Amidst the normal opportunistic presidential campaign jockeying, important issues of national security not only get overlooked, deliberately or negligently, their existence is not even hinted at. One of the meaningful war-and-peace issues that is not being debated or discussed is the failure of intelligence--CIA as well as foreign intelligence agencies--to predict:
(1) The August 1991 coup in the once Soviet Union and the failure of the plotters to anticipate their defeat at the hands of Boris Yeltsin.
(2) The end of communism in Eastern Europe, particularly in Czechoslovakia and Poland.
(3) The uprising in communist China.
(4) The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.
These failures of intelligence have been discussed as individual phenomena but not as a collective disaster. What can account for such intelligent fiascoes between 1989 and 1991 and what other such fisascoes are imminent?
Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security adviser, admitted on Aug. 20, 1991, that had the CIA known of the coup, `we would have warned President Gorbachev.' The United States was not the only country caught by surprise. Britain, Japan, Germany, France and Switzerland, all countries that had longtime Soviet-watching briefs, failed as well to anticipate the coup.
As for the revolutions in Eastern Europe, Le Monde reported last year that French President Francois Mitterand went to East Berlin in December 1989, almost a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at the invitation of Erich Honecker, even after Mr. Honecker had been forced out of office. Mr. Mitterrand conferred with Mr. Honecker's stalinist successors a few weeks before they lost power. Would a well-informed intelligence agency have allowed the head of state to grant a legitimacy to East German tyrants on the eve of their expulsion?
The Soviets themselves didn't anticipate the explosive sequence of events in Eastern Europe. Eduard Shevardnadze, former Soviet foreign minister, told a German newspaper on May 8, 1991, that `there was a certain element of surprise. We knew that the changes in Eastern Europe were unavoidable. . . . However, it was difficult to foresee dates, the order in which things would take place and the consequences.'
The KGB in Czechoslovakia thought it was being clever by trying to install a reformed Czech government, hoping thereby to weaken the anti-communist forces and keep Czechoslovakia in the Soviet bloc. Instead, the KGB set off the November 1989 `velvet revolution' that ousted communists from power.
As for Poland, KGB Major-Gen. Vasily Galkin, told a Cracow newspaper Aug. 26, 1990: `[N]one of us, including myself, who were here and observed the turn that history took, could have expected events to take the course that they did. I sometimes think that even God could not have foreseen what happened.'
The Tiananmen Square uprising was unpredicted by Western intelligence services. Despite the presence in China of more than 10,000 American students and faculty, U.S. intelligence failed to predict the student-sponsored rebellion.
Probably the most important Western intelligence failure was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. With exemplary candor, Gen. John Galvin, NATO'S then commander-in-chief, told the German magazine, Der Spiegel, `The decisive thing is that we simply did not consider the [Iraqi] attack possible.' Pierre Joxe, the French defense minister, recognized French intelligence failure in the Gulf as due to `inadequate interpretation of available information.'
Komsomolskaya Pravda on Feb. 16, 1991, quoted a Russian diplomat as saying that neither the United States nor the then-Soviet Union took seriously a report on the very day of the invasion that Iraq had invaded Kuwait because `We did not expect such effrontery from Saddam Hussein.'
The Iraqi incursion also caught Israeli intelligence by surprise. Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff at the time, conceded that he had only learned of the aggression a few hours after it had begun. Then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens told a Knesset committee at the end of the war that something would have to be done about the Israeli intelligence shortcomings.
When one examines these intelligence fiascoes, all in a matter of a couple of years, and when one considers that the rulers of Iran, North Korea, Syria and Iraq are seeking nuclear weapons that communist China already possesses, there must be some better way for peace-loving countries to protect themselves against the new marauders who await their day.
Electronic intelligence, which can read automobile license plates from 200 miles above the Earth's surface, couldn't read the mind of Saddam Hussein. Apparently, there were no sufficient human intelligence resources that knew more than conjectures.
Well, just for starters: What don't we know--now--about the bellicopolitical intentions of Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran, Kim Il-sung of North Korea, Hafez Assad of Syria and of Saddam Hussein?
What is needed is a grand inquest to examine the record of failure of intelligence among the democratic powers vis-a-vis their sworn enemies in Asia and the Middle East. Surely, this is a suitable subject for debate and discussion by the men who seek the presidency.