Failure may be of the traditional variety: we fail to predict the fall of a friendly government; we do not provide sufficient warning of a surprise attack against one of our allies or interests; we are completely surprised by a state-sponsored terrorist attack; or we fail to detect an unexpected country acquiring a weapon of mass destruction. At one point, committee chair Dianne Feinstein D-Calif. The country's preeminent intelligence agency still has a reputation for cloak-and-dagger intrigue, but it has been hobbled by major intelligence failures over the last three decades.
Even before Iraq, however, the agency's intelligence lapses in the s led to a "culture of failure When the unrest in Cairo began to grow last month, surprising the White House, President Barack Obama reportedly told National Intelligence Director James Clapper that he was "disappointed with the intelligence community" and its failure to predict the unrest that led to the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia.
Emphasizing that policy decisions by the president and Congress depend on timely intelligence analysis, Sen.
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Feinstein bluntly stated, "I have doubts whether the intelligence community lived up to its obligation in this area. The CIA has pushed back hard against the growing perception that it was caught off guard by the extent of the unrest in the Middle East. A senior official at the agency told The Huffington Post:. What wasn't clear even to President Ben Ali was that his security forces would quickly choose not to support him.
They'd stood by him before, and changed the game with their decision. Analysts anticipated and highlighted the concern that unrest in Tunisia might spread well before demonstrations erupted in Cairo.
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They later warned that unrest in Egypt would likely gain momentum and could threaten the regime. Analysts have been highlighting the many variables at play and the potential for escalation, while keeping top US policymakers constantly up-to-date on the fluid situation in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. Since January , the CIA has produced more than finished intelligence reports on the Middle East and North Africa, and over were focused specifically on issues related to stability in the region. Stephanie O'Sullivan, the agency's associate deputy director, testified at a Senate hearing last week that U.
And that happened at the end of last year. The process of collecting and analyzing intelligence is comparable to predicting an earthquake, Panetta said at Thursday's hearing. Diamond, whose book takes a tough look at the CIA's shortcomings, seconded Panetta's comparison and said that he is cautious about the tendency to pile on the agency after the unrest in North Africa. Upon the Senate committee's request for a timetable of Obama's intelligence briefings, congressional staffers have received a response and are currently analyzing the answers to see whether U.
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. The agency seems to have barely stayed ahead of news outlets as events unfolded in Tunis and Cairo. Bamford, along with some former spies, have questioned whether the agency's focus on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden has starved resources for other important tools in the agency's arsenal such as long-term strategic analysis and prediction.
Another challenge for the CIA when gathering intelligence in strategic-ally countries such as Egypt and pre-revolution Iran is that, as a courtesy, the United States agrees not to go behind the backs of those countries' elected leaders, according to Melvin Goodman, who spent 34 years as an analyst within the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence.
The knee-jerk criticism of the CIA is unwarranted in this case, other retired CIA officials and intelligence experts said. Charlie Allen, who served as the agency's assistant director of central intelligence for collection, said the Obama and Bush administrations were both warned by the CIA that Egypt and Tunisia were ripe for revolt.
Intelligence assessments included descriptions of "youth bulges" of frustrated young men spilling over into upheaval, Allen said. One sign that the administration was determined to catch up was its decision to send top diplomat Frank Wisner Jr. The son of CIA legend Frank Wisner, who plotted the overthrow of Iranian moderate Mohammed Mossadegh in and also ran the agency's top-secret operation to influence the U.
But that decision backfired when the younger Wisner veered off-message, stunning the diplomatic establishment and Egypt's democratic opposition by stating that Mubarak's "continued leadership is critical. The apparent lack of preparedness for the turmoil in the Mideast is not considered an intelligence "failure" on a par with the CIA's infamous lapses of the past three decades, but it does serve as a reminder of previous blunders that have embarrassed the agency.
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But there was little serious talk of unwinding the agency, as some lawmakers suggested at the end of the Cold War given its failure to anticipate the Iron Curtain's dissolution. In that climate, the agency faced staff and budget reductions, prompting a decline in morale. More than half of the supersensitive work in operations would now be contracted to private firms. Office of Special Plans produced disinformation to support the case for war.
The newly constituted DNI would even come up with its own competing counterterrorism center. The utter militarization of intelligence in America that Goodman feared all along has evidently come to pass. He has astutely canvassed active and recently retired agency personnel, cultivated top personalities in the congressional-oversight committees, combed through the documents and professional literature, and emerged with fine-grained, fair-minded analyses. The result is a collection of riveting specific case studies, with sharp and frequently surprising judgments. He traces, move by move, the series of misjudgments that led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in , which effectively restarted the cold war.
He follows the reasoning that tempted agency planners, aware of their own complicity in provoking the Catholic Church and Solidarity to rise up against the Soviet occupation in Poland, to conclude that the Russians were certain to move main-force units into Poland if the disruptions continued. In this, as in so many other smoldering situations, the CIA brain trust was measured, logical—and wrong.
Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA
Its performance was extraordinary at times. Given the opportunity to select one out of almost a hundred bombing targets in Yugoslavia during the war with Milosevic, CIA analysts delivered up the Chinese Embassy. The fact was, the preponderance of agency analysts were telling the US government that Hussein was bluffing. Although the renegade analyst Kenneth Pollack kept insisting that the buildup on the border suggested an invasion really was imminent, his conclusions were militantly ignored and, like so many other unwelcome opinions, wound up largely excised from the official histories.
There exists a spate of books detailing the transgressions of this midlevel operator. The widely perceived failures of nerve and imagination highlighted in the Ames case generated ripple effects, which helped undermine professional self-confidence and bring down intelligence establishments on both sides of the iron curtain.