Saturday, March 2, 2024

My Threatcon Column: George Washington: First In War, And First In Espionage

My latest Threatcon column appears on Counterterrorism magazine’s website.

You can read the column via the below link or the below text:

IACSP - ThreatCon Articles

Major General Henry “Light Horse Harry’ Lee wrote in his eulogy of the late George Washington that the former president and general was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” 

George Washington, aka Agent 711, was also first in espionage.       

The CIA’s public website proclaimed Washington as our first spymaster, noting, “Long before General William Donovan recruited spies to advance the American war efforts during World War II as Director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to the CIA, General George Washington mastered the art of intelligence as Commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.” 

The CIA stated that Washington was a skilled manager of intelligence. He utilized agents behind enemy lines, recruited both Tory and Patriot sources, interrogated travelers for intelligence information, and launched scores of agents on both intelligence and counterintelligence missions. 

“He was adept at deception operations and tradecraft and was a skilled propagandist. He also practiced sound operational security. Washington fully understood the value of accurate intelligence, employing many of the same techniques later used by the OSS and CIA. 

“Were it not for the use of secret writing, concealment devises, propaganda, and intercepted communications, there may have been a very different outcome to the War of Independence.” 

Joesph C. Goulden, a veteran journalist and author of “The Death Merchant: The Rise and Fall of Edwin P. Wilson,” and “Korea: The Untold Story of the War,” is an acknowledged authority on intelligence and espionage. He offered his take on George Washington as spymaster in a Washington Times piece. 

“One of the more telling — and accurate — statements to emerge from the American Revolution came from a British intelligence officer, Maj. Gen. George Beckwith: “Washington did not really outfight the British, he simply outspied us!” 

The website “George Washington’s Mount Vernon” noted that when history books praise the heroes of the American Revolution, they seldom include names like Agent 711 and John Bolton. 

But perhaps they should.    

“These men were part of the most famous spy ring of the era, the Culper Ring, and their identities were kept secret until well after the war ended,” the website stated. “George Washington – known as Agent 711 in the Culper Spy Ring – is often heralded as a great “spymaster,” and indeed he was. Under Washington’s astute watch, several networks of spies operated in both close-knit circles and far-reaching societies. The undercover agents were merchants, tailors, farmers, and other extraordinary patriots with ordinary day jobs. 

“Much as with modern-day operatives, the members of these networks kept at a distance from one another and maintained secret identities. In some cases, Washington himself didn’t even know the identities of the men who worked together in secret to aid the cause of freedom.”   

The website post went on to note that Washington’s army was under-trained, under-staffed, under-equipped, and under-funded. In order to win, he needed to out-maneuver and outsmart the British. 

“Washington recognized the need for an organized approach to espionage. He knew that spying was a field that was fraught with risk. The stories of men like Nathan Hale, who was captured and later hanged for crossing into British territory to gather information, surely weighed heavily on the General’s shoulders.” 

As the post noted, Washington knew that a larger population of civilians could be called upon to help fight the war.   

In an unclassified CIA historical document, George Washington was called the “First Director of Central Intelligence.” According to the document, he was a key practitioner of military intelligence during the Revolutionary War. 

“General Washington was more deeply involved in intelligence operations than any American general-in-chief until Dwight Eisenhower during World War II,” the historical document noted. “His skills in the “black arts” helped secure key victories, hastened the end of hostilities, and significantly contributed to the United States’ winning its independence from Great Britain.”


Washington recruited and debriefed Tory and Patriot sources, developed espionage networks, interrogated prisoners and travelers, cleverly used deception and propaganda, and practiced sound tradecraft.


He spent more than 10 percent of his military funds on intelligence operations. Washington formed an elite detachment dedicated to tactical reconnaissance that reported directly to him. Washington also oversaw the Culper Ring in New York City and Long Island. (The Culper Ring was dramatized in the TV series “Turn.”)


The historical document stated that in 1778 Gen. Sir Henry Clinton occupied the city, while Washington’s forces were scattered around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Washington needed intelligence on Clinton’s forces and intentions, and he ordered Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge to establish an espionage net.

Tallmadge’s operatives practiced sophisticated tradecraft that included code names, cover stories, secret writing, encryption and dead drops.


“Without General Washington’s intelligence-aided victories on the battlefield,” the historical document stated. “There would have been no independence, no United States, no Constitution, and no President Washington.”


Paul Davis, a longtime contributor to the Journal, covers crime, espionage and terrorism in his Threatcon column. 

No comments:

Post a Comment