Intelligence: A Successful Failure in Lebanon


September 19, 2006: Stung by accusations that they failed to find out what Hizbollah was up to in south Lebanon, Israeli military intelligence officials insist that they got the job done. Israel did this by using a network of spies on the ground, plus aerial intel, to locate all of the Hizbollah bunker complexes. In addition, the intel people came up with a good inventory of what kinds of rockets and missiles Hizbollah had.
What was the problem, then? Why did the Israeli army and air force find it impossible to stop the rockets for over a month? It's all in the details, and the timing. The information the intel people had was considered top secret, so it took a while to get it to the troops. At that point, it was discovered that, while the intel located the bunker complexes, there was not much detail about where all the entrances were, or what the internal layout was. Both the lateness of the data, and the sparse detail, caused the infantry lots of problems as they sought to take out the bunker complexes, which turned out to be quite extensive and well defended. For the infantry, it's those details that mean the difference between life and death.
The intel people also dropped the ball on the tactics Hizbollah would use to deploy its rockets and missiles. On the plus side, the Israeli spy network in Lebanon did get the information on the long range Hizbollah rockets, and, in combination with the air force, were able to destroy nearly all of them. But nearly 4,000 of the smaller rockets did get launched, causing several hundred casualties among civilians (including 40 dead.) This is what the voters noticed, not all the other things the intel people did right. That's an old problem with intelligence work. You're successes are either kept secret, or taken for granted. Your failures are big news, however.


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