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George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution.

George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution

by Brian Killmead and Don Yaeger

Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2013, 226 pages

ISBN-13: 9780698137653

"If the Americans wanted to emerge from this conflict, they would not try to overpower their enemy; they would simply refuse to back down or go away. They didn't need to be conquering heroes-they just needed to survive."

The above quote truly sets the stage of the dire situation that General Washington faced in the fall of 1776. Redcoats occupied Manhattan, military success on the battlefield had been elusive, and his first attempt to spy on the British in Manhattan resulted in the capture and execution of his young operative, Nathan Hale. Brian Killmeade and Don Yeager relay a gripping tale based on the exploits of a little known group of intelligence collectors, the Culper Spy Ring.

George Washington realized he desperately needed accurate and timely intelligence but because of the ill-fated Hale spy mission, he knew he needed to proceed with caution. He appointed a young major by the name of Benjamin Tallmadge to head up his intelligence collection operations in Manhattan and gave him latitude to recruit spies and organize them in such a way to reduce the risk of discovery and capture.

Tallmadge instituted a number of initiatives that present day intelligence professionals might recognize. He ensured that all operatives had code names and compartmentalized identities so that no one agent knew the identities of all of the ring's participants. Spies wrote their intelligence reports on common documents such as letters and invoices in invisible ink to avoid detection should British forces detain any operatives. The ring transported intelligence reports using "dead drops" to reduce contact between agents that might raise suspicions. Tallmadge also displayed tactical patience to allow the ring to go dormant during times of high risk of capture, which occurred more than once. .

These innovative techniques provided the foundation of an intelligence collection platform that performed splendidly. The Culper Spy Ring provided timely and accurate intelligence to General Washington during numerous key moments during the American Revolution. When the French entered the war on the side of the Americans, the Culper Ring warned General Washington about a pending British spoiling attack on the newly arrived French forces. General Washington used this information to deceive the British that he intended to attack Manhattan causing the British to cancel the attack.

The Spy Ring discovered a plot by the British to produce counterfeit American currency to create financial turmoil. General Washington passed this intelligence to the Continental Congress which took steps to change the American currency before the British could begin the counterfeit plot. The Culper Spy Ring played a central role in discovering Benedict Arnold's plan to surrender West Point to the British, allowing General Washington to anticipate this betrayal and prevent it.

George Washington's Secret Six is an engaging read that intelligence professionals will find hard to put down. Although a historical novel with some dialog that is fictitious, the authors base the dialog on actual conversations that did occur and contains numerous citations from genuine documents including actual recovered intelligence reports produced by the Ring. Intelligence professionals will recognize several time-honored intelligence collection and analysis concepts that at the time were novelties. Concepts such as operations security, need to know, intelligence preparation of the battlefield, and balancing tactical patience with the need for timely intelligence. George Washington's Secret Six is a great read for anyone interested in an engaging story about true intelligence professionals doing vital work behind the scenes at great personal risk.

Reviewed by Richard A. McConnell, Assistant Professor, DTAC, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
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Author:McConnell, Richard A.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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