Analytically Unacceptable

Contrary to the popular myth that CIA analysts have a direct line to truth and knowledge, the actual fact is that the majority of CIA’s analysts have a poor understanding of today’s complex world and no longer have the skills to conduct strategic analyses. The result is that the US government has only a superficial understanding of the world and is seemingly unable to understand the complicated issues and areas in which we operate. How did it happen? The Agency’s strategic decline began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. CIA was created to counter the post-WWII rise of the Soviet Union, so with the Soviets out of the picture the Agency lost its primary mission and began downsizing and reorienting personnel. The government and both political parties were more than eager to spend the money that used to go to CIA – the so-called “peace dividend”. CIA stations closed all over the world, CIA case officers and analysts were offered “early out” bonuses in a massive downsizing, and fewer and fewer strategic analyses were written. For a decade after the Soviet collapse, CIA drifted in search of a new mission which it found after the 9/11 attacks – al Qaeda and counter terrorism. The Agency’s approach to its new mission, however, wasn’t to strategically understand the rise of Islamism, the popularity and durability of Islamist ideology, to penetrate the governments who provided aid to al Qaeda, or to understand the social, political, and geopolitical impact of al Qaeda and Islamist ideology in the Middle East. Rather, CIA chose to get down into the weeds and hunt for individual terrorists. This transformation was nothing less than a seismic shift away from strategic intelligence to tactical paramilitary counter terrorism operations. As a result, the vast majority of CIA’s analysts became focused almost exclusively on military support operations such as creating wiring diagrams of small terrorist cells, and locating and killing individual terrorists, all jobs that the military’s Joint Special Operations Command should have taken responsibility for. In numerous investigations of the CIA, government investigators discovered that its in-the-weeds tactical approach deprives analysts of the time to conduct the kind of long-term research and thinking demanded for strategic analysis, because they are required to write short, tactical pieces to keep up with the constant demand for current, tactical intelligence. One investigation[1] revealed that: “Managers and analysts throughout the Intelligence Community have repeatedly expressed frustration with their inability to carve out time for long term research and thinking. This problem is reinforced by the current system of incentives for analysts, in which analysts are often rewarded for the number of pieces they produce, rather than the substantive depth or quality of their production.” Recent history well documents the price the nation has paid for this lack of strategic capability and insight. For more than twenty years the CIA and the government have reacted to events rather than forecasting them and forming strategic responses. The following is a list of just some the most notable intelligence failures in the Middle East: 2001: CIA had no strategic understanding of al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks 2003: CIA was completely wrong in its analysis of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction 2003-2011: After two wars in Iraq, eight years of occupation and the creation of the current government, the CIA and administration are largely ignorant of Iraqi political dynamics, the depth of Iraqi sectarian divisions and the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria which currently controls of north and western Iraq and is threatening an invasion of Baghdad 2010: CIA completely missed the Arab Spring uprisings 2011: CIA completely missed the Syrian civil war and the build-up of al Qaeda and other Islamist forces 2011: “leading from behind”, the administration pushed a NATO effort to liberate Libya without understanding the tribes, militias, and the extent of Islamist forces which ultimately resulted in the Benghazi catastrophe and Libya’s decent into a failed state 2011: The administration abandoned 30 years of support for Hosni Mubarak and strongly supported the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood over the objections of its most important regional partners. The Brotherhood swiftly began transforming the country into an Islamist republic causing a public uprising and its removal by military coup CONGRESSIONAL JOINT INQUIRY: The steady decline of CIA’s strategic analytical skill is well documented in declassified Top Secret reports. In February 2002, the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees launched a Joint Inquiry (JI) investigation into the 9/11 attacks to determine if anyone at CIA should be held accountable for the intelligence failure. On July 24, 2003, its findings were published in this declassified Top Secret report: “Prior to September 11, the Intelligence Community’s understanding of al-Qa’ida was hampered by insufficient analytic focus and quality, particularly in terms of strategic analysis…These analytic deficiencies seriously undercut the ability of U.S. policymakers to understand the full nature of the threat, and to make fully informed decisions.”