Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a series highlighting the origins of American military intelligence and how it led to the birth of DIA. The American military intelligence system during the Revolutionary War was an active and effective instrument that helped counterbalance British numerical and operational superiority by informing American generals about their movements while it also deceived the British into making strategic errors. General George Washington was an avid user of military intelligence, which played a significant role in the eventual defeat of the British.
The intelligence organizations created by Washington were dismantled after the war and this was a pattern that would repeat itself for much of the next two centuries. From the Revolutionary War to the early years of the Cold War interest in and resources devoted to military intelligence surged during wartime and diminished or disappeared during peacetime. This lack of a sustained commitment to military intelligence contributed to several intelligence failures. The problem was compounded by the fact that the intelligence apparatus of each military service was entirely separate from one another, making intelligence sharing and coordination difficult. These issues were not resolved until the establishment of DIA in 1961, which would serve as the centralizing hub of all military and defense intelligence.
American intelligence activity began long before actual independence from the British in 1776. Let’s start from the beginning with the intelligence operations conducted by one of the United States’ most well-known patriots. Here are 10 Things You Didn’t Know about Paul Revere:
- He is arguably the most famous military intelligence agent from the American Revolution, but most people don’t realize he was more than a guy on a horse.
- Revere was a member of the first American intelligence network on record known simply as “the mechanics” or the Liberty Boys.
- Organized out of Boston, Mass., the mechanics descended from the Sons of Liberty organization — the group that famously opposed the Stamp Act.
- The group resisted British authority and collected intelligence long before the night of Revere’s midnight ride.
- In a lesser known, but equally important, operation December 1774, Revere rode to the Oyster River, N.H., to warn that the British planned to seize Fort William and Mary. Armed with this intelligence, the 400 members of the colonial militia raided the fort and captured gunpowder that would later be used by to cover their retreat from Bunker Hill.
- Along with the mechanics, Revere would purposely sabotage or steal British military equipment around Boston.
- At the beginning of the war, Revere and his network learned that the British planned to raid the towns of Lexington and Concord to seize the weapons store there. He and others successfully warned the local militias, known as the Minutemen, who removed the weapons and resisted the raids.
- After arranging the warning lanterns to be hung in Old North Church April 18, 1775, to alert patriot forces at Charlestown, Revere completed his primary mission of notifying Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
- Revere was actually apprehended by the British en route, interrogated and released.
- Revere then completed yet another mission: retrieving from the local tavern a trunk belonging to Hancock and filled with incriminating papers.