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The Fog of Intelligence
Or How to Be Eternally “Caught Off Guard” in the Greater Middle East
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1,500.

That figure stunned me. I found it in the 12th paragraph of a front-page New York Times story about “senior commanders” at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) playing fast and loose with intelligence reports to give their air war against ISIS an unjustified sheen of success: “CENTCOM’s mammoth intelligence operation, with some 1,500 civilian, military, and contract analysts, is housed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, in a bay front building that has the look of a sterile government facility posing as a Spanish hacienda.”

Think about that. CENTCOM, one of six U.S. military commands that divide the planet up like a pie, has at least 1,500 intelligence analysts (military, civilian, and private contractors) all to itself. Let me repeat that: 1,500 of them. CENTCOM is essentially the country’s war command, responsible for most of the Greater Middle East, that expanse of now-chaotic territory filled with strife-torn and failing states that runs from Pakistan’s border to Egypt. That’s no small task and about it there is much to be known. Still, that figure should act like a flash of lightning, illuminating for a second an otherwise dark and stormy landscape.

And mind you, that’s just the analysts, not the full CENTCOM intelligence roster for which we have no figure at all. In other words, even if that 1,500 represents a full count of the command’s intelligence analysts, not just the ones at its Tampa headquarters but in the field at places like its enormous operation at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, CENTCOM still has almost half as many of them as military personnel on the ground in Iraq (3,500 at latest count). Now, try to imagine what those 1,500 analysts are doing, even for a command deep in a “quagmire” in Syria and Iraq, as President Obama recently dubbed it (though he was admittedly speaking about the Russians), as well as what looks like a failing war, 14 years later, in Afghanistan, and another in Yemen led by the Saudis but backed by Washington. Even given all of that, what in the world could they possibly be “analyzing”? Who at CENTCOM, in the Defense Intelligence Agency, or elsewhere has the time to attend to the reports and data flows that must be generated by 1,500 analysts?

Of course, in the gargantuan beast that is the American military and intelligence universe, streams of raw intelligence beyond compare are undoubtedly flooding into CENTCOM’s headquarters, possibly overwhelming even 1,500 analysts. There’s “human intelligence,” or HUMINT, from sources and agents on the ground; there’s imagery and satellite intelligence, or GEOINT, by the bushelful. Given the size and scope of American global surveillance activities, there must be untold tons of signals intelligence, or SIGINT; and with all those drones flying over battlefields and prospective battlefields across the Greater Middle East, there’s undoubtedly a river of full motion video, or FMV, flowing into CENTCOM headquarters and various command posts; and don’t forget the information being shared with the command by allied intelligence services, including those of the “five eyes“ nations, and various Middle Eastern countries; and of course, some of the command’s analysts must be handling humdrum, everyday open-source material, or OSINT, as well — local radio and TV broadcasts, the press, the Internet, scholarly journals, and god knows what else.

And while you’re thinking about all this, keep in mind that those 1,500 analysts feed into, and assumedly draw on, an intelligence system of a size surely unmatched even by the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. Think of it: the U.S. Intelligence Community has — count ‘em — 17 agencies and outfits, eating close to $70 billion annually, more than $500 billion between 2001 and 2013. And if that doesn’t stagger you, think about the 500,000 private contractors hooked into the system in one way or another, the 1.4 million people (34% of them private contractors) with access to “top secret” information, and the 5.1 million — larger than Norway’s population — with access to “confidential and secret” information.

Remember as well that, in these years, a global surveillance state of Orwellian proportions has been ramped up. It gathers billions of emails and cell phone calls from the backlands of the planet; has kept tabs on at least 35 leaders of other countries and the secretary general of the U.N. by hacking email accounts, tapping cell phones, and so on; keeps a careful eye and ear on its own citizens, including video gamers; and even, it seems, spies on Congress. (After all, whom can you trust?)

In other words, if that 1,500 figure bowls you over, keep in mind that it just stands in for a far larger system that puts to shame, in size and yottabytes of information collected, the wildest dreams of past science fiction writers. In these years, a mammoth, even labyrinthine, bureaucratic “intelligence” structure has been constructed that is drowning in “information” — and on its own, it seems, the military has been ramping up a smaller but similarly scaled set of intelligence structures.

Surprised, Caught Off Guard, and Left Scrambling

The question remains: If data almost beyond imagining flows into CENTCOM, what are those 1,500 analysts actually doing? How are they passing their time? What exactly do they produce and does it really qualify as “intelligence,” no less prove useful? Of course, we out here have limited access to the intelligence produced by CENTCOM, unless stories like the one about top commanders fudging assessments on the air war against the Islamic State break into the media. So you might assume that there’s no way of measuring the effectiveness of the command’s intelligence operations. But you would be wrong. It is, in fact, possible to produce a rough gauge of its effectiveness. Let’s call it the TomDispatch Surprise Measurement System, or TSMS. Think of it as a practical, news-based guide to the questions: What did they know and when did they know it?

Let me offer a few examples chosen almost at random from recent events in CENTCOM’s domain. Take the seizure at the end of September by a few hundred Taliban fighters of the northern provincial Afghan capital of Kunduz, the first city the Taliban has controlled, however briefly, since it was ejected from that same town in 2002. In the process, the Taliban fighters reportedly scattered up to 7,000 members of the Afghan security forces that the U.S. has been training, funding, and arming for years.

