What are Intelligence Networks?

What are Intelligence Networks?

Intelligence Gathering & Asymmetrical Warfare

Intelligence networks are groups of human assets or spies that provide real time information for military leaders. This form of intelligence gathering has its roots in asymmetric warfare. This type of warfare can be described as a conflict where two opponents differ in size and strength. Wars that involve Asymmetrical Warfare date back into antiquity. Strategies used in asymmetric warfare are often more based in tactics and unconventional warfare where the weaker of the two enemies takes advantage of the larger forces most prevailing weakness. For this reason, asymmetrical warfare is often focused on guerilla warfare, insurgency, and terrorism (Mack, 1975). According to Mack (1975), smaller military forces tend to utilize asymmetrical warfare because they lack the means or power to confront a larger force in open engagement. In order for asymmetrical warfare to be effective it must exploit the weaknesses of a larger force and in order to do this it must utilize intelligence to create strategies. The following report discusses how intelligence is intrinsically tied to asymmetric warfare and how the loss of intelligence networks made the US prone to such strategies.

Intelligence & Asymmetrical Warfare

The Culper Spy Ring was a creation George Washington. The purpose of this ring was to outwit and defeat a larger more formidable force (the British) (Kilmeade & Yaeger, 2013). The Culper Spy Ring consisted of volunteers who believed in the cause of defending freedom and a fledgling nation. These volunteers came from many trades and used these trades for infiltration and intelligence communication and gathering. For example, physician James Jay created invisible ink to encrypt communications between operatives. The network of spies consisted of shopkeepers, tavern owners, and many ordinary citizens (Kilmeade & Yaeger, 2013).

The Culper Spy Ring, was instrumental in defeating British forces. At the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776), it is believed that the British learned of the poorly defended Jamaica Pass by a loyalist spy (Kilmeade & Yaeger, 2013). Benedict Arnold’s betrayal was also discovered by the Culper Spy Ring (Kilmeade & Yaeger, 2013). By knowing movements of British troops, Patriots were able to use tactics to sidestep the larger power of the British forces. These examples show that the use of spies was vital for United States in winning the American Revolution and maintaining a democratic nation (George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2014) (Kilmeade & Yaeger, 2013).

The Loss of Intelligence Networks

The Culper Spy Ring was the first American intelligence strategy and it was used to fight an asymmetric war. The use of spy networks has been an essential strategy for military intelligence from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War Era (Mohs, 2007). As the US grew in power and military strength, the US of spy networks began to decline in favor of using technological substitutes such as satellites and drones for data gathering (Mohs, 2007). However, this change in intelligence gathering made the US prone to asymmetrical warfare. Similar to the Revolutionary War, the modern enemy is not always detectable or obvious. Terrorism utilizes asymmetrical warfare to attack the US both domestically and internationally. 9/11 was a failure in intelligence for a variety of reasons but mainly due to the fact that US military intelligence efforts were no longer focused into networks of spies on the ground, but instead focused on intelligence gathering and analysis utilizing spy satellites (Mohs, 2007). The 9/11 attacks were well thought out plans that relied on terrorists using basic information about US flight security to mount an attack that went undetected. 9/11 served to emphasize the need for spies and networks of intelligence operatives (Mohs, 2007).

Since 9/11, the US has recreated its intelligence handling and gathering by creating new networks of operatives both in and outside the US. In the five years after 9/11, intelligence networks have been able to topple insurgent groups and capture many terrorists. The combined intelligence networks and technology such as drones and satellites has allowed the intelligence gather operations of the US to continue to evolve. The Boston Marathon Bombing exemplifies this situation as the US continues to learn and adapt to the challenges of terrorism,

The best and most important defense is detailed, real-time intelligence about the fanatics and lunatics who may intend to carry out such attacks, and the means that they may use to slaughter innocents…When the police have information, plots can be disrupted, attacks prevented, and, at a minimum, public vigilance can be heightened. Without it, life goes on as normal, until it doesn’t (Dickey, 2013).

Since the time of the Culper Spy Ring, intelligence networks have proven to be effective means of dealing with enemies of all military capacities. Today, the threat of terrorism emphasizes the need for these networks due to the difficulty in identifying terrorists. This old method of intelligence gathering has continued to be a vital tool in military intelligence and conducting warfare.


George Washington’s Mount Vernon. (2014). George Washington, Spymaster How Washington Established a Spy Network in British Controlled New York. Retrieved from George Washington’s Mount Vernon:

Kilmeade, B., & Yaeger, D. (2013). George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution. City of Westminster, London: Penguin.

Mack, A. (1975). Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict. New York, NY: World Politics.

Mohs, P. A. (2007). Military Intelligence and the Arab Revolt: The First Modern Intelligence War (Studies in Intelligence) . New York, NY: Routledge.

Reitman, J. (2013, December 4). Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets. Retrieved from Rolling Stone: Tzu, S. (1994). Art of War. New York: Basic Books.

Soldier Removing IED Author Not Known/MOD, OGL v1.0


Vincent Triola. Sun, Mar 07, 2021. What are Intelligence Networks? Retrieved from

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