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Secret sensations

Even during the cold war, secret intelligence achieved rather little. In the post-cold war world, do secret agencies still have a role at all?

In his great book On War, Clausewitz wrote little about secret intelligence. What he did say was not complimentary. “Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain. This is true of all intelligence but even more so in the heat of battle.” In fact, Clausewitz was wrong. Wellington had just shown in the Peninsula war that good intelligence helps you to win stunning victories over superior forces; and in Belgium that, if your intelligence is inadequate, you risk being humbugged by Napoleon.

Still, we can sympathise with Clausewitz. The sensationalism with which the…

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