Walsingham, Intelligence and Dears…

By Gary Langham / 16 May 2013 / History, Intelligence 101

Earlier this week I quoted Francis Walsingham, who once said:-

“Intelligence is never too dear”

You might at this juncture be asking yourself, who is Francis Walsingham? By way of a short summary: Walsingham was regarded by many as a politician, statesman and academic, but primarily as Secretary of State and ‘Spymaster’ for Elizabeth I. During the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign he and a chap called Lord William Cecil Burghley (Burleigh) created an intricate network of spies which utilised all sorts of intelligence methodologies we see today including HUMINT, SIGINT and arguably OSINT. Walsingham and Burghley were instrumental in successfully prosecuting a number of ‘intelligence-led’ operations, including the uncovering the Babington Plot of 1586 and the events which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. For those movie buffs amongst you, Geoffrey Rush even played Walsingham (although arguably inaccurately) in the 1998 critically acclaimed blockbuster, Elizabeth.

Francis Walsingham - The Spymaster

Francis Walsingham – The Spymaster

Walsingham was fully aware of the utility of intelligence and understood the value of any intelligence which led to positive outcomes for Queen and Country. Back in the 1500’s I believe that the so called ‘golden nuggets’ of intelligence really could not have cost too much…or been “too dear”, hence Walsingham’s famous words. However, today’s intelligence landscape is a far cry from the days of Walsingham, Burghley and their international network of spies.

Those in the UK who are involved in intelligence collection activities, either openly or through clandestine means, whether small private enterprises or national intelligence agencies are now required, often by legislation, to be more accountable for their actions than ever before. Anyone who operates in the intelligence world knows full-well that intelligence successes are rarely reported…if we get it right no-one usually makes a fuss. However, intelligence failures or questionable intelligence collection techniques or methodologies often make it into the forefront of the public domain, whether via an elaborate BBC News headline or a lone Tweet.

Intelligence can indeed be too dear. In fact it has proved so for a number of organisations who have been scrutinised, either through allegations made against them, such as the British Security Services, or private investigation firms that have been (reportedly) indulging in collection activities which contravene the Data Protection Act.

Even if allegations made are untrue, the cost is dear. Damage to reputation and credibility often outweighs any adverse economic or financial impact, and can endure for a disproportionate amount of time.

Intelligence activities today must be: legal, moral and justifiable, and with great analysts, utilising great collection and analysis tools there is absolutely no reason for them not to be…as I’m sure Walsingham would (have) agree(d).

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