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What are the fundamental obstacles for analysts trying to accurately warn policy makers of military surprise attacks?
Regrettably, intelligence analysts often fail to give policy makers and military commanders timely warnings of dangers ahead for American security policy. They may fail, for example, to give policy makers able time to formulate and implement policy that might head off political upheavals that would be detrimental to national interests.
Intelligence analysts too often fail to give consumers adequate warning of weapons and technology developments. American intelligence, for example, over estimated how much time it would take the Soviet Union and China to develop nuclear weapons to end the American nuclear weapons monopoly. More recently, American intelligence dismissed India’s claims that it would publicly detonate a nuclear device, which, in turn, lead Pakistan to do the same to set the nuclear arms race in South Asia into high gear.
The most stunning type of intelligence warning failure comes when analysts fail to tipoff policy makers to preparations for military attacks by nation-states. Tragically, there is a rich history of case studies on this particular type of intelligence warning failure. This week we will study two of them from World War II, Germany’s surprise attack on the Soviet Union and Japan’s surprise attack on the United States. We also will examine how Chinese military intervention in the Korea War shocked American intelligence.
That intelligence warning failure came at the heels of the National Security Act of 1947, a landmark piece of legislation that laid the foundation of the American national security bureaucracy. It established National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force, and the CIA. Keep in mind that the CIA was set up by President Truman to try to ensure that all sources of American intelligence were gathered and analyzed in one agency to give the president timely, accurate, and forward leaning intelligence.
The CIA’s mission, in no small measure, was to avoid intelligence failures in warning of enemy surprise attacks the likes of which the United States suffered at Pearl Harbor. The 1950 North Korea invasion of South Korea and the subsequent Chinese military intervention into the conflict again surprised the CIA and the president. These events painfully showed that the CIA still had not redressed American intelligence shortcomings.