For anyone following news reports closely, the Taliban had for months been tightening its control over rural areas around Kunduz and testing the city’s defenses. Nonetheless, this May, based assumedly on the best intelligence analyses available from CENTCOM, the top U.S. commander in the country, Army General John Campbell, offered this predictive comment: “If you take a look very closely at some of the things in Kunduz and up in [neighboring] Badakhshan [Province], [the Taliban] will attack some very small checkpoints… They will go out and hit a little bit and then they kind of go to ground… so they’re not gaining territory for the most part.’”

As late as August 13th, at a press briefing, an ABC News reporter asked Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, the U.S. deputy chief of staff for communications in Afghanistan: “There has been a significant increase in Taliban activity in northern Afghanistan, particularly around Kunduz. What is behind that? Are the Afghan troops in that part of Afghanistan at risk of falling to the Taliban?”

ORDER IT NOW

Shoffner responded, in part, this way: “So, again, I think there’s been a lot of generalization when it comes to reports on the north. Kunduz is — is not now, and has not been in danger of being overrun by the Taliban, and so — with that, it’s kind of a general perspective in the north, that’s sort of how we see it.”

That General Cambell at least remained of a similar mindset even as Kunduz fell is obvious enough since, as New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg reported, he was out of the country at the time. As Goldstein put it:

“Mostly, though, American and Afghan officials appeared to be genuinely surprised at the speedy fall of Kunduz, which took place when Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of coalition forces, was in Germany for a defense conference… Though the Taliban have been making gains in the hinterlands around Kunduz for months, American military planners have for years insisted that Afghan forces were capable of holding onto the country’s major cities.

“‘This wasn’t supposed to happen,’ said a senior American military officer who served in Afghanistan, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ‘The Afghans are fighting, so it’s not like we’re looking at them giving up or collapsing right now. They’re just not fighting very well.’”

It’s generally agreed that the American high command was “caught off guard” by the capture of Kunduz and particularly shocked by the Afghan military’s inability to fight effectively. And who would have predicted such a thing of an American-trained army in the region, given that the American-backed, -trained, and -equipped Iraqi Army on the other side of the Greater Middle East had a similar experience in June 2014 in Mosul and other cities of northern Iraq when relatively small numbers of Islamic State militants routed its troops?

At that time, U.S. military leaders and top administration officials right up to President Obama were, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “caught off guard by the swift collapse of Iraqi security forces” and the successes of the Islamic State in northern Iraq. Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt of the Times wrote in retrospect, “Intelligence agencies were caught off guard by the speed of the extremists’… advance across northern Iraq.” And don’t forget that, despite that CENTCOM intelligence machine, something similar happened in May 2015 when, as Washington Post columnist David Ignatius put it, U.S. officials and American intelligence were “blindsided again” by a very similar collapse of Iraqi forces in the city of Ramadi in al-Anbar Province.

Or let’s take another example where those 1,500 analysts must have been hard at work: the failed $500 million Pentagon program to train “moderate” Syrians into a force that could fight the Islamic State. In the Pentagon version of the elephant that gave birth to a mouse, that vast effort of vetting, training, and arming finally produced Division 30, a single 54-man unit of armed moderates, who were inserted into Syria near the forces of the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front. That group promptly kidnapped two of its leaders and then attacked the unit. The result was a disaster as the U.S.-trained fighters fled or were killed. Soon thereafter, the American general overseeing the war against the Islamic State testified before Congress that only “four or five” armed combatants from the U.S. force remained in the field.

Here again is how the New York Times reported the response to this incident:

“In Washington, several current and former senior administration officials acknowledged that the attack and the abductions by the Nusra Front took American officials by surprise and amounted to a significant intelligence failure. While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

“‘This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,’ said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.”

Now, if accurate, this is wild stuff. After all, how anyone, commander or intelligence analyst, could imagine that the al-Nusra Front, classified as an enemy force in Washington and some of whose militants had been targeted by U.S. air power, would have welcomed U.S.-backed troops with open arms is the mystery of all mysteries. One small footnote to this: McClatchy News later reported that the al-Nusra Front had been poised to attack the unit because it had tipped off in advance by Turkish intelligence, something CENTCOM’s intelligence operatives evidently knew nothing about.

In the wake of that little disaster and again, assumedly, with CENTCOM’s full stock of intelligence and analysis on hand, the military inserted the next unit of 74 trained moderates into Syria and was shocked (shocked!) when its members, chastened perhaps by the fate of Division 30, promptly handed over at least a quarter of their U.S.-supplied equipment, including trucks, ammunition, and rifles, to the al-Nusra Front in return for “safe passage.” Al-Nusra militants soon were posting photos of the weapons online and tweeting proudly about them. CENTCOM officials initially denied that any of this had happened (and were clearly in the dark about it) before reversing course and reluctantly admitting that it was so. (“‘If accurate, the report of NSF [New Syrian Forces] members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,’ U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said.”)

To turn to even more recent events in CENTCOM’s bailiwick, American officials were reportedly similarly stunned as September ended when Russia reached a surprise agreement with U.S. ally Iraq on an anti-ISIS intelligence-sharing arrangement that would also include Syria and Iran. Washington was once again “caught off guard” and, in the words of Michael Gordon of the Times, “left… scrambling,” even though its officials had known “that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad.”

