Historical Series in Intelligence Warfare: Battle of Yavin

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Background:

The Battle of Yavin took place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  The events leading up to this epic confrontation illustrate the significant impact of intelligence in determining the outcome of space based military conflicts.

The poorly equipped Alliance to Restore the Republic (aka Rebel Alliance) was an insurgent campaign attempting to overthrow the autocratic ruling Galactic Empire.  The rebellion effort included numerous star systems over multiple galactic sectors.  The two opposing forces executed intelligence functions at strategic, operational, and tactical levels.  Much better proficiency was demonstrated and greater success achieved employing intelligence at tactical levels.

Strategic Intelligence

Prior to the Yavin campaign the Rebel Alliance “Striking from a hidden base” won its first major military battle against the Empire.  During that battle rebel spies managed to steal the death star plans.  (Opening Credits, Star Wars: A New Hope).  These two data points: Striking from a Hidden Base, and during the battle rebel spies stole the death star plans, provide keen insight into Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire’s relative intelligence and Operations Security (OPSEC) capabilities.

The Rebel Alliance struck from a hidden base.  This fact means that the Empire did not have required intelligence to identify the location of those Rebel military forces.  This lack of military intelligence can be attributed to poor collection/analysis on the part of the Empire, good OPSEC or strategic deception on the part of the Rebel Alliance, or some combination of these factors.  Whichever the case, it does not appear that the Empire’s intelligence effort was capable enough to penetrate Rebel denial and deception operations to determine enemy unit location, size, plans or intentions.

Spies stole the Death Star technical plans during the Rebel Alliance attack.  The initial credits and several references during the course of the film “Star Wars A New Hope” credit the theft to spies, not soldiers.  The fact that spies acted under cover of an attack suggests that they knew what they were looking for or at least where to find important information within the Empires computer system.  They also knew how to get access to that system to retrieve the plans.  This fact implies that spies were in place prior to the attack in position(s) with sufficient cover and access to obtain the Death Star data.  The Rebel Alliance therefore, had the Living Being Intelligence (LIVBINT – Note this can not be Human Intelligence because no humans are involved) capability to penetrate the Galactic Empire.  In contrast, the Empire did not have the security or counter intelligence capabilities in place to detect or otherwise thwart the Rebel LIVBINT collection effort.

Operational Intelligence

Darth Vader leads a Star Destroyer in an attack against the CR90 corvette Tantive IV.  This ship is carrying Princess Leia Organa of the Royal House of Alderaan.  Darth Vader demands to know where as the plans for the Empire’s Death Star while choking the ship’s captain, Captain Antilles.  He states that the Tantive IV intercepted a transmission which containing the Death Star plans.  Moments later, Vader also states “several rebel transmissions were beamed aboard this ship from rebel spies…”.  The evidence suggests that the Galactic Empire has the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capability to know that several transmissions were transmitted and intercepted by a specific ship.  Further, the Empire knows the content of these transmissions.  This appears to be a fairly robust SIGINT capability.

While still on the Tantive IV, an officer informs Lord Vader that the plans are not in the ship’s main computer.  Assuming the Empire’s personnel were reasonably competent, this knowledge implies the Empire has the forensic intelligence capability to search the ship’s main computer system for files that could be hidden or erased.  Vader then directs the commander to “tear this ship apart until you find those plans and bring the passengers to me. I want them alive”. The Empire will continue the search by ‘tearing the ship apart’, meaning to extensively search the ship.  The fact that Vader demands to the see crew members implies that they will be interrogated for intelligence information.  Further evidence to support this contention comes moments later when Vader instructs an officer to send a distress signal and then to inform the Imperial Senate that all aboard were killed.  Keeping rebel forces alive while reporting then dead implies they are being kept alive for a reason.

