August 09, 2019 in Analysis

Compare and Contrast Intelligence Failures

9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq are two cases which demonstrate high level of intelligence failure. There were several controversies associated with intelligence investigation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in Iraq. Behind-the-scene assessments that led to invasion of Iraq and the impact of the 9/11 attacks portrays the intelligence community had failed on its job and there were urgent needs for reforms. The two incidences portrayed the dangers to security as well as the needs for strategic intelligence in the 21st century. In the wake of both cases, the failure of the intelligence community implied that the U.S. officials could hardly be trusted to provide a balanced and honest critique of important events. This document compares and contrasts two cases of intelligence failure and discusses them with the intelligence process.   

U.S. Invasion of Iraq

A coalition forces led by the U.S. invaded Iraq on 20th March 2003. The goal of the invasion was to disarm Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein who had been suspected of having WMD and operating a number of WMD programs. Nevertheless, it rapidly became clear that there was an intelligence failure. Saddam did not possess any form of WMD, he did not use any against the invading coalition forces, and no weapons could be found in the consequent investigations. Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush were certainly guilt of misleading the public by overstating the amount of danger in which the society was exposed to due to WMD in Iraq. It is argued that both leaders were increasingly convinced that there were WMD in Iraq, a decision they reached based on intelligence. Studies have shown that the intelligence failure took place since the intelligence community was eager to find or locate certain information. Intelligence officer requested for certain kind of information and prepared a report by bypassing essential review stages, a factor that led to compilation of an inaccurate report. 

September 11th 2001 (9/11) Terrorist attack

On September 11, 2001, the U.S. became a transformed nation after the terrorist attacks threatened to destabilize the bonds that holds the nation together. Two airplanes hit the Twin Towers and within a span of 90 minutes, the entire building had collapsed killing 2,600 people. The third plane hit the Pentagon killing 125 people while the fourth plane went down killing all the 256 passengers on board. The entire death toll of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was more than that at Pearl Harbor in 1941. These acts of terror were carried out by 19 Arabs who acted on behalf of their Islamist extremist bases located in Afghanistan. Some of these individuals had been residing in the U.S. for over one year. Four of the terrorists had been trained as pilots while the rest had not been trained. They managed to hijack the four planes using small knives as the only weapons. 

Comparison between the two incidents

There are a number of ways in which intelligence failure in the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 9/11 is similar. In both cases, intelligence officers believed that war was invertible. U.S. intelligence officers believed that that there were increased chances that the U.S. will invade Iraq and in the second case, they had the idea that terror attacks may take place on the U.S. soil after previous warnings from the terrorist leaders. Before the invasion of Iraq, intelligence officials made requests that created an atmosphere that negatively affected their capacity to make some informed analysis of the gathered information. This problem was compounded that most individuals already had a feeling that war was inevitable and that any form of an intelligence report was appropriate. This created a prime possibility of intelligence failure since critical stages of thorough analysis and comprehensive investigation of data was ignored.

The major difference between the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 9/11 intelligence failures is that in the first scenario, the intelligence community opted for the worst case scenario while in the second scenario; officers opted to become reluctant against taking any immediate and comprehensive actions. In the U.S. invasion of Iraq, intelligence officers opted for the worst case scenario and prepared a report that would motivate the U.S. army to attack Iraq. The main objective of such a strategy was that the intelligence community wanted to avoid a scenario such as that of the Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terror attacks when the U.S. was caught unawares. In addition, the actions that were taken by Iraq had an impact on intelligence failure since the Iraqi government was used to practicing deceit. Furthermore, combined with the inability of the intelligence community to predict regime change in Iraq, the officials led the government to believe that absence of WMD was still evidence in itself. 

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Shock versus Surprise

What differentiates the two intelligence failures is that the case of U.S. invasion was not premeditated and not a shock while that of the 9/11 was a shock but not really a surprise. The 9/11 terror attacks was a major incident that shocked the U.S., taking into consideration that no one had expected a devastation of such a magnitude could take place in the U.S. soil. In addition, although the Terrorist groups had already warned about attacking the U.S. and its allies, intelligence officers did not think that that they could use the strategy of hijacking airplanes huge amount of warning had already been given by the Islamist extremists, where they said that would indiscriminately kill Americans in large numbers. This therefore implies that the attack was not a surprise since enough hints had already been given in the past. By September 2001, the Congress, the executive part of the government, the media, and the general public were in the knowledge that terrorists groups had given notice that they wanted to kill Americans and their allies in large numbers. 

Another similarity between the two intelligence failures are weaknesses in the part of the intelligence officers to make thorough investigations and act on hints that had already been given. In the case of U.S. invasion of Iraq, intelligence failure was attributed to the fact that the intelligence officers were so eager to produce a report that will paint Saddam as having WMD since that was the only route of changing his regime in Iraq. They therefore neglected some of the crucial steps required when it comes to compiling an intelligence report. It is evident that intelligence failure occurred primary because the atmosphere within the intelligence community was that there was a high likelihood that Iraq possessed WMD. This prevented them from making comprehensive investigations. 

The same form of intelligence failure occurred in 9/11 where intelligence officers failed to make thorough assessment and act on the information that had been presented to them. There was a prior knowledge of the attacks while the intelligence officers still failed to act to the threat that the terrorists were waging against Americans. Before the terror attacks, Richard Clarke was in charge of White House National Security Council as well as counter-terrorism. Being part of the intelligence community, Clarke apologized to the victims and said that intelligence failures in the lead up to the attacks could have been avoided if the White House had acted on the information presented to them. Clarke argues that the intelligence team at the White House ignored the warnings. 

