Christopher Andrew, former professor of modern and contemporary history at the University of Cambridge, discussed the history of strategic intelligence and the transition of power from Asia to the West with a crowd of 50 in Luce Hall on Monday.
Andrew’s lecture marked the first of a three-part series titled “The Lost History of Global Intelligence — and Why It Matters” — a part of the Henry L. Stimson Lectures on World Affairs at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. Later lectures will cover the history of American-British intelligence relations and Russian intelligence operations.
Andrew began with a description of Henry Stimson, after whom the lecture series is named. According to Andrew, no other major United States policymaker has ever changed his views about intelligence as drastically as Stimson himself. For evidence, Andrew cited Stimson’s radical shift from condemnation to enthusiasm for Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) — the process of gathering intelligence by intercepting signals.
“There is no future for American intelligence unless it learns from the past,” Andrew said.
Due to the popularity of his lecture, shortly after Andrew began, he was interrupted so that the large crowd could be moved from the original classroom into the auditorium of Luce Hall.
The lecture consisted almost entirely of historical examples of strategic intelligence. Andrew emphasized the importance of understanding history, especially in regards to past mistakes. He said there is no profession as naive to its own history as the intelligence community.
As an example, he cited codebreakers — members of the intelligence community who interpret secret messages between countries — who were unaware of the history of their own profession. Each of the three main invasions of Britain was thwarted mostly due to the work of codebreakers, he explained, but those who broke Hitler’s ciphers were not aware of their predecessors’ success in breaking Napoleon’s, and those who broke Napoleon’s were not aware of previous intelligence work against Philip II.
Andrew also discussed Queen Elizabeth’s intelligence chief Sir Francis Walsingham, who, he said, found success through his candid relationship with the queen.
“It’s absolute essential if you’re an intelligent chief that you dare to tell your political superiors what they don’t want to know,” Andrew said. “Ultimately that’s why Putin’s intelligence is a mess. The more autocratic you go in your regime, the more inable it is.”
Andrew also contended that Asia has been influential in the intelligence community. Dating back to the 18th century, Great Britain outsourced intelligence to India. That was where the British learned the importance of intelligence, and many of the best intelligence practitioners made their careers, he argued.
Still, Andrew said the West now maintains the forefront of strategic intelligence. This transition began when the Ottoman Empire refused to establish embassies abroad or use printing presses, which are key tools of Western intelligence, he said. Afterward, according to this theory, the capital of intelligence shifted to Venice, and European intelligence grew even more during the Age of Discovery.
He contended that former strongholds of intelligence, such as China, are falling behind due to their limited access to the internet.
“Those countries who try to limit citizens’ access to the internet are condemning [themselves] to a form of backwardness,” he said.
Andrew also noted how intelligence helped the feminist movement as early as World War I.
Since many men were deployed, the British intelligence organization MI5 approached prominent female colleges to enlist intelligent women as secretaries. At Blenheim Palace — Britain’s main headquarters for its intelligence operations during WWII — the majority of the personnel were female, he added.
“It was the first organization in British history, and I would dare to say American history, in which a high proportion of the women were not only higher educated, but on a higher social scale,” he said.
Andrew ended his lecture with a quote from Sherman Kent, a Yale professor who introduced methods of intelligence analysis during WWII and the Cold War.
“Whatever the complex puzzles we strive to solve, and whatever sophisticated techniques we use … there can never be a time when the thoughtful man can be supplanted as the intelligence device supreme,” Andrew quoted to the crowd.
Although the audience was almost entirely Yale alumni, Henry Ziemer ’21 said he attended the lecture both on behalf of the Yale Review of International Studies and because he is passionate about intelligence work, especially in relation to international politics.
Ziemer said that although the talk “bounced around a lot temporally speaking,” he appreciated Andrew’s “focus on the long run of history.”
Both Eugene Connolly ’53 and Steve Gurney ’55 also attended the lecture because they were interested in strategic intelligence.
“This has just been a wonderful clarification, something I’ve heard a little about ever since I was born in 1931,” Connolly said.
Gurney noted that much of what Andrew said is also crucial for everyday life. Nowadays, the need for proof is especially significant, he added.
The MacMillan Center and the Yale University Press have partnered since 1998 to invite foreign policy experts and acclaimed diplomats to lecture on Yale Press–published books.
Alayna Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org .