ORDER IT NOW

Similarly, the Russian build-up of weaponry, planes, and personnel in Syria initially “surprised” and — yes — caught the Obama administration “off guard.” Again, despite those 1,500 CENTCOM analysts and the rest of the vast U.S. intelligence community, American officials, according to every news report available, were “caught flat-footed” and, of course, “by surprise” (again, right up to the president) when the Russians began their full-scale bombing campaign in Syria against various al-Qaeda-allied outfits and CIA-backed opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They were even caught off guard and taken aback by the way the Russians delivered the news that their bombing campaign was about to start: a three-star Russian general arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to offer an hour’s notice. (Congressional lawmakers are now considering “the extent to which the spy community overlooked or misjudged critical warning signs” about the Russian intervention in Syria.)

The Fog Machine of American Intelligence

You get the point. Whatever the efforts of that expansive corps of intelligence analysts (and the vast intelligence edifice behind it), when anything happens in the Greater Middle East, you can essentially assume that the official American reaction, military and political, will be “surprise” and that policymakers will be left “scrambling” in a quagmire of ignorance to rescue American policy from the unexpected. In other words, somehow, with what passes for the best, or at least most extensive and expensive intelligence operation on the planet, with all those satellites and drones and surveillance sweeps and sources, with crowds of analysts, hordes of private contractors, and tens of billions of dollars, with, in short, “intelligence” galore, American officials in the area of their wars are evidently going to continue to find themselves eternally caught “off guard.”

The phrase “the fog of war” stands in for the inability of commanders to truly grasp what’s happening in the chaos that is any battlefield. Perhaps it’s time to introduce a companion phrase: the fog of intelligence. It hardly matters whether those 1,500 CENTCOM analysts (and all those at other commands or at the 17 major intelligence outfits) produce superlative “intelligence” that then descends into the fog of leadership, or whether any bureaucratic conglomeration of “analysts,” drowning in secret information and the protocols that go with it, is going to add up to a giant fog machine.

It’s difficult enough, of course, to peer into the future, to imagine what’s coming, especially in distant, alien lands. Cobble that basic problem together with an overwhelming data stream and groupthink, then fit it all inside the constrained mindsets of Washington and the Pentagon, and you have a formula for producing the fog of intelligence and so for seldom being “on guard” when it comes to much of anything.

My own suspicion: you could get rid of most of the 17 agencies and outfits in the U.S. Intelligence Community and dump just about all the secret and classified information that is the heart and soul of the national security state. Then you could let a small group of independently minded analysts and critics loose on open-source material, and you would be far more likely to get intelligent, actionable, inventive analyses of our global situation, our wars, and our beleaguered path into the future.

The evidence, after all, is largely in. In these years, for what now must be approaching three-quarters of a trillion dollars, the national security state and the military seem to have created an un-intelligence system. Welcome to the fog of everything.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Note: Nick Turse was my co-conspirator on this piece and I thank him for all his help.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. So, Englehardt goes on about the New York Times (who is described in ‘CIA and the Media’ by Carl Bernstein… “The Agency’s relationship with [The New York] Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It was] general Times policy … to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible”) and comes up with:

    Now, if accurate, this is wild stuff. After all, how anyone, commander or intelligence analyst, could imagine that the al-Nusra Front, classified as an enemy force in Washington and some of whose militants had been targeted by U.S. air power, would have welcomed U.S.-backed troops with open arms is the mystery of all mysteries. One small footnote to this: McClatchy News later reported that the al-Nusra Front had been poised to attack the unit because it had tipped off in advance by Turkish intelligence, something CENTCOM’s intelligence operatives evidently knew nothing about.

    In the wake of that little disaster and again, assumedly, with CENTCOM’s full stock of intelligence and analysis on hand, the military inserted the next unit of 74 trained moderates into Syria and was shocked (shocked!) when its members, chastened perhaps by the fate of Division 30, promptly handed over at least a quarter of their U.S.-supplied equipment, including trucks, ammunition, and rifles, to the al-Nusra Front in return for “safe passage.” Al-Nusra militants soon were posting photos of the weapons online and tweeting proudly about them. CENTCOM officials initially denied that any of this had happened (and were clearly in the dark about it) before reversing course and reluctantly admitting that it was so. (“‘If accurate, the report of NSF [New Syrian Forces] members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,’ U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said.”)

    What a lot of hogwash. The CIA (laundered through Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan) had been supporting al-Nusra (and other Salafist militia) with arms and training since 2012, so why would anyone honestly be surprised if Nusra had welcomed Division 30 into their ranks? These ‘vetted’ Division 30 ‘moderates’ problem was they became a public relations patsy, al-Nusra chose them to send a message denying the alliance with the Americans, but the fact of the American-al Qaida alliance in Syria is no secret, here’s a small example:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2015/07/10/summer-break-2/

    Insofar as Engelhardt’s earlier reference to ‘expertise’ [commentary] provided by David Ignatius, the spy novelist who writes for the Washington Post, it would do well to recall CIA veteran Melvin Goodman on Ignatius: “The mainstream media’s apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency”

    The entire business pitched by Engelhardt amounts to a sales pitch to convince incompetence rather than collaboration [with jihadis] is the problem. It’s why the Pentagon can’t share intelligence with the Russians on Syria. Syrian ‘moderates’ [e.g. Free Syrian Army] have been little more than a fictitious fig leaf for purposes of laundering American support to Salafist militia for the past going on four years.

    You really suck, Engelhardt, this article is evil s**t

    Read More
    • Replies: @Kiza
    Hello Ronald, I agree with your point that mostly scheming, not pure ineffectiveness has dictated the outcomes.

    However, in my personal view, this is now a standard modus operandi of the US secret operations. It was originally invented by the British, under the name "plausible deniability". When a carefully planned operation ends up in a totally expected but morally unjustifiable outcome (for example, many own civilians killed and so on) then you characterize such outcome as unplanned, unknown, undesired, a fluke, an act of God etc for the general consumption. We acted in good faith, but .... We trained moderates, but only the extremists benefited from our 1/2 billion program. Damn, what bad luck! Journalist Pepe Escobar wrote a book titled "The Empire of Chaos" to describe the standard US performance in this important part of the World.

    The turning of the whole of Middle East and North Africa into a region of utter chaos and constant warfare, by Israel, US and EU, with the outcome of up to 15 million current and potential refugees, is the mother of all plausible deniability operations. We were bringing democracy to the region, but they left it in millions to create more Lebensraum for Israel.

    Therefore, when a planned operation renders the expected and desired outcome we must act surprised. Otherwise, we are not patriotic enough. Inside the MII establishment that Tom describes, it is a job KPI to act surprised. Let us all be SURPRISED!

    , @Da-Mith
    I agree. The article is written as to imply that the "Inept intelligence" is a result of bungling buffoons. It is not. It is designed to facilitate an agenda.
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  2. That is very good news. Let’s hope they continue to be “in a fog.” Imagine if they were effective.

    Read More
    • Replies: @MarkinLA
    They are effective. You think the ME being in chaos is unintended? The issue is how to fool the American people who think we are there for freedom and democracy.
  3. The author has gotten it right about intelligence analyis. Most is done by those ignorant of the countries/cultures they are supposedly dealing with or forced to follow a political line. It would be better if a small group (say 10) of intelligent, knowlegdeable people used open-source material to provide analyses. So much wasted money and grossly-inaccurate info at present.

    Read More
    • Replies: @MarkinLA
    I don't think the intelligence is the problem. Everything eventually has to go through the lens of the politics in Washington. Almost everything that comes in is made to fit the Washington narrative. The fact that the raw information is classified to protect sources makes it that much easier for Washington to do this, there is nobody with access to the raw data to show that Washington is lying. Who ever gets fired for "being caught off guard" in Washington? That should tell you something. In a real war stupid officers get relieved of command really fast.

    I bet there are plenty of analysts that produce good intelligence. Their work will be thrown in with that by the true believers and careerist hacks looking for promotions. This gives plenty of opportunity to Washington to believe their own lies.
  4. […] Engelhardt begins his ‘Fog of Intelligence‘ disinformation piece […]

    Read More
  5. […] The Fog of Intelligence by Tom Englehardt for TomDispatch. […]

    Read More
  6. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    When the narrative relating to dreadful murderous international conflicts has one side in that conflict acting with gross negligence and stupidity, this is a DEFINING FEATURE of a political conspiracy and lying on a cosmic scale.

    Yes. The USA is simpy lying. Al Nusra and all the other Al Qaida (as we used to call them) anti-Assad mercenaries are ‘our boys’……….and anyone with half a brain knows it. Even most Americans seem to know it.

    Talking of gross stupidity, 9/11 comes to mind. Weren’t Al Qaida supposed to be the people who slaughtered 3000 New Yorkers. Now we’re fighting alongside them. How did that happen!?

    Come to think of it why is the USA (and its allies) choosing to attack and destroy democratically elected secular arab governments? The only reasonable answer to this question is that this is because the prioritising of the destruction of secular nationalist arab governments in the region is ISRAELI POLICY.

    Therefore it is also “our” policy.

    The USA calls Crimea “occupied”……..Hey!!!…..maybe the USA is occupied! Could that be possible?

    It certainly is spectacularly stupid on all military fronts unless……..

    Is it possible that 9/11 was a false-flag event committed by the west against itself in order to invade and destroy middle Eastern countries and establish full-on global hegemony.

    AT LAST!! An thought that actually makes sense.

    All the same though, not going too well, is it?……… This might be because:

    1) The USA really is super-dumb…….
    ………or, more hopefully,

    2) Some people in Washington have, like Putin, had enough of this insane homicidal Israel-serving idiocy (or is Israel’s involvement masking what is merely old-fashioned Imperialism)?

    Read More
  7. Does any sane person doubt that Al Qaeda and its offshoots are anything other than the CIA’s Foreign Legion?

    Read More
  8. @Ronald Thomas West
    So, Englehardt goes on about the New York Times (who is described in 'CIA and the Media' by Carl Bernstein... “The Agency’s relationship with [The New York] Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It was] general Times policy … to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible") and comes up with:

    Now, if accurate, this is wild stuff. After all, how anyone, commander or intelligence analyst, could imagine that the al-Nusra Front, classified as an enemy force in Washington and some of whose militants had been targeted by U.S. air power, would have welcomed U.S.-backed troops with open arms is the mystery of all mysteries. One small footnote to this: McClatchy News later reported that the al-Nusra Front had been poised to attack the unit because it had tipped off in advance by Turkish intelligence, something CENTCOM’s intelligence operatives evidently knew nothing about.

    In the wake of that little disaster and again, assumedly, with CENTCOM’s full stock of intelligence and analysis on hand, the military inserted the next unit of 74 trained moderates into Syria and was shocked (shocked!) when its members, chastened perhaps by the fate of Division 30, promptly handed over at least a quarter of their U.S.-supplied equipment, including trucks, ammunition, and rifles, to the al-Nusra Front in return for “safe passage.” Al-Nusra militants soon were posting photos of the weapons online and tweeting proudly about them. CENTCOM officials initially denied that any of this had happened (and were clearly in the dark about it) before reversing course and reluctantly admitting that it was so. (“‘If accurate, the report of NSF [New Syrian Forces] members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,’ U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said.”)
     
    What a lot of hogwash. The CIA (laundered through Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan) had been supporting al-Nusra (and other Salafist militia) with arms and training since 2012, so why would anyone honestly be surprised if Nusra had welcomed Division 30 into their ranks? These 'vetted' Division 30 'moderates' problem was they became a public relations patsy, al-Nusra chose them to send a message denying the alliance with the Americans, but the fact of the American-al Qaida alliance in Syria is no secret, here's a small example:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2015/07/10/summer-break-2/

    Insofar as Engelhardt's earlier reference to 'expertise' [commentary] provided by David Ignatius, the spy novelist who writes for the Washington Post, it would do well to recall CIA veteran Melvin Goodman on Ignatius: “The mainstream media’s apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency”

    The entire business pitched by Engelhardt amounts to a sales pitch to convince incompetence rather than collaboration [with jihadis] is the problem. It's why the Pentagon can't share intelligence with the Russians on Syria. Syrian 'moderates' [e.g. Free Syrian Army] have been little more than a fictitious fig leaf for purposes of laundering American support to Salafist militia for the past going on four years.

    You really suck, Engelhardt, this article is evil s**t

    Hello Ronald, I agree with your point that mostly scheming, not pure ineffectiveness has dictated the outcomes.

    However, in my personal view, this is now a standard modus operandi of the US secret operations. It was originally invented by the British, under the name “plausible deniability”. When a carefully planned operation ends up in a totally expected but morally unjustifiable outcome (for example, many own civilians killed and so on) then you characterize such outcome as unplanned, unknown, undesired, a fluke, an act of God etc for the general consumption. We acted in good faith, but …. We trained moderates, but only the extremists benefited from our 1/2 billion program. Damn, what bad luck! Journalist Pepe Escobar wrote a book titled “The Empire of Chaos” to describe the standard US performance in this important part of the World.

    The turning of the whole of Middle East and North Africa into a region of utter chaos and constant warfare, by Israel, US and EU, with the outcome of up to 15 million current and potential refugees, is the mother of all plausible deniability operations. We were bringing democracy to the region, but they left it in millions to create more Lebensraum for Israel.

    Therefore, when a planned operation renders the expected and desired outcome we must act surprised. Otherwise, we are not patriotic enough. Inside the MII establishment that Tom describes, it is a job KPI to act surprised. Let us all be SURPRISED!

    Read More
  9. […] Insightful piece by Tom Engelhardt on serial and serious failures of military intelligence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. […]

    Read More
  10. […] Fog of Intelligence”  One of the defining symptoms of a conspiracy is the inexplicable […]

    Read More
  11. On the upside, those CENTCOM analysts are probably wickedly good at Minesweeper and Tetris by now. It goes without saying that, as government employees, they are probably mostly useless.

    Besides, we probably get all the real intelligence we need from those Al-Nusra and ISIS guys whom we are secretly supporting.

    Read More
  12. Aren’t all those bureaucracies just gigantic job creation and wealth transfer schemes? The Russians and the Chinese are serious about national defence, and they appear to get what they pay for, in full measure. So much money goes in, and five years later (or whatever) a fully effective, state-of-the-art jet fighter, missile, submarine, etc. is ready for mass production. Their intelligence, too, seems to work surprisingly well. Before the current Russian mission in Syria began, it has been made clear that they knew exactly what was going on in the area.

    It seems to me that the American agencies, in contrast, are not really focused on delivering their “formal” goals. After all, no one believes that the USA is threatened by anyone, in any serious way. So all that remains is to make money – by engaging in business or (more easily) by getting a cushy job working for the government, and methodically accumulating a bigger and bigger budget, more and more direct reports, bigger and bigger facilities, etc.

    Read More
  13. @Ken
    That is very good news. Let's hope they continue to be "in a fog." Imagine if they were effective.

    They are effective. You think the ME being in chaos is unintended? The issue is how to fool the American people who think we are there for freedom and democracy.

    Read More
  14. @Jim Glenn
    The author has gotten it right about intelligence analyis. Most is done by those ignorant of the countries/cultures they are supposedly dealing with or forced to follow a political line. It would be better if a small group (say 10) of intelligent, knowlegdeable people used open-source material to provide analyses. So much wasted money and grossly-inaccurate info at present.

    I don’t think the intelligence is the problem. Everything eventually has to go through the lens of the politics in Washington. Almost everything that comes in is made to fit the Washington narrative. The fact that the raw information is classified to protect sources makes it that much easier for Washington to do this, there is nobody with access to the raw data to show that Washington is lying. Who ever gets fired for “being caught off guard” in Washington? That should tell you something. In a real war stupid officers get relieved of command really fast.

    I bet there are plenty of analysts that produce good intelligence. Their work will be thrown in with that by the true believers and careerist hacks looking for promotions. This gives plenty of opportunity to Washington to believe their own lies.

    Read More
  15. The NYT never surprised me knowing that it’s a member of Israel Hasbara Committee and its editorials and front-page “news” are scrutinized by Israel’s GAG staff.