Also on board the ship Vader also states “I have traced the rebel spies to her (meaning Princess Leia) and now she is my only link to their secret base.”  The location of the secret Rebel base emerges as a new – and more important — Intelligence Objective in addition to the Death Star plans.  The Empire’s intelligence collection apparatus is pretty limited if this is the only source of that information.  Is there no tracking of food, weapons suppliers, fuel, etc.?  Are there no LIVBINT penetrations of the Rebel Forces, supporting governments, or their supply chain?

Conversely, is the Rebellion’s intelligence apparatus and Operations Security (OPSEC) so good that they operate with relative impunity?  It would appear so. The ability to maintain a hidden base as well as the theft of the Death Star plans would appear to indicate strong intelligence and OPSEC capabilities.  Yet, there are still some gaps in the Rebels strategic intelligence as they are unaware that the Empire posses a significant SIGINT capability able to intercept transmissions to Princess Leia’s ship.

Other indications of the Galactic Empire’s intelligence capabilities (and limitations) are seen on the planet of Tatoonie.  First, Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke (son of Darth Vader) live on this planet and are never detected by the Empire.  They are two primary threats to the Empire and still they are not detected.  Both have been there for several years so obviously, the Empire lacks a pervasive intelligence collection capability.  Didn’t anyone in the local stormtrooper detachment ever debrief the local merchants, Jawas or interrogate the Sand People for tactical intelligence to provide situational awareness?  Obi Wan seems to know Mos Eisley’s reputation “wretched hive of scum and villainy” as well as what bars to go to for the best trader pilots.  This knowledge indicates he is not a stranger to the area so it’s hard to imagine he would not, at some point, be known to people in the area.

The Mos Eisley Space Port is on Tatoonie.  There, Stormtroopers are searching for two droids indicating the Empire is conducting a systematic search to recover the stolen Death Star plans.  A local spy discovers the droids and tracks them, Obi Wan and Luke from the bar area.  The spy (he, she, it?) reports that information via a portable communications device.  Moments later Stormtroopers arrive on the scene and the spy directs them to docking bay 94 and Hans Solo’s ship.  The fact that a spy is in place in Mos Eisley and relays tactical information to immediate response forces indicates the Empire has some ‘on the ground’ LIVBINT collection capabilities.  This is particularly interesting and would tend to indicate the Empire’s uneven performance levels of intelligence capabilities in remote areas.

The rescue of Princess Leia on board the Death Star provides additional insight into the Empire’s intelligence apparatus.  The droid R2D2 is immediately able to plug in and access the Death Star’s computer system.  There appear to be no security protocols such as user identification and authentication.  R2D2 accesses information reports and controls some of the ship’s functions such as the garbage mashers.  There also appears to be very little ‘need to know’ doctrine incorporated into this military capability.  In only one case — the detention level – is R2D2 denied information as it is restricted.

Tactical Operations

The final applications of intelligence capabilities of the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance are seen in the actual battle of Yavin.  The Rebel forces have exploited the Death Star plans to determine a course of action.

The Empire identifies the Rebel base on Yavin IV, a moon of the planet Yavin.  This is accomplished by installing a tracking device on Hans Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon.  This is evidence that the Empire has some intelligence tagging, tracking, and locating capability.  Princess Leia is aware of this fact and yet goes to the Rebel secret base anyway.  Given the rebel’s normally good OPSEC this appears to be a poor course of action.

After arriving in the Yavin system, the Empire forces calculate the exact moment that the Death Star will clear the planet and be within firing range of the moon.  Similarly, the Rebels know the exact same information even as their fighters and bombers are just being launched.  They must, therefore, have some technical collection capabilities within the planetary system to provide space situational awareness.

As the two military forces engage both sides report the strength of the opposing forces.  In addition, multiple references are made to the locations of enemy forces. The Rebel command base notifies its forces that it has identified new signals entering into the area and that Tie Fighters are inbound.  This action supports the contention that the Rebellion maintains a capable tactical SIGINT intercept capability.  In addition, during the course of the battle operating forces (or Command it is unclear) report the numbers of gun turrets on the Death Star surface (20) and in the trench (10).

