Intelligence: December 20, 2003


:   When Saddam Hussein was captured, American soldiers also seized a briefcase containing what was called an intelligence windfall. There have been numerous windfalls, but a number of them came about through sloppy protection of sensitive information. The contents of that briefcase will probably result in the round-up or elimination of many leaders in the pro-Saddam resistance. That will make the coalitions task much easier, since the only major resistance left will be the Islamic militants, many of whom are not from Iraq. As a result, there will be much less reluctance by Iraqis to provide information to the coalition troops.

Intelligence windfalls are not always the result of brilliant deduction, though. More often than not, they are helped along by sloppy operational security procedures. One of the biggest slip-ups on the American side involved Aldrich Ames. Ames obviously was getting a lot of money, and living a lifestyle far above what a CIA analyst could afford. Yet he was able to spy for nine years and revealed the names of twenty-five people who were providing information. The result: The agents were arrested and ten were executed due to information Ames provided.

Robert Hanssens motivation was also money. In this case, it was a failure by the FBI to pay at least one of their agents what he thought he was worth, and the failure to follow up on the signs of an enemy penetration. Hanssen sold secrets, and at least two agents died. The investigation did not even begin until his KGB file was sold to the Americans presumably by a KGB officer who needed money.

Just last year, the Los Alamos National Laboratory lost a hard drive with classified information. Its not the first time, either. Over 263 computers have gone missing from the laboratory and nobody seems to know where they are. It could be that they were moved to another part and nobody recorded it. Or they could have fallen into the wrong hands. A problem at the lab was first noted when the CIA realized that a new Chinese nuclear warhead design was remarkably similar to a long used American one. 

Another, older, windfall came about due to a bad procurement decision. The United States used shredders that cut the paper into strips. When the embassy in Tehran was stormed in 1979, the shredded documents were recovered and pieced back together, then sold on the street. Some went to people who wanted a souvenir of sorts from the Revolution, but some probably found their way to Moscow. The State Department did not consider it likely that anyone would painstakingly put those shredder strips back together.

All of these windfalls came about because the folks who had to keep the secrets safe screwed up. Sometimes, it was unintentional. Other times, it was a lapse in security. Sometimes, it was the result of ignoring warnings about needed changes or about the activities of some people. In some cases, it is sheer stupidity. The result: The other side got an intelligence windfall. Saddam is just the latest to do so. The result of Saddams mistake is what could be the biggest psychological blow to an opposing force since the Tet Offensive. - Harold C. Hutchison and Ken Prescott




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