Because intelligence must be secretive to be successful, the public knows little about the U.S. intelligence apparatus, how big it is, or what it does. Suffice it to say that there are eighteen intelligence agencies in the U.S. government. How big are they? We don’t know, but one of the largest, the National Security Agency (NSA), where I worked, is estimated to employ 30,000-40,000 people with an annual budget of 11 billion dollars. Two other agencies are assumed to be very large and costly. They are the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). And each of the military services has its own intelligence service.
The intelligence resources of the U.S. government, in sum, are overwhelming. In my years of being cleared for classified information, especially the time I spent as an intelligence budgeteer on the staff of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), I was in awe of the effectiveness of our intelligence and the depth of knowledge we had about every other country in the world. In wartime, intelligence assets are expanded and directed against our enemies. So I’m sure our intelligence on Afghanistan and the Taliban was effective and voluminous.
Consequently, I can’t believe that our intelligence agencies failed to foretell how quickly the Afghan government would collapse once we withdrew from the country. But, as we have done repeatedly during our history, when we fail, we look for a scapegoat. We claim our decision-making wasn’t flawed. Rather, we were the victims of failed intelligence.
I, for one, don’t believe that our intelligence failed. I think our failure was that of judgment.