Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Landscapes of Signals Intelligence, 1914-18: Lessons Learned, and Not
Abstract: The modern age of intelligence, especially of signals intelligence, began in 1914. Imagery and signals intelligence, joined to the general staff system, telegraph and radio, produced greater means to collect, assess and use intelligence. Armies and navies combined interception and cryptanalysis in unprecedented ways. By 1918, intelligence used every technique deployed between 1939-45?only the details were different. In a war where power was measured in the ability to produce hundreds of thousands of soldiers and millions of tons of steel, sigint mattered, more than in any previous conflict. These experiences presaged the rise of signals intelligence services after 1918, yet as many lessons were not learned, as were learned, after the war. These three papers address different aspects of these phenomena.

John Ferris studies the use of intelligence, and command, control, communications, and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, by one of the leading practitioners of the great war, the Canadian Corps. He demonstrates that its performance was innovative, and by the summer of 1918 strikingly like the systems used by Commonwealth and United States forces during 1943-5. Betsy Rohaly Smoot examines the human factor - the background and skill sets of those employed in radio intelligence by the American Expeditionary Forces - to see if this experience influenced selection of cryptologic personnel in later years. Steven Wagner addresses an important and overlooked aspect of the history of intelligence and diplomacy from 1914?the rise of a discrepancy between the codebreaking power of western states (and, later, Israel) and the disastrously poor cryptography of Arab states and non-state actors, which gave the former major edges against the latter throughout the twentieth century.
Betsy Rohaly Smoot, National Security Agency
Participant's Paper Title: The Right Stuff: The Human Side of Radio Intelligence in the American Expeditionary Forces
Participant's Paper Abstract: The United States lacked a professional corps of cryptologists in the spring of 1917; the Army had just a handful of officers with any experience in making or breaking codes and ciphers or setting up a large and flexible radio intelligence (signals collection) operation. By November 1918 American Expeditionary Forces cryptology had a record of modest, but important success. Much of this was due to the skill of radio intelligence collection and analysis of plaintext communications. After the war, there was little need to collect radio communications. The tools and techniques were not entirely forgotten, but the skill set needed to exploit these communications were largely lost until the mid-1930s.

More than 500 men - most working in engineering or commercial telephone and telegraph industry - were enlisted to develop a cadre of radio intelligence professionals. Many of these men also had language skills; some were born in Germany or were first generation "heritage" speakers of German. A considerable number of these men, despite their education and training, came into the service at a low enlisted rank but were quickly commissioned, creating out of thin air an officer corps for this new type of work. They were quick learners, and innovated and improved on the early intelligence tradecraft of their British and French counterparts. At the end of the war, the majority of these men returned to private life; only a handful would be retained for cryptologic pursuits.

This paper will explore how the selection of personnel contributed to the effectiveness of AEF cryptology, briefly look at some of the heroes of WWI radio intelligence, and examine if any of the lessons learned in establishing the radio intelligence work in France influenced the return to collection of radio communications and establishment of a professional corps of cryptologists two decades later.
John Ferris, The Univeristy of Calgary
Participant's Paper Title: The Canadian Corps and Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance, 1917-18
Participant's Paper Abstract: During 1917-18, the Canadian Corps ranked among the most effective military organisations on earth, especially in command, control, communications, and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (C3ISR). It applied these strengths to a series of different battles during those two years, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele, and Amiens and many others during the One Hundred Days. Its system of operations and CSISR shifted radically during these battles.

Before and during Vimy and Hill 70, the Canadian Corps meticulously collected and assessed all sources of intelligence to enable one sharp strike on a five mile front, two miles deep, enabling cost effective seizure of some of the strongest points on the enemy front. At Passchendaele, intelligence enabled a slow but thorough seizure of the most powerful part of the enemy front, with the aim of minimising Canadian casualties. In these cases, the Canadian Corps used sigint primarily to maintain tactical surprise, to prevent the enemy from learning the precise time and place of Canadian attacks. During the summer of 1918, conversely, the Canadian Corps had developed such strength in wireless that it created a sigint service of its own to intercept plain language German traffic, and also to intercept the traffic of all allied corps on its flanks.

These practices, a generation ahead of any other army, were like those common among Commonwealth and United States forces in 1943-45. They produced situational awareness of an unprecedented nature on the western front. After the war, Canadian practices of 1916-17 continued to mark British and American doctrine for military intelligence. No outsider, however, understood the power of Canadian C3ISR during the Hundred Days, and the Corps itself soon disbanded, leaving no one to remember or learn its most innovative practices.
Steven Wagner, Brunel University London
Participant's Paper Title: Signals Intelligence and Crypto-security in the Arab World, 1908-48
Participant's Paper Abstract: This paper explores the use of cryptography within Arab states and NGOs from the Ottoman coup of 1908 until the Arab-Israeli war 40 years later.

Broadly, Arab secret societies, political movements, and military organizations emphasized keeping secrets rather than breaking those of their opponents. Among other defensive measures, they used a variety of code systems, most of which were easily broken by their opponents. Weak security led to successive military disaster. Throughout the 40 years under examination, these security failings usually were not detected by Arab parties or paramilitaries.

This paper argues that the defensive-security orientation of Arab NGOs inhibited the development of offensive, secret-breaking capabilities, including cryptologic work. Since these parties, militias, and states rarely tried to crack others' codes, they never discovered the weaknesses of their own. Arab states behaved similarly, although the security problem was more complex.

By the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the disparity in sigint between the sides led to important tactical victories for the Israelis, and sobering discovery for the Arab States. This was the first time crypto-security failings were detected in real time. It was too late, and the result was deadly.

This process of discovery was an important ingredient to the development of modern sigint agencies with offensive and defensive capabilities in both Europe and the Arab world. Europe learned from the First World War and created sigint agencies and departments during and afterwards. Arab states and movements were disadvantaged in sigint as a result of colonialism, and the limited skill-base inherited from the Ottoman Empire. Rather than Arab parties, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk enjoyed the inheritance of the Ottoman army and its First World War expertise.
David Silbey, Cornell University
Dennis Showalter, Colorado College

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