Contributor Post Created with Sketch. “A Significant Intelligence Failure”

 

Well, this story has finally hit the front page of The New York Times. Rivals of ISIS Attack U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group, says the headline. “Rivals.” Any old rivals? No, Nusra — al Qaeda, in other words. As we were discussing on this thread. But here’s the thing I don’t get:

In Washington, several current and former senior administration officials acknowledged that the attack and the abductions by the Nusra Front took American officials by surprise and amounted to a significant intelligence failure.

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

I skimmed through the comments — I shouldn’t have, I’m down enough about all of this already — and saw a number of them to the effect of “This is why we shouldn’t be in the Middle East! It’s all too complicated to sort out!”

All too complicated.

Yes, there are many aspects of the politics of this region that are labyrinthine and confusing. But what would be your instinct about how likely al Qaeda is to welcome US-backed fighters?

What if you knew that Nusra has this track record? Not too much to expect that “senior administration officials” had been briefed about this, is it?

For months, the US-backed Hazzm rebel movement held key areas of the Aleppo countryside, boasted thousands of fighters and scores of tanks, and was led by the former commander of the Free Syrian Army, Salim Idris.Yet over just one weekend, it was defeated by the local al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, which began an assault on Hazzm to end the influence of its “criminal and corrupt” leadership. …

Nusra has considered all US-backed factions inevitable future enemies, and has set about eliminating them before they become a large well-trained force in the region.

What else does al Qaeda have to do to alert the US that it’s hostile to the United States?

Michael Weiss wrote a good piece about it:

This latest setback to the train-and-equip program has only realized the quiet fears percolating throughout the Pentagon for months that the U.S. was essentially creating cannon fodder—rebels it was not prepared to defend in the likely event they needed defending. The raison d’être of all Syrian rebels, after all, is to overthrow at the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, not fight jihadists. And any inductees of the program were bound to have targets painted on their backs from all other comers in a complicated and gruesome four-year-old civil war with many attendant sideshow conflicts. Pro-Assad forces including Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-built militias, Nusra, ISIS and even other independent rebels—all were bound to try to kill or capture Sunni Arab proxies of Washington.

“If you wanted to sabotage your strategy, this is a pretty good way to do it,” said one official advising on the process. “None of this is about achieving the objective. It is about going through the motions.

This is not an “intelligence failure.” This is a moral failure.

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  1. Lockdowns are Precious Inactive
    Lockdowns are PreciousJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet.”

    • #1
    • August 1, 2015, at 8:21 AM PDT
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  2. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    I skimmed through the comments — I shouldn’t have, I’m down enough about all of this already — and saw a number of them to the effect of “This is why we shouldn’t be in the Middle East! It’s all too complicated to sort out!”

    If only the Left would agree to do nothing about all issues that are “too complicated to sort out.” The economy and global warming come to mind.

    • #2
    • August 1, 2015, at 8:37 AM PDT
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  3. Brian McMenomy Inactive

    This is what happens when you have neither an actual strategy (aside from avoiding responsibility at all cost) and no moral purpose. No one trusts you and chaos reigns. Once again, this President is scattering trash all over the lawn for someone else to clean up, only this won’t require a pair of gloves & a plastic bag; it will require words & actions to counteract the fecklessness of the last 7 years.

    • #3
    • August 1, 2015, at 8:38 AM PDT
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  4. Richard Fulmer Member

    “Going through the motions” is about keeping up appearances. For political reasons, Obama needs to be seen as “doing something.” But he wants that “something” to have the least possible impact on domestic politics. That means keeping Americans out of harms way, so proxies get used as cannon fodder.

    Obama could actually accomplish something by arming the Kurds – a pro-western and effective fighting force already on the ground. I’m guessing that the reason he’s done little more than provide a few token weapons to the Kurds is that he doesn’t want to anger Turkey. Is appeasing Turkey worth the cost of hanging the Kurds out to dry?

    • #4
    • August 1, 2015, at 8:40 AM PDT
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  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Richard Fulmer: Is appeasing Turkey worth the cost of hanging the Kurds out to dry?

    It’s hanging the Turks out to dry, too.

    • #5
    • August 1, 2015, at 8:46 AM PDT
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  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is our intelligence community. These are our generals.

    Such poor judgment will not change with elections.

    • #6
    • August 1, 2015, at 8:50 AM PDT
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  7. Profile Photo Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What else does al Qaeda have to do to alert the US that it’s hostile to the United States?

    Shoot a lion.

    • #7
    • August 1, 2015, at 9:04 AM PDT
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  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Aaron Miller:This is our intelligence community. These are our generals.

    Such poor judgment will not change with elections.

    What are elections for, then?

    How can Americans accept a statement like that? A “significant intelligence failure?” We didn’t plan for the possibility that al Qaeda might not embrace US-backed forces with targets painted on their backs?

    This is not one of the things about foreign affairs that’s really hard to understand. Al Qaeda? This isn’t a group that’s totally unknown to Americans! This one doesn’t require the services of the highly trained, expert analysts — this is the most astonishingly obvious thing imaginable!

    Sorry — exclamation points. It doesn’t help to add them. I’m just so sickened by it.

    • #8
    • August 1, 2015, at 9:09 AM PDT
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  9. Barfly Member

    A Significant Intelligence Failure? Wouldn’t that require significant intelligence?

    Brian McMenomy:This is what happens when you have neither an actual strategy (aside from avoiding responsibility at all cost) and no moral purpose. …

    Seriously tho’, one must judge people by what they do, not what they say. The administration’s purpose is manifest: to secure Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. Their strategy is to obfuscate and deflect criticism while they do it.

    How can anyone characterize this defeat as a failure?

    • #9
    • August 1, 2015, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  10. Profile Photo Member

    More seriously, though, it seems like the administration was trying to be clever, thinking that al Qaeda forces would find it “in their interest” to join forces with U.S. backed forces to go after ISIS. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that al Qaeda has a different sense of its interests. And at any rate, some problems cannot be solved by cleverness and hard choices have to be made.

    • #10
    • August 1, 2015, at 9:18 AM PDT
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  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You would know more about intel agencies than I do, Claire… being a superspy and all.

    How long might it take to change a corporate culture of willful stupidity? Would simply appointing new leadership, which a President can do, be sufficient?

    • #11
    • August 1, 2015, at 9:42 AM PDT
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  12. Michael Collins Member

    Aaron Miller:You would know more about intel agencies than I do, Claire… being a superspy and all.

    How long might it take to change a corporate culture of willful stupidity? Would simply appointing new leadership, which a President can do, be sufficient?

    This can’t be resolved by having the president appoint new leadership. We need a new president.

    • #12
    • August 1, 2015, at 9:57 AM PDT
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  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Aaron Miller:You would know more about intel agencies than I do, Claire… being a superspy and all.

    Yeah. The superspy. Look, I know it violates every principle of OPSEC, but I’m going to reveal my ultra-secret tradecraft. Here’s how I do it. I have an eidetic memory, I guess; I have a fantastic memory for the smallest of details. Believe it or not, I remembered this obscure thing that happened in 2001 in some faraway country. I remember that al Qaeda attacked the United States. I don’t know how I still remember that detail — but that’s the quality that makes me so valuable to the intelligence community: this incredible attention to things most people would never notice. I even spotted a hint that al Qaeda might feel some deep hostility to us — and that perhaps their ideology was even irrational, in some puzzling way.

    Of course, I’m also a highly trained scholar of the Middle East, with a doctorate from Oxford University, so I’ve had years of the kind of elite academic training that would allow me to intuit that the people who hijacked four commercial aircraft one beautiful September morning and flew them one after the other into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon — and were prevented from taking out the White House only by the passengers who all died when their flight crashed into a field in Stonycreek — might not be our allies.

    My ability to remember these tiny things that no one else does is why I’ll go down in history as one of the greatest spies who ever lived.

    How long might it take to change a corporate culture of willful stupidity? Would simply appointing new leadership, which a President can do, be sufficient?

    Depends on the President, depends on the leaders.

    • #13
    • August 1, 2015, at 10:24 AM PDT
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  14. Sabrdance Member

    So an illiterate religious fanatic is better at playing this game than Obama and the Democrats. Who’d have guessed.

    • #14
    • August 1, 2015, at 10:27 AM PDT
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  15. Terry Mott Member

    Michael Collins:

    Aaron Miller:You would know more about intel agencies than I do, Claire… being a superspy and all.

    How long might it take to change a corporate culture of willful stupidity? Would simply appointing new leadership, which a President can do, be sufficient?

    This can’t be resolved by having the president appoint new leadership. We need a new president.

