LAHORE: While a debate is currently under way around the world on the intelligence failure of even the best spy agencies to arrest Osama bin Laden for around a decade, history shows that the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) of the United States, the MI-6 of Britain, former Soviet Union’s KGB, Mossad of Israel and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India etc have not only committed monumental blunders, but at times, their slip-ups have proved extremely costly to their respective nations.
As far as the CIA is concerned, this is what The Washington Post had observed about it on December 5, 2007: “The history of the CIA is littered with spectacular intelligence mistakes. Sometimes, the correction of one error can lead to a new error, as analysts atone for past mistakes by moving too far in the opposite direction.”
In his article “The CIA’s Biggest Bloopers,” published in The Washington Post on the above-mentioned date, writer Michael Dobbs analysed CIA’s six decades of intelligence gathering by compiling a ‘Fact Checker’ list.
According to this article, the biggest CIA goof-ups include its 1956 prediction proving wrong that Moscow would remain in full control of Eastern Europe through 1960 at least, its incorrect estimates in 1958 that the Soviet Union would have 500 intercontinental missiles in 1961 or 1962 and its failure to inform President Kennedy in 1961 that a planned invasion of Cuba through 1,500 Cuban exiles had little chance of success without the participation of US forces and then of course.
As the article mentions, in August 1978, during the Iranian Revolution, the CIA had wrongly estimated that Iran was not in a revolutionary or even pre-revolutionary situation. The estimates proved faulty when the Shah of Iran had to flee his country just six months later.
Similarly, on July 31, 1990, the CIA had incorrectly dismissed the likelihood of an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which Saddam Hussein invaded just two days later. The CIA had also significantly underestimated the scale of the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme.
In May 1998, the CIA had failed to predict the testing of an Indian nuclear bomb, though it was better prepared for the first Pakistan nuke tests a few days later.
In September 1999, the CIA once again came up with a flawed intelligence forecast that Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting US territory in the next few years.
Times proved that Iran was nowhere near to attaining this capability.
In 2002, the CIA said Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction and that it was not far from making a nuclear bomb if it had the necessary fissile material. This turned out to be yet another lie and a pretext of attacking Iraq.
This article somehow missed out how the CIA had over-estimated the power of the Warsaw Pact of 1955, not anticipating that the treaty was about to dissolve.
A study of the Korean War reveals that the CIA had also committed two major blunders during this famous battle of 1950 by underestimating the threat of a North Korean invasion of South Korea and failing to predict the intervention of the Chinese troops until a day before it had actually happened.
The above quoted article had also overlooked how the CIA, established in 1947, had also fallen short of analysing or predicting the then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s move to attack Israel in 1973.
It also failed to mention how this premier US spy agency had planned ineffective security measures for its Beirut station chief William Buckley, who was abducted and murdered in 1984.
In fact, CIA was unable to locate Buckley before his murder.
After Buckley’s murder, President Reagan had issued a national security directive, whereby use of both covert action and military force was authorised in the war against Islamic guerrilla groups in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
The security directive had also justified the use of force against Libya in 1986 when the CIA claimed that the Libyan government was responsible for the attack on a nightclub in Berlin.
The bombing of Libya led to a terrorist attack on Pan American Flight 103 two years later, causing death of nearly 300 people.
Melvin Goodman, a Soviet analyst at the CIA, had once said in an interview: “The CIA should admit that it exaggerated the strength of the Soviet military and economy, and that it underestimated the burden of Soviet defence spending on the country’s economy.”
Goodman also pointed out that the CIA had ignored Gorbachev’s efforts to urge the United States to come to the peace table and to discuss disarmament.
Interestingly, the CIA had also failed to anticipate the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Kabul in 1989.
It goes without saying that in 2001, the CIA failed to provide information on the terrorist acts of September 11 on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Similarly, it had also failed to warn the Bush administration before Operation Desert Storm that Iraq had stored Sarin nerve gas.
According to The Los Angeles Times edition of March 16, 1997, “In 1995, French intelligence publicly humiliated the CIA when it exposed a US spy operation designed to steal secrets from French trade negotiators. That economic intelligence operation was apparently compromised when a female officer was identified by French intelligence.”
Leading Indian magazine Outlook in its March 1997 edition also mentions an incident where the CIA deputy station chief for India was arrested and expelled after attempting to recruit Ratten Sehgal, who was the additional director in the Intelligence Bureau.
