[This article was contributed by Arthur I. Cyr, author of "After the Cold War -- American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia" (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He has taught at the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, Northwestern University, and Carthage College (Clausen Distinguished Professor).]
KENOSHA -- The extraordinary, shocking success of extremist group Hamas in slaughtering Israelis in Gaza represents a shocking intelligence failure on the part of the United States as well as Israel. Apparently, there was absolutely no advance awareness of the extensive, elaborate planning necessary for this massive successful attack.
There actually has been growth in cooperation between Hamas and Israel in implementing humanitarian projects. This may have given Hamas operatives useful information in planning this terrorist assault.
Yet the failure goes beyond this factor alone. Jack Devine, an experienced CIA veteran, contributed a remarkably insightful analysis to “The Wall Street Journal” of October 20. He stated: “The reality is that human intelligence collection – in other words, the recruitment and use of spies - has stagnated. The U.S. and its allies have ramped up resources for technological intelligence …” Almost certainly, we ignored telltale clues.
The U.S. tends to emphasize organization, and clearly gives priority to fascinating technologies, but intelligence remains essentially a very human vocation, and imaginative, informal approaches historically have proven to be of vital strategic approaches.
Reinforcing the point, the lack of media attention to the importance of human intelligence is disturbing.
The British have over the long term appreciated this basic insight better than Americans. Winston Churchill evolved over the years into a genius at collecting all sorts of information, and also people. One of the most pivotal of the latter proved to be brilliant Frederick Lindemann, who held a chair in physics and philosophy at Oxford.
Despite Professor Lindemann’s impressive success, he remained a somewhat isolated figure. No doubt anti-Semitism was one factor in 1930s Britain. Lindemann’s primary problem, however, was Lindemann, a relentless overbearing know-it-all. Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys politely described him as “anti-social”. Even Churchill’s endlessly patient, tolerant wife Clementine resisted having the Oxford don as a weekend houseguest.
When Churchill returned to government as head of the Admiralty at the start of the Second World War in Europe, he immediately recruited Lindemann. The scholar, who was particularly talented at statistical analysis, had one mission: to undermine the conventional wisdom and establish naval plans of the government.
Churchill became Prime Minister with the fall of France, and Lindemann’s role expanded. He was to pick apart whatever was proposed by the admirals and generals, the civil servants and politicians, and the members of government – including the Prime Minister. Churchill assumed Professor Lindemann would enjoy his role but also expected him to excel, as indeed proved to be the case.
The Second World War could easily have turned out differently. Imagination, resulting in the ability to do the unexpected, was a crucial ingredient of Allied success. Evaluation of information was another. Lindemann drove these dimensions.
What are the lessons for today? First, given the seriousness of the global terrorist threat, the White House must be very directly engaged and the President must take the lead, though not normally in public. Given the startling success of Hamas in this devastating attack in Gaza, the immediate public involvement of President Joe Biden in the United States' reaction to the defeat is appropriate and important.
Second, there must be an emphasis on the human dimensions of intelligence. The Clinton administration in particular emphasized technology over human assets. This trend diminished after 9/11 but is still present. Churchill’s instincts and approach provide a brilliant instructive example.
By the way, after that war, Lindemann was elevated to the House of Lords by a grateful nation.
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