The American Revolution was one of the most significant wars in modern history. The Revolutionary War wasn't simply significant for establishing the United States or for helping bankrupt and inspire the French Revolution. It was also pivotal in ushering in new technologies, innovations, and strategies in warfare. One of the most important innovations in warfare that the Revolution helped bring about was spying.
And...the man perhaps most responsible for this innovation was none other than General George Washington.
General Washington's espionage strategy is one of the factors that contributed to American victory over the British in the Revolutionary War. And it is an aspect of the war thoroughly examined by author Alexander Rose in George Washington's Spies.
In an article for American Heritage magazine, Thomas Fleming elaborates:
It is commonly understood that without the Commander in Chief’s quick mind and cool judgment the American Revolution would have almost certainly expired in 1776. It is less well known that his brilliance extended to overseeing, directly and indirectly, extensive and very sophisticated intelligence activities against the British.
Ruluff McIntyre puts it even more plainly in an article for Early America: "The misinformation machine created by George Washington was critical to the winning of the Revolutionary War."
At the beginning of the war, America's spying methods were rather "amateurish," writes John Reed for the Valley Forge Historical Society. By 1777, says Reed, spying gained greater finesse.
Are there lessons for America today? In my opinion....yes. One of the reasons the United States has struggled in its Middle Eastern policy generally and in Iraq specifically as been faulty or limited intelligence. The US has simply not done an adequate job in penetrating some of the world's cultures, and, in some cases, has badly mismanaged its intelligence gathering strategies.
General Washington understood how critical accurate intelligence was for his army and how important it was to provide faulty intelligence to the enemy. Yet another example of how learning lessons from the past can help us in the present and the future.