    A new president can appoint new leadership in the intelligence and defense agencies. My concern (which I suspect is what Aaron is getting at) is whether the problems in these agencies are so systemic that new leadership would be ineffective in changing things due to massive bureaucratic inertia. I’ve long suspected that the State Department suffers from this. How much do the other security agencies?

    • #15
    • August 1, 2015, at 10:28 AM PDT
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  16. Profile Photo Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I remember that al Qaeda attacked the United States.

    “Attacked” is such a strong word.

    • #16
    • August 1, 2015, at 10:34 AM PDT
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  17. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Aaron Miller:You would know more about intel agencies than I do, Claire… being a superspy and all.

    Yeah. The superspy. Look, I know it violates every principle of OPSEC, but I’m going to reveal my ultra-secret tradecraft. Here’s how I do it. I have an eidetic memory, I guess; I have a fantastic memory for the smallest of details. Believe it or not, I remembered this obscure thing that happened in 2001 in some faraway country. I remember that al Qaeda attacked the United States. I don’t know how I still remember that detail — but that’s the quality that makes me so valuable to the intelligence community: this incredible attention to things most people would never notice. I even spotted a hint that al Qaeda might feel some deep hostility to us — and that perhaps their ideology was even irrational, in some puzzling way.

    Of course, I’m also a highly trained scholar of the Middle East, with a doctorate from OxfordUniversity, so I’ve had years of the kind of elite academic training that would allow me to intuit that the people who hijacked four commercial aircraft one beautiful September morning and flew them one after the other into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon — and were prevented from taking out the White House only by the passengers who all died when their flight crashed into a field in Stonycreek — might not be our allies.

    Your absolute best comment ever…

    • #17
    • August 1, 2015, at 11:14 AM PDT
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  18. Richard Fulmer Member

    Michael Collins:

    Aaron Miller:You would know more about intel agencies than I do, Claire… being a superspy and all.

    How long might it take to change a corporate culture of willful stupidity? Would simply appointing new leadership, which a President can do, be sufficient?

    This can’t be resolved by having the president appoint new leadership. We need a new president.

    Obama methodically got rid of the fighting generals, and replaced them with bureaucrats in uniform. Presumably, the bureaucrats can be eliminated just as quickly, assuming the new commander-in-chief can identify good replacements.

    Obama did the easy part – destruction is much easier than creation. Rebuilding can be harder than starting from scratch because with rebuilding there’s an entrenched status quo to overcome.

    • #18
    • August 1, 2015, at 12:33 PM PDT
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  19. Ray Kujawa Coolidge

    Progressives have sold their program for over a hundred years on being allowed to let the smartest people run government. They are failing again. It turns out Progressivism all along has been a political sham. It’s never been anything more than a curtain behind which they do what they want. Which is many cases is the extremely dumb thing to do. They can’t be entrusted with the reins of political power.

    • #19
    • August 1, 2015, at 12:49 PM PDT
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  20. Barfly Member

    Ray Kujawa:Progressives have sold their program for over a hundred years on being allowed to let the smartest people run government. They are failing again. It turns out Progressivism all along has been a political sham. It’s never been anything more than a curtain behind which they do what they want. Which is many cases is the extremely dumb thing to do. They can’t be entrusted with the reins of political power.

    The progressive project is and has always been to transfer wealth, status, and power from those who produce these things to those who live by persuasion. It has never had any other goal and all it does is directed to that end.

    • #20
    • August 1, 2015, at 1:06 PM PDT
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  21. Steve C. Member

    In the absence of evidence, I presume the rules and guidance that apply to our program of training Syrian Rebels are as constraining as the rules prohibiting US personnel from locating with Iraqi and Kurdish forces to call in air strikes. And rules that force supplies intended for the Kurds through the Iraqi supply pipeline. I believe that because we know, and practically wrote, the book on raising and training indigenous irregular forces.

    I have no problem criticizing our defense establishment. But to say or imply that they are blinkered ideologues or fools is a bridge too far. Nobody wants to be associated with a failure. Right or wrong, they follow orders and do the best they can within the constraints applied by the civilian leadership of the nation.

    • #21
    • August 1, 2015, at 1:07 PM PDT
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  22. Eric Hines Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What if you knew that Nusra has this track record? Not too much to expect that “senior administration officials” had been briefed about this, is it?

    We–that is to say, rational people–wouldn’t even need to know that much. We know al Qaeda (pick an affiliate) and the Daesh (pick a node) are inimical to anything American. Those few, those happy few, whom we’ve trained are obvious targets–the number of them is conveniently small, and burning them would be an embarrassment and a discredit to us.

