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Israel's "Shocking" Intelligence Failure
Hamas' attack exposes the intelligence world's best kept secret
Hamas’ massive surprise attack deep into Israel has many observers asking how the country’s world-class intelligence services failed to anticipate the invasion — which has a historical precedent, as I reported for The Intercept.
When asked how the ragtag militant group was able to catch the Israeli military off guard, Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, replied simply: “That’s a good question.”
I’m going to let you in on what is perhaps the intelligence world’s best kept secret: they’re not that smart. As a national security reporter, a lesson I’ve learned again and again is how much less intelligence agencies resemble Jason Bourne than Burn After Reading. But you don’t have to be a natsec reporter to see it. Basic history is replete with stunning intelligence failures.
Consider the Yom Kippur War, which took place exactly 50 years ago today (Hamas likely timed their attack for the anniversary.) On October 6, 1973, amid simmering tension over the Israel-Palestine conflict, Egyptian and Syrian forces carried out a surprise attack on Israel, for which they were caught unprepared. (Israeli intelligence had incorrectly concluded that Egyptian and Syrian troop movements were mere training exercises.) In the first few days, the Arab forces secured a series of victories — pushing the Israelis out of the occupied Golan Heights and the Sinai — that shocked the world.
Hilariously, future CIA Director Robert Gates, a CIA analyst at the time, was conducting a briefing on the unlikelihood of armed conflict in the Middle East when he heard news of the war involving, well, armed conflict in the Middle East.
There are countless other examples of “shocking” intelligence failures. Here are some recent ones just off the top of my head:
The fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 2021
The success of the Ukrainian resistance
People’s belief in the omniscience of the intelligence community is big part of the reason they’re afforded the awesome powers that they are. The problem is, there isn’t much evidence for it.
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