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Defeating Terrorism Is Not Possible With Intelligence Failures

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Gathering intelligence involves people and needs lots of control and, as such, there is always the possibility of failure. This paper explores all possible reasons as to why Intelligence fails and how such failures may fail to defeat terrorism. It also explains how these intelligence failures may be prevented.

Keywords: Intelligence failures, intelligence, terrorism, intelligence community.

Intelligence failures, whether they are officially admitted or not, are known soon after. This paper starts by explaining what Intelligence failures are. It then briefly explains the importance of intelligence in the fight against terrorism. The paper then explains how intelligence failures lead to failures in defeating terrorism. To give an in-depth knowledge of how intelligence failures may cause a harmful effect in the fight against terrorism, examples of such experiences by different countries will be discussed. Eventually, the paper explains how intelligence failures may be prevented.

Intelligence failures
Intelligence involves the understanding of plans, thoughts, beliefs, mission and motivation of enemies. The aim of intelligence is to provide a timely, relevant and precise picture of reality or some sort of warning to a specific person or an organization as per their requirements. The whole purpose of such an activity in relation to terrorism would be to know who the terrorists are, what their mission is, what their capabilities are and how they may attack. On receipt of the required intelligence, appropriate measures can be taken to either eliminate the threats or better strengthen the security infrastructure to protect a particular nation. Intelligence fails where there is an inability to provide this portrait of reality.

Examples of intelligence failures would be as follows:

1. The lack of warning of the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks 11 attack.

2. Pearl Harbor is perceived as an intelligence failure- although some argue that allied intelligence knew of the Japanese plans.

3. The Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R

4. Australia’s failure to act when US first gave warnings about the rise of extremist Islamic terrorist groups in Indonesia which was followed by the Bali Bombings.

5. The German bombing of Coventry.

Importance of intelligence in the fight against terrorism
Intelligence is crucial as it gathers and analyses data and information in the aim of providing warnings and indications of possible attacks. Intelligence is critical for a nation as it enlightens key vulnerabilities that can be used to anticipate, prevent and disrupt terrorist activities before they occur. Reasons for Intelligence failures and how they lead to failure in defeating terrorism Intelligence failures may have several causes. Intelligence analysts are estimators and not clairvoyants. They can explain a trend or understand a behavior or a motive. However, analysts should not be expected to know everything. It should be understood that intelligence analysts collect information relating to terrorists activities and not evidence. Evidence is collected by law enforcement officers. Intelligence analysts use old information to predict what is going to unfold.

Intelligence is a complex process which has to go through five steps processes as follows:

Planning and Direction
Analysis and Production

Therefore, to prevent intelligence failures each and every step needs an expert approach. However, Heuer (1999) explained that expertise itself is no protection from the common analytic pitfalls that are endemic to the human thought process. Heuer emphasised that “A review of notorious intelligence failures demonstrates that the analytic traps caught the experts as much as anybody. Indeed, the data show that when experts fall victim to these traps, the effects can be aggravated by the confidence that attaches to expertise—both in their own view and in the perception of others”.

Intelligence failures are possible also because terrorist often use denials and deceptions. New terrorists are trained as well and possess good intelligence capabilities. They may deliberately send signals which hide their true intentions to mislead intelligence analysts.

Johnson and Wirtz (2004) stated that in the best- known cases of intelligence failure, the most crucial mistakes have seldom been made by the collectors of raw information, occasionally by intelligence analysts who produce finished analyses and most often by the decision makers who use the intelligence products.

Shortcomings in intelligence analysis and estimates
Intelligence failures may be the cause of shortcomings in intelligence analysis and estimates. In this modern and competitive world, where the risk of threats of terrorist’s attacks is very high, intelligence processes should be done by experts. Intelligence processes should be very professional and include diligent and precise intelligence gathering systems. There have been many occasions where such shortcomings have led to intelligence failures and terrorists have eventually succeeded in their mission.

Collection capabilities (search internet)
Intelligence will fail if the intelligence community does not have the ability to collect timely and relevant information about terrorists. Intelligence fails when there is a failure to collect relevant information due to the mis-prioritization of collection systems.

