First Crimea, now Iraq. Why does America’s $50 billion intelligence community keep getting taken by surprise?
Foreign Policy, 12 June 2014
nited States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized two major Iraqi cities this week and sent Iraqi defense forces fleeing, current and former U.S. officials said Thursday. With U.S. troops long gone from the country, Washington didn’t have the spies on the ground or the surveillance gear in the skies necessary to predict when and where the jihadist group would strike.
The speed and ease with which well-armed and highly trained ISIS fighters took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, have raised significant doubts about the ability of American intelligence agencies to know when ISIS might strike next, a troubling sign as the Islamist group advances steadily closer to Baghdad. And it harkened back to another recent intelligence miscue, in February, when U.S. spy agencies failed to predict the Russian invasion of Crimea. Both events are likely to raise questions about whether the tens of billions of dollars spent every year on monitoring the world’s hot spots is paying off — and what else the spies might be missing.
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The intelligence agencies’ inability to predict the latest crisis in Iraq is likely to fuel critics of the Obama administration’s management of other global crises, including in Syria and Ukraine. In the case of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, in which U.S. spies were also caught by surprise, sophisticated electronic eavesdropping systems run by the National Security Agency were of little use because Russian forces limited their time on telephones and adopted the techniques of jihadists, sending couriers back and forth between their units.
Phi Beta Iota: For over a quarter century multiple informed individuals have sought to reform US intelligence. They have been marginalized by individuals who may have felt they were in the right, but the bottom line is that now, 25 years later, not a single major reform has been achieved (see the graphic, from one of Robert Steele’s first articles in 1990). A tipping point is coming — the last two years of the Obama Administraton would be an ideal time to delete the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, restore the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, redirect CIA, NSA, DIA as respectively the central classified collection, processing, and analysis agencies, clean-up the FBI to do real counterintelligence, terminate the NRO, merge the NGA with USGS, and create the Open Source Agency.