Renee Buhr, professor of international studies and political science at the University of St. Thomas, recently published an editorial in The Hill about the reality of intelligence gathering and how it relates to the unforeseen attack on Israel.
From the story:
Intelligence analysts – those responsible for making sense of the raw intelligence collected by civilian and military intelligence agencies – are tasked with using incomplete and spotty information to answer complicated and consequential questions. When analysts have time to develop their expertise, gather evidence from all sources, and separate the reliable information (“signals”) from the false information (“noise”), they are valuable assets to policymakers, who desperately need their expertise to make informed decisions.
Ultimately, intelligence agencies are better at providing this sort of information to lawmakers. Describing the capabilities of North Korean or Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles, explaining the total collapse of the Venezuelan economy under President Nicolás Maduro and hunting down illicit finance that funds terrorism are all examples of where intelligence agencies excel.
But, they often fail when it comes to predicting the future.
CIA analyst training in the year 2000 included an intensive segment on causes and cases of intelligence failure. These included lack of communication between intelligence services (Pearl Harbor), overestimation of a rival’s capabilities (the fall of the Soviet Union) and over-reliance on liaison intelligence partners (the Iranian Revolution). As for 9/11, American intelligence agencies were fully aware of al Qaeda’s plans to attack a U.S. target but were unable to get specific information on the date, time and location of planned attacks due to lack of human intelligence assets in specific al Qaeda units. Lack of communication between intelligence services – in this case, barriers between the CIA and FBI intended to protect Americans’ civil liberties – was again one of the causes of the failure.