Constructing Cassandra: Reframing Intelligence Failure at the CIA, 1947-2001

Constructing Cassandra: Reframing Intelligence Failure at the CIA, 1947-2001

Constructing Cassandra: Reframing Intelligence Failure at the CIA, 1947-2001

Constructing Cassandra: Reframing Intelligence Failure at the CIA, 1947-2001

Synopsis

Constructing Cassandra analyzes the intelligence failures at the CIA that resulted in four key strategic surprises experienced by the US: the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Iranian revolution of 1978, the collapse of the USSR in 1991, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks-surprises still play out today in U.S. policy. Although there has been no shortage of studies exploring how intelligence failures can happen, none of them have been able to provide a unified understanding of the phenomenon.

To correct that omission, this book brings culture and identity to the foreground to present a unified model of strategic surprise; one that focuses on the internal make-up the CIA, and takes seriously those Cassandras who offered warnings, but were ignored. This systematic exploration of the sources of the CIA's intelligence failures points to ways to prevent future strategic surprises.

Excerpt

Overture

On September 22, 1947, in response to the rapidly escalating Cold War, U.S. President Harry Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). in the dry language of the National Security Act of 1947, the core responsibility of the agency was “to correlate and evaluate the intelligence relating to national security, and to provide for the appropriate dissemination of such intelligence within the government.” Washington shorthand for the CIA’s mission was “to prevent another Pearl Harbor” —obviously a remit to give strategic warning, not to thwart further attacks by the Japanese Imperial Navy. in short, the cia was charged with preventing strategic surprises to the United States in the realm of foreign affairs. the agency’s multiple failures to meet that demanding charge—at tremendous cost—are the subject of this book.

In 1962, for example, the CIA’s estimate of the likelihood that the Soviets would place nuclear missiles in Cuba proved completely wrong. the agency’s misjudgment was not simply a question, as chief analyst Sherman Kent put it, of coming down “on the wrong side” in a single intelligence estimate. It was a fundamental misreading of the intentions and logistical capabilities of the ussr. It included a failure to learn facts that, had they been known, could have proved crucial to the risk calculations made by President Kennedy’s team following the discovery of the missiles. the agency missed, for example, that the ussr had managed to slip both the missiles’ nuclear warheads and tactical nuclear weapons into Cuba—a facet of the crisis that put the United States and the Soviets closer to a nuclear holocaust than either side recognized at the time. Agency analysts made these misjudgments despite vigorous warnings . . .

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