    Of course they were going to be targeted.

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: “This is why we shouldn’t be in the Middle East! It’s all too complicated to sort out!”

    This is the coward’s excuse for cutting and running. “Complicated” means hard. Hard means possible. Full stop.

    Eric Hines

    • #22
    • August 1, 2015, at 1:13 PM PDT
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  23. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:This is not an “intelligence failure.” This is a moral failure.

    Clearly, the answer is more polygraphs.

    • #23
    • August 1, 2015, at 1:28 PM PDT
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  24. MJBubba Inactive

    Barfly:A Significant Intelligence Failure? Wouldn’t that require significant intelligence?

    Brian McMenomy:This is what happens when you have neither an actual strategy (aside from avoiding responsibility at all cost) and no moral purpose. …

    Seriously tho’, one must judge people by what they do, not what they say. The administration’s purpose is manifest: to secure Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. Their strategy is to obfuscate and deflect criticism while they do it.

    How can anyone characterize this defeat as a failure?

    I am in complete agreement with Barfly here.

    Team Obama said they would end the war in Iraq. They have a naive notion that, if America pulled out, that then the locals would be able to sort things out. They thought that their allies in the lamestream media would be able to protect them by not showing the catastrophic consequences of their actions visited on millions of refugees and tens of thousands killed. But the lamestream cannot hide this story. The videos are too riveting and compelling. If they are going to keep any audience at all they have to show some of this.

    Team Obama thought it would all be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ once Americans were no longer getting killed in faraway places. If this was 20 years ago, it would have been. They are simply guilty of being behind the times. In this regard they are much like Republicans.

    • #24
    • August 1, 2015, at 1:51 PM PDT
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  25. Titus Techera Contributor

    Sabrdance:So an illiterate religious fanatic is better at playing this game than Obama and the Democrats. Who’d have guessed.

    Religious fanaticism kept Greeks free, to say nothing of Englishmen. There’s that to be said for it, not to forget the hecatombal slaughter. Maybe there’s something to be said for civilized people not being that good at the coming chaos…

    • #25
    • August 1, 2015, at 3:16 PM PDT
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  26. Titus Techera Contributor

    Mike LaRoche:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:This is not an “intelligence failure.” This is a moral failure.

    Clearly, the answer is more polygraphs.

    Yeah, if you play them backward, uh, Mr. McCartney tells you the secret about, uh, the walrus?

    • #26
    • August 1, 2015, at 3:17 PM PDT
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  27. Titus Techera Contributor

    Easy with the Iranian hegemony–not that it ain’t a good phrase. If the man wanted it, he could just give them America’s weapons & leave it at that. I thought we were all busy complaining the man can’t tie his shoelaces unattended–now he’s a damned super-secret mastermind?

    • #27
    • August 1, 2015, at 3:21 PM PDT
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  28. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Titus Techera:

    Mike LaRoche:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:This is not an “intelligence failure.” This is a moral failure.

    Clearly, the answer is more polygraphs.

    Yeah, if you play them backward, uh, Mr. McCartney tells you the secret about, uh, the walrus?

    If you play Slim Whitman backwards, he tells you about Satan:

    https://youtu.be/uaUl2aQpaBw

    • #28
    • August 1, 2015, at 3:26 PM PDT
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  29. Titus Techera Contributor

    Cruel joke. I wanted to ask him about when he went to Georgia, because I have my suspicions. Anyway…

    • #29
    • August 1, 2015, at 3:40 PM PDT
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  30. Titus Techera Contributor

    Miss Berlinski, it’s a bad time for foreign policy, but at least no one’s losing China.

    I get the sense, today’s conservatives do not have any of the cool necessary to have made it through far uglier times their grandparents outlived–when extermination of countries & races seemed unprecedented & inevitable.

    There is, too, something silly about the kind of foreign policy where American authorized powers go for subtle strikes. When ever has this worked for America? How many times has it failed? This silly notion that if only the right group is identified & nurtured at the right time in the right circumstances has got to be abandoned. You are right that it is immoral to mark people for death who have not been given the power to defend themselves. It’s also not adequate to the limits of American politics.

    Without a professional class of experts who have their heart on empire, the alternative is to destroy nuisances & set an example. If the country cannot go either way, well, then, hold on to your heart-

    • #30
    • August 1, 2015, at 3:55 PM PDT
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