President Obama is reported to be upset that US intelligence agencies failed to foresee Egypt’s unrest, and he has apparently ordered an accounting. Experience, however, teaches that political events almost always surprise us, and the real problem with America’s intelligence analysts is one that Obama probably does not want to hear.
True, no one predicted Egypt’s rebellion — or Tunisia’s, or Iran’s Green movement in 2009 or its Islamic revolution in 1978–79 or the downfall of the Soviet empire in 1989 or North Korea’s invasion in 1950. One could go on ad infinitum. Intelligence analysis is nothing like gazing into a crystal ball.
But there does seem to be something amiss in our spy agencies, although it confounds the Hollywood trope that the CIA is filled with rightwing super-patriots. On the contrary, it seems that the analysis divisions (as opposed to the operations people responsible for derring-do in the field) are so dominated by left-liberal ideologues that too little rigorous analysis takes place.