How Did Spy Services Develop in the United States?

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Benjamin Franklin was in charge of the Committee of Secret Correspondence during the Revolutionary War

Many Americans today would see that espionage work and spying by the United States is critical for their national security. The history of the services that have provided this, however, is more complex, and often mirrored the development and transformations that affected the US. Through its development as an independent state to one that expanded across the West, and its experiences in the Civil War and World Wars, history has shaped what spying means to the US.

What is different from many other powers that developed spying services is the relatively short history of the US. The experiences, therefore, are different in how they have influenced government’s approach to spying. One of the first spy groups derived prior to the American Revolutionary War in 1765. The Sons of Liberty formed as a group that fought against the Stamp Act and would observe British troop movements in Boston and other places. This group included well known revolutionaries such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington was one of the first to write and recognize the need for espionage. Threats to the colonists/revolutionaries, and eventual early US military, were from Britain. War espionage depended on a network of spies throughout different areas, where Washington wanted to stay one step ahead of the pursuing British Army. This included using Native Americans, who were adept at secretive observations that Washington had firsthand experience with during the French and Indian War. Washington also used a cryptanalyst Samuel West to read secretive letters. Double agents were also used by the British to counter Washington, such as Dr. Benjamin Church who fed important information about the revolutionaries.[1]

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Categories: United States History

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