The Galactic Empire also provides tactical intelligence to its operating forces.  During the engagement, they note the number and type of attacking forces as well as their relative locations.  It is, in fact this information that compels Darth Vader to command two pilots to accompany him to attack a group of rebel fighters.  Lastly, an officer speaks to Governor and Death Star commander Grand Moff Takin noting they have analyzed the Rebel’s attack strategy and that there is a threat.  This analysis implies the Empire has collected, collated, and analyzed multi-source information in an on-going battle and has assessed it against the ship’s vulnerabilities.  This is outstanding intelligence work given the combat circumstances.  It suggests a professional, well trained, and disciplined work force.

Conclusion

The Galactic Empire had several failures in intelligence at the strategic level.  Effectiveness of LIVBINT appears inconsistent across different operating environments.  In contrast, the Rebel Alliance shows greater proficiency in strategic intelligence.  Both sides appear to have equal capabilities in intelligence collection and exploitation in tactical applications.  Traveling to Yavin IV while knowingly being tracked degraded Rebel OPSEC and could have led to the destruction of the Rebel Alliance.

Source: Star Wars: A New Hope

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Historical Series on Intelligence in Warfare: The Battle of Hoth

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This series of articles examines the multiple facets of espionage and its role in determining the outcomes of the most significant military engagements in recorded history.

Background:

AtAtThe Battle of Hoth took place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The events leading up to this epic confrontation illustrate the significant impact of intelligence in determining the outcome of space based military conflicts. The poorly equipped Alliance to Restore the Republic (aka Rebel Alliance) was an insurgent campaign attempting to overthrow the autocratic ruling Galactic Empire. The rebellion effort included numerous star systems over multiple galactic sectors. The two opposing forces executed intelligence functions at strategic, operational, and tactical levels. The Rebel’s use of tactical intelligence did not lead to victory in battle but did allow them to achieve their single stated mission objective of escaping the overwhelming powerful Imperial attack force.

Our mission today is not to defeat the Empire. What we must do is to keep the Rebel Alliance alive.

―Leia Organa, before the Battle of Hoth

The Battle of Hoth was an insignificant battlefield victory for the Galactic Empire and also the single worst battlefield defeat suffered by the Rebel Alliance. These statements appear contradictory until one considers history of the Galactic Civil War. Battlefield encounters rarely have significant long term impact on insurgencies. By strategy and tactics, insurgent forces are not tied to fixed locations and fortifications.

The Empire’s mission objectives were (or should have been) as follows:

  1. Destroy the Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base
  2. Destroy or capture Rebel Alliance information, supplies, and weapons caches
  3. Capture or kill leadership

The Empire’s campaign must be considered a failure in accomplishing these mission objectives.

Strategic Intelligence

The Rebel Alliance demonstrated knowledge of Imperial forces combat doctrine and strategic weapons systems but little awareness of ground assault ((501st Storm Trooper Legion (Snow Trooper Unit)) capabilities. The scientific and technical intelligence on Imperial weapons platforms is considered “strategic intelligence” as those overall capabilities could be employed anywhere in the galaxy. Echo Base employed a planetary defense shield to nullify the Empire’s doctrine of orbital bombardment prior to committing ground troops. The shield was capable in defeating energy blasts and space/aerial vehicles (As it had to be opened to allow for the escape of rebel forces). The shield’s effectiveness indicates prior knowledge of the wavelengths of various Imperial energy-based weapons systems. The rebel’s Intelligence knowledge forced Imperial forces into conducting a ground assault without orbital or aerial support.

During the Battle for Hoth, Rogue Squadron’s initial counterattack was defeated by AT-AT Walker armor. This fact is noted by Commander Luke Skywalker when he states the armor is too thick for the snow speeder’s blasters and directs a change in combat tactics to tow-cables. The Rebels suffered an intelligence failure going into battle unaware of the AT-AT armor. Presumably, had the Rebel Alliance would have employed more effective weapons had the detailed technical intelligence on Imperial AT-AT’s armor ratings.

