The CIA's Long Record of Intelligence Failures in the War on Terror

Aug. 10 2015

In his memoir, Michael Morell, a veteran CIA officer who spent part of the 1990s serving in the unit tasked with monitoring al-Qaeda, describes his experience of America’s war on terror. In his review, Gabriel Schoenfeld describes the book as both compelling and informative, but suggests that it does not hold the agency to sufficient scrutiny:

Neither the twin embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 nor the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 prompted [the then-CIA director George] Tenet to return to the problem [of the threat of al-Qaeda]. Only after 9/11 did the CIA issue a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on terrorism. Tenet was not exactly shaking the trees on this critical subject. . . .

But beyond [the frequent] superficiality [of CIA analysis that Morell himself admits], there was the long and familiar record of CIA analytical and collection failures. Among other things, the agency missed the first Soviet atomic-bomb test in 1949, the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, the first Soviet H-bomb in 1953, the outbreak of the Suez war in 1956, the Soviet placement of missiles in Cuba in 1962, the Egyptian attack that started the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the Iranian revolution that same year. Understanding secretive adversaries is a very difficult challenge, and even the best spy agencies in the world regularly get even the most important questions wrong. In the wake of the 9/11 lapse and all previous lapses, President George W. Bush and his men would have been irresponsible if they did not look at CIA judgments sideways and upside down.

While casting aspersions on agency outsiders, Morell conspicuously elides those episodes where insiders themselves appear to politicize intelligence. The most notorious recent example is the declaration in the unclassified summary of the 2007 NIE that “we judge with high confidence that, in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.” This startling finding was reached, as a footnote reveals, by excluding from consideration “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.” In other words, relying on a preposterously narrow definition of a “nuclear-weapons program,” the NIE injected a profoundly misleading assertion into the bloodstream of national debate, thereby altering the direction of American policy.

Read more at Lawfare

More about: Al Qaeda, CIA, Iran nuclear program, Politics & Current Affairs, War on Terror


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy