Intelligence crucial to winning Global War on Terrorism

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Hensley
  • 315th Training Squadron commander
On June 6, 1944, Allied leaders executed Operation Overlord, the massive Allied amphibious assault launched from the United Kingdom across the English Channel onto the beaches of Normandy, France. The landing at Normandy was the most daring and decisive operation of the war. The first wave of seven Allied divisions faced fifty-nine well-armed and entrenched German divisions in occupied France.

Nonetheless, by this time 64 years ago, American, British, and Canadian military forces were firmly in place on French soil. They established a critical second front in the west that drew Hitler's attention and resources away from the Soviet Union in the east. With this second front and Hitler's divided forces, the Allies surged into occupied France, sealing the fate of Hitler and his Third Reich.

In order for Operation Overlord to succeed, however, Allied leaders had to convince Hitler to mass his forces in the wrong location and then delay his ability to conduct an effective counter-attack. In both cases, Allied intelligence played a vital role in shaping the battlefield and driving operations.

From a strategic perspective, Hitler expected an invasion. However, at the operational level, he did not know where the Allies would attack. So, to position his vaunted Nazi Army, Hitler utilized his intelligence resources to determine the time, location, and size of an Allied attack. In order to give the initial seven divisions a fighting chance, Allied leaders planned and executed a huge deception campaign, code-named Operation Fortitude. They had to convince Hitler that the main attack would either come in Scandinavia or at the Pas de Calais, not at Normandy.

Human intelligence and signals intelligence were linchpins in the success of Operation Fortitude. The Allies relied on Britain's Military Intelligence, Section 5, "Double Cross" system to feed disinformation to German leadership through a network of agents. MI5, responsible for counter-intelligence, turned every German agent in the United Kingdom. Allied leaders used these turned agents to send Hitler and his commanders misleading HUMINT on Allied pre-invasion preparations and intentions.

In addition, having broken the German Enigma encryption system (which the Allies referred to as ULTRA), the Allies could read secret German ciphers and had critical insights into their plans in advance.

This SIGINT coup allowed the Allies to glean the type of intelligence the Germans were looking for, provide them with misleading HUMINT via "Double Cross," and determine whether or not German decision-makers had taken the bait. In the end, Operation Fortitude was a huge success. Hitler believed that the initial attacks on Normandy were only a feint. However, Allied leaders still had to ensure that Hitler could not effectively conduct a counter-attack once he realized his error.

By the summer of 1944, British and American intelligence organizations developed sophisticated, combined collection, exploitation, and dissemination processes with aerial photo reconnaissance (imagery intelligence) from bases in the United Kingdom and SIGINT provided by ULTRA intercepts. These intelligence sources and methods played a critical role in preventing a significant German counter-attack.

With photo reconnaissance and SIGINT, Allied forces conducted sustained aerial bombing operations directed against critical lines of communications. Allied bombers destroyed marshalling yards, bridges, and rail junctions, which forced the Germans to conduct road marches and delayed arrival of their reinforcements at the front by up to two weeks.

German divisions also arrived thoroughly exhausted, low on fuel and ammunition, and without adequate motor transport, much of which had been destroyed by air attack during their long treks to the front.

By June, all rail routes across the Seine River north of Paris were closed and the transportation system in France was at the point of collapse, making German resupply even more difficult.

Within days of D-Day, Allied troops were able to vanquish the German defenses around Normandy and expand southward through the entangling hedgerows. Pouring through the gap, Allied troops continued to advance and firmly established the critical second front.

Operation Overlord dislodged Hitler's grip on Western Europe and marked the beginning of the end of Nazi extremism. Intelligence played a pivotal role leading up to and during this historic event. Allied commanders relied on all-source fusion of HUMINT, SIGINT and IMINT to shape the enemy's perspective of the battlefield and to destroy their capabilities to bring forces to bear.

In that same vein, our national leaders must still continue to rely on multiple intelligence sources and methods, synchronized properly, to execute the kill-chain process: Find, fix, track, target, engage and assess. In our Global War on Terrorism environment, similar to the requirements for Operation Overlord, our leaders require intelligence to drive operations. Although our nation has made great strides in providing synchronized and fused intelligence in an asymmetric conflict, many challenges still remain. Yet our future military successes will invariably depend on intelligence successes.

Conducting synchronized collection, all-source fusion, critical analysis, and time-sensitive dissemination of intelligence is necessary to drive the full-spectrum of operations for our national security--and the process is becoming more vital every day.