Streetwise Professor

May 3, 2015

Does the CIA Believe in Unicorns and Faeries Too?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:30 pm

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell made a rather stunning admission that the US intelligence community believed that the Arab Spring would be the death knell of Al Qaeda:

“We thought and told policy-makers that this outburst of popular revolt would damage al-Qaeda by undermining the group’s narrative,” Morell wrote in the book, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its release later this month.

Instead, “the Arab Spring was a boon to Islamic extremists across both the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “From a counterterrorism perspective, the Arab Spring had turned to winter.”

Do they also believe in unicorns and faeries at the CIA? Revolutionaries exploit political turmoil: the vast majority of political upheavals in the developing world have empowered radicals, rather than neutered them. And since when did a revolutionary situation in the Middle East in particular result in the emergence of a stable, peaceful state? The region’s nations have see-sawed between anarchic strife and repressive regimes. The region’s history is fodder for cynicism and world weariness, not flights of political fancy.

Neocons were rightly savaged after the Iraq invasion for their naive belief that Saddam’s overthrow would lead to the creation of a stable, peaceful, and democratic Iraq, and that this in turn could provide the foundation for a democratic Middle East. We all know how that worked out, which makes the naiveté of the CIA almost a decade later astounding.

Arab societies are deeply broken, and as Iraq demonstrates, throwing off the shackles of an authoritarian regime is almost certain to result in chaos and anarchy that provides opportunities to Islamist radicals. Indeed, the failure of the CIA in 2011 is more damning than the neocon failure in 2003 because the former had the benefit of the sad example of Iraq, which should tempered greatly any temptation to indulge in flights of optimism.

And God spare us from anyone who bases policies on “narratives,” or believes that the roots of Salafism in the Middle East are so shallow that it will wither and die because a few aging dictators are overthrown. Islamism is deeply embedded in Arab societies, and to believe that the fall of a Mubarak or a Khaddafy will transform Islamists into Jeffersonians is delusional.

It must also be noted that this benign view of the effect of the Arab Spring on Al Qaeda was very politically convenient for the administration. Especially in the aftermath of the elimination Osama, it supported Obama’s campaign pitch that “Al Qaeda is on the run.” This raises the possibility that the CIA slanted its analysis to benefit its political masters.

In brief, this is an intellectual failure of the first order. What confidence can we have that the mindset that led to this failure is not still exerting a baleful influence on intelligence analysis today? The CIA’s intellectual failure is particularly troubling given the extremely fraught situation in the Middle East. We need all the penetrating analysis we can get, and the thought that those charged with providing such analysis have very recently have proved to be naive fantasists is deeply troubling.

During the Cold War, Reagan’s dissatisfaction with the analysis provided by the CIA led him to form a Team B to give an alternative viewpoint about the USSR. In light of Morell’s admission, something similar is desperately needed now. But we all know that the likelihood we will get it is somewhere between zero and nil.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. No problem at all to provide well funded intelligence on unicorns and fairies. This is the agency that found the instability in the Middle East was due to climate change.

    Comment by pahoben — May 4, 2015 @ 9:14 am

  2. And this is not a slur on the history of the agency nor the many brave people why have worked there nor he good work that has been done there. It just seems it has become an overly political inside the beltway organization by installed leadership I guess. I can’t see how objective intelligence can be motivated by supporting some domestic political ideology but the way things work inside the beltway how could it be otherwise. Definitely a different culture there than military intelligence.

    Comment by pahoben — May 5, 2015 @ 8:35 am

  3. @Professor
    Nothing more fascinating than eccentric British officers in WW II. I just found a new member-Mad Jack Churchill who cursed the US for droppung the bombs on Japan and thereby, to his great disappointment, shortening the war.

    He has the last cofirmed kill in the British Army by longbow.

    Comment by pahoben — May 5, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

  4. I hadn’t thought about it and it is probably completely transparent to most but I now better understand how global warming fits in to the overall strategy. Blame Everything on Global Warming because-

    1) It is global by definition
    2) Only possible to oversee by the political elite
    3) easy to emotionalize with picture of furry arctic creatures
    4) not possible to either prove or disprove
    5) Easy to make the case that it can be ameliorated by global regulation
    6) Easy to make the case best regulated by global taxes
    7) Weather does effect everyone

    In short global warming is the perfect vehicle for advancing the gray goo of Globalization.

    Many other points possible but

    Comment by pahoben — May 24, 2015 @ 4:54 am

  5. All true, @pahoben. Climate change is indeed a great Trojan Horse for the watermelons who wrap their red socialist agenda in a protective green covering.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 24, 2015 @ 1:40 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress