Interaction of Technology and Organization: Case Study of US Military COMINT in World War II

  • Shai Bernstein
Part of the Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications book series (ASTSA)


This chapter is motivated by the question of whether an intelligence agency must adapt itself - its organization, its hierarchy, its operation - at a fundamental level in order to best make use of a new technology. This question is investigated by looking at two past examples as a case study comparing how the intelligence apparatuses of two different countries adapted to a technology. Specifically, the chapter compares how the UK’s Government Code and Cypher School and the collective civilian and military intelligence apparatuses of the US both adapted to the rise of radio-based intelligence gathering (more generally known as Signals Intelligence or Communications Intelligence) during World War II. This comparison is worthwhile because whereas the UK’s radio-intelligence gathering capability is quite well regarded, the US’s was fraught with challenges (though with its share of successes). The chapter traces the evolution, throughout the war, of the organizational hierarchies of the various US intelligence groups and notes how information was shared, which group had authority over which other, and how these changed over time. A comparison to the UK’s organization reveals that the new technology did not fundamentally alter how intelligence ought to be gathered - it only served to exacerbate extant organizational challenges. The continued inefficiency stemming from these challenges was what led to the eventual restructuring and newfound efficiency - not the technology itself. This conclusion will hopefully serve as a reminder that whenever a new technology comes along, the intelligence community must remember the basics first.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shai Bernstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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