The Realities of Intelligence
Few functions of government are as misunderstood as those of intelligence, even though scores of books have been written about it, courses have been created in numerous universities, and the government itself has made a reasonable effort to explain the system without compromising secrets. No government is more open about its intelligence system than the United States. Yet, the American public, to the extent such things can be measured, seems woefully ignorant about the intelligence process. Coupled with the misinformation passed around in fictional spy stories in the movies, in novels, and on television, Americans have many bizarre and quite wrong ideas about how the intelligence system really works. It is no wonder, then, that many Americans either fear or ridicule a system purposely designed to protect them.
The intelligence system is often maligned by the press, which tends to put error and scandal above the fold in newspapers and in lead slots on TV. Success is of little interest and stories of intelligence victories are buried on the back pages or relegated to sound bytes. For example, the alleged intelligence failure on 9/11 was front page news, but the CIA's accurate prediction that a virus such as SARS might spread rapidly was buried in the inner pages of several major newspapers.
Reporters tend to hark back to old stories of intelligence failures and cases of abuse as though the same managers and workers who made the errors 30, 40, or even 50 years ago were still leading the intelligence agencies today. Coupled with the kinds of secrecy needed in intelligence to