From a post to Baen's Bar Honorverse dated June 20, 2004:

Peep intelligence gathering

    Okay, people --

    This is going to be a fairly long post. I'm posting it for a couple of reasons.

    One is to tell you that Richard Earnshaw, who I understand has been being his usual talkative self (has to do with being Irish, I think… having married a good Irish girl) here on the Bar is currently in the hospital. He's not too happy about it, either. They put him in for bypass surgery, and that went quite well, but then he went and got an infection in the incision. I've been to see him a couple of times, and took him his laptop on one such visit, and I think he's going to be just fine, but I expect they'll be keeping him for a little while. (They're also doing some PT for his arthritis while they've got him pinned down. Richard is not the Very Best Patient in the known universe.) I don't know how much posting he's doing from his bed of sickness, since his laptop is a bit long in the tooth and I have absolutely no idea what sort of modem connection he might be working through.

    The second reason is that when I dropped by to see him the other day, he commented that there's been some discussion here on the Bar about whether or not (and when) the Havenites have managed to obtain classified information about the new Manticoran technologies. From what he says, it sounds like I ought to have written a couple of "spy stories" so that you folks would have had a better idea about how I figured this whole thing works.

    The short answer to the question "Have they obtained information on classified projects and systems?" is "Yes they have." The long answer is "Yes they have, but with limited success and applicability." Some explication of those two statements follows.

    First, let's look at how that information might have been obtained. As I see it, there are basically four ways information can be gathered and utilized: (1) Spies in the enemy's research and development, fleet maintenance organization, and shipbuilding centers; (2) Collection and analysis of openly published technical information; (3) Interrogation of captured enemy personnel; (4) Examination and analysis of captured/purloined specimens of hardware.

    The first of these approaches, spies, ran into Patricia Givens and the various Manticoran counter-espionage agencies. Despite the Andermani's accomplishments (of which more below) Manticoran counter-espionage is actually very, very good. Manticore recognized very early on that its basic technological advantage over Haven was going to be its major equalizing hole card. As a consequence, security was always a paramount concern, and over the decades of the military buildup, Manticore got a lot of practice.

    Please note that the effectiveness of Manticoran counter-espionage in one area does not necessarily parlay into equal effectiveness in all areas. In particular, the Manticoran political system was such -- and Peep intelligence priorities and institutional thought were such -- that the Legislaturalists' various espionage agencies got much better penetration on the political side than on the hardware/military side.

    The Peeps were always more oriented towards subversion of the political leadership of their intended victims than towards technological intelligence gathering. Partly this was a result of the institutional mindset of the heads of intelligence agencies in the People's Republic. They thought more in terms of how to destabilize opposing political systems in part because they spent so much time worrying about the inherent instabilities in their own. People who were accustomed to suppressing dissidents and coping with a high degree of internecine power struggles within their own political elite tended to view the strengths and weaknesses of opposing governments through the same political prism. Thus the emphasis on suborning members of Parliament and the Peep predilection for assassination operations and others intended to destabilize/weaken/eliminate political sources of opposition within targeted star nations, like the successful assassination of Queen Elizabeth's father.

    One of the problems within the Committee of Public Safety's espionage community was that Saint-Just came out of the Legislaturalist tradition with its emphasis on political intelligence-gathering and politically directed covert actions. This put him in fundamental opposition to the people like Esther McQueen, who believed that the gathering and accurate analysis of military intelligence was of paramount importance, especially once the shooting actually started.

    Another reason for this bias in favor of political, as opposed to military, espionage in the Legislaturalist intelligence services was that until they ran into Manticore, their navy faced no really significant technological imbalance. Remember that most of the star nations which they conquered started at the same basic technology level as themselves, and the majority of them had adopted many of the more destructive political and economic policies of the People's Republic. As a result, the Legislaturalists were -- much like the current Solarian League -- accustomed to thinking of themselves as being at least the technological equivalent of any of their potential enemies. Intellectually, they recognized that this was not going to be the case if/when they finally went up against the Star Kingdom, but they seriously underestimated the extent to which their technology was going to be outclassed (Amos Parnell's thoughts when he's brooding on his defeat at Yeltsin are reflective of this), and they assumed that their numerical advantage, coupled with the fact that they would initiate operations at the time of their choosing, would more than offset any technical disadvantages.

