The Landscape of Nazi Foreign Intelligence

The Geohistorical Intelligence Project (GEOHISTINT) is an initiative led by intelligence historian Dr Adrian O’Sullivan to find ways of enhancing intelligence historiography by encouraging intelligence specialists and historians to embrace the 21st-century ‘spatial turn’ that has touched the methodology of many nonhistorical research disciplines and to add the illustrative and analytical power of Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS) to their professional or scholarly investigations.

Many historians fail to acknowledge that geospatiality is almost as significant a dimension of historical studies as chronology. It certainly merits greater emphasis in historical narratives, descriptions, and analyses of administrative and operational intelligence. Historical visualisations rarely venture beyond static cartography, yet today’s GIS technology supports a wide range of digital visualisation media, which can be converted into dynamic, interactive maps and analytical charts. They can then be propagated via the internet, making them not only globally available scientific resources but also ideal educational tools for use in secondary and tertiary education. The aim is not to replace conventionally published and distributed historiography, but to support it, vivify it, and amplify it.

Co-authored with Dr Claire Hubbard-Hall of Bishop Grosseteste University (Lincoln, UK),  this year sees the publication of a groundbreaking article entitled ‘Landscapes of Intelligence in the Third Reich: Visualising Abwehr Operations and “Covert Space” during the Second World War’ in the influential Journal of Intelligence History. In their study, Hubbard-Hall and O’Sullivan argue that the German military-intelligence service (the Abwehr) was a macrospatial organisation whose clandestine operational activities were significantly affected by such factors as place and space. As the Second World War progressed, the Abwehr’s covert spaces expanded and contracted dynamically, producing some challenging operational environments. The service responded in various ways to a changing landscape engendered by military occupation, overseas deployment, geographical distance, enemy activity, and imminent defeat. In response to the recent ‘spatial turn’ in the theory and methodology of other disciplines, intelligence historians should now consider incorporating geospatial visualisation into their study of such landscapes with the aid of geographic information systems (GIS).

In support of the joint study, to demonstrate how geoinformatics may be applied to intelligence history, this website features an extensive synchronic case study: the visualisation of the landscape of Nazi foreign intelligence within Greater Germany at the zenith of Hitler’s continental power immediately before the Battle of Stalingrad during the winter of 1942-43. The geospatial range and reach of the two principal German clandestine foreign-intelligence services in their administrative and operational functions is depicted: (1) the three branches of the Abwehr (German Armed Forces Intelligence Service); and (2) the Auslandsnachrichtendienst (SS Foreign Intelligence Service), identifiable as Amt VI [Branch VI] of the Reichsicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Directorate [RSHA]), commonly referred to (inaccurately) as the Sicherheitsdienst (SS Security Service [SD]), of which it was in fact merely a major component. The dynamic maps of locations and movements have been generated on the basis of original contemporary maps of Nazi Germany and an original database compiled by Dr O’Sullivan from contemporary archival sources. To demonstrate the need for only basic computer hardware and software, the entire case study was produced on an Apple MacBook Air 1.6 GHz laptop with open-source QGIS 3.0 software; the QGIS2Web plugin was used to convert the georeferenced desktop visualisations to webmaps.