George Washington’s Secret Six
© 2013 Brian Kilmead
Wars are not won by soldiers alone. In the shadows are those silently gathering information, sometimes at great risks to themselves, to give the nation’s leaders an edge over the foe — or to prevent the foe’s own shadowy talents from doing likewise. George Washington’s Secret Six is a flashy history of a civilian intelligence ring operating throughout the revolutionary war, a ring that invented by necessity many of the tactics still faithfully and productively employed by intelligence agencies today — and a ring that accomplished more in the dark than the young nation’s struggling army did on the battlefield. It’s an area of history which is getting increasing attention these days, but The Secret Six is as its title indicates intended for a popular audience; it’s quite casual history, full of energy and fanciful storytelling — including scenes with dialogue. Given that the book is centered on New York, and that George Washington spends its entirety brooding over reports from the spies that give him little hope for taking the city, the full title seems something of an overreach. Despite the fact that the ring was created to help Washington free New York City from the British, however, they keep turning up information of interest outside that limited theater, like a plot to undermine American currency through counterfeiting. These episodes link the spy ring to a war that otherwise seems to be taking place in a place far, far away. Though limited in scope, and distressingly sparing in cites sources, the heroism undertaken by the merchants and common men and women is well worth being introduced to, as is their cleverness. It remains of interest despite being very light history.