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Old made new

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Even before the United States became a country, and in fact, during the war that led to America's independence, intelligence was already a mainstay of American government. The Founders who went on to create the Constitution and the country were deeply involved in intelligence during the Revolutionary War. Because the American people did not like the idea of sneaky spies and dishonorable behavior, the Founders could never admit that they used intelligence themselves. For this and other reasons, intelligence appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.

But intelligence has created a number of constitutional problems over the years: targeted killing/ assassinations, covert action operations, missions to influence elections overseas and to overthrow democratically elected leaders, and domestic surveillance and intelligence operations that affect individual Americans. In other words, intelligence periodically makes Americans uncomfortable. At the same time, intelligence is still a necessary and important tool in the American national security toolbox.

In the years that stretched from the Revolutionary War to the present, intelligence had a lot of growing up to do. American spies continued to be amateur volunteers like Nathan Hale. The United States also continued to face the problem of traitors like Benedict Arnold. The United States took far too long to create professional intelligence organizations and professional intelligence officers.

One reason for the slow development of professional intelligence officers was because of how George Washington incorporated intelligence into the U.S. government in his very first term as president. In fact, the authority given to the president in intelligence matters created another area of conflict in the separation of powers between the president and Congress. So, the next post will look at how Washington's experiences as the Spymaster of the Continental Army affected how he used intelligence as the Spymaster-in-Chief when he became President of the United States.


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