Open Information Science (Jun 2020)

Information management in the Intelligence Branch of Britain’s War Office, 1873-1914: ‘All information flows toward it, or returns to it, in a form worked up into shape’

  • Black Alistair

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 4, no. 1
pp. 91 – 105


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Intelligence has always been an aspect of organized warfare. It was not until 1873, however, that the British Army recognised this formally by establishing an explicitly named unit, under the auspices of the War Office, dedicated to the development of strategic intelligence: the Intelligence Branch. Based on documents held in the National Archives (UK), this study explores the ways in which the work of the Intelligence Branch developed before the First World War in response to imperial and foreign military challenges and the growing awareness of the importance of strategic intelligence and planning. The Branch’s steam-age origins should not disguise the intensity and sophistication of the information management that underpinned its operations. Attention is paid to the type of information management methods that were employed. The existence of a rational system of information management is revealed, consisting of planned phases for the collection, processing, storage, organisation, analysis and dissemination of information.