Faster, Please!

The Latest Intelligence Failure. And the Next One


I’d been reading about those Hamas tunnels, and I certainly noticed that the Israelis lost plenty of their boys in the ground campaign to destroy the tunnel work, and I wondered if there had been some sort of intelligence failure.  As usual in such cases, I turned to a higher authority — or maybe it’s a lower authority, since I don’t know which area of the nether regions is inhabited by the spirit of my old friend, James Jesus Angleton, the late chief of CIA counterintelligence.  So I set up the notoriously unreliable Ouija board, and lo and behold, there was the gravelly voice (decades of Camels will do that):


JJA:  “Nice to be remembered.”

ML:  “Good to talk to you, as always.”

JJA:  “What’s up?  Snowden, I suppose.”

ML:  “Not really. I wanted to talk about the tunnels in Gaza.  However it all turns out, the Israelis were pretty clearly surprised.  It seems they didn’t know the full details, even including Hamas’s plot to send hundreds of killers into Israel via the tunnels for a mass massacre next Rosh Hashanah.  They were in a terrific position to know what was going on in Gaza, but they seem to have missed a biggie.  It sounds like an intelligence failure, so here I am…”

JJA:  “It does, indeed.  But careful with those broad brushes…everybody knew there were tunnels into Gaza from the south, against which Israel and Egypt were operating.  Those tunnels were used, inter alia, to smuggle weapons from Iran and other suppliers through Sudan into Gaza.  And the Israelis say they knew there were tunnels across the Israel/Gaza border as well.  And they also say that they knew some of those tunnels were designed to infiltrate Hamas forces into Israel to attack and kidnap Israelis, especially if they were in uniform.”

ML:  “Gilad Shalit being the obvious case in point.”

JJA:  “But obviously they didn’t know all the details.  Which should not totally surprise US.  It’s normal, intelligence is invariably imperfect, even in this case, where the Israelis had exceptional coverage–aerial, electronic, agents on the ground etcetera, etcetera.”


ML:  “I’ve heard anecdotes about Israelis in the south, next to Gaza, who heard digging, grinding and scraping at night.  They reported it, of course, but in at least some cases the authorities decided they were disturbed, and provided psychiatric care…”

JJA:  “Heh.  Not the best way to do intelligence.  You’ve got to take reports seriously unless there is a strong reason to dismiss them.  If the stories are true, the intel people were sloppy and lazy, which again is normal enough, albeit deplorable.  But it seems to me that this discussion should lead elsewhere.”

ML:  “Fine with me.  Lead on.”

JJA:  “It should lead us to ask ourselves about the limits of our knowledge.  What can we know and what can’t we know?  So:  the Israelis, as you said, were in an enviable position for spying on Gaza.  It was right next door.  The Israelis had controlled the place for many years.  They knew many many people on the ground.  They had drones, satellites, sigint monitoring a la NSA.  And they were surprised when they attacked.”

ML:  “So you’re saying that if Israel, with top-notch intelligence services, and very favorable conditions…”

JJA:  “Precisely.  If THEY couldn’t get reasonably complete coverage THERE, then how can anyone in his right mind believe that we have, or can have, reasonably complete coverage of Iran?”


ML:  “Good question.  A lot of the Iranian nuclear project is inside…”

JJA:  “Tunnels!  You think the Gazans are unique?  You think that ‘dark city beneath the one we see’ that the Israelis are talking about is limited to Gaza?  No way.  The Iranians have surely done the same.”

ML:  “Yeah, years ago I was told that there was a clandestine city beneath Parchin, for example.”

JJA:  “And Parchin just happens to be one of those military sites that the Iranians have made off-limits to the inspectors.  You can be sure that there are others, probably inside some mountains or the like.  The point is that we cannot reasonably expect to know enough about Iranian activities, whether nuclear or conventional or terror training, to be confident they are actually carrying out their promises.  We can’t check it…”

ML:  “So the intelligence lesson of Gaza is?”

JJA:  “Don’t ever believe you know everything that’s going on.  Even small gaps in our understanding can be fatal to our people.”

ML:  “Is there any way to put ourselves in a stronger position regarding Iran?”

JJA:  “Yes, but it’s costly and painful.  The Israelis in Gaza only learned the full story of the tunnels when they fully engaged.  It took the lives of Israeli soldiers to learn what they learned…are we…”


At which point there was a veritable static storm, and he was gone.

(Artwork created using an image from

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