    As a consequence of all of the above, the political operations side of the Legislaturalist intelligence agencies and, later, StateSec, tended to attract the "best and brightest" and to enjoy the most support, both in terms of funding and in terms of direction. Technology-gathering intelligence operations received at best secondary priority prior to the outbreak of hostilities, and even after the shooting started, the civilian-dominated, politically reliable upper ranks of StateSec were slow to grasp the necessity of shifting those priorities. When they did finally get around to doing so, they did so through the existing network of agents in place and contacts for technology gathering, unaware of how thoroughly Manticore -- and, particularly, ONI -- had penetrated and compromised those networks. Remember that Pat Givens was actually able to feed disinformation to the Peeps on the outbreak of war in order to draw Amos Parnell into a fatally flawed deployment plan. That degree of penetration also allowed the Manticorans to feed the Peeps the occasional, carefully crafted bit of technological disinformation, as well. Of which, again, more below.

    The People's Navy's internal intelligence analysts were always more aware of the need to acquire technological and operational information on the Manticorans than their civilian counterparts. Unfortunately for the People's Republic, the centralization of espionage and counterespionage activities subordinated all intelligence gathering activities to the civilian (i.e., politics-oriented) leadership. That didn't change under StateSec's auspices. Indeed, it got worse because of Saint-Just's all-consuming concerns over the political reliability of the military. And the fact that he and Rob Pierre had set up their entire coup based on a supposed naval-led coup attempt made the prompt and complete dismantlement of ONI a high priority for the Committee of Public Safety for reasons which had nothing at all to do with operations against the Alliance. The consequences for effective technology-gathering operations were profound, and also helped to account for much of the conflict between Saint-Just and McQueen in the period between Operation Icarus and Operation Buttercup.

    Finally, the tension between Saint-Just and McQueen specifically, and between him and the military in general, had a serious effect on the analysis of information which did become available from whatever source. Although Saint-Just made a serious attempt to avoid a situation in which his senior people were afraid that he might shoot the messenger who brought him information he didn't want to hear, he was less effective at keeping them from guessing what it was he wanted to hear in the first place. As a consequence, what was reported "up the tree" tended to go through a filtration process which subtly shaped it to suit what his underlings perceived his agenda and requirements to be. Again, this can be seen in the difference between what McQueen's analysts and the official StateSec analysts were coming up with in the period immediately before Buttercup.

    The second potential source of information -- technical journals, the popular press, etc. -- was both easier and more difficult for Manticoran counterespionage types to close up. While Manticore has a firm tradition of freedom of press, the Star Kingdom's Constitution also provides rather stringent punishments for people who violate security laws, even if they happen to belong to the sometimes self-deifying Fourth Estate. Specifically military projects, especially those where the basic research was carried out in secure facilities tucked away in the Manticore-B portion of the home binary system, were thus fairly simple to keep out of print. What couldn't he kept out of print was the basic, day-to-day discussion of civilian technology, some of which had military applications. In this area, the Peeps actually did fairly well, at least up to the outbreak of hostilities. The problem they had was that much of the information they brought home wasn't much help because they didn't have the technical capability to utilize it. And perhaps more to the point, the military applications of the new technologies are very specialized, and there was not a great deal of crossover between military and civilian research and development projects. Quite a few civilian researchers found themselves working on closed military projects, but there was a fairly secure firewall between the two areas before and during the war.

    Once the cease-fire was in place, and some of those civilian researchers returned to doing just that -- civilian research -- there was a substantial amount of "leakage" across the firewall. Indeed, at least some Manticoran civilian researchers relocated to the Republic, despite the penalties under domestic Manticoran law for violating the secrecy agreements which they had signed, to make their knowledge available to the Havenites. In most cases, this was for pure pecuniary gain, but in some cases it was also an act of conscience by Manticorans who either preferred the resurrected Havenite constitutional system to that of Manticore, or who regarded High Ridge and his Government as the true enemies of the peace process. These researchers probably represent the greatest tech windfall to come the Havenites' way, and they have been extremely useful to Shannon and her compatriots in gaining ground in terms of basic technological capability. There are, however, limits to their knowledge and, even more importantly, their ability to transfer that knowledge to Haven in the form of workable hardware. Moreover, the ones who returned to the civilian sector and who were available to the Republic in this fashion were the ones working in the least sensitive, least critical areas, which means that practically none of them were involved in the research and development areas which constitute the present cutting-edge of Manticore's efforts.

    The third major potential source of information on the Alliance's technology was prisoner interrogation. Here again, there were problems. The biggest problems that the nasty, low-life Peeps (as distinct from the noble, upright Havenites) faced with extracting information from prisoners were that: (1) They didn't have all that many prisoners; (2) StateSec had primary responsibility for prisoner interrogation, and many of the institutional flaws which afflicted their covert intelligence operations as discussed above also had implications for both prisoner interrogation and what happened to any intelligence gathered therefrom; and (3) Most of the prisoners they did have didn't have any information on the new systems in the first place.

    Remember that the Peeps captured very few ships, and were seldom left in possession of star systems in which battles were fought, in the earlier period of the war. Whereas the Manticorans held very large numbers of Peep prisoners, the People's Republic had very few Manticoran and/or Grayson prisoners. Remember also that the disparity in numbers of prisoners held was one reason the High Ridge Government proposed the prisoner exchange. It got them out of having to feed and care for very large numbers of captured personnel.

    Prisoner interrogation was a responsibility of StateSec under the complete centralization of all intelligence-gathering activities under Oscar Saint-Just's personal control. There were some expert interrogators working with the limited number of prisoners taken, but they were hampered by the politicization of their own superiors, many of whom were chosen more for political reliability than for skills and expertise (which also helps to explain how some of the more… unsavory types with objectionable personal habits got into positions of authority). More importantly, the jealousy of and paranoid distrust of the military which was fundamental to StateSec (not without reason, really, when you think about it) had a severe impact on the distribution of what information was obtained. It all went up the chain of command to StateSec's operational center in Nouveau Paris, and then back out again to what StateSec determined to be the agencies and commands with a legitimate interest in that information. People StateSec decided had no pressing need to know were cut completely out of the circuit, sometimes even where extremely general information was concerned. And since StateSec was doing the deciding about who needed to know things, the military analysts who would have been in the best position to recognize critical information were often left completely out in the cold.

    This Byzantine information collection and dissemination system gave multiple levels at which critical details could have been lost/obscured/misinterpreted even by the most conscientious and least politically biased of organizations. In one which was largely fanatically loyal, at the middle and upper levels at least, to its head, and which believed it knew what its head wanted to hear, the opportunities to effectively put the results of prisoner interrogations through the Cuisinart were rampant. And even after all of that was taken into consideration, information had to be disseminated back down the communications channels, with the result that it was always late getting to the places where it might have been of the greatest utility. In many ways I think of the situation which obtained in this regard for the People's Republic as being analogous to the Soviet Union's difficulties in grasping the realities of its own economy. There was a great deal of GI/GO going on, and the snake pit of mutual suspicion, distrust, and hostility between the civilian intelligence agencies and the military made things even worse. The majority of prisoners which the Peeps did take didn't have any information on Ghost Rider, the new fusion bottle technology, the MDM missile development projects, the Shrike, etc.. The Manties were very careful to keep all of that technology under wraps. If you recall, they were very much intent on keeping the existence of the new LACs, CLACs, long-ranged missiles, and new EW capabilities secret until they were able to employ the new systems in decisive numbers in Operation Buttercup. The new ships -- and the technicians who knew anything about the systems they mounted -- were therefore not really available to be captured (even assuming the Peeps had been winning very many battles) until Buttercup kicked off. And with the exception of people like Aivars Terekhov, the People's Navy didn't get much opportunity to capture people during Buttercup, either. Remember that one of Terekhov's reasons for fighting against such odds was to keep the new technology represented by his freighters' cargoes out of Peep hands. The small number of prisoners they did take during Buttercup -- like Terekhov -- they took far too late in the war to do the People's Republic any real good. Long before they could have gotten any utility out of data they might have obtained from those new POWs, they had been decisively militarily defeated, and only Saint-Just's ability to manufacture (with the High Ridge Government's assistance) a politically-based cease-fire saved the People's Navy from outright destruction.

    The same sort of problems applied to the capture and analysis of actual hardware samples. StateSec controlled who got to look at what, and the people they chose to do the looking were more often chosen on the strength of political reliability than on the basis of capability in technical fields. In addition, the nature of technology by the time of Honor Harrington made analysis much more difficult and problematical. Some of what the Manticorans had been up to involved relatively gross matters of engineering which were readily examined, studied, and analyzed, but most of it involved breakthroughs that were buried in things like molecular circuitry. Molecular circuitry has the advantage of being extremely tough and very, very seldom "breaking down," even under severe conditions of use and/or abuse, but repairing the mollycircs is usually impossible and seldom worth the effort. The normal procedure is complete replacement of the unit, which is pretty much a solid hunk of esoteric alloys. As a result, even the technicians in the field who are responsible for servicing and maintaining the ships are oriented around a plug-in-and-replace mode of operations.

    On the Peep side this helps to explain how a star nation which produced such a high percentage of technical illiterates could keep something as sophisticated as a starship up and running in the first place. It also explains why Peep maintenance levels were so far inferior to those of Manticore for so long; the Manty techies also understood the underlying theory and, like Aubrey Wanderman in HAE, had the insight into the Way Things Work to improvise where and when it became necessary. (This, by the way, also showed up in the fact that Manticoran damage control tended to be more effective and capable than Peep damage control.) But because of the nature of the hardware, there were very few manuals aboard the RMN's ships which explained precisely how any particular block of molecular circuitry was built.

    In addition to the inherent difficulties in tracing and analyzing circuits established on the molecular level, virtually all military hardware in the Honorverse -- and certainly all of the new critical, highly classified systems in the Manticoran navy -- include security provisions intended to make sure there's nothing to study. As long as the components are plugged into the master system to which they are registered at the time of installation, everything is just fine. But when the proper "about to surrender" code is entered into the master system, or if the components are removed from the master system or interrogated or accessed by hardware to which they have not been registered, they self-destruct. In effect, all of the existing molecular-level circuits are "homogenized" in a non-spectacular but total eradication of anything the other side might have been able to study. No such system can be 100% reliable, but it's existence greatly reduced the numbers of working specimens of hardware the Peeps were able to physically examine.

    All of this isn't to say that nobody in the People's Republic had any pre-Buttercup idea at all of what was coming. Naval intelligence (as opposed to StateSec) was picking up some rumors, and was aware of quite a few of the Manty systems which had been around for a while. Specifically, they knew about the FTL com and had figured out essentially what the Manties were doing; they knew about the lightweight launchers and the missile pods (whose existence had been revealed to the universe by the time of Honor Among Enemies); they knew they'd been losing ground steadily in terms of electronic warfare capabilities from the beginning of the war; they knew about the new compensators, and where the original approach which had led to their development came from; and they knew that the Manties were experimenting with new LAC types (again, courtesy of the technologies revealed in HAE).

    They had a very shrewd idea of how the grav-pulse com worked, and were certainly able to tell when one was being used around them. They didn't know how to build one, but that was because their basic technology wasn't up to the task, not because they didn't understand the theory.

    They knew the Manties were producing new ultra-dense, small fusion bottles, but again, it was a system which relied upon layers of technology they simply didn't have. Even if they'd had the plans for it, it would have been virtually impossible for them to duplicate.

    They'd figured out the lightweight launchers fairly quickly, and put them into production rapidly. This was partly because they had captured (salvaged) Manticoran pods (which, unlike the molecular circuitry of things like Ghost Rider, were an example of gross-level engineering which could be taken apart and fully studied), and partly because it was a simple exercise in logic to figure out what the Manties had done, and in this instance the Peeps' own technology was capable of reproducing how they had done it.

    They knew where the new compensator technology was coming from, and one reason they built the Mars-class as big as they did was because they anticipated giving their hands on that technology. One of these days I may write the short story of exactly what happened to that anticipated data windfall. Part of it was that they didn't get the opportunity to capture samples of the new compensator hardware until they took what was left of Prince Adrian (and she was so badly damaged they basically had to study the hardware in place because they couldn't take her with them). And another part of it was that StateSec got quite a bit of information on the new compensator from a couple of BuShips technicians they'd managed to compromise. Unfortunately for StateSec, the technicians they'd "compromised" were actually working for Pat Givens and ONI. The information they got was very creatively designed to send them down a blind alley.

    As far as electronic warfare systems were concerned, it was once again a case of limited amounts of hardware captured, the inherent difficulties in studying security-coded mollycircs, the limited numbers of knowledgeable prisoners of war available for interrogation, a flawed analysis and information-distribution organization, and a tech base which couldn't duplicate what the Manties were doing in the first place.

    Their conduit to the Solarian League was of limited utility until they could improve their basic technological capabilities. Basic tech improvement, in fact, was what most of the Solly tech transfers were all about. They couldn't get large amounts of hardware through the embargo, but they could -- and did -- get Solarian "technical advisers" to help them improve their in-house tech bases.

    The problem was that quite a few of their "advisers" were scammers, like the disreputable character in "With One Stone," on the one hand, and that there were limits to the extent to which they could simply graft someone else's advanced technology into their own rather backward infrastructure, on the other hand. They had to train the new technicians, who then had to build the intervening levels of infrastructure, before they could even match what the Sollies were capable of… and the Sollies were much further behind the Alliance than even the Manties believed. Certainly the Sollies were far, far farther behind than the Sollies believed they were.

    As an aside, even some of the folks like Technodyne, who were working hand in glove with the Peeps, tended to discount Peep combat reports. Hard sensor data was one thing; stories about "impossible" electronic warfare techniques, and apparent compensator performances were another. Frequently, even the tech reps actually working in the People's Republic put those reports down to the incompetency of the people making them. "Well, of course this bunch of stupid neobarbs thinks the Manties have something really special. So would I, if all of my own hardware was as crappy as the Peeps' is!" In fact, the Peeps (at least the ones associated with their naval intelligence) had a much better idea of what the Manties were up to than the Solarians did. However, even the Peeps were handicapped by the extent to which Saint-Just's political domestic agenda required him to keep naval intelligence firmly under his StateSec thumb. Not only did this means that data which was collected from Manticoran sources frequently got caught in the political filtration system's need to avoid emphasizing things which might be… inconvenient for Saint-Just, but it also affected what sorts of tech transfers were acquired from the Sollies, since StateSec was in charge of that portion of the war effort, as well.

    Despite all of the above, the Peeps were gradually getting a fairly comprehensive picture of the pre-Ghost Rider technology by the time Operation Buttercup cut loose. They had finally picked up the right thread in compensator development and were beginning to make improvements in that area, and of course they had their own pods in production, and they had finally gotten to the point of being able to produce -- or being on the threshold of producing -- the equivalent of the Manties' first-generation FTL com. At that point, of course, all of the new and previously unexpected goodies of Ghost Rider cut loose on them, and the war came to a screeching halt.

    When Pierre authorized Bolthole, well before Buttercup, it was against the backdrop of the technology and systems his people had begun to penetrate/duplicate. Bolthole from the outset was intended to be the advanced industrial node of the People's Navy -- the site where new technologies would be researched independently, and where all acquired data and captured hardware would be sent for analysis and integration into the Navy's own systems. (How well this would have worked out in practice under the Committee and StateSec is open to question. Probably Saint-Just would have been unable to keep his hands off the control levers, which would have reproduced many of the existing bottlenecks and distortions.)

    Despite all of the existing difficulties, Bolthole still represented a major step forward in the research and development capabilities of the People's Navy. The basic development of the new compensators which we saw in the Havenite warships deployed in WoH actually predated Shannon's involvement at Bolthole. She took advantage of the already acquired data and already developed research on the FTL com and significantly improved what they had, but that capability, too, was already in the pipeline. Also, something that I haven't really developed in the novels, the Peeps visualized the construction of pod-laying superdreadnoughts well before the Manticorans and Graysons actually deployed them. The logic of the design was compelling, even without the long-ranged missiles they didn't know the Manties were about to hit them with. So quite a few of Shannon's new designs are actually updated developments of designs which were in the study stage before Buttercup.

    After the cease-fire, Allied security became more porous, but the basic protections which had been built in by Pat Givens and her predecessors remained in place. Ghost Rider was recognized, even by the Janacek Admiralty, as the crown jewels of Manticoran technological superiority. As such, that entire development program and all of the subprograms which it had spawned were very carefully protected. The same "this is the basis of our supremacy" logic applied to the development of new ship types over at BuShips, so there was remarkably little public discussion of design projects like the Saganami-C. In fact, Janacek's exclusion of Grayson from the joint research and development projects was part of that security screen. (He took advantage of it to pander to his own bigoted, petty dislike of the Graysons, but at the same time security was tightened all around by turning Ghost Rider into essentially a purely Manticoran project.) The weakness of the Janacek Admiralty's ONI was much more in its "offensive" operations -- figuring out what the other side was up to -- than in its defensive provisions. The screen did leak enough for the Havenites to get a fairly decent feel for Ghost Rider's capabilities -- some of which Shannon managed to integrate into her own technology, and some of which was basically useful only for developing more accurate models and simulations -- but they were still on the short end of the technological stick, and what they managed to get had more to do with operational capabilities than with construction techniques.

    It's also significant that the Sollies are feeling rather hard done by at this point because, after the cease-fire, the Havenites essentially told them to go home. There were several reasons for this. One was that their Solarian "friends" had been milking this particular cash cow for every penny they could squeeze out of it. The Havenites knew perfectly well that they had been persistently gouged by their Solarian mentors, and they resented the hell out of it. Not simply because no one likes being taken advantage of, but also because it had been happening at a time when they were desperately straining every economic sinew in a (losing) war effort. They also recognized that their basic technological capabilities had begun a gradually steepening curve of improvement, which additional Solarian assistance would do little to accelerate further. And they saw an opportunity to get back some of what had been extorted out of them by charging very high prices to the Sollies for the additional tidbits of information they were willing to share. This is one reason why the Republican Navy's hardware is actually in advance of that available even to the Sollies' Frontier Fleet.

    By the time of WoH, Shannon and her merry friends had managed to close the gap between their Navy and the Manticorans to probably a couple of years of research and, given the differences in their basic technological infrastructure, three to four years of development time. The result was that they were able to field combinations of weapons and operational doctrines which gave them roughly equivalent combat capability as long as they could offset the remaining Manticoran qualitative advantage with their own numerical advantage. The problem that the Havenites are about to find themselves facing is that the technology they've managed to acquire (one way or another) from the Manties, and what they are capable of producing based on the data acquired, no longer represents the cutting edge of Manticoran development and deployment. Hence the fact that the Republican Navy at this time has no equivalent of HMS Hexapuma in commission or, in many ways, even at the drawing board stage. In short, the qualitative gap is about to begin growing again, although the new management at the Republican Navy is going to be much more flexible and capable about acquiring matching (or, at least, offsetting) technologies than was possible for the People's Navy.