The Empire had no knowledge of the location of the Rebel’s Echo Base prior to its detection. This, of course, must be considered a failure in strategic intelligence. Without intelligence on the enemy’s location the Empire was in poor position to protect its galactic territories and defeat the insurgency. There are even indications that a small Imperial Force had earlier detected Echo Base and attacked it. The Rebels destroyed the small Imperial Force but survivors reported the encounter. This information was never made available in intelligence databases (*note – this failure in intelligence was attributed to the late General Nevar).

Tactical Intelligence

Several actions prior to, and during the Battle for Hoth illustrate tactical intelligence capabilities of Imperial and rebel forces. For example, the Empire destroyed several other insurgent operating bases prior to the establishment of Echo Base.

Imperial forces attacked Yavin Four and defeated Rebels forcing them to abandon their base. The Empire’s tactical intelligence collection and media exploitation effort recovered a holocron (Holoex) containing a list of backup locations. This intelligence led the Empire to destroy a Rebel Alliance Base in the Boz Pity star system located in the Halla sector, Mid Rim region of the galaxy.

During an assault on Zaloriis City, the Empire discovered library archives which showed a new Rebel base to be somewhere near the Elrood system; a star system located on the Elrood-Derilyn Trade Route in the Outer Rim region of the galaxy.

These two military operations show the Empire’s excellent tactical intelligence collection and exploitation capabilities providing timely and accurate intelligence support to combat operations. These same activities also illustrate poor Operations Security (OPSEC) on the part of Rebel Alliance forces. In multiple military operations the Empire recovered information that resulted in the subsequent destruction of insurgent forces. Rebel Forces were likely unaware of the compromised information, indicating poor information control and emergency document destruction procedures.

For its part, the Rebel Alliance also displayed excellent tactical intelligence capabilities. Echo Base’s location was compromised by an Imperial viper probe droid. Rebel proximity sensors detected the probe coming through the atmosphere which allowed the insurgents time to prepare for evacuation, deploy defenses, and activate the planetary shield. Detecting something as small as a robotic Viper Probe over the entire surface of the planet illustrates extraordinary situation awareness. In addition, Rebel’s proximity sensors also detected and monitored movements of the incoming Imperial Fleet. This action also demonstrates strong technical collection capabilities and situational awareness on a tactical level.

Darth Vader’s planned his attack of the Hoth base to take advantage of the local area meteor activity making it difficult for the Rebels to detect approaching ships. They subsequent long range orbital bombardment would destroy planetary defenses before their activation. The plan reveals some aspects of the Empire’s attempt at preparation of the battle space. The Empire had enough Space Situational Awareness of the Hoth system to know it had enough meteor activity to allow for a tactical advantage in a surprise attack. These data was most likely provided by the earlier deployed Viper Probe Droid.

Conclusion

The Galactic Empire as well as the Rebel Alliance had several failures in intelligence at the strategic level. The Empire shows effectiveness of tactical robotic probes and media exploitation secured during combat operations. In contrast, the Rebel Alliance shows poor OPSEC but strong situational awareness in the local battle space.

Sources:

  1. Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
  2. SWAJ small “Return to Taul”—Star Wars Adventure Journal 2
  3. Rebel Mission to Ord Mantell
  4. Star Wars: Force Commander
  5. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike
  6. Star Wars: TIE Fighter
  7. Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance
  8. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
  9. The New Essential Chronology
  10. Star Wars: The Essential Atlas

The New 2015 SciFi Bucket List

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True SciFi fans must complete at least half of the “bucket list”. Of course, this list is in addition to standard reading and watching the expected movies and shows: 2001 A Space Odyssey, Star Wars series, Blade Runner, Star Trek films and TOS series, Babylon Five, Firefly, etc.  Did I miss anything? Let me know your scifi bucket list.