[2] The quality of counterterrorism analysis was inconsistent, and many analysts were inexperienced, unqualified, under-trained, and without access to critical information. As a result, there was a dearth of creative, aggressive analysis targeting Bin Ladin and a persistent inability to comprehend the collective significance of individual pieces of intelligence. These analytic deficiencies seriously undercut the ability of U.S. policymakers to understand the full nature of the threat, and to make fully informed decisions.[3] CIA OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL INVESTIGATION: Because its findings were so shocking and damaging, the JI asked CIA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to review its findings and undertake whatever other investigation were necessary to determine whether any Agency employees should be held accountable for derelictions of duty. The OIG complied and conducted its own investigation, and in June 2005, it published its Top Secret report, entitled OIG Report on CIA Accountability With Respect to the 9/11 Attacks. “CTC’s…stated mission includes the production of all-source intelligence and the coordination of the IC’s counterterrorism efforts. Before 9/11, however, the Center’s focus was primarily operational and tactical. While focusing on operations is critically important and does not necessarily mean that other elements of mission will be ignored, the Team found that this nearly exclusive focus – which resulted in many operational successes – had a negative impact on CTC’s effectiveness as a coordinator of IC counterterrorism strategy”[4] “The Team found that…the forum soon devolved into one of tactical and operational, rather than strategic, discussions…senior officers in the Agency and Community told the Team that no comprehensive strategic plan for the IC to counter UBL was created in response to the DCI’s memorandum, or at any time prior to 9/11.”[5] The revelations of CIA’s lack of strategic capability, however, are not confined to official investigations. In 2005, an unclassified paper written for CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, titled Analytic Culture in the U.S. Intelligence Community,further documented the precipitous fall. In the report, one analyst described his frustration this way: “Our products have become so specific, so tactical even, that our thinking has become tactical. We’re losing our strategic edge, because we’re so focused on today’s issues.” In 2007, John G. Heidenrich, a highly experienced intelligence analyst, minced no words and tackled the problem head-on in his paper The State of Strategic Intelligence: The Intelligence Community’s Neglect of Strategic Intelligence, published on CIA’s website, which couldn’t be clearer: “During the past decade and a half, since the Cold War, the production and use of strategic intelligence by the United States government has plunged to egregiously low levels. This decline is badly out of sync with the broader needs of the republic, fails to meet the nation’s foreign policy requirements, ill-serves the country’s many national security officials, and retards the developing prowess of its intelligence analysts.” From the fall of the Soviet Union to the war in Afghanistan, CIA’s strategic analytical capability has steadily degraded. In January 2010, Major General Michael T. Flynn, then the intelligence czar for all intelligence in Afghanistan, the CJ-2 for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), cut CIA and the intelligence community off at the knees when he authored Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan a report he began with the following proclamation: “Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.” There can be no more serious indictment of an intelligence agency than the fact that it is irrelevant when the country is at war and American men and women are daily paying the ultimate price. CIA is broken. Once unique and strategically valuable for recruiting spies in governments around the world and conducting strategic research and analysis, it has forsaken its chartered strategic mission and intentionally focused its efforts on tactical counter terrorism operations making itself into a one-trick pony and redundant to Joint Special Operations Command Tier 1 units. This void has left the country without the deep expertise and strategic knowledge of the key countries and regions that is absolutely vital for the creation of intelligent and considered foreign policy. [1] The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, March 31, 2005, p. 402. [2] Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, Report of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Together with Additional Views, December 2002, Conclusion – Factual Findings, Systemic Findings p. xvi [3] JI, Systemic Findings p. xvi [4] OIG Report on CIA Accountability with Respect to the 9/11 Attacks, Executive Summary, and Approved for release August 2007, p. viii [5] OIG Report, p. viii Share TwitterFacebookGoogle PlusLinkedinStumbleUponDiggRedditBeboDelicious June 20, 2014 in CIA, Strategic. Tags: CIA, military support operations, paramilitary, Strategic Intelligence, Tactical Intelligence