US intel caught by surprise by ISIS sweep in Iraq?

posted at 8:31 am on June 13, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris reports that one reason that the White House has been caught flat-footed by the stunning collapse in Iraq is that the US intelligence community didn’t see the threat coming from ISIS. But is that the intelligence community’s fault — or just the inevitable outcome of total withdrawal?

United States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized two major Iraqi cities this week and sent Iraqi defense forces fleeing, current and former U.S. officials said Thursday. With U.S. troops long gone from the country, Washington didn’t have the spies on the ground or the surveillance gear in the skies necessary to predict when and where the jihadist group would strike.

The speed and ease with which well-armed and highly trained ISIS fighters took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, have raised significant doubts about the ability of American intelligence agencies to know when ISIS might strike next, a troubling sign as the Islamist group advances steadily closer to Baghdad. And it harkened back to another recent intelligence miscue, in February, when U.S. spy agencies failed to predict the Russian invasion of Crimea. Both events are likely to raise questions about whether the tens of billions of dollars spent every year on monitoring the world’s hot spots is paying off — and what else the spies might be missing.

There is a big difference between Crimea and Iraq, however. We never had boots on the ground in Crimea, and had certainly never fought an insurgency there for years, gaining hard-won insight and intelligence into their operations. We did all of that in Iraq, winning the same towns and territory that ISIS seized in a rolling rout that spread from the border of Syria to the gates of Baghdad this week, while the Iraqi army we trained collapsed like a house of cards. The failure, as Harris details in this piece, comes as a direct consequence of our withdrawal:

The CIA maintains a presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but the agency has largely stopped running networks of spies inside the country since U.S. forces left Iraq in December 2011, current and former U.S. officials said. That’s in part because the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command had actually taken the lead on hunting down Iraq’s militants. With the JSOC commandos gone, the intelligence agencies have been forced to try to track groups like ISIS through satellite imagery and communications intercepts — methods that have proven practically useless because the militants relay messages using human couriers, rather than phone and email conversations, and move around in such small groups that they easily blend into the civilian population.

Even when we did finally recognize the threat, the Obama administration and our allies ended up in analysis paralysis:

Policymakers in Washington and other allied capitals were similarly unsure of the group’s true strength or how to respond. In late May, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with defense officials from Arab countries in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they agreed that ISIS and other Islamic fighters in Syria and Iraq posed a threat to the entire region, a senior U.S. official said. But no plan on how to counter those groups emerged from the meeting, and there’s no indication that U.S. intelligence agencies stepped up monitoring of ISIS fighters in Iraq, who also seized control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in January.

“We got caught flat-footed. Period,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism analyst and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who studies ISIS and other al Qaeda-linked groups.

Now we’re fleeing just as fast as the Iraqis, although hundreds of contractors who have been training Iraqi forces may not be so lucky:

Officials say three planeloads of Americans are being evacuated from a major Iraqi air base in Sunni territory north of Baghdad to escape potential threats from a fast-moving insurgency.

A current U.S. official and a former senior Obama administration official say that means the American training mission at the air field in Balad has been grounded indefinitely.

Twelve U.S. personnel who were stationed at Balad were the first to be evacuated. Several hundred American contractors are still waiting to leave.

Politico outlines the political vise in which Obama finds himself. Not only does the rise of ISIS negate his claims of victoriously ending the war in Iraq, it also calls into question his use of the exact same strategy for withdrawal in Afghanistan by 2016:

The situation gets even more complicated given Obama’s history in Syria, where he’s been calling for President Bashar Assad to go for years but unwilling to do anything to further that along before or after his brief misadventure with Congress in September. The insurgent group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, draws from both countries, and has published pictures of operatives destroying the sand berm that served as part of the border.

The resurgence of a group with links to Al Qaeda in itself presents a problem for Obama, especially as Republicans try to keep attention of the five Taliban prisoner-swap for Bergdahl, which House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Thursday said represents the new Obama Doctrine: “America is willing to make deals with terrorists.” …

“Could all of this have been avoided? The answer is absolutely yes,” McCain said, calling for the president’s entire national security team to be fired and warning of Obama, “he’s about to make the same mistake in Afghanistan he made in Iraq.”

“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.

“They were pretty blasé,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”

The surprise of the US intelligence agencies at the rapid success and progress of ISIS may have blindsided Obama, but only because he effectively blinded them first. The same will happen in Afghanistan over the next few years as well. Regardless of whether the decision to intervene in one or both areas was correct, we left Iraq in the worst possible way, and we’re about to do the same in Afghanistan unless we learn that lesson quickly.

Update: Slate’s Reihan Salam opposed the Iraq invasion, but says leaving was a worse mistake:

The notion that we were wrong to go in but that we were also wrong to get out is hard to comprehend for many people. Once Americans collectively settled on the idea that the Iraq War was a disaster, it was perhaps inevitable that we’d want to wash our hands of the whole ordeal. President Obama appeared to do just that when he declared in December of 2011 that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” knowing full well that we were doing no such thing. The disaster that is the Iraq War did not end when the last convoy of U.S. combat troops left the country more than three years ago, as many of us are now learning as the fragile Iraqi state loses ground to Sunni extremists. …

There are no easy answers as to what the United States should do next in Iraq. The U.S. has so far refused to launch drone strikes in support of the Iraqi government, though the Obama administration might still have a change of heart. Sunni militants are still on the march, and I have to assume that Iraqi Shias are not going to be in a compromising mood in the weeks and months to come. Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution best known for having offered a very hedged, very cautious case for invading Iraq, has recommended that the U.S. government use Maliki’s desperation to its advantage by promising Iraq the military support it needs in exchange for sweeping political reform designed to create a more inclusive Iraqi government. But one wonders what might have happened had we listened to Scowcroft—had we kept a residual U.S. military force in Iraq to prevent this nightmare from having occurred in the first place.

At the very least, we would have had better intelligence and more time to react.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2 3

Miss Lamar

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Resist We Much on June 13, 2014 at 10:26 AM

You, dear woman, are a national treasure.

Midas on June 13, 2014 at 11:53 AM

Ouch, that was way not work friendly.

Midas on June 13, 2014 at 11:39 AM

.
Sorry. I have added a disclaimer and warning to the ones posted for lifreeordie after that. Blame me. Everyone else does. ; )

Bmore on June 13, 2014 at 11:47 AM

.
IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT !
.
I never blamed you before, and I didn’t want to be left off the “Band Wagon.”

listens2glenn on June 13, 2014 at 11:53 AM

How can the intel consistently be wrong? Why should we accept an overbearing domestic spy state when it cannot protect us from overseas events?

Gee, Mr. Wizard, maybe if the NSA was paying more attention to the overseas events than the local GOP Women’s Guild online newsletter and your porn surfing habits they might have picked up a clue.

F X Muldoon on June 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM

Sorry. I have added a disclaimer and warning to the ones posted for lifreeordie after that. Blame me. Everyone else does. ; )

Bmore on June 13, 2014 at 11:47 AM

Nah, it’s cool – I just wish I hadn’t opened it at work. :) No harm done.

Midas on June 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM

U.S. intel caught by surprise by the CO2 fraud, by the open borders treason, by the EPA lies and fraud, by the Justice Dept. lawless operations, by the Fast and Furious death dealing, by the Benghazi youtube lies and fraud, by the past of B. Obama and his work with a convicted terrorist William Ayers, by the problem of a known person of treason being allowed to be Sec. of State as with John F. Kerry, by surprise that the Clinton’s allowed the commies of China access to Los Alamos lab and the missile tech to enable China to have said info and then sell it to others to use on U.S. .

Question is who does the intel operation work for , U.S. the people or only for the power elite in the two party evil money cult who run Washington D.C. and the intel operations for their on greed and lust for power over U.S. all.

APACHEWHOKNOWS on June 13, 2014 at 11:57 AM

This whole caught by surprise meme is getting old.

subZero has used that a lot lately.

Including Benghazi. Then we all learned they lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied some more.

dogsoldier on June 13, 2014 at 11:58 AM

If there had been a small stabilization force in place in Iraq, with a SOFA in place, and it had not been shown to the world that Obama lacks the will to respond to anything, none of this would be happening. To reiterate, go look up the stabilization period in post-WWII Germany and Japan to see what could have been.

F X Muldoon on June 13, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Completely wrong. The Japanese were a threat because they were modernizing and industrializing at a rapid pace, just like Germany. Look at the fashion. Swords were banned, Western suits and hats were the rage. They wanted to out West the West. Germany was literally the West.

Look at the Muslim world. Not comparable at all. And no, the Iraqi government did not want US troops still occupying the country. And no, a token force, (which could not stop the Sunni Islamists even when they numbered in the 100,000 range), would not be able to do this.

antisense on June 13, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Ah, another ahistorical hack reports in.

If there had been a small stabilization force in place in Iraq, with a SOFA in place, and it had not been shown to the world that Obama lacks the will to respond to anything, none of this would be happening. To reiterate, go look up the stabilization period in post-WWII Germany and Japan to see what could have been.

Oh, is that all it would have taken? Middle east peace in two sentences.

Mitochondrion on June 13, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Gee, Mr. Wizard, maybe if the NSA was paying more attention to the overseas events than the local GOP Women’s Guild online newsletter and your porn surfing habits they might have picked up a clue.

F X Muldoon on June 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM

Yes that is exactly my point. The whole NSA and spy state is not doing the job it should be doing. Instead it is entirely devoted to something it should not do.

This is why it needs reform, not increased devotion.

antisense on June 13, 2014 at 12:01 PM

U.S. militarism is radical Islam’s best recruiting tool.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 8:37 AM

You must be talking about (Democrat) Bill Clinton’s shooting cruise missiles into Baghdad after Saddam tried to kill Pappy Bush, right?

F-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:02 PM

the Bush foreign policy agenda crumbled into complete failure in his second term. My Democrat Party leaders caused that, and I approve!

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 8:50 AM

Edited.

F-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:04 PM

?The CIA maintains a presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad?.?

I wonder if that ?presence? is paper or plastic?

NewyoricanInTheSouth on June 13, 2014 at 12:07 PM

2. Strong military responses HAVE NOT WORKED! Except when my Cult Leader used a strong military response to kill bin Laden, something Bush could never accomplish!

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 9:01 AM

Edited.

F-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:07 PM

It is like this via cowards and commie Democrats who hate the American way and the Constitution and most of all freedom.

Do not fight for your freedom, if there is a war or fight only right wing rubes from right wing families should get KIA and dog tags stuck between their front teeth, give up your guns, pay all to the government in taxes so that lazy coward commies can live the easy life, allow any one and every one in the world do as they please to U.S. to include a head chopping death cult from 1,000 years ago, and for sure do not stray from the commie Democrat Party lie lines in the shifting sands of time.

APACHEWHOKNOWS on June 13, 2014 at 12:08 PM

I think it is particularly valuable to see how entrenched world-views conflict on major elements of the discourse*, as well as seeing how they can connect (e.g., leaving the Middle East Muslims to kill each other off seems to be a position of some inhabitants of both Right and Left camps, although perhaps for different reasons).

Agreed, great comment.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Oh, is that all it would have taken? Middle east peace in two sentences.

Ah, so “middle east peace” = stable Iraq. You not only missed the boat, you haven’t found the pier.

And no, the Iraqi government did not want US troops still occupying the country. And no, a token force, (which could not stop the Sunni Islamists even when they numbered in the 100,000 range), would not be able to do this.

Join your pal above. There was to have been a SOFA covering a residual force that Obama blew off, and just as in the case of troops in Germany and Korea today, they would not be “occupying”. Regarding the size of the force, a Bradley platoon could have taken on the column of jihadis descending upon Baghdad and had time for volleyball and BBQ in the afternoon.

F X Muldoon on June 13, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Literally no one is compelled to respond to my posts, talk to your people about it…

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Tell us about your people…

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:14 PM

In the end it is not what some piss ant thug leader in some hell hole in the middle east thinks or does.

What matters is to live or to be killed off as a free country with freedom, a constitution and the right to seek happiness as we each see fit to under the law.

It is a water planet, and from the start evil has come to all who would be free.

They came by the sea prior, now they can come from the sky, and it is 100% sure they will come, evil always comes.

Now they come via lies, and lies do kill, lies now kill millions.

Obama is a lie, he does lie and he is enabled by the msm liars and the liars of the leadership of the commie Democrat Party.

Truth will give you life.

Seek truth.

APACHEWHOKNOWS on June 13, 2014 at 12:17 PM

Literally no one is compelled to respond to my posts, talk to your people about it…

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Tell us about your people…

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Del, get it right it’s are people!

VegasRick on June 13, 2014 at 12:17 PM

You can not use global militarism to suppress radical Islam, when U.S. militarism is radical Islam’s best recruiting tool.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 8:37 AM

Actually, many Muslims see the west as decadent, and it’s people like you who help foster that impression. So in truth, YOU are one of Islam’s best recruiting tools.

zoyclem on June 13, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Our intelligence gatherers seem too obsessed with spying on Americans to bother with investigating any actual external threats.

zoyclem on June 13, 2014 at 12:20 PM

These wacko’s are beheading and crucifing people on the way it’s like a marching genocide.

sorrowen on June 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM

When a President orders an invasion then his voters have also ordered an invasion. When a President declares “Mission Accomplished” his voters get to bask in the glow of having “won the war.”

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 9:41 AM

1. The voters elected Congress. Congress voted to give Bush the authority to go to war. Math is hard, isn’t it?

2. Bush never himself declared “Mission Accomplished”; a banner on the aircraft carrier he landed on said that. All military vessels deploy such banners when they return to their home ports after extended deployments; my Dad served on a Coast Guard ship and they flew them every time they came back from tending buoys in the Gulf of Maine.

