Harriet the Spy

on May 3 | in Intelligence Analysis

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America is about to have the distinction of having not one, but two intelligence officers appear on its currency. With the US Treasury’s announcement last month that Harriet Tubman will be replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, she joins spymaster George Washington on America’s legal tender.

While Tubman is best known for her efforts to help lead escaping slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad– Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said she was “not just a historical figure but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy,” she was also a dedicated intelligence officer during the Civil War.

As Greg Elder wrote for the Defense Intelligence Agency website:

Several months after the Civil War began in 1861, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts – a passionate abolitionist – recruited Tubman to join with Union forces occupying Beaufort, SC, to provide support as a spy and scout. Upon her arrival, she was provided a military pass, access to Secret Service funds, established relationships with local slaves for the collection of information, and rapidly recruited a team of scouts who knew the region intimately. She was tasked in 1862 – 1863 with mapping the region and identifying Confederate outposts and vulnerabilities, which bore fruit when a black unit of Union soldiers – using intelligence provided by Tubman – conducted successful raids throughout the region.   

Other nations place elephants or theaters or piles of rocks or, er, kids playing hockey on its banknotes. Some put the same person on all of its currency (Hi, China!) But we Americans put multiple people on our money who we think are important– folks who made a difference in our history.

We now have two spies on ours.

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