In his book ‘The Legacy of Ashes’, celebrated author Time Weiner has viewed that CIA had failed to predict every big international event from the outbreak of the Korean War to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks.
A review of Weiner’s book published by the British daily The Daily Telegraph on July 29, 2007 read: “The CIA thought it had an intelligence coup on its hands in 1994.
Its friends in the Guatemalan military were bugging the bedroom of Marilyn McAfee, the American ambassador in that country, whom they regarded as suspect because she was fighting human rights abuses by the regime.
Eavesdroppers heard her whispering sweet nothings to someone whom they took to be her secretary, another female diplomat – and the CIA set out to undermine Mrs McAfee by spreading rumours in Washington that she was a lesbian.”
The newspaper had further stated: “There was just one problem. The ambassador, who was happily married, was not having an affair with her secretary. The secret microphones had instead recorded her “cooing endearments” to Murphy, her poodle”.
The mistake is just one example of bungling by the CIA chronicled in a new history of the agency by the Pulitzer prize-winning author, Tim Weiner, who has covered intelligence matters for The New York Times for two decades.”
The Daily Telegraph had earlier published a similar article on this subject on January 5, 2006.
The writers of this article, Messrs Anton La Guardia and Alec Russell, had actually discussed a book ‘State of War:
The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration’ by a New York Times reporter James Rise.
Analysing the content of this book, The Daily Telegraph staffers had asserted, “Botched CIA operations may have handed Iran vital information on how to make nuclear weapons and betrayed the identities of America’s spies in the country, according to a new book on US intelligence. The latest account of American intelligence failures includes details of how the CIA allegedly tried to slip Teheran some Russian designs for an atomic bomb, which contained hidden flaws that would have made any device inoperable.”
“The Iranians, however, were tipped off by the very agent sent to give them the documents.”
They went on to write, “In a separate incident, the book claims a CIA officer mistakenly sent an Iranian agent – who turned out to be a double agent – information that was used to arrest virtually all of the agency’s spies in Iran.”
The Sunday Times, yet another leading British daily, had written on February 5, 2010 on how a missionary family’s plane was ‘mistakenly’ shot down over Peru in a 2001 CIA blunder, killing two people on board.
The newspaper wrote, “After nine years of investigation, however, the CIA insisted that none of its officers had acted inappropriately when the aircraft was mistakenly attacked as part of a covert anti-drug effort.”
According to a BBC report of May 13, 1999, “The unintentional bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has not only gravely damaged NATO’s diplomacy, but has also seriously undermined the American Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, which has been blamed for wrongly targeting the embassy.”
The BBC had viewed, “The Belgrade attack was just the latest in a series of high-profile blunders by the CIA. In the last two years alone, the agency has somehow failed to spot India and Pakistan’s intentions to explode nuclear devices and wrongly identified a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan as a chemical weapons plant.”
Coming to MI-6, the 101-year old British secret service, which happens to be the oldest spy agency in the world, it has often been held responsible in public discussions for the 1982 fiasco of the Falkland. This war between Argentina and the United Kingdom was fought over the disputed Falkland Islands, South Georgia Islands and the South Sandwich Islands.
A peek through Professor Keith Jeffrey’s book ‘The Secret History of MI6′ shows how MI-6, the world’s most storied foreign intelligence service, had also failed during the 1930s to provide an analytic assessment of Adolf Hitler’s intentions in Europe. The book asserts that the outbreak of World War II had also caught this agency off-balance.
The dreaded Israeli spy agency Mosad, established in 1949, is no exception when it comes to committing irreversible blunders.
According to the Al-Jazeera TV, the assassination of a senior Hamas commander Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19, 2010 had proved to be a watershed moment in the long history of the Mossad.
A report on the noted Arab television stated, “Israeli officials who ordered the assassination did something that Zionists have always done, underestimate their Arab opponents. Israel has traditionally used its technological superiority and prowess over Arabs to operate freely in the Middle East. But the technology of surveillance and intelligence is now available to most governments, and even ordinary citizens can assume the classic roles once reserved for characters in spy novels.”
The report said, “The assassination team in Dubai did not expect that their pictures would be plastered all around the world, and that their names (in their real passports) would be circulated on Interpol’s (“Red Notice”) Wanted List.
The assassins did not think that the Dubai security officers would be capable of operating security cameras, retrieving the data therein and piece together how 26 of their agents were able to carry out the hit on commander Mabhouh.”
The history of Israeli intelligence failures is pretty old though. In 1954, the Egyptian regime had unearthed a network of Egyptian Jewish spies who were engaged in terror attacks on British and US targets in Egypt.
