Monday, October 16, 2023

Israel’s intelligence failure is a warning for America’s politicized agencies

By  Glenn H. Reynolds | New York Post

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on Oct. 9, 2023.Shutterstock/Mohammed Saber

Some people are calling it “Israel’s 9/11.”

That makes sense, in that Hamas’ massacre was a totally unexpected massive terrorist attack with a huge body count of innocent people.

Not as many people died as on 9/11 (though proportionately to Israel’s population it was worse than 9/11 was for America). 

Because the assault involved shootings, rapes and kidnappings, it seems somehow more personal than the jets of 9/11.

But there’s one way in which it was identical, and that’s the “totally unexpected” part.

Like American intelligence agencies before 9/11, Israel’s security services were caught flat-footed.

Both American and Israeli officials have said it was a complete surprise.

Israel has spies in Gaza, of course, but apparently they heard nothing, which is worrisome. Or they aren’t reliable, which is more so. 

The United States and Israel both monitor communications there and saw no indication anything was being prepared.

(There must have been plenty of communications, of course, but maybe they used couriers, carrier pigeons or some other nonelectronic means. Electronic spying doesn’t get everything, and people tend to rely on it too much.)

Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog admits there was surprise but wants to look forward, not backward: “Right now, we have to fight a war, and win it, as I said. Later on, we’ll have time to investigate what happened.”

That’s probably sensible — though if I were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I’d have someone lock down the records now — but since I don’t have a war to fight, I have a few thoughts.

We know what the Israeli intelligence agencies weren’t doing, which is getting warning of the attack. So what were they doing?

Well, one thing was organizing protests against Netanyahu, in opposition to his party’s platform of reform aimed at Israel’s Supreme Court. 

As a Washington Post headline says, “Israeli spy chiefs led secret revolt against Netanyahu reforms.” 

“The leaked document labeled top secret says that in February, senior leaders of the Mossad Spy Service ‘advocated for Mossad officials and Israeli citizens to protest the new Israeli Government’s proposed judicial reforms, including several explicit calls to action that decried the Israeli government,'” the article continues.

This “direct intervention into Israeli politics by Mossad, an external spy service forbidden from wading into domestic matters,” is “a significant revelation.”

So the Mossad, whose job is to protect Israel from external threats, was instead monkeying with domestic politics. 

Meanwhile, Hamas planned mass slaughter, unmolested.

Was the distraction of the agency’s (illicit) involvement in domestic politics the reason nobody noticed a huge terror operation in the works?

We may get the answer after the investigation Herzog promised, but there are already some lessons for us here in America.

It is a characteristic of every bureaucracy — and intelligence agencies are very much bureaucracies — that it tends to engage in mission creep, and its leadership tends to become increasingly focused on politics as opposed to mission.

We saw this recently with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose mission crept from preparing the United States for a pandemic to a range of distractions extending from playground safety to cigarette smoking to gun violence as an alleged “public health” problem.

When the CDC confronted an actual pandemic, it was unprepared and incompetent at its actual job.

It was also political, taking instructions from the teachers unions on subjects like school closures and masking.

The result was a debacle and a loss of public trust that will last decades.

Now our own security services are being distracted by domestic politics.

While foreign enemies infiltrate the United States via porous borders and Iranian spy rings operate freely within America, the FBI has been infiltrating Catholic churches and treating parents who protest at school-board meetings and grandmas reciting prayers in front of abortion clinics as “domestic terrorists.”

The FBI is doing these things because that’s what its political masters want and because it’s easier (and safer) to spy on Catholic congregations than to infiltrate terrorist groups.

It had a similar focus on “domestic extremists” in the 1990s and missed what in retrospect seemed like obvious clues to the 9/11 hijackers’ intentions.(FBI agents in the field, trying to investigate co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, encountered so much resistance from Washington, they joked about Osama bin Laden having a mole in FBI HQ.)

So what is the FBI and the rest of the intelligence/law-enforcement apparatus missing now? 

When we find out, it will be too late.