7 Times the CIA Got It Horribly Wrong--And America Paid the Price

President Bush Tours CIA Headquarters
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Last week, behind closed doors, the CIA shared a secret report with lawmakers that has implications for how Americans interpret the legitimacy of the recent national election.

The report allegedly states that Russia meddled in America's election to help bolster Donald Trump's chances of winning the White House. That report was met with severe criticism from other intelligence officials who questioned the sweeping conclusions of the report.

The Central Intelligence Agency is supposed to provide intelligence to protect America and its interests. But as with many government agencies, the CIA is in the news too often for its own good.

Here are seven times the CIA got it horribly wrong and with disastrous national security consequences:

1. Osama Bin Laden Assassination Plot

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In 1999, the CIA trained a group of 60 Pakistani intelligence agents to enter Afghanistan and kill or capture Osama Bin Laden. The plan was all coming together, until a military coup in Pakistan removed then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was cooperating with the CIA's plan. It's failure to see the coup coming ended the chance to end bin Laden's reign of terror.

The new government refused to cooperate with the CIA and the plan died, despite efforts by the Clinton administration to salvage the operation.

2. Iraq's WMD Program

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In 2002, the CIA released a 96-page report that indicated Iraq could develop a nuclear weapon within the decade:

“We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it will probably have a nuclear weapon with this decade.”

The report drew America into an 8-year war in Iraq that became ever-more controversial when no WMD's were found in Iraq. In 2005, the CIA reported that search for WMD's had “gone as far as feasible,” and had failed to bear fruit.

3. The Benghazi Attack


After the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate, the CIA released talking points for the attack. Then-Deputy Director of the CIA Director Michael Morell chose to believe the judgment of analysts in Washington, D.C. and removed references in the talking points that linked the attack to radical-Islam.

The attack has been labeled a terrorist attack, but the debate of what sparked the attack led to this infamous moment during the second 2012 presidential debate:

4. The Rise of ISIS

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The intelligence community has admitted that it failed to estimate ISIS's strength and the weakness of Iraq's security forces. In a 2014 interview with The Washington Post, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said:

“What we didn’t do was predict the will to fight. That’s always a problem. We didn’t do it in Vietnam. We underestimated the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese and overestimated the will of the South Vietnamese. In this case, we underestimated ISIL [the Islamic State] and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army.”

Last week, President Obama blamed the intelligence community for missing the rise of ISIS in an interview with CNN:

“The ability of ISIL to not just mass inside of Syria, but then to initiate major land offensives that took Mosul, for example, that was not on my intelligence radar screen.”

5. The Bay of Pigs

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In 1961, the CIA attempted to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro by invading the island nation with 1,500 trained Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. A series of blunders alerted the Cuban militia, which outnumbered the CIA's force roughly 10-1, and stopped the operation dead in its tracks.

The CIA was also anticipating a wide-scale revolution against Castro, but that failed to materialize. The incident has gone down in history as one of the CIA's worst public failures.

6. Libya

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In a classified report, the CIA acknowledged its blunder by not properly preparing for the post-Ghadafi violence in Libya. The former Libyan dictator, Moammar Ghadafi, cracked down on violent extremists, but the revolution that removed Ghadafi from power allowed extremists to expand.

The Washington Times reported on the details of the CIA's failure to thoroughly plan for the political climate after Ghadafi's removal:

“Inside the report are interviews with officials who say the Obama administration never conducted a rigorous 'what’s next' analysis as Mrs. Clinton drove the policy decision to unleash the military in March 2011 to destroy the Gadhafi regime and let disparate groups take over Tripoli.”

7. CIA Intel on ISIS Slanted to Protect Obama Administration

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In September 2015, 50 intelligence analysts complained that they were being pressured to distort information in order to present a rosier picture of the fight against ISIS.

The analysts told The Daily Beast that analyst reports were sometimes rejected for being too negative:

“Some reports crafted by the analysts that were too negative in their assessment of the war were sent back down the chain of the command or not shared up the chain, several analysts said. Still others, feeling the climate around them, self-censored so their reports affirmed already-held beliefs.”

The agency has a long history of successes, mostly unknown to the public. But they also have a rough history of very public blunders and miscalculations, leading some to question the legitimacy of the CIA's most recent report.