The Washington Times reports that the CIA has missed the rapid expansion of the Chinese military over the past ten years, raising questions once again about the effectiveness of the nation’s intelligence infrastructure. Starting in the mid-90s, the Chinese expansion of their submarine, missile, and other defense technologies has created “surprise” at Langley, a word that has come up a lot lately at CIA headquarters:
A highly classified intelligence report produced for the new director of national intelligence concludes that U.S. spy agencies failed to recognize several key military developments in China in the past decade, The Washington Times has learned.
The report was created by several current and former intelligence officials and concludes that U.S. agencies missed more than a dozen Chinese military developments, according to officials familiar with the report.
The report blames excessive secrecy on China’s part for the failures, but critics say intelligence specialists are to blame for playing down or dismissing evidence of growing Chinese military capabilities.
What exactly got missed? According to the study, China has developed a new long-range cruise missile, a completely new submarine platform, a brand-new warship — with stolen American battle-management systems, thankyewverymuch — better ship-to=ship missiles to combat the US navy, and the mass importation of surplus Russian combat vessels to bolster their own navy. In other words, the Chinese have for the past ten years readied themselves to push the US out of the Western Pacific, and our intelligence services missed it entirely.
For an agency founded on the Pearl Harbor debacle and formed to avoid such surprises in the future, this failure drips with irony.
How did such a failure come to pass? Satellite technology should have picked up on some of this, especially the ship transfers between Russia and China. With only one other major power in the Pacific region, one would assume that a significant portion of intelligence operations would focus on Beijing. This failure follows on the heels of the intelligence community’s goose egg on al-Qaeda prior to 9/11 and the sudden escalation of nuclear testing between India and Pakistan in South Asia.
The report blames the field personnel for not collecting the proper information. It’s worth pointing out, however, that this report was written by the analysts who should have known that the information was inadequate and done something about it. The main author, Robert Suettinger, worked as the NSA expert on China for Bill Clinton. The co-author, John Culver, was a CIA expert on Asia, which should include Russia and China. Other participants included DIA analyst Lonnie Henley and Clinton’s China policy man John Corbett from Army intelligence. In other words, the analysts wrote the report and let themselves off the hook for the problem.
It appears that this observation from a “former US official” appears fair:
A former U.S. official said the report should help expose a “self-selected group” of specialists who fooled the U.S. government on China for 10 years.
“This group’s desire to have good relations with China has prevented them from highlighting how little they know and suppressing occasional evidence that China views the United States as its main enemy.”
In fact, it appears that the problems started and mostly occurred during the prior administration, which had an unusually close relationship with Beijing. Recall, too, that the 1996 re-election campaign of the President had an influx of illegal Chinese campaign contributions which has resulted in a number of lower-level convictions, and that the money went to other Democratic candidates that cycle as well.
In light of those well-documented incursions into our political processes, we should ask these questions: was intelligence being deliberately “fixed” to discount and ignore the Chinese threat for partisan political purposes? Was the intelligence community pressured into scaling back warnings about the rise of Chinese power in order to allow the previous administration to exploit short-term economic and political advantages?