US Intelligence Failure in the Middle East

Blog Post
The recent (surprise) attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo, the US Consulate in Benghazi and the general outpouring of anger in the Islamic World against the United States is a failure in intelligence of epic proportions. The greatest vulnerability future Presidents will face will be the lack of human sources of intelligence. Terrorists armed with nuclear weapons will kill hundreds of thousands of Americans if we do not improve our human intelligence capability.
At present, the US relies on Israel for high-end intelligence on the inner workings of the Iranian government. Why is that? Is that in the best interests of America? Why don’t we have more significant capabilities in the heart of the nation that may hate us most?
The lack of human sources has been the greatest threat to the presidencies and the historical legacies of American Presidents, and to the American people.
1. The Chinese invasion of North Korea in 1950 was a complete surprise and the subsequent handling of the war by President Truman led him to cancel his re-election campaign.
2. The handling of the U-2 incident was President Eisenhower’s greatest regret as President.
3. Lack of Cuban human sources contributed to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which was President Kennedy’s greatest failure.
4. The lack of human sources in Vietnam haunted President Johnson in the conduct of the Vietnam War.
5. The Vietnam War was one of President Nixon’s greatest challenges as well. The outbreak of the 1973 Arab/Israeli war also took the Agency by surprise.
6. Throughout the Cold War, the Agency’s top program, recruitment of Soviet human sources, was a shambles. Lack of intelligence on Soviet intentions nearly led to war on several occasions.
7. President Carter’s humiliation and the destruction of his presidency were caused by the Iran hostage crisis and the subsequent failed rescue attempt, both of which featured a lack of human sources.
8 President Reagan’s humiliation involved hostages and the ensuing Iran-Contra scandal, both featuring a lack of human sources.
9. President Clinton’s legacy was tarnished by the lack of human sources, who could have transmitted information that might have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Lack of human sources led to a nuclear arms race in the Asian sub-continent.
10. Lack of human sources on Iraqi WMD and on the Iraq war poisoned the George W. Bush presidency. 
Middle Easterners still don’t know what freedom means because they are waiting for Bernard Lewis to explain to them. You can’t be ‘free’ and devoutly anything, and that goes double for Muslims. The riots and expressions of freedom in the so-called Arab Spring were not pushing for “freedom” as Americans understand it. And absent human sources and people who can manage those sources, there is very little that the U. S. can do to understand what’s going on. Which explains why President Obama, Secretary Clinton and everyone else in the American Intelligence Community was caught with their pants down when riots and murder directed at the US took place across the Arab World on September 11, 2012. It’s not unlike the intelligence failure that we all saw graphically on September 11, 2001.
AMERICA SAID, “Never Again” – but the bureaucracy didn’t really listen.
In the United States, the mainstream media drives the political machine. Much of the decision making that President Obama manages is pushed in one way or the other by reporters. He would seem to miss almost all of his briefings according to an article in the Washington Post. President Obama apparently chose to skip it (his intelligence briefing) altogether and attend a Las Vegas fundraiser for his re-election campaign by partying with Beyonce and Jay Z — One day after a terrorist attack. There must not have been much that was useful to President Obama in those briefings (?)
The Mainstream media have experts who can explain the Middle East to Americans such as New York Times Middle East Expert, David D. Kirkpatrick, who never studied the Middle East, never learned any of its language and his previous experience previous to being the NY Times in-house expert was in covering and criticizing conservative politicians in the US. That is what passes for ‘qualifications’ at the New York Times and by extension, many of the Mainstream Media talking heads. 
So what the heck is going on? (I feel your confusion)

The U. S. Intelligence structure consists in layer upon layer upon layer of moribund management such that not much seems to get done. Management consultant Tom Peters discusses the problem of layers by pointing out that, in a chain of six layers, if each layer makes the correct decision 80 percent of the time, this will result in a correct decision by the six layers 26 percent of the time. (.8 to the 6 th power = 26 percent).

President Obama can’t fix this problem and likely doesn’t understand why he needs to if he doesn’t want to end up like so many of his predecessors. I suspect that if Governor Mitt Romney becomes President Romney that he won’t get it either. AND that lack of human sources overseas will lead to political grief for him as well.