When the Egyptian government tried these spies in court, Israeli media claimed that Cairo was hatching conspiracies against Tel Aviv.
The Egyptians proved right and the operation was such a debacle that it led to the eventual resignation of Pinhas Lavon, the then Israeli defence minister.
While the Mossad hunters were chasing the alleged perpetrators of the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, they killed two innocent people, both of whom had nothing to do with the 1972 Olympics attacks.
Mossad had also failed to accurately estimate Hezbollah’s capabilities during the Lebanon War of 2006.
It never succeeded in killing a single Hezbollah regional or national leader and in what could be termed a classic case of mistaken identity Mossad kidnapped a poor Lebanese farmer because his name was Hassan Nasrallah (the namesake of the Hezbollah chief) who had nothing to do with the Lebanese paramilitary organization.
On June 8, 1967, Israel mistakenly attacked a United States Navy technical research ship called USS Liberty, killed 34 crewmembers and wounded 170.
At the time of the 75-minute attack, the ship was sailing in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula. Both the Israeli and US governments conducted inquiries and issued reports that concluded the attack was a mistake.
This is what ‘The Los Angeles Times’, had stated in its October 12, 1997 edition: “Mossad is no longer the agency of legend.
Terrorism, and the fear and sudden death associated with it, have created the impression that the Mossad is merely a kind of hit team that tracks, hunts down and executes Palestinian terrorists. Its intelligence-gathering skills have accordingly suffered. The question is whether today’s Israel needs to reinvent the Mossad or reclaim its original mission.”
Tracking a few huge mistakes committed by the Indian secret service RAW, established in 1968, one finds that despite having played a pivotal role in the creation of Bangladesh, the Indian secret agency never had a plan to annex it with India.
It also could not prevent Shaikh Mujib-ur-Rahman from being killed, even though it had prior knowledge of the plot.
It was RAW, which had supported the 1975 Emergency proclaimed by the then Indian Premier Indira Gandhi.
History later proved that this Emergency was a fatal mistake and that RAW had been giving Indira Gandhi wrong estimates about her public support and popularity.
During the Operation Blue Star against the Sikhs in June 1984, RAW failed again as it could not assess the strength of Sikh commander Bhindranwale’s forces at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. What was thought to be a five-hour operation later stretched to five days and tanks had to be brought in by the Indian Army to crush the rebellion.
This resulted in heavy casualties for the Army, courtesy incorrect RAW estimates.
Indira Gandhi had to pay a heavy price later and was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards in 1983.
Despite having invested heavily to ensure that Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam continued as the Prime Minister of Mauritius in 1982, the Indian government had to face a lot of embarrassment as RAW had failed to deliver.
Known to have trained and funded the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, RAW could not prevent former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi from becoming a victim of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a village near Chennai in May 1991.
Former Soviet Union’s pride, the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti) or the Committee for State Security was established in 1954.
It was the largest secret police and foreign-intelligence organisation in the world at its peak. It once had more than 480,000 personnel working for it.
Every Soviet leader had depended on the KGB for information, surveillance and control of the public.
While the KGB is vehemently blamed for the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, its second biggest blunder was “Operation INFEKTION,” which was aimed at circulating disinformation that the United States was intentionally spreading AIDS around the world.
Dubbing it an American biological weapon, the Soviets had been propagating for over a decade that the US was planning to kill the world through AIDS.
But in 1992, the then Russian intelligence chief and later Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov, admitted that the KGB was responsible for all the rumour mongering in this connection.
He said on record that the Soviet KGB had actually concocted the false story that the AIDS virus had been created in a US military laboratory as a biological weapon.
TIME magazine in its February 13, 1989 edition writes: “No branch of the Soviet government has been so secretive – and so dreaded – as the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security), better known as the KGB. The world’s largest spy and state-security machine – the KGB – employs more than 500,000 people including thousands of agents abroad. The agency has long been the stuff of shadowy legend, its name synonymous with terror and its doors shut tightly to the public.”
In his famous 736-page book ‘The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB’, author Christopher Andrew has also highlighted the deception, immoralities and murderous history of the KGB.
The KGB was dissolved when its chief, Colonel-General Vladimir Kryuchkov, used the KGB’s resources to aid the failed 1991 coup attempt to oust Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
On August 23, 1991 Colonel-General Kryuchkov was arrested and on November 6, 1991, the KGB officially ceased to exist.