3. On the other hand, O’bama did declare “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. Here’s his Vice President, who dodged the draft just as many times as Dick Cheney:

“I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government,” said Biden.

“I spent — I’ve been there 17 times now. I go about every two months — three months. I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.”

F-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM

If Radical Islam is going to fall, then it will come from within the Middle East and/or from Muslims around the globe resisting it. Or it will crumble under its own weight as most repressive systems do.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 9:55 AM

And yet it’s lasted thousands of years without falling. Tell us again how Muslims around the globe revolted against their religion after 9/11/2001.

F-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM Obviously O is encountering the Middle East version of a mass murder parade…

sorrowen on June 13, 2014 at 12:25 PM

so many Americans bought into the lie that we could successfully invade and occupy Iraq in perpetuity.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Including the Democrat Pants Suit you will happily vote for in 2016.

F-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Agreed, great comment.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Let the HA record reflect that livelikeaslave hates Muslims.

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM

so many Americans bought into the lie that we could successfully invade and occupy Iraq in perpetuity.

libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Kerry: hawk, dove, hawk today.

Hillary: hawk, dove, hawk today.

Must be hell to be you.

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2014 at 12:29 PM

Baghdad Jay Carney, yesterday:

CARNEY: Well, I guess I would have to remind you that the – that the most severe military attack on the United States and our lifetimes occured – was organized and ordered out of Afghanistan and Pakistan by core al Qaeda.

Translated: In Jay’s world, and in the world of his boss, it wasn’t civilians who hijacked planes and flew them into buildings on 9/11/2001, and those planes were not civilian airliners.

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Jesus…are you for real? The ISIS was spontaneously spawned out of thin air because of the Bergdahl swap? Felicia? Bye.
libfreeordie on June 13, 2014 at 9:52 AM

Yes, child, and so is the Lake of Fire.

Nutstuyu on June 13, 2014 at 1:03 PM

You’re seriously deranged…Sybil, Bye

ToddPA on June 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM

He’s choomed in CO, on taxpayers’ dole.

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2014 at 1:09 PM

CARNEY: Well, I guess I would have to remind you that the – that the most severe military attack on the United States and our lifetimes occured – was organized and ordered out of Afghanistan and Pakistan by core al Qaeda.

Turns out one of the Gitmo 5 who was releases helped to organize 9/11/2001.

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2014 at 1:10 PM

One of these is not like the other, Ed;

US intel caught by surprise by ISIS sweep in Iraq?

From the WSJ:

U.S. Secretly Flying Drones Over Iraq

The U.S. since last year has been secretly flying unmanned surveillance aircraft in small numbers over Iraq to collect intelligence on insurgents, according to U.S. officials.

Marcus Traianus on June 13, 2014 at 11:41 AM

Gathering intelligence is easy.

Interpreting it, correctly, is hard.

Alien on June 13, 2014 at 2:24 PM

If this were serious or important or worth my attention, a resignation on principle or a firing for cause would be a signal to me. Since that’s not happening, I have fiddle practice to attend to. Call me when all has collapsed.

steveracer on June 13, 2014 at 5:39 PM

Ed, let me be very blunt. You’re full of it. American Intelligence had more than fair warning on the ground. This was quickly moved up the chain. If there is one Obama administration official claiming they did not know, then they are flat out lying. But as we know, this administration has a lot of experience with that.

flackcatcher on June 13, 2014 at 5:56 PM

US intel caught by surprise by ISIS sweep in Iraq?

It’s been a long time since US intel hasn’t been caught by surprise.

RJL on June 13, 2014 at 10:28 PM

And yet it’s lasted thousands of years without falling.-

Del Dolemonte on June 13, 2014 at 12:24 PM

And the kicker is that it has nothing to ‘fall’ to. On the ladder of culture Islam has been at around the first step since its inception with a brief climb to two steps during its Golden Age which has ended over 1,000 years ago. Unlike socialism and Marxism which fell when their fancy disguises finally disintegrated, you can reduce Islam to the bare bones and its skeleton keeps coming like some freakish monster from a horror game.

To put it another way, you can’t pull “the emporer’s new clothes” when the emperor is already buck naked and a psychopath to boot.

Let the HA record reflect that livelikeaslave hates Muslims.

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Is that supposed to be a bad thing?

LawfulGood on June 14, 2014 at 4:14 PM

U.S. Intell is caught by surprise on days when the sun comes up.

Mr. Grump on June 15, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Comment pages: 1 2 3