Live long and prosper.

Nick

  1. Attend ComicCon in San Diego, or more importantly, DragonCon in Atlanta, GA (hosted over Labor Day)
  2. Attend any SciFi fan convention in costume
  3. Date a scifi chick (or guy if you are a female)
  4. Pull an all-nighter watching Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection.
  5. Play Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games for at least three months
  6. Have a collection of SciFI action figures or model spaceships.  Whether it’s books, films, games, toys, action figures, being a collector even briefly — is a requirement (you get points for collecting vintage figures, mint condition)
  7. Read at least one of each scifi books of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke.  Most importantly you must read ALL five books of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy.  Some say there are only four books but I include “Mostly Harmless” by Douglas Adams.
  8. Play scifi Board or card game.  While not technically scifi, Game of Thrones, Descent, Magic The Gathering, and D&D, all qualify.
  9. Science Fiction Museum, located in Seattle, is the world’s premier  museum devoted to science fiction. It covers science fiction literature and films.  The museum also hosts a Science Fiction Hall of Fame dedicated to writers, artists, and filmmakers. 
  10. American UFO Sci-Fi Museum in Wisconsin Dells, WI.  The global UFO movement appears to be particularly popular in Wisconsin (And I thought it was Roswell).   The museum features a recreation of the famous Alien Autopsy in Nevada’s infamous Area 51 and an exhibit on the supposed 1947 alien crash in Roswell, New Mexico.  You can also learn about alien abductions, crop circles, and the like. 
  11. The Doctor Who Experience  Cardiff Bay, UK. An exciting interactive experience helping the Doctor, armed with his Sonic Screwdriver, to escape from his foes, fly the TARDIS and come face-to-face with some of the scariest monsters seen on screen.  Features filmed sequences with Matt Smith and full of special effects.  This multi-sensory experience is fun for the family and fans alike. 
  12. The Time Machine Museum of Science Fiction, Bromyard, Herefordshire, United Kingdom.  Note this is NOT the “Dr. Who Experience” that ran for so long in London.  That experience is now in Cardiff (Wales) where they film the show.  There is not much of a web site (not many pictures) so I can’t comment on what type of experience you get at this museum.  But the museum has  displays on Dr. Who, Star Wars, Red Dwarf, and Gerry Anderson’s full size puppets, dioramas and memorabilia from Thunderbirds and Stingray.
  13. London Film Museum  Near London’s famous “eye” on the South Bank features exhibits on sci-fi, horror, and fantasy.   It is called the “Movieum” and finding the unassuming entrance is a bit of a challenge.   Among the exhibits are Planet of the Apes,  and of course Harry Potter.
  14. The San Diego Air & Space Museum has a the “Science of Aliens” exhibition.  The exhibition is more science than science fiction but has some   classic science fiction film displays and props.
  15. International UFO Museum and Research Center  In July 1947, something happened northwest of Roswell, New Mexico, during a severe thunderstorm.  And ever since people have believed in UFOs.  This museum’s exhibits include information on the Roswell Incident, crop circles, UFO sightings, Area 51, ancient astronauts and abductions. The exhibits are designed not to convince anyone to believe one way or another about their subjects.
  16. The Alien Zone store is probably a “must see” when visiting Roswell New Mexico.  It’s got everything from alien tee shirts to shot glasses.
  17. Star Trek: The Exhibition is an interactive, museum-style collection of Star Trek artifacts and information.  It opened in Orlando, Florida.  the largest collection of authentic Star Trek artifacts and information ever put on public display. The array of must-see exhibits, spread across 10,000 square feet, includes sets, props, costumes, etc., culled from the five live-action Trek series, plus 10 films, including Star Trek (2009). More specifically, Star Trek lovers can see the life-sized ship model of the scorpion from Star Trek Nemesis, a Borg head, communicators, ship models, a Trek timeline and more, including… Kirk’s chair.  Complaints that you can’t take pictures.
  18. Jordan’s new Star Trek themed Red Sea Astrarium will feature  four hotels, Star Trek-themed attractions, and state of the art ‘space-flight adventure’ simulator ride.  King Abdullah II of Jordan (who appeared on Star Trek Voyager) is sure boldly going in my book.
  19. The great robot battle. This is more current robotics technology but it looks like something strait out of a scifi movie. MegaBots Inc., an American robotics company, challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries to an epic duel. MegaBots wants to put its Mk. II giant fighting robot against Suidobashi’s Kuratas in a death match. (And when I say giant robots, I mean like 20 feet high.) The Japanese robotics company accepted the challenge, with one caveat: The duel will include not only giant robots shooting guns, but also melee combat as part of the competition. Stay tuned for this epic battle in 2016.
  20. Have lunch in Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant. This show (* It is a show!) is sensory overload as bikini-clad women fight mock battles using enormous robots. Robot Restaurant looks like something straight out of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, with neon lights, video screens and mirrors. It is more of a costume/dance show than “robot” spectacle. “Robots” are mostly remote controlled platforms that carry the dancers.
  21. And finally…….Meet William Shatner.  Whether at a convention, on the street, etc. Every true Scifi fan must meet Shatner at least once in their lifetime.  Such an iconic figure is unmatched in SciFi circles so you should meet him just once.  (By now it should be very clear I’m a Star Trek fan.)

