CIA red-faced after 'greatest failure in decades'

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The Independent Online
INDIA'S ability to conduct nuclear tests without the knowledge of US intelligence agencies has triggered widespread criticism of the CIA and has been characterised as one of its worst failure for years. It will boost American opponents of arms control.

The world's largest, most expansively funded, most technologically advanced intelli- gence agency was apparently caught napping. When India detonated its nuclear tests on Monday, the Central Intelligence Agency and its associates should have known that something was up. Indeed, they should have known well in advance. Yet, according to reports yesterday, the agency was unaware. Reports yesterday said "clear-cut" evidence of test preparations was received at midnight on Sunday in Washington. But the analysts responsible were not on alert, as India had persuaded Washington that it was planning no tests.

"The context of the intelligence community's error was complacency," according to an official quoted in the Washington Post. Even late the following day, officials still seemed uninformed.

Equally, India appears to have timed the preparation for the tests to coincide with gaps in US satellite coverage, analysts said. "It is apparent the Indians went to some lengths to conceal their activities and intentions," said a CIA spokesman. None the less, "It must be seen as a failure, and a price must be paid," said Frank Cilluffo, senior analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"There were indications from satellites of increasing activity, but they weren't looking at it," said Steven Young, of the British-American Security Information Council, a think tank. "When you're not looking, it's hard to see".

The CIA has announced that a team drawn from the intelligence community and headed by retired Vice Admiral David Jeremiah, a former vice-chairman of the joint chiefs-of-staff, will investigate how the US came to miss the tests, and report in 10 days. Congress is likely to hold its own hearings today.

The Republican head of the Senate committee that oversees the spy agency lambasted a "colossal failure of our intelligence gathering - possibly the greatest failure in more than a decade". Senator Richard Shelby said that the intelligence community was "caught completely off guard".