Thirteen Rules of Intelligence

By Panjandrum / 26 November 2013 / Other

Admiral John Henry Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence from 1933 to 1935, was instrumental in the development of the OSS, a predecessor to the CIA, and he is alleged to be the inspiration for the character ‘M’ in the James Bond books – Ian Fleming was his 2ic.

Admiral John Henry Godrey

Admiral John Henry Godrey

He appears to have been a fairly outspoken sort of a chap – “his insistence on the independence and integrity of Intelligence and his dislike of Wishful Thinking and Very Senior Officer Veneration incurred the displeasure of Churchill” – which may explain why he was relieved of his duties as DNI in 1942 and sent out to command the Royal Indian Navy instead.

He is the author of the following Thirteen Rules of Intelligence, which I believe are as true today as they were in World War Two:

Thirteen Rules of Intelligence

  1. Fighting commanders, technical experts and political leaders are liable to ignore, under-rate or even despise intelligence.  Obsession and bias often begin at the top.
  2. Intelligence for the fighting services should be directed as far as possible by civilians.
  3. Intelligence is the voice of conscience to a staff.  Wishful thinking is the original sin of men of power.
  4. Intelligence judgments must be kept constantly under review and revision.  Nothing must be taken for granted either in premises or deduction.
  5. Intelligence departments must be fully informed about operations and plans, but operations and plans must not be dominated by the facts and views of intelligence.  Intelligence is the servant and not the master.
  6. Reliance on one source is dangerous; the more reliable and comprehensive the source the greater the dangers.
  7. One’s communications are always in danger; the enemy is always listening in, even if he cannot understand.  Intelligence has a high responsibility for security.
  8. The intelligence worker must be prepared for villainy; integrity in handling of facts has to be reconciled with the unethical way they have been collected.
  9. Intelligence is ineffective without showmanship in presentation and argument.
  10. The boss, whoever he is, cannot know best and should not claim that he does.
  11. Intelligence is indivisible.  In its wartime practice the divisions imposed by separate services and departments broke down.
  12. Excessive secrecy can make intelligence ineffective.
  13. Intelligence is produced from files, but by people. They require recognition, continuity, and tradition, like a ship or a regiment.

5 comments on “Thirteen Rules of Intelligence

  1. Dr J.

    Godfrey was certainly ahead of his time, coming up with a list of rules decades before it came into fashion (see if you’re in any doubt that it is in fashion).

    But really: The 13 Rules of Intelligence? After all this time, it turns out there are only thirteen things that I need to take into consideration when working in intelligence, and these are them? Wow! This business is so much simpler than I thought it was!

    The business of intelligence collection and analysis is complex. We all try and fight that complexity, but condensing the process down into 13 Rules is so trite and uninformative as to be laughable.

    And why should “intelligence for the fighting services be directed as far as possible by civilians”?

    Logic tells me that it should be directed by experts in the field – ie, the military.

    Surely a good rule of intelligence in this regard would be “If you’re going to make bold statements, justify them”.


  2. Roger Davies

    Dr J. I think you are wrongly assuming that the post was some sort of didactic contribution about how you should personally conduct intelligence, lock, stock and barrel. It’s an interesting reference to historical aspects of the development of intelligence, and people involved in such things as frequently appears here. No more. “But really” – surely you don’t think anyone is suggesting that Godfrey’s somewhat tongue in cheek list are either Godfrey’s or IMSLs “be all and end all” of intelligence. Godfrey clearly had a sense of humour, as his dislike of the “senior officer veneration mentioned suggests. I would posit that Godfrey himself would agree that condensing the complex business of intelligence into “13 rules” is indeed laughable, as you suggest. But I would also dare say that you are exaggerating the issue by suggesting that he was being trite and uninformative. Personally i think there are some thought provoking nuggets in there. It’s a blog post, not a manual of intelligence. There’s a post a bit earlier on about Bacon’s cipher – no-one is suggesting that’s the secure comms mechanism for the intelligence professional in 2013. Same applies here. And after all, God himself only gave us ten rules.

    There is a mildly interesting point you make about lists and rules in the modern world, and a rather more important one about military leading military intelligence issues. That’s worthy of more exploration I grant you. Fill your boots. But I suspect most people reading the short blog post will find Godfrey’s 13 Rules “quite interesting” actually. Sorry it doesn’t float your boat.


  3. Dr J.

    #13: Rubbish bins are emptied into trucks, but by people. They require recognition, continuity, and tradition, like a ship or a regiment.

    #13: Accounts are audited using computers, but by people. They require recognition, continuity, and tradition, like a company or a charity.

    #13: Cheese is made using milk, but by people. They require love and tenderness and gentle caresses, like a Labrador puppy.

    Even if it is tongue in cheek, A lot of it is generic waffle (and could easily be tweaked to be apply to any endeavour, as shown above). If the idea that your employees / intelligence operatives require recognition shouldn’t be coming as a big surprise to anybody, surely?


    1. Panjandrum Author

      Dr J.,

      I think that you make some valid points, but I also suspect that the exercise of attempting to distil the essence of a subject into something easily accessible and readily digestible may be useful and thought-provoking.

      As for the more general application of some of the points to other fields (including, possibly, the manufacture of cheese) – I’m not sure that this diminishes their importance in our own specific field.

      I too am a little stumped by the idea that the military should not be allowed to direct their own intelligence endeavours (perhaps other readers of the blog would like to comment, for or against?) but would put forward the following theory:

      If you reduce the talent pool from which you select your ‘intelligencers’ to just those people who can run 8 miles in under two hours with a pack and rifle, you are missing out on a lot of the available talent. Likewise, if you draw your analysts from the ranks of those people who have willingly endured the conformity and regimentation inherent in military life, you may have down-selected a group of people who are not naturally pre-disposed to innovative thought.

      I’m definitely NOT saying that there aren’t any good analysts in the military – I know several of such people. I also acknowledge the importance of physical fitness and discipline for ‘forward-deployed’ intelligence operatives – but there remains a fundamental point about the pool from which selection is made. Perhaps this is what the Admiral was commenting on?


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