Media outlets and pundits have accused the intelligence community of failing to warn that Russia might invade Crimea, but a closer examination of the facts reveals that the intelligence community likely didn’t fail even as the media and pundits have with their accusations.
Right before Russia invaded Crimea I tweeted that I didn’t think an invasion would occur based on open-source intelligence (OSINT)—the only intelligence available to me. But I also said my guess could be wrong. My tweets were as follows:
Based on current OSINT I don't believe #Russia will "invade" #Ukraine: http://t.co/LB6uzpr3FS http://t.co/MtGJfzme7W
— Paul Hair (@PaulHair1) February 28, 2014
However, that doesn't mean it won't happen. #Russia might view US as much weaker than in past & this could influence events.
— Paul Hair (@PaulHair1) February 28, 2014
But the media and pundits decided that the IC had failed for (supposedly) not warning that Russia might enter Crimea—even as the intelligence they cited also was OSINT and not anything officially coming from the IC.
The media really probably did (and in many cases, still does) think the IC provided faulty intelligence but they actually made those claims based, in part, on their own previous reporting of what the IC may or may not have said. In other words, they relied on their own sources to assume that those sources spoke for the IC when in fact they do not.
And that’s something some media members and pundits are learning as other sources began telling the media that the IC didn’t miss anything. See for instance what Eli Lake reported in, “Exclusive: Congress Probes Why Spies Got Putin’s Invasion Wrong,” on March 4 and what he reported in, “U.S. Eyes Russian Spies Infiltrating Ukraine,” on March 21. (Why do I trust this later reporting if I’m arguing that the earlier reporting was wrong? It’s based on my past experience working inside the IC and knowing how things work.)
It’s interesting that Lake published both these articles because his earlier reporting is some of the reporting that caused other media members and pundits to accuse the IC of missing the Russian action. (Not only that, but I relied on one of his earlier reports to make my guess that Russia wouldn’t enter Ukraine.)
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air was one of the media members who used Lake’s earlier reporting on Russia and Ukraine to slam the IC for “missing” what Russia was about to do. And Steven Hayward at Power Line was another one. He twice accused the IC of failing based off faulty OSINT reporting on the latest events and erroneous interpretations of possibly correct OSINT.
At the same time, we have to be fair to Lake and others in the media making wrong assumptions about the IC. Lake’s initial reporting was based on what his sources said and they clearly were speaking out of turn or ignorance.
Furthermore, I’m not sure if many (perhaps most) government leaders understand what intelligence is. And they certainly contribute to the misperception that the IC erred.
For instance, John McCain slammed the IC for supposedly missing Russia invading Crimea. And even the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence cast doubt on the IC.
Other former officials (and sources for Lake and the media) also contributed to the misinformation. Michael Hayden, a former Director of the National Security Agency and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was one such source.
Media obviously will seek out Hayden for opinions on intelligence matters because of his past leadership in the intelligence community. However, his reputation on intelligence matters is less than stellar. He was completely off target on Egypt and the so-called Arab Spring, and he was caught talking on his cell phone in a public setting on things he probably shouldn’t have been discussing in such a setting.
So Lake, other media members, and pundits can somewhat be excused for their faulty accusations because of the sources they rely on who give them faulty information and who shouldn’t be doing so. At the same time, the media is also are at fault for not recognizing their own mistakes.
This being said, here are a few things the media, pundits, the public, and even politicians and public leaders should know to help in the future with regards to intelligence and the IC.
Intelligence professionals and intelligence assessments provide intelligence but they don’t make policy recommendations. This means that assessments tell policymakers what is happening (and what might happen) but it is the responsibility of policymakers to decide what to do.
So it would have been up to policymakers to decide what to do with intelligence provided by the IC about Russia and Crimea—not the IC. Yet when policymakers appeared to have been caught off guard by Russian action they rushed to blame the IC and there wasn’t much the IC could do about it.
Another thing to consider about intelligence provided by the IC to policymakers is the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA).
The IRTPA requires the IC to provide policymakers with alternative analysis with its assessments. (See Section 1017, “Alternative Analysis of Intelligence by the Intelligence Community,” for this requirement.) And the IRTPA was created and passed by policymakers. So the IC would’ve provided alternative analysis to policymakers on Russia and Crimea prior to the invasion—per IRTPA guidelines. And OSINT reporting on this story reveals this truth (information in bold by me):
“There was a briefing from the ODNI staff on the Hill,” Rogers said. “People came out of that and they were miffed because they believe they were told nothing was going to happen and then 24 hours later there were Russian troops coming into Crimea.”
Rogers, who did not attend that briefing, said he had seen initial intelligence reports on Wednesday evening that said “there was indicators saying something was going on.” Rogers also said the ODNI analysis from Thursday did not reflect the same analytical conclusions as other intelligence agencies. The ODNI was created in 2005 in part to synthesize intelligence and analysis coming from the 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government.
“It was the analytic product, the certain conclusion in one particular case that nothing was going to happen in 24 hours—that was just wrong,” Rogers said. “There was another thing out there from another agency that was different.” Other U.S. government officials say the CIA assessments last Wednesday warned clearly that Russia might send more troops into Crimea.Yet now the same policymakers who implemented the IRTPA apparently are confused about how their policies work—or they simply want to blame the IC for following the IRTPA in order to deflect blame from what is perceived as a failure by the United States.
One final thought on the IC and intelligence analyses and assessments.
Media, pundits, and government officials love blaming the IC for “failing” to predict the future (which is something the IC openly says it can’t do). Yet as the reporting on the IC regarding Russia and Crimea makes clear, the media, pundits, and government officials can’t make accurate assessments on what happens in the U.S.—what is being said among government officials and organizations. And the media, etc. are operating in a non-hostile environment.
Think about that. The media and others misreport what the IC assessed on Russia and Crimea but they think the IC should be perfect in its assessments on situations where people are intentionally trying to hide the truth in non-permissive and hostile environments.
It’s always appropriate to talk about the IC and examine if it is doing its job correctly—that examination keeps the IC doing the best it can. At the same time, the media and others have completely failed at their jobs and they need to be held accountable for their inaccurate accusations and information.