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Intelligence Failures Threaten World Security

The cost to life and limb of intelligence failures has been catastrophic.

Intelligence agencies logos. Top (L) CIA and Russian FSB, Bottom (L) British MI-6 and Israeli Mossad. Credit: assembled by tippinsights graphics team.

As Russia mourns its dead from the horrifying terrorist attack on the Crocus concert hall in Moscow, the government is doing all any government can do when a disaster of this scale happens.

Sunday was a national day of mourning. All flags were ordered to fly half-mast, and people left flowers at makeshift memorials around the country. Even foreign governments shared in the grief. Many buildings in Dubai, the UAE, sported the Russian flag's red, white, and blue in solidarity.

The attack killed over 130 people in Europe's worst-ever terrorist massacre. It came on the eighth anniversary of an ISIS attack in Brussels. For now, western governments and the media have placed the blame on ISIS-K, an offshoot of the ISIS organization in Afghanistan. Details are sketchy, but three of the four alleged suspects who were caught (a rarity for an ISIS attack when suspects, having perished in suicide attempts, are rarely available for interrogations) have confessed that they are Tajik, motivated by money (again, another ISIS anomaly because the brutal organization's attackers kill for idealogy and the glory of attaining Islamic salvation). 

In a nationwide television address, President Putin pledged action - like every other leader (Bush 43 after 9/11, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on October 7) in similar circumstances:

All the perpetrators, organizers, and those who ordered this crime will be justly and inevitably punished. Whoever they are, whoever is guiding them - we will identify and punish everyone who stands behind the terrorists, who prepared this atrocity, this strike against Russia, against our people.

Punishing the perpetrators is taking action after the fact. Of course, governments should do that. But the larger question is: "How did this attack even happen?" 

America, Israel, Russia, and the United Kingdom run the most sophisticated intelligence agencies in the world. America's intelligence apparatus had grown so massive that a new role called the Director of National Intelligence was created after 9/11 to coordinate the various intelligence agencies of the federal government. 

Intelligence gathering could be electronic (ELINT), where billions of dollars of advanced satellites, computer systems, and software surveil anything the world says or writes (like our NSA). Intelligence gathering is also human (HUMINT), where a vast network of spies and sources feeds information that may seem meaningless by each individual bit, but can add upto valuable intel when put together by human analysts.

It is astonishing that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency which was considered so secretive that even its presence was not publicly acknowledged for decades, failed miserably to prevent the Hamas attacks of October 7. While smaller than its Western and Russian counterparts, the scope of Mossad operations is also much limited. The only goal of Mossad since its founding has been to protect Israel from its Arab neighbors. The Mossad has few other responsibilities besides communicating actionable intelligence to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) when the state is under imminent Hamas threat so that the IDF can quietly stamp it down. When Hamas attacked on October 7, the entire security apparatus of the state was caught by surprise. Now, after tens of thousands of deaths on both sides, the region is in a seemingly intractable state of unease, which can have significant repercussions globally.  

The feared Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Internal Security and Counterintelligence Service, was created in 1994 as one of the successor agencies of the Soviet-era KGB. It is responsible for counterintelligence, antiterrorism, and military surveillance. It is again astonishing that just a few days after President Putin was reelected to a sixth term, the agency was wholly caught off guard. 

American officials stressed that they had shared intel with Russia (although we're at war with them) following a long-standing policy to advise foreign governments about imminent terror threats. In that communique, American officials stressed that an attack by ISIS-K, including on concert halls, was highly likely. It is a pity that the attack happened despite these warnings.

No one expects intelligence agencies to bat a thousand. But, for citizens' unending faith in security agencies, which were pillars of trust for decades, recent examples have shown that the agencies often dabble in politics and have come to lose citizens’ trust.

The cost to life and limb of intelligence failures has been catastrophic.

The disparate and sloppy coordination among America's intelligence agencies resulted in death and destruction on 9/11. Three years later, America went to war in Iraq, again on faulty intelligence from the Mossad, the CIA, and MI6. This sowed the seeds for a two-decade-long Middle East conflict that gave birth to ISIS, a resurgent Iran, and the October 7 Hamas attacks. 

Each failure has placed the world in danger. If President Putin concludes that Ukraine was involved in the Moscow attacks (and not ISIS-K) and escalates his actions in Ukraine, that would be tragic at the very time when even the Pope said a "White Flag" approach to begin peace talks was ideal. 

Ever since President Biden signed up for a reckless "as long as it takes" proxy war against Russia, the world has teetered on geopolitical instability. Repeated intelligence failures are pushing the world further into the abyss. 

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