Saturday, June 28, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Spies, Patriots and Traitors by Kenneth Daigler

Published by Georgetown University Press

To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world... I don't often do book reviews in the Yankee Doodle Spies blog but when I do it's on a great book with importance on the course of the American Revolution from a military intelligence perspective.  This new book made the cut in spades.

Kenneth Daigler spent a career as a CIA officer where he learned the craft of espionage first hand. In his latest book, Spies, Patriots and Traitors, he reveals some of the nation's darkest espionage secrets. But they are secrets that have perplexed historians for over 200 years: Secrets of the American Revolution. There have been a few books on this subject in recent decades but none have the breadth and scope of this one. And none are as well documented and written. Daigler reaches across the panoply of espionage activity and paints the big picture while diving deep in areas that are bound to fascinate the reader. He begins in the beginning - demonstrating that even the political agitation that preceded armed rebellion had an intelligence component to it. In a sense, he paints the picture of a nation born of secrecy and secret activities.

A Case Officer's Perspective on the Two Big Cases

Benedict Arnold
One of the many things that sets this work apart from others like it is the author's personal experience in the trade of espionage. He draws from that to analyze many of the cases and he explains the aspects of espionage that have remained eternal: planning, security and communications. He demonstrates where the lack of these three elements resulted in two failures - one for us and one for the British. Coincidentally, these are the most celebrated espionage cases of the war: Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold. In the case of the former, the entire operational cycle was about as feckless as could be imagined. The author points out that Hale was intrinsically unqualified for the mission, which itself was ill defined. Not surprisingly it failed in all aspects and ended in disaster.  Daigler points out, however, that in Arnold's case, despite some operational shortfalls, it might have succeeded. But Arnold's personal characteristics (ego, greed, arrogance) caused him to pressure his erstwhile handler, the inexperienced Major John Andre into making a series of missteps that ultimately cost the British the operation and Andre his life.

Lesser Known Spies

Benjamin Tallmadge
 Daigler covers lesser known cases with equal fervor: the establishment (or not) of counterintelligence under John Jay; Nathaniel Greene's masterful use of intelligence to win the southern campaign; the "secret war" in Europe; and Washington's efforts to use intelligence, counterintelligence and deception to make a surprise move on Yorktown. The author also discusses the Culper Ring with a perspective lacking in other accounts. And he reminds us the ring was just  one of many used by Washington throughout the war - albeit a vital one. Daigler covers the activities of Benjamin Tallmadge - and not just his Culper Ring but in other roles he played for Washington. The author recounts the exploits of little known John Honeyman who spied on the Hessians during the nation's darkest hours just before the surprise attack on Trenton. Another nugget in the book is his discussion of the plot against Washington and the British plot to destabilize the American economy by counterfeiting Continental dollars.

Other Pluses

James Armistead
The book is full of nice illustrations of many of the well and lesser known persons in the intelligence war. The author has also crafted a  timeline of espionage in the American Revolution and most usefully (for the layman) a Glossary of Tradecraft Terms. He provides a poignant look at the plight of African Americans, many slaves, who were used by both sides. In the end, neither treated them very well for their services although there are some noted exceptions. The role of the African slaves is best illustrated by the case of James Armistead, owned by a Virginia planter, who crossed over to British lines during the Yorktown campaign. His courage and resourcefulness yielded critical intelligence gleaned under the noses of the British. He discusses the role of counterintelligence; the British approach to intelligence and of course the role of George Washington as the Case Officer in Chief (my words).

Did intelligence win the war for American independence?

The author ends with a discussion of that topic. And one must draw the conclusion that intelligence played a highly significant role in America's survival in the early years of the war and its triumph at the end. This is not to say that British intelligence was bad. They had excellent global coverage of American interests and their Loyalist allies provided ready-made pools of agents, some already organized into cells. But their leadership failed to take advantage of the situation. In contrast, George Washington clearly developed, over the course of an eight year long war, the ability to use intelligence and counterintelligence more wisely than the British high command. And that made all the difference.

George Washington the Spymaster

I wish I had  this book when I started writing the Yankee Doodle Spies novels several years back. Now that it is out, it provides an excellent non-fiction companion book for those reading the series. You'll find many of the events and persons through the fictional persons and actions in the Yankee Doodle Spies series, and of course many historic persons and events as well.

I give this very excellent work Four Tri-cornered Hats!

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