    CENTCOM has mostly been under the command of pro-Israel Generals, who have record of killing innocent Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and several countries in Africa. It wouldn’t be to far-fetched to say that CENTCOM is the “long-arm” of the Wall Street – occupying foreign lands for their natural resources.

    One of the “shining star” of CENTCOM had been Gen. David Petraeus whom professor James Petraus called him, “General for Zionism”.

    Gen Petraeus, who lead US occupation forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was hailed as hero by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal when appointed as head of CIA by Barack Obama. But then he made a serious political blunder. He said that main reason for Muslim world’s hatred toward United States is as result of Washington’s blind support for Israel. The Jewish Lobby got Petreaus involved in a sex scandal, which ended with his resignation from CIA in November 2012. The Jewish Lobby got Petraeus replaced by another Israel-First, Zionist Christian John Brenan, the famous liar on American torture around the world.

    Currently, Petraeus is campaigning for the US to invade both Syria and Iraq – for Israel, of course.

    http://rehmat1.com/2014/09/27/gen-petraeus-wants-american-boots-in-iraq-and-syria/

    Read More
  16. at 5:41 “the Arabs are not going to accept this”

    here McBloodstain talks about how the mujahedeen “shot down Russian planes” with the shoulder launched surface to air missiles the US supplied to them for that purpose

    who doubts the McBloodstains of the Zio-west had a hand in shooting down that Russian passenger jet?

    And if there’s proof of it, it’ll be MH17′d by the Zio-controlled western press

    Read More
  17. My friends in the military will not like to hear it, but the incompetence of the various military intelligence organizations has risen in direct proportion to the decline in the HUMINT capabilities of the CIA. Say what you will, if the CIA had been given $500 million to spend on the project, there would be more than 5 “moderate Syrian rebels” in arms. Ditto intelligence collection on the ground. While the military can do low level tactical intelligence in its immediate operational sphere, they are next to hopeless when charged when dealing with a complex intelligence collection problem in a chaotic mess of a place like Syria/Iraq. I well remember a discussion with an idiot colonel who was trying to set up an agent net in Syria in the not too distant past. When told that his plans would result in the death of the agents, he blustered that he did not care, he only cared about the mission. Such morons have no place in an intelligence operation. As for the Agency, it is dissolving into a pathetic stew of diversity, gender equality (!), analysts thinking they are operations officers and God knows how many other horrors. Good officers are punching out in droves, leaving behind the slugs, the butt-kissers (always thick on the ground at Langley) and the affirmative action cases, “loyal Americans” who stepped off the boat from China or Pakistan last week. Stand by for more and better disasters, friends.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Rurik
    Hello Mr. Sage,


    Say what you will, if the CIA had been given $500 million to spend on the project, there would be more than 5 “moderate Syrian rebels” in arms
     
    To do what exactly?

    Depose Assad?

    And then what? Another Libya?

    Assuming that you're advocating for an American/CIA type of 'success' in Syria, and since it seems to me that it's obvious that what the American gov. wants in Syria is the same thing the American gov. has wrought in Iraq and Libya and everywhere else it goes, like Ukraine, you seem to be ignoring the argument of whether it's in American people's interest to have yet another failed state in the Levant. What about the moral cost of all of that misery? (Or is that an absurd question to ask a CIA type? [and I'm not trying to be insulting])

    Does the CIA have an agenda other than what the regime in DC happens to want on any given day? Or do they all just know that their job is to serve Israel and that means destabilizing all governments who don't toe Israel's line?

    It's way past time to pretend that the CIA (or the feds in DC) give a rip about the American people's welfare or the Constitution (that's laughable) anymore than they care about International Law. But since that's obvious, what do they care about? Besides trafficking in heroin and destabilizing government not friendly to Bibi?
    , @MarkinLA
    Yeah, we could have another Bay of Pigs where the CIA got most of it's intelligence from Cubans exiled in Miami who assured the White House that nobody in Cuba would fight for Castro.
  18. A great story about idiots wasting billions of dollars each year to slaughter Iraqi and Syrian civilians each day is this recent “60 Minutes” episode.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/inside-the-air-war-2/

    Thousands of analysts try to find “targets” each day, then mad bombers are sent as we spend millions of dollars each day to bomb a few buildings or a sniper. Each strike must kill several innocents, but they don’t know or care, they are having great fun flying “combat” missions. The bomb video they show was their best result this month, but they don’t show the other 99% where they blow up a building and aren’t sure if it did any good, or who they hit.

    Note the General says they have plenty of airpower, which kills the current spin that we could win if we would just bomb more. They are scheduled to fly a dozen missions each day, and analysts must provide a target list each day or they will be accused of incompetence and punished, and replaced with someone who will provide a daily target list. This is great fun for our military officers and provides billions of dollars in easy profits for certain people. They could do this for years!

    All this bombing provides new recruits for anti-American elements because only genocidal heathens would blow up a dozen of buildings each day killing dozens of Iraqi and Syrian civilians, each day. To claim that of the thousands of bombs dropped so far, only five innocents were killed, is ludicrous. This is one reason the new Iraqi Army refuses to fight for their American warlords.

    This reminds me of a 1984 passage from the late Col. Fletcher Prouty USAF:

    ” …we must understand that it has become the objective of ‘low intensity conflict’ to continue the wasting of money, the pointless killing of defenseless people, and the consumption or attrition of costly war materiel to make way for the procurement of more. ‘Low-intensity conflict’ is a way in which the hundreds of billions of dollars of armaments produced each year can be used, destroyed, and wasted this year in order that more may be procured and used next year.”

    Read More
  19. @Southern Sage
    My friends in the military will not like to hear it, but the incompetence of the various military intelligence organizations has risen in direct proportion to the decline in the HUMINT capabilities of the CIA. Say what you will, if the CIA had been given $500 million to spend on the project, there would be more than 5 "moderate Syrian rebels" in arms. Ditto intelligence collection on the ground. While the military can do low level tactical intelligence in its immediate operational sphere, they are next to hopeless when charged when dealing with a complex intelligence collection problem in a chaotic mess of a place like Syria/Iraq. I well remember a discussion with an idiot colonel who was trying to set up an agent net in Syria in the not too distant past. When told that his plans would result in the death of the agents, he blustered that he did not care, he only cared about the mission. Such morons have no place in an intelligence operation. As for the Agency, it is dissolving into a pathetic stew of diversity, gender equality (!), analysts thinking they are operations officers and God knows how many other horrors. Good officers are punching out in droves, leaving behind the slugs, the butt-kissers (always thick on the ground at Langley) and the affirmative action cases, "loyal Americans" who stepped off the boat from China or Pakistan last week. Stand by for more and better disasters, friends.

    Hello Mr. Sage,

    Say what you will, if the CIA had been given $500 million to spend on the project, there would be more than 5 “moderate Syrian rebels” in arms

    To do what exactly?

    Depose Assad?

    And then what? Another Libya?

    Assuming that you’re advocating for an American/CIA type of ‘success’ in Syria, and since it seems to me that it’s obvious that what the American gov. wants in Syria is the same thing the American gov. has wrought in Iraq and Libya and everywhere else it goes, like Ukraine, you seem to be ignoring the argument of whether it’s in American people’s interest to have yet another failed state in the Levant. What about the moral cost of all of that misery? (Or is that an absurd question to ask a CIA type? [and I'm not trying to be insulting])

    Does the CIA have an agenda other than what the regime in DC happens to want on any given day? Or do they all just know that their job is to serve Israel and that means destabilizing all governments who don’t toe Israel’s line?

    It’s way past time to pretend that the CIA (or the feds in DC) give a rip about the American people’s welfare or the Constitution (that’s laughable) anymore than they care about International Law. But since that’s obvious, what do they care about? Besides trafficking in heroin and destabilizing government not friendly to Bibi?

    Read More
  20. @Southern Sage
    My friends in the military will not like to hear it, but the incompetence of the various military intelligence organizations has risen in direct proportion to the decline in the HUMINT capabilities of the CIA. Say what you will, if the CIA had been given $500 million to spend on the project, there would be more than 5 "moderate Syrian rebels" in arms. Ditto intelligence collection on the ground. While the military can do low level tactical intelligence in its immediate operational sphere, they are next to hopeless when charged when dealing with a complex intelligence collection problem in a chaotic mess of a place like Syria/Iraq. I well remember a discussion with an idiot colonel who was trying to set up an agent net in Syria in the not too distant past. When told that his plans would result in the death of the agents, he blustered that he did not care, he only cared about the mission. Such morons have no place in an intelligence operation. As for the Agency, it is dissolving into a pathetic stew of diversity, gender equality (!), analysts thinking they are operations officers and God knows how many other horrors. Good officers are punching out in droves, leaving behind the slugs, the butt-kissers (always thick on the ground at Langley) and the affirmative action cases, "loyal Americans" who stepped off the boat from China or Pakistan last week. Stand by for more and better disasters, friends.

    Yeah, we could have another Bay of Pigs where the CIA got most of it’s intelligence from Cubans exiled in Miami who assured the White House that nobody in Cuba would fight for Castro.

    Read More
  21. An aside:

    Did the Israeli Mossad do the Russian jet – they are the only ones in the immediate vicinity who had the equipment to shoot it down. If it was a bomb – it sure was a big one – it literally blew the whole plain apart — again a sophisticated Israeli prowess

    This is total pure speculation – but it could be a shot across the Russian bow, for upsetting Jew plans in Syria.

    Does anyone really think that they would not do it?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sherman
    Hello Little Art,

    Who bombed the Russian plane - the big Jew or the little Jew?

    Sherman
  22. @Art
    An aside:

    Did the Israeli Mossad do the Russian jet – they are the only ones in the immediate vicinity who had the equipment to shoot it down. If it was a bomb – it sure was a big one – it literally blew the whole plain apart --- again a sophisticated Israeli prowess

    This is total pure speculation – but it could be a shot across the Russian bow, for upsetting Jew plans in Syria.

    Does anyone really think that they would not do it?

    Hello Little Art,

    Who bombed the Russian plane – the big Jew or the little Jew?

    Sherman

    Read More
    • Replies: @Art
    "Who bombed the Russian plane – the big Jew or the little Jew?"

    Hi Sherm,

    It makes no difference to us Gentiles - Big Jew Little Jew - you'll do the same destructive things.

    You poor Little Jews are emotionally blind, little lemmings - who will eventually follow your Big Jews over a cliff.

    Rush rush - hurry about – scurry here and there little one ---– but please stay away from the cliffs.