Clarke released a recent statement at the PBS where he accused two CIA officials Richard Blee and Cofer Black, as well as the CIA Director George Tenet of deliberately failing to release or act on intelligence information concerning the 9/11 terror attacks. It is argued that the CIA possessed information about Al-Mihdhar and Al-Hazmi who are two of the terrorist who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77. This recent 2011 statement says that the Bush administration played a huge role in the intelligence failures where officers failed to take an active role in investigating the information that they already possessed. 

The statements made by Clarke indicate high level of intelligence failure and it supports the idea that Muslim hijackers were behind the terrorist attacks. Furthermore, George Tenet, the CIA Director was accused of failing to make this intelligence information available to the White House, U.S. Congress and other investigative agencies such as the FBI. Clarke argues that if all these intelligence information was available with the all the investigative agents names above, there is a huge possibility that the terrorists attacks would have been prevented. These statements that were made recently are similar with those that were when the commission was investigating after the terror attacks. The commission concluded that high level of indecisiveness and intelligence failure contributed to the attacks.

The Use of Lies and Propaganda to Wage War

Both the U.S. intelligence officers and the Islamist extremists used lies and/or propaganda to participate in war. Intelligence failure in the part of the U.S. led to the production of a report that motivated the Bush administration to lie to the public that Iraq possessed WMD. On the other, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, intelligence officials who were investigating various leads were either told to stop following leads on propaganda and this reduced chance of investigating important information. For instance, during the 2002 radio address to the public, U.S. President said that if the regime of Saddam Hussein had acquired fissile material, it would have the capacity of constructing nuclear weapons in a span of one year. The claim by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was more exaggerated. He argued that Saddam Hussein has the ability of using the WMD within a span of 45 minutes after he decides to do so. 

After the invasion, it is evident that the claims that were made by the two leaders were lies and mere propaganda. The statements also indicate high level of intelligence failure since they are usually made under the guidance of intelligence officials. Blair and Bush over publicized their belief that Iraq possessed WMD and it is obvious that they were being given constant updates by their respective intelligence organizations. The fact that these intelligence organizations failed to provide accurate information about the true picture on the ground portrays high level of intelligence failure. It is also important to note that the political pressure that Bush and Blair had created played an instrumental role in developing an atmosphere that was inappropriate for critical analysis. All intelligence officials and investigative organizations were under huge pressure to arrest the terrorists. In addition, investigative authorities were under pressure to come arrest the criminals yet they were working under very unclear or incomplete information. 

The American satellites were programmed to make additional analysis of the Iraqi weapons sites. The sites showed that there were increased activities in these facilities, and this motivated intelligence to make decisions based on the observation of the satellites. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the intelligence communities were simply trying to prove to the world that Iraq had WMD. When they failed to have a conclusive evidence of the weapons, they decided to use a different technique that would increase the possibility of setting up Saddam. Such a measure involved portraying Saddam as a terrorists and an individual who supports terrorist activities. Basically, the failure of the entire intelligence community to provide the public with correct information and the potential criminals whom should be in the lookout for was a form, of intelligence failure. 

Failure to involve the public who come into daily and close-up contact with these terrorists reduced the possibility of locating the terrorists. In addition, showing the faces of the terrorists in the media would have been an effective way of increasing the possibility of spotting them in the public. In addition, both the CIA and FBI worked independently and they failed to coordinate their daily activities. This implies that the lead which one group got was kept secret yes he two organization were working towards protecting the American public. Intelligence failure tends to be more pronounced especially when to investigative authorities issue conflicting information. If such kind of information could have been shared, it would have reduced the chances of inter-organizational conflict. In addition, sharing this information enables the intelligence officials to solve issues at a faster rate. 

Studies have shown that intelligence officers worked in an environment where they were asked to search for certain information. This is a clear indication that investigators will do what they can to find that information even when they have to fabricate it. In addition, this increases the possibility of intelligence failure since the investigators will not be operating on a neutral platform. Even before the U.S. led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, studies have shown that plans to be attack Iraq were already being made in august 2002. Reports indicate that these plans were already in their advanced stages and they were simply awaiting approval from the top executives. The Bush administration was too eager for regime change in Iraq such that it was willing to do whatever it can to fix Saddam. The Intelligence community was under extreme pressure and this reduced the possibility of acting in good faith. The fact that terror organizations had already given enough evidence that is was planning to attack U.S. people and their interests basically placed pressure on the shoulders of the investigative organization 


 This document has critically compared and contrasted two case of an intelligence failure and has discussed them with the intelligence process. 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. soil are considered as some of the worst that caught the U.S. unprepared for such kind of disaster. Later investigations showed that the attack could have been averted had the CIA shared the information it possessed with the FBI, the White House and the Congress. However, the CIA decided to keep the information a secret. On the other hand, U.S. invasion of Iraq created portrayed one of the biggest forms of intelligence failures. The U.S. was determined to invade Iraq under the pretext that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. However, this proved futile and consequent investigations showed that the intelligence community was working under extreme pressure to provide biased information. The only option was therefore to assume some areas and avoid crucial steps thus leading to intelligence failure.

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