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.
The Battle of Endor 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 conflict at Endor was the most important engagement of the Galactic Civil War. It precipitated the decline of the Empire with the deaths of Emperor Sheev Palpatine, Darth Vader, and several senior Imperial officers. It also resulted in the destruction of the second and upgraded Death Star, a significant capital investment and warfighting capability for the Empire.
Endor was a catastrophic intelligence failure for the Rebel Alliance at strategic and operational levels. Rebel intelligence had superior basic military and tactical intelligence. Much better proficiency was demonstrated and greater success achieved employing intelligence at tactical levels. The Galactic Empire was able to execute a strategic deception campaign and extraordinary Operations Security (OPSEC).
The planet of Endor was a gas giant located in the Endor system of the Outer Rim Territories’ Moddell sector. It was orbited by a forested moon of the same name. Plans for the battle began after the Rebels learned that the Empire was building a new Death Star above the forest moon of Endor. The Rebel intelligence believed: 1. that the station was protected by a powerful deflector shield projected from a base on the moon; and 2. the station’s weapons were not yet ready for service. The Rebels also learned from the Emperor’s data-pad, stolen in the Battle of Korriban, that the Emperor was personally supervising the Station’s final stage of construction.
In fact, the status of the Death Star weapons systems, the role of Palpatine in overseeing construction, and the disposition of Imperial forces in the area of operations were a strategic deception campaign. The Emperor himself directed the campaign to provide the Rebels with information on the construction site, the location of the planet-side shield generator, and misinformation on the station’s operational status.
The most notable aspects of this strategic deception campaign were the Empire’s strong OPSEC and the Rebel Alliance’s poor intelligence analysis. At a minimum, the Empire’s OPSEC successes included the following:
- Hiding movement of their Imperial Flagship Executor to the Death Star Area of Operations
- Hiding deployment of other strategic fleet assets such as Darth Vader’s personal fleet, Death Squadron
- Reinforcing Death Squadron strength to over thirty Star Destroyers
- The existence of the Death Star at Endor
Operational status of Death Star’s weapon systems
- Deployment of the 501st Storm Trooper legion to the Moon of Endor
- Imperial invasion fleets on the borders of the Calamari sector and Mon Mothma’s homeworld of Chandrila.
Rebel Alliance Intelligence collection assets should have detected at least some of these indicators. If in fact these indicators were detected, Rebel intelligence analysts should have been able to correlate and analyze that data and detect either the Empire’s trap or the threat in Calamari sector. So there was either a major failure in collection, analysis, or both. Whatever the actual lacking, the Rebel Alliances’ failed intelligence almost cost them the war.
The Rebel Alliance made its own attempt at strategic deception by launch an attack on Imperial forces near the planet of Sullust. This strike was intended to lure Imperial ships away from Endor. Emperor Palpatine said to Darth Vader that he was aware of the Rebel fleet movement but considered it inconsequential as his plan was to crush the rebellion at Endor. This statement implies the following about Imperial intelligence capabilities:
- The Alliance knew enough about the Empire’s collection capability to know it would detect its fleet movements near Sullust.
- Imperial forces had sufficient intelligence collection to determine Rebel fleet movements near Sullest (as both Vader and the Emperor were aware of them).
- The Empire had determined Alliance had plans to attack Endor.
Palpatine found the Rebel’s fleet movements irrelevant because he had devised a strategy to maintain the majority of the fleet close to Endor. There, the fleet would provide security and support for the second Death Star instead of engaging the Rebel Fleet, a strategy not revealed until the commencement of the battle above Endor’s forest moon.
What the Empire gained in Strategic Deception, Intelligence, and OPSEC they lost in counterintelligence and Information Assurance. Although the Imperials successfully led the Rebels into a trap, they were unaware that the Death Star was actually controlled by the bounty hunter droid IG-88A. In the early stages of construction the last IG-88 series droid prepared to launch a revolution. The Artificial Intelligence transferred its consciousness into a duplicate of the Death Star’s computer core. When the Empire installed the core, IG-88A controlled the Death Star. Had the Rebels not destroyed the station, the end result would have been as bad if not worse for the Galactic Empire.
Operating on false intelligence the Alliance planned its two-pronged attack. A commando team, led by General Han Solo would land on the moon in a stolen Imperial shuttle and disabled the base’s deflector shield projector. The Alliance Fleet, led by Admiral Gial Ackbar and aided by Lando Calrissian in the Millennium Falcon, would destroy the battle station.
Prior to the battle, Rebel Alliance Chancellor Mon Motha briefed pilots and ground assault crews on the details of the Endor operation. The Alliance learned that the space station was orbiting the forest moon. Details included technical schematics of the station infrastructure indicating the most probable location of the primary target, the Station’s ‘power grid”. The technical information was limited in that it did not provide exact location requiring the Rebel fighters use sensors to detect the power source.
As part of her presentation Mon Motha noted that the space station data came from Bothan spies and that ”many Bothans died to bring us this information”. It is poor OPSEC for Mon Motha to identify the the specific source of the intelligence reporting as Bothan spies. Doing so jeopardizes Bothan spies currently operating against the Empire. Had the Empire had a recruited asset or technical surveillance in the briefing room they would have known the exact plans and timing of the Rebel attack. In addition, the Empire would have likely begun investigations and counter espionage efforts against Bothans with access to the Empire’s military plans, intentions, and especially capabilities. This would be done in an effort to identify any additional Bothan spies.
The Empire might have even taken action against the entire Bothan population. Imperial military leaders have taken extreme retaliatory measures against entire population groups. In addition, measures against population groups suspected of espionage are common in history. On the planet Earth (Milky Way, Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha) during the Second Punic War the Romans learned that the City of Carthage was debriefing traveling merchants to gather intelligence. They responded by slaughtering thousands of Carthaginian traders, merchants, and sailors over a few days. Similarly, at the start of a major conflict, a country called the United States imprisoned a racially different segment of its citizens for fear they would be used by their country of heritage for espionage or sabotage.
Neither the Empire nor Alliance appeared to have any knowledge of the indigenous occupants (Ewoks) of the forest moon. Local area knowledge is a critical component of Preparation of the Battle Space. This proved to be a tactical advantage for the Rebels and a critical failure for the Empire. After allying with the Rebels, the Ewoks provided safe “tree” houses, food, and combat support to the Rebel assault team. Most importantly, they provided critical tactical intelligence identifying a secret entrance to the shield generator facility.
The Alliance Fleet exited from hyperspace and moved to attack the apparently un-shielded Death Star. General Lando Calrissian noted that the ship’s sensors were not detecting the shield or its residue left after deactivation. This fact meant that the Empire was jamming the Alliance attack force. This information provided by the ship’s sensors has three intelligence implications:
- The shield was still active.
- The Empire knew Alliance sensor frequencies as jamming is only possible if the Empire had knowledge of the frequencies. (Alternatively, the Empire could have been jamming on all frequencies but this is unlikely given the impact on their own communications and General Calrissian’s reaction upon discovery)
- The Empire expected the alliance attack.
During the space battle Admiral Ackbar ordered a concentrated assault on the Imperial flagship Executor. Several fighter squadrons began to target the Executor’s main sensors. Indicating the Rebel Alliance had basic military intelligence on Imperial ship identification and capabilities. The targeted assault on the Executor’s sensors, turbo lasers, and Command Bridge led to disabling the ship. Caught in the Death Star’s gravity well the Executor was destroyed and the Station severely damaged.
In the course of the battle, the Alliance engaged the battle cruiser Pride of Tarlandia, a communications ship that was jamming (hampering) Rebel communications, and providing communications support to the Death Squadron. Alliance tactical sensor arrays (Signals Intelligence, i.e. SIGINT) detected the emanations and destroyed the ship’s communications and jamming capabilities.
Throughout the battle, similar targeting of Imperial ships’ sensors, shields, and weapon systems indicate the Alliance had comprehensive intelligence on military capabilities.
The Rebel fighters, led Wedge Antilles and General Calrissian penetrated into the Station’s superstructure and attacked the Death Star’s main reactor chamber. Antilles destroyed the reactor core’s power regulator while Calrissian targeted the core itself. Death Star personnel had situational awareness of these actions and responded by flooding the area with electronic interference to hinder the Rebel’s progress and directing Advanced Tie Interceptors to eliminate the Rebel threat. Ultimately, both acts proved unsuccessful.
The Galactic Empire showed outstanding use of Strategic intelligence, deception, and OPSEC; but poor counterintelligence and Information Assurance. In contrast, the Rebel Alliance shows poor OPSEC but strong basic military intelligence and tactical intelligence (situational awareness) in the local battle space.
- Star Wars: Episode III The Return of the Jedi
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange (Why was the Death Star’s shield generator on Endor?)
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange Why didn’t the Rebels jump to hyperspace to escape at the Battle of Endor?
- Endor Planet Wookipeedia http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Endor_%28planet%29
- Bothans Star Wars Wookipeedia http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Bothan
- The New Essential Chronology
- Star Wars: The Essential Atlas
*NOTE: This analysis does not include applications of The Force which were unverifiable at time of publication. However, it should be noted both sides claimed extensive knowledge and insights as a result of its use.