked some problems with America's allies.

Bradley Manning was an intelligence analyst with access to virtually everything available. Downloading much of the information on CD-RWs (music disks), he gave these to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, who made all the information available to the public. Manning was identified as the leak and he was charged, legally, June 2010. At his court-martial, the evidence was fairly overwhelming; the prosecution evidence included 300,000 pages of documents and other classified material. The case ended with Manning's guilty plea. He rationalized his actions saying that they were “intended to encourage debate, not to harm the United States” (p. 297). The court, however, was unmoved; fortunately, despite having been found guilty of twenty counts, the judge did not find him guilty of the charge of aiding the enemy, and, in for this reason, he evaded capital punishment. The sentence was 35 years, a reduction in rank, a forfeiture of all pay and salary, and, a dishonorable discharge.

After leaving the Army, with a diagnosis of gender identity disorder, Manning elected to undergo a sex change to become a woman. He is now self-identifying as a “she,” named Chelsea. Manning's case is an example of excess access to sensitive information, with little supervision, what the author referred to as “a perfect security storm” (Hughes-Wilson, 2017, p. 298).

The second piece of this security storm was an Australian citizen, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. A skilled hacker, Assange, as a very young man, in 1987, had hacked the Pentagon and various military institutions. He was eventually charged, and ordered to pay reparations. In 2006, WikiLeaks came into being. However, in intelligence terms, it is difficult to define Assange, according to Hughes-Wilson. He is not, technically, a spy, since he was never involved in espionage. The author defined him as a “fence,” something more in the nature of an organized criminal, “a receiver of stolen goods” (p. 300). His experience and activities reflect Hughes-Wilson's view: in security, the attention tends to fall on the individual, the spy, the leaker, as an instance of “micro-security,” as opposed to “macro-security,” where a failure to reckon with the enemy's strength is at issue.

In the case of some of the individuals noted earlier, the focus is on micro-security; however, Hughes-Wilson contrasts this view with a parallel concept: strategic security, “related to wider national issues” (p. 314). The fall of Malaya and Singapore, for the British in 1941-1942, is an example of a breakdown in strategic-security. It was a humiliating defeat for the British and Winston Churchill: 130,000 British troops and their allies surrendered to 35,000 Japanese troops, nearly exhausted and out of ammunition. It was an astonishing defeat, a violation, not of micro-security principles, but strategic-security concepts. For the intelligence professional of the future, responding to both of these issues, at the same time, will likely become the rule. To help reinforce this rule, Colonel Hughes-Wilson's The Secret State is an excellent source of information.


The Secret State is an excellent treatment of a complex topic. Espionage and intelligence work is rightfully called The Great Game. This term originated in the 19th century, a term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim. The game, a reference to the secret war between England and Russia, over territorial domination in Central Asia (e.g., Afghanistan) and, potentially, India, a conflict that adumbrated the Cold War of the 20th century. The purpose of this review-essay was to examine matters relating to espionage, spying, military affairs and grand strategic considerations, as they appear in Colonel John Hughes-Wilson's work, The Secret State: A History of Intelligence and Espionage, amplified by additional material from the academic literature.

In terms of the Colonel Hughes-Wilson's thesis, is, essentially, that throughout history, intelligence has been, and is, a matter of considerable significance. The purpose of this work to re-examine the nature of intelligence as an ontological reality. In order to do so, Hughes-Wilson has provided a rather clear exposition of the mechanisms of intelligence, as it practiced by real men and women, outside of Hollywood imaginings, or popular misconceptions. The result is an effective articulation of not simply the praxis of espionage, but also its theoria. For Hughes-Wilson, intelligence as a unique discipline, is the heart of world affairs. Thus, the present work is a very good primer of intelligence work for lay readers unfamiliar with the field. In the process, Hughes-Wilson has not only addressed the fundamentals of intelligence, he has focused on those activities known as covert operations, the quasi-military activities of intelligence professionals.

Additionally, the author has discussed the paradoxical conundrum of the intelligence relationship with overt criminality. There are aspects of intelligence that require the violation of an enemy nation's laws and intellectual property. In this connection, there are excellent chapters on some infamous cases in intelligence history: The Walker Family naval treachery, the so-called Cambridge Five, communist sleeper agents who were recruited from the heart of England's academic establishment as young students; these men, ideologically loyal to Marxist-Leninist theory and the U.S.S.R., operated successfully for decades, betraying not simply their British homeland, but the West, as well. In the United States, Hughes-Wilson discusses the Queen of Cuba, Ana Belen Montes, a DIA analyst who was responsible for untold damage to American intelligence on behalf of Cuban intelligence and the communists. Hughes-Wilson has also related the story of the traitorous FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Soviet Union, until he, himself, was betrayed by Russian operatives. In The Secret State, Colonel Hughes-Wilson has also treated such cases as the work of Edward Snowden, and the still curious affair known as Stuxnet, the attempt to sabotage Iran's nuclear centrifuges and its overall nuclear program, by means of a computer worm, that is, malware. The operations against Iran and the Muslim world also included the murders of a number of Iranian and Egyptian nuclear scientists working at such facilities as Natanz, operations carried out by persons unknown, as of this writing. Hughes-Wilson has also provided very interesting information on the work of the traitorous American soldier, Bradley Manning, now the transsexual Chelsea Manning, a person, Hughes-Wilson has referred to, in his characteristically politically incorrect dialect, as a delicate flower involved in the WikiLeaks Affair with master computer hacker, Julian Assange.

In terms of military intelligence, Hughes-Wilson has also described the operations that were critical in the clash between the Wehrmacht and the Soviets at the significant tank battle, the Battle of Kursk, in Operation Citadel in April 1943. He has speculated, with good reason, that the German agent who aided the Soviets in Operation Citadel was none other than Martin Bormann, whose body was never found when the Soviets closed in on Hitler's bunker in the last desperate days of the war in Germany. Thus, The Secret State is a fine read for average men and women, interested in espionage and the Great Game of spying.


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© 2023 Steven Ippolito Written by Steven Christopher Ippolito, Ph.D. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Steven Ippolito at:

About the author:
Dr. Steven Christopher Ippolito, Ph.D., who spent most of his life in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York (Go Yankees!) is a retired law enforcement officer for the State of New York with nearly twenty years experience. A full-time professor of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at Monroe College, New York City, Steve has two Masters Degrees, one from New York University; the other, from Norwich University, VT., in the very first Military History class of 2007. In August 2017, he earned his Ph.D. from Northcentral University, from the School of Business Administration and Technology, with a specialization in Homeland Security, under Committee Chair, Kimberly Anthony, Ph.D, and Committee member, Meena Clowes, Ph.D. His dissertation was based on mixed-methodological research into the phenomenon of convergence, the intersection of crime, terrorism, war, and other forms of conflict (the crime-terror nexus; crime-terror pipeline), as both a homeland security and educational problem. All his professional research is dedicated to God, Country, and Family, including the wider family of students and academic colleagues. To all of these, and to all first responders, police, fire-fighters, military personnel, emergency medical personnel, homeland security and emergency management operatives, Steve sends best wishes. May God bless America, now and forever!

Published online: 12/30/2017.
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