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Iranian Revolution (1979)

CIA’s Mideast Surprise Recalls History Of Intelligence Failures

Huffpost- Marcus Baram

First Posted: 02-11-11 06:35 PM   |   Updated: 02-12-11 12:57 AM

“Despite our best intentions, the system is sufficiently dysfunctional that intelligence failure is guaranteed. Though the form is less important than the fact, the variations are endless. 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.” –An excerpt from “The Coming Intelligence Failure,” a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis written in 1997.

The failure of the Central Intelligence Agency to predict the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt dominated last week’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. At one point, committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the CIA should have had more warning of the revolts, since demonstrators were using the Internet and social media to coordinate, in many cases publicly. “Was someone looking at what was going on on the Internet?” she quipped.

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. Among those embarrassments: being caught off-guard by the Iranian revolution of 1979 and India’s 1998 nuclear tests, failing to foresee the 9/11 attacks or even the end of the Cold War and, more recently, ignoring evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Even before Iraq, however, the agency’s intelligence lapses in the 1990s led to a “culture of failure … a fatal cycle of error, criticism, overcorrection, distraction and politicization that undermined the quality and quantity of information provided to decision-makers who compounded these failing with major misjudgments of their own,” according to John Diamond, a former congressional staffer and author of “The CIA and the 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. Feinstein bluntly stated, “I have doubts whether the intelligence community lived up to its obligation in this area.”

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