Intelligence community has to deal with loads of information in this information age. This has given the US Intelligence community a headache. Other intelligence communities are surely experiencing the same problem given the restrictive budgets they are allocated with; for this reason most of the intelligence communities around the world are still using a hodgepodge of aging and incompatible electronic data systems to deal with an ever expanding stream of data. (Johnson and Wirtz, 2004) This is definitely a barrier in creating successful intelligence as there will be a restriction in the collection of information and some valuable information is missed.

Another issue of concern during the collection stage which contributes to intelligence failures is the existence of organizational or classification barriers to the free flow and sharing of information. Marrin (2004) argued that these barriers impede the free flow of information, thereby preventing intelligence analysts from integrating all the relevant information, as occurred at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and apparently prior to the 11 September attacks.

Science of analysis
Human mental process
Most of the causes of intelligence failures are related to the “Analysis stage”. Consequently, to strengthen contemporary intelligence, the experts of the intelligence community have to fully understand the science of analysis. This is based mostly based on the human mental processing power- human mind—and the way it processes information. The mental processing power is guided by beliefs, assumptions and existing concepts. Information from the memory forms a mind-set. This mind set may prove to be dangerous when analyzing information as the mental process will be guided by perception. In such cases, in the absence of fresh information, the mind relies a lot on actual beliefs and assumptions which may lead to wrong estimates and wrong intelligence.

However, these mental obstacles on the human mental process can be minimised if not eliminated. Training may help in this area. Training will definitely help human mind on how to identify and overcome these mental obstructions. In this context, the intelligence community has to design related procedures that will facilitate and guide the mental processing of information.

Intention estimation
Intention estimation is a very important factor in the intelligence process. The right enemies’ intention estimation will lead to intelligence successes. However, wrong estimations may lead to failures. In fact intention estimation may depend on situational factors. For example intention estimation of other nations may be very difficult during wartime and hostilities. The reason is quite simple. During war time, there are all sorts of control on information leakage. A nation’s security infrastructure is tougher. Its security and secrecy plans are given much priority. There are also all sorts of physical barriers like closed borders, censorship and restriction placed on media, and execution of strict rules and regulations within departments. All these prevent the flow of information and intention estimation become very difficult. A very good example would be the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks on the US twin towers. It was easier for them to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence on US before the attack; but immediately after the attack and when US started the battle against terrorism in Irak and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s intelligence on US was reduced considerably.

Smith (cited in Wheaton, 2009) cataloged many intelligence failures in “On the Accuracy of National Intelligence Estimates.” As follows: the development of the Soviet Union’s hydrogen bomb, the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Missile Gap. He added that the Tet Offensive, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) fiasco in Iraq would soon be added to the list of widely recognized (at least by decisionmakers) intelligence failures.

Over Reliance on Signals Intelligence
Signals intelligence (SIGINT) which came into wide use in the mid-1990s by the intelligence community has proved its significant value in the collection of information against terrorism. SIGINT was so valuable that it has been the hallmark for the past fifteen years. It has been widely used by the USA, UK, Australia and most of other countries have been very useful. However, the problem which followed the introduction of SIGINT was the open hostility towards the human intelligence (HUMINT).

There was too much focus on SIGINT that the intelligence community became a bit dormant on other aspects of intelligence which could only be done by HUMINT. This is, in fact, the reason why USA’s intelligence community, even after spending nearly $30 billion annually on intelligence gathering efforts, fails to predict the September 11 terrorist attacks. USA’s intelligence community relied too much on SIGINT which explains why they have slept for so long before the September 11 terrorist attacks. This has also been pointed out by Johnson and Wirtz (2004) who said that SIGINT has been very useful in collecting information about things like location of tanks or some telephone conversations, but SIGINT was unable to provide any insight into a particular cell was planning. This is the job of a person.

There are many reasons why intelligence may fail. Whilst most of them are caused by factors which the intelligence analysts do not have complete control of, some of them can be deliberately inspired- known as treachery-selling out one’s country and colleagues. Flaws in one’s character like dishonesty, greed, narrow mindedness, lack of ethics, political prejudice, being racist, extremist, gender bias, mentally unsound and others will be most of the time be the reason for treachery.

Penetration of information system
Another reason for an intelligence failure would be a penetration in the information system of a nation’s intelligence organization caused by a terrorist or his organisation.

