Intelligence, in the military sense, is knowledge about actual or potential enemies in peace and war that is possibly of decisive advantage when coherently and imaginatively interpreted and acted upon. Carl von Clausewitz noted that information obtained in war was often contradictory and more often than not mostly false. He added to this that “the timidity of men acts as a multiplier of lies and untruths.” Yet when combined with “firm reliance in self,” he conceded, accurate intelligence could make a critical difference. Horatio Nelson is generally regarded as a firstclass intelligence analyst. His ability to filter through facts in search of probabilities enabled him to calculate in August 1798 that he would find the French fleet in Aboukir Bay at the mouth of the Nile and, with the element of surprise, he was able to destroy it. Based in large part on the experience of British colonial conflicts, C. E. Callwell cited the absence of trustworthy information to be an inherent characteristic of small wars in remote areas.
   Another British hero of the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke of Wellington, was able to overcome this problem during his command of armies in India, 1799–1804, simply by adopting the harkara system invented by the Mughal Empire of writers and runners who carried news reports over long distances and difficult terrain. Kipling’s Kim is a creature of the Great Game, itself in large part an intelligence contest between the British and Russian Empires. The arts of intelligence were romanticized in the Kim tradition by writers such as John Buchan in thrillers such as Greenmantle. The attempt to transform intelligence work into science over the course of the nineteenth century - an era of telegraph and railroad - meant that by far the greatest labors were committed to the gathering of masses of information to improve the quality of intelligence in the service of the calculation behind peacetime diplomacy. Still, conflict stimulated innovation. The United States created a Bureau of Military Information in 1862 during the American Civil War, a conflict in which rail transportation and telegraph brought significant advantage to the Union cause.
   In the final decades of the nineteenth century, cable and wireless communication increased the speed and range in the transmission of information even as global imperial competition and a gathering naval arms race increased the demand for actionable intelligence exponentially. When the British government created the Secret Service Bureau in a joint venture of the Admiralty and the War Office in 1909, it was merely answering a deeply felt need of its national security - a need felt strongest perhaps in the status quo power but nonetheless shared by enemies and allies alike. In 1917, the British effort paid off, when the admiralty intercepted and deciphered German diplomatic efforts to prompt Mexico to attack the United States, an intelligence coup now famous as the Zimmerman Telegram that helped to draft American arms to the Allied cause.
    Bayley, A. Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 . New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996;
    Callwell, C. E. Small Wars, Their Principles and Practice . London: HMSO, 1906;
    Clauswitz, Carl von. On War . Translated by J. J. Graham. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1908;
    Keegan, John. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al Qaeda . Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1903;
    Tuchman, Barbara. The Zimmerman Telegram . New York: Viking, 1958.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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