There are fixes, but the bureaucracy that is the Intelligence Community would push back HARD because there are sinecures, retirements, bloated salaries (considering how very little some of intelligence bureaucrats work to earn them) and so forth that they’ll protect to the last drone-like breath.
And then there is the political correctness that mires us all in ‘words we can’t say’ that has no place in the intelligence business. The repair job requires politically incorrect people who will not be savaged by an American public, cheered on by the mainstream media that turns on them. See Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, by Jose Rodriguez.


15 thoughts on “US Intelligence Failure in the Middle East

  1. Our Intel started to go to crap when Carter was in office, and has never really recovered. Intel officers whose life was the business have, in at least some part, been pushed aside by vindictive, politically correct doinks. Several novels by a Mr. Lambert point this out quite well.

  2. Don't forget that Intelligence utterly failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union. That one benefited Reagan and Bush, Sr. It's not surprising that Intelligence fails to uncover such plots. What is surprising is that administrations are so rigid and ideological that they cannot respond to such surprises with anything like a cogent policy.

  3. I agree. But, just like the original 9/11, there ARE men out there, doing the job. There just aren't enough of them, and they aren't valued. You can't re-make agencies – but you could spin off. The problem is when the most important thing becomes where on the GS scale they are, which health plan they choose, what was their last performance review like…

    Just the other day, I was talking to a guy I know. He invited a coworker on an 'interview.' As it turned out, the subject of the interview would be a better fit for another Agency, due to the primary residence of the interviewee, and the information was passed on (informally, no reports, no stats, no sign-offs, no boxes checked, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum, ad nauseum, ad nauseum…). The coworker asked a lot of 'how did that benefit us?' type questions. The guy I know answered, "it helps the United States." The sad truth – the coworker was a GS-14, on a list to become a GS-15.

  4. As usual, you hit the nail on the head.

    You could spin-off. Director Porter Goss tried to do that the bureaucrats beat him up to the point that he left government service.


    Effective human intelligence tends to negate BIG surprises – which would include the fall of the Soviet Union.

    The sad truth is that the US failed to recruit one high level soviet spy of any value during the cold war. The big ones that we got were walk-ins, volunteers. Not due to any particular effort on our part.

    The Soviet HUMINT system brought them FBI Asst. Director Hanssen, Aldrich Ames from CIA, the infamous Walker Spy Ring, FBI Agent Richard Miller, etc. Those people blew HUGE holes in our efforts during the Cold War.

  6. I've worked with Federal Law Enforcement people who pleaded with me not to give information that will help co-workers from another 'squad' in their agency that works FCI, for example. Reason – petty in-fighting. But that's not what I was talking about in this blog. The problem is that the system doesn't work. There are a lot of smart, patriotic, clever people in the system, but they are all too often held back by that very system. It results in horrible intelligence failures.

  7. Bureaucracies cripple all attempts by wishful thinking do-gooders to do the right thing. We the People hate them, and politicians grow them.

  8. They provide refuge for the meek, and timid, who earn their living by making no decision at all (or at best sitting in a committee where their voice can't be singled out). And they tend to slash out at anyone who is actually doing something. As a result we have weak foreign intelligence.

  9. As with an ostrich whose head is embedded in the sand, sometimes those in government would not like their prejudices challenged with information that conflicts with their notions. Thus change and effectiveness in the US Intelligence System is prevented by MANY layers of bureaucratic cushion.

  10. LL, as you well know, we're short of HUMINT assets ever since Clinton, and this administration is 'ignoring' anything that comes over the transom that doesn't fit "their" agenda. Word on the street is they had three days notice of trouble coming in Cairo and Benghazi; but chose to not take action, and purposely disarmed the Marines…

  11. Exactly. So much hope when Goss took over, and even more disappointment when he failed. Patraeus is smart, but is he mean enough? November will have HUGE implications with RJMIII on the way out. But…the options might be, A) Continue adding bureaucracy, or B) Worse….

  12. …and many at the bottom of the pyramid agree…until its there turn towards the top, and then the view is too tempting, why let results get in the way of control, power, and authority.

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