Collins and Reed (2005) discussed that intelligence failures can be politically driven as well. They said at least one Australian official, Dr Bob Matthews, a 35 year veteran of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and leading expert on WMD, ‘defied political and bureaucratic barriers to warn the Prime Minister that the case for war against Iraq was based on falsehoods and would make Australia a bigger terrorist target.’

Politicization of intelligence takes place when intelligence analysis is deliberately processed in such a way to give policymakers a result that they want and not the truth about the real situation. Politicization of intelligence is considered one of the reasons why intelligence may fail to defeat terrorism. Just because of some political gains critical information about terrorism could be hidden to the public which may turn to be very dangerous to the nation as appropriate actions could not be taken by the country’s police, defense or the relevant organization.

Moreover, incompetent reporting may also lead to failures.

Force Majeure
On the other hand, ‘force majeure’ -………………..bad luck may be another cause.

How Intelligence failures may be prevented
Intelligence failures may be prevented if the following measures are adopted:

Successful estimates of enemy intentions
The intelligence community are too concerned of intelligence failures; Lots of discussion is going on in this context. In this regard, intelligence experts have made many detailed assessments of intelligence failures. It’s true that they have to learn by their mistakes; this is the reason as to why the intelligence community is so concerned about the assessement of intelligence failures. This may also be the reason as to why there is very few discussion and assessment of intelligence successes.

The intelligence community should not forget that a good way of learning is also to be guided by good examples. Stech (1980) made an analysis of intelligence successes. He described three examples of successful estimations of enemy intentions which were based on the following accounts: George’s (1959) Propaganda Analysis: A study of inferences made from Nazi Propaganda in World war II, Beesly’s (1977) Very Special Intelligence: The story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Center 1939-1945, and Jone’s (1978) The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945. He analysed each example to determine the methods, procedures and mental processes which seem to have contributed to the success.

As such, Stech was able to explain how American and British intelligence efforts were successful during World War II. The British and American were able to analyze German propaganda, predict German submarine movements, and estimate future capabilities and intentions of the German Air Force. After reviewing the above examples, Stech noted that, the methodologies used by the analysts “. . . facilitated the formulation and testing against each other of alternative hypothetical estimates of enemy intentions. Each of the three accounts stressed this pitting of competing hypotheses against the evidence.”

In fact, estimates of intentions should reflect both the indication of future actions and the objectives behind the current actions.

Hypotheses should not be multiplied unnecessarily.Fewer links based on a selection process which in turn is based on reliability on fresh facts, will help to form a strong chain in the enemies’ intentions estimation process. However, adopting fewer links should not mean that intelligence process will be based only on existing hypothesis. On the contrary, to prevent intelligence failures in regard to terrorism, intelligence analysts should always be prepared to search for new facts; based on these fresh facts analysts should be prepared to modify the hypothesis. The simultaneous evaluation of competing hypotheses will allow a more systematic and objective analysis.

Intelligence estimation during war and hostilities
As discussed above, intelligence failures may be the result of difficulties in the estimation of intention of terrorists. However, if strategically prepared a nation may find the estimation of terrorists’ intentions easy. In fact, terrorists operate within the constraint of their capabilities. Therefore, a nation’s intelligence community should always be doing intelligence on his enemies and should know their capabilities. Given that he knows what the terrorists can generally do and how they can do it. In peacetime, the analyst may not see enough behaviour between his nation and the terrorists to be able to make a correct estimate of the intentions of the enemy. On the other hand, as during war and hostilities, there are an abundance of such behaviours, the analyst should make use of these and be able to make comparison of his hypotheses and provide an estimation of what terrorists will do next.

The tasks of estimation in peacetime will differ in time of war and when there are hostilities. The situation will also depend upon the availability of information in the two environments. However, it is highly recommended that procedures and protocols are put into practice which will guide the methods and mental processes in these two different environments. It is recommended that intelligence creation in relation to terrorism shall always be regarded as a top priority and the same mental processed be used in both environments.

Diligent intelligence processing systems
One of the measures that would help prevent intelligence failures is the implementation of diligent intelligence gathering systems and professional response protocols in respect to the intelligence built up in relation to terrorist attacks. The intelligence community should build quickly on the existing intelligence models, methods and approaches and improve the areas where there are deficiencies.

