Tuesday, August 12

:: The War(ning) in Georgia

In reading around the situation in Georgia / Russia, I came across an essay by a former National Intelligence Officer at the CIA, written post-Gulf war, about the failure of our government to correctly interpret the warning signs of aggression. It's really interesting. Read it. Because I said so. To make it easy, here's the money part.

In retrospect, my Staff and I viewed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait as a classic warning episode. Indicators were assessed early and accurately. Our prior assessment of time lines for war preparations proved correct. Collection was honed and focused; coordination with the analytic community was constant; and policy officials were informed of our conclusions at each major stage in the development of the threat, personally as well as in writing. Nevertheless, the warning messages of the NIO for Warning -- both warning of war and warning of attack -- were not heeded, either by senior intelligence officials or policymakers.

As a postscript, at a session of senior military and civilian officers at the Pentagon, General Butler, the J-5, stated that the NIO for Warning had provided warning of war and warning of attack, but that he was not taken seriously because senior US officials talked with, and accepted the judgment of a number of leaders in the Middle East as well as the Soviet Union, all of whom were of the opinion that Saddam did not intend to attack.

After our disastrous history in warning -- Czechoslovakia in 1968; the October war in the Middle East in 1973; Afghanistan in 1979; and others -- the Intelligence and Policy Communities still seemed, in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion, to lack a fundamental understanding of the causes of strategic surprise. The factors that inhibited effective early warning in this crisis corresponded closely to those that led to warning failure during the October 1973 War in the Middle East.

In both crises, separated by 17 years of improvements in intelligence collection and training, most intelligence analysts and policy officials underestimated the political intentions of the aggressor; minimized the aggressor's possible military objectives and the probability of war; downplayed the significance of the military indicators of threat; and gave excessive weight to the, ultimately, mistaken opinions of the foreign leaders and foreign intelligence services most directly threatened by aggression.

In 1973, no warnings were issued by any intelligence agency. In this crisis, the NIO for Warning and the National Warning Staff provided repeated warnings, but these could not compete with the more reassuring messages provided by others.

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