July 15th 1918 saw the start of the fifth and final German offensive of the First World War. On that day, the Germans launched the opening phase of the Second Battle of the Marne, Codenamed Operation Marneschutz-Reims, shifting the entire momentum of the war from the Central Powers to the Entente. One of the key factors contributing to this shift was tactical combat intelligence.
Interconnectedness has allowed society to take great leaps forward, social media and the internet remain an ungoverned space for nefarious actors. Violent extremist organizations, criminal groups, and state actors have all taken advantage of the anonymity and access afforded by modern technology to plan, execute, and support operations, gaining relative superiority over traditional security structures. As adversaries become more technologically savvy, the United States and its allies must become more adept at leveraging these trends. Open source intelligence, especially when coupled with rapidly improving big data analysis tools, which can comb through data sets that were previously too complex to derive meaningful results, has the potential to offset this growing problem, providing intelligence on enemy forces, partners, and key populations.
Intelligence at all levels is an art form. Sources, corroborating or contradicting information, unknowns, and delays in time all result in varied levels of analytical confidence. Information coming from different means, methods, and areas requires a functioning structure to ensure senior national leaders have the best information to make the decisions. While strategic intelligence drives operations and national goals, military decision-makers—especially in combat zones—rely on tactical intelligence to help win battles. For the Department of the Navy, “tactical intelligence support is the primary focus of naval intelligence.” Marine Corps intelligence also focuses almost exclusively on the tactical level to support Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) maneuvers since tactical intelligence is, “the level of intelligence Marines need, generate, and use most often.” When strategic missteps occur, tactical intelligence can provide a needed capability to keep front-line forces winning, creating breathing room for new strategic plans. A functioning intelligence structure encompassing all levels of intelligence is needed to enact this goal.
The origins of U.S. Military Intelligence is the story of the efforts of two men, Dennis E. Nolan and Ralph Van Deman. Nolan, an aspiring teacher and decorated veteran of the Spanish-American War, caught the eye of General John J. Pershing while serving as his adjutant. That contact with Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, would lead to his selection as the first Intelligence Officer (G-2) on an American General Staff in the field.