Policymakers and governments should actively involve all the ministries and departments in the support of the intelligence community and should provide them with the necessary tools they need to do their jobs.

Both SIGINT and HUMINT approaches should be used by the intelligence community to gather information on terrorist intentions and behaviours.

Collection capabilities
In this modern and dangerous world where threats from ‘modern’ terrorists are very high and where mass destruction is possible, intelligence community should be provided with the capable intelligence experts and the required tools so that timely intelligence are provided to the defense community and the government so that they are able to take appropriate measures to protect the nation against terrorism.

Removal of Barriers to Accurate Information
It is very important that policymakers understand that the removal of organizational controls on certain types of information is essential in an endeavour to prevent or minimize intelligence failures. This will allow a better flow of information into the intelligence communities thus enabling intelligence analysts to make a better assessment of issues related to the national security.

Intelligence capabilities
In order to prevent intelligence failures, the intelligence community has to improve intelligence capabilities. One of the ways to do this is to understand the tradeoffs and either fine-tune the balances more effectively or create new ways of doing business that get past existing tradeoffs. (Marrin, 2004).

Counter intelligence
There have been many recent proposals during discussions by the intelligence community in general that the number of officers assigned to clandestine activities should be increased. No doubt, the intelligence community suffers from the lack of manpower in this field. Time and money are needed to train more officers in that respect. This will eventually allow the flow of more information on terrorists into the intelligence processing system which will help in providing successful intelligence.

As penetrating the network of terrorists takes time, intelligence community has to take actions in favour of espionage the earliest possible.

Political Isolation
Intelligence communities should be allowed to work in isolation from the political influence so that analysts can provide a true picture of the terrorists’ organization and their intentions to the policymakers.(make internet research on KENT 1949 WORKS ) Kent (1949) in his well-known writings published in the immediate postwar period, warned that it would be a mistake for analysts to get too close to policymakers as trhis would lead to the analysis being influenced by their political agendas.

Evaluating Intelligence failures
Conducting intelligence on terrorism is something of high priority which cannot be done by amateurs and whoever is responsible should have full accountability of their actions. Therefore, it is strictly recommended that in the aftermath of each of terrorist’s activity, a commission is to be duly summoned; investigations into the reasons and causes of the intelligence failure should be examined, recommendations should be made, and it should be ensued that changes are brought to improve future intelligence.

Coordination between the intelligence agencies
Lype (2006), whilst explaining why intelligence fails and terrorists succeed in India, wrote that officials agreed that there is lack of coordination between the Defence Intelligence Agency, The Research and Analysis Wing and Intelligence Bureau on counter-terrorism strategies. As is the case in India, there is discussion that intelligence communities around the world are facing the same problems. Likelihood of mistakes in intelligence processes will be reduced to a graet extent once measures are put into place to allow better coordination between intelligence agencies both within a country and between countries that are in the fight against terrorism.

Moreover, increasing community-wide connectivity and enhancing efforts to identify cases where foreign governments may be applying denial and deception techniques to hide their activities and/or capabilities will definitely reduce the risks of intelligence failures or surprise attacks (Marrin, 2004).

Lype (2006) explaining intelligence failures, after terrorist attacks in several parts of India, pointed out that Police intelligence wings should be trained in routine counter-terrorism procedures( like surveillance of calls to Jammu and Kashmir or Pakistan).

So, there is all the possibility that the intelligence may fail as well. As discussed, intelligence on terrorism may fail becauses (i) firstly………


Heuer, R., J. (1999). The psychology of Intelligence. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from Collins, L. & Reed, W. (2005). Plunging point: Intelligence failures, cover-ups and consequences. Australia: HarperCollinsPublishers Pty Limited. Johnson, L., K. (2004). Strategic intelligence: Windows into a secret world. An anthology. USA: Roxbury Publishing Company

Lype, G. (2006). Why intelligence fails and terrorists succeed. Retrieved September 30, 2009, from http://search.rediff.com/news/2006/jul/20george.htm

Marrin, S. (2004). Preventing intelligence failures by learning from the past. International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 17, issue 4. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from

Stech, F., J. (1980). Political and military intervention estimation: A

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