You were, and shall always be, Mr. Spock

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How does one say good-bye to someone like Leonard Nimoy? Nimoy died on Friday morning, 27 February 2015 at age 83 at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was a month short of his 84th birthday and died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a byproduct of years of smoking decades earlier.

In the following months, hundreds of articles, blog posts, newscasts, interviews, and TV specials announced the passing of Star Trek’s iconic character Spock. For a brief period the news even ranked up with the horrific events that have, as of late, captured the world’s center stage.

Saying good-bye to Nimoy and the fictional character Spock will be difficult for die-hard Star Trek fans, myself included. All the memories we have held for decades will not fill the emptiness in the heart of fandom left by his passing. Star Trek remains the world’s most popular TV science fiction show. It did (and continues to do) that which few other shows have accomplished – give humanity hope for the future.

The media will report lots of information about Mr. Nimoy in coming weeks but there are a few basic facts you should know about our friend Spock:

Leonard Nimoy was Born in Boston on March 26, 1931, Leonard Simon Nimoy was the second son of Max and Dora Nimoy, Ukrainian immigrants and Orthodox Jews. His father worked as a barber. Nimoy performed as an actor since age eight. He took the “Live Long and Prosper” hand sign from a Rabbi at a temple he attended as a child.

Nimoy served in the Army for two years (1953-1955), rising to the rank of sergeant. He was stationed at Fort McPherson in Georgia for 18 months where he managed performances for the troops. During that time he also directed and starred as Stanley in the Atlanta Theater Guild’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

After the Army, Nimoy went to California, where he worked as a soda jerk, movie usher, and cab driver. He studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s he made numerous appearances on popular TV shows.

Then came Star Trek.

I heard Nimoy say in an interview once that he never had an acting job that lasted more than two weeks prior to his role in Star Trek. He also drove a taxi cab in the same area that he would eventually own a home in Bel Air.

Star Trek fans know Nimoy had mixed feelings about being typecast in the Spock character. He wrote the book “I Am Not Spock,” in 1975, and another titled “I Am Spock,” published in 1995. He recognized the tremendous impact he had on history in that role.

Leonard Nimoy was an accomplished actor, director, photographer, author, and poet. And yet for all he accomplished, history shall remember his signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).  Leonard Nimoy, you were part of something that continues to inspire and give hope to millions.  You are, and shall always be, Mr.  Spock

Nick Eftimiades

Author, Edward of Planet Earth