    Looking out for you --- Art


    p.s. Good god man --- your Mufti Netanyahu is dirt bag crazy!
  23. @Sherman
    Hello Little Art,

    Who bombed the Russian plane - the big Jew or the little Jew?

    Sherman

    “Who bombed the Russian plane – the big Jew or the little Jew?”

    Hi Sherm,

    It makes no difference to us Gentiles – Big Jew Little Jew – you’ll do the same destructive things.

    You poor Little Jews are emotionally blind, little lemmings – who will eventually follow your Big Jews over a cliff.

    Rush rush – hurry about – scurry here and there little one —– but please stay away from the cliffs.

    Looking out for you — Art

    p.s. Good god man — your Mufti Netanyahu is dirt bag crazy!

    Read More
  24. @Ronald Thomas West
    So, Englehardt goes on about the New York Times (who is described in 'CIA and the Media' by Carl Bernstein... “The Agency’s relationship with [The New York] Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It was] general Times policy … to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible") and comes up with:

    Now, if accurate, this is wild stuff. After all, how anyone, commander or intelligence analyst, could imagine that the al-Nusra Front, classified as an enemy force in Washington and some of whose militants had been targeted by U.S. air power, would have welcomed U.S.-backed troops with open arms is the mystery of all mysteries. One small footnote to this: McClatchy News later reported that the al-Nusra Front had been poised to attack the unit because it had tipped off in advance by Turkish intelligence, something CENTCOM’s intelligence operatives evidently knew nothing about.

    In the wake of that little disaster and again, assumedly, with CENTCOM’s full stock of intelligence and analysis on hand, the military inserted the next unit of 74 trained moderates into Syria and was shocked (shocked!) when its members, chastened perhaps by the fate of Division 30, promptly handed over at least a quarter of their U.S.-supplied equipment, including trucks, ammunition, and rifles, to the al-Nusra Front in return for “safe passage.” Al-Nusra militants soon were posting photos of the weapons online and tweeting proudly about them. CENTCOM officials initially denied that any of this had happened (and were clearly in the dark about it) before reversing course and reluctantly admitting that it was so. (“‘If accurate, the report of NSF [New Syrian Forces] members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,’ U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said.”)
     
    What a lot of hogwash. The CIA (laundered through Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan) had been supporting al-Nusra (and other Salafist militia) with arms and training since 2012, so why would anyone honestly be surprised if Nusra had welcomed Division 30 into their ranks? These 'vetted' Division 30 'moderates' problem was they became a public relations patsy, al-Nusra chose them to send a message denying the alliance with the Americans, but the fact of the American-al Qaida alliance in Syria is no secret, here's a small example:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2015/07/10/summer-break-2/

    Insofar as Engelhardt's earlier reference to 'expertise' [commentary] provided by David Ignatius, the spy novelist who writes for the Washington Post, it would do well to recall CIA veteran Melvin Goodman on Ignatius: “The mainstream media’s apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency”

    The entire business pitched by Engelhardt amounts to a sales pitch to convince incompetence rather than collaboration [with jihadis] is the problem. It's why the Pentagon can't share intelligence with the Russians on Syria. Syrian 'moderates' [e.g. Free Syrian Army] have been little more than a fictitious fig leaf for purposes of laundering American support to Salafist militia for the past going on four years.

    You really suck, Engelhardt, this article is evil s**t

    I agree. The article is written as to imply that the “Inept intelligence” is a result of bungling buffoons. It is not. It is designed to facilitate an agenda.

    Read More
  25. This is a reasonable piece, but frankly it starts 50 years too late.

    After all, the American intelligence machinery has not furnished an accurate forecast of any single event of geopolitical significance since its founding.

    It failed to predict
    the USSR annexation of Czechoslovakia and Hungary;
    the timing of Soviet development of nuclear weapons;
    the timing of Chinese development of nuclear weapons;
    the timing of French development of nuclear weapons;
    the rout of the French in Indochina;
    the failure of the US to be able to force a win in Korea;
    the failure of the US to be able to win in Viet Nam;
    the consequences of their interference in IRanian and Iraqi politics in the 1950s;
    the timing of Indian development of nuclear weapons;
    the fall of the Berlin Wall;
    the dissolution of the Soviet Union;
    the timing of Pakistani development of nuclear weapons;
    the transformation of al Qaeda from an anti-Soviet insurgency into an anti-Western one;
    9/11 ZOMFG 911;…
    the timing of North Korean development of nuclear weapons;
    the adoption of 4th generation tactics by al Qaeda, its imitators and its successors.

    Note: by ‘timing of development of nuclear weapons’, I mean being on top of their research timeline and being able to predict when they get to testing – and ideally, being able to stymie that. The US could not do any of those. Literally anybody could predict all of them by writing down a list of every country and claiming that they might pursue them (increased Type I error, but successfully identifies every nation that eventually develops the capability). Getting the timing right means getting both WHO and WHEN.

    I didn’t claim that it failed to predict the Zionist Enclave’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, nor the British – because both of those happened because of US policy).

    I have written about this before – going back for over 20 years. Government intelligence agencies are a hostile workplace, where literally anybody with any talent leaves the moment their first 2-year contract is up. Why? Because literally everyone above them is a ‘triangulator’ – an upwards ass-kisser and downwards colleague-exploiter.

    The CIA is not ‘Rubicon’ or even ‘Homeland’: it’s a bunch of Betas (i.e., second-raters) with a massive budget, a licence to wreak havoc, and no accountability as to consequences.

    Read More
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