American workers everywhere can relate: You quietly go about your business and do a good job, but you are never noticed unless you make a mistake. Then it seems like the whole company is in the know. Such is life, but on a much larger scale at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Created by the National Security Act of 1947, it succeeded the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) formed during World War II. Day in and day out, analysts work to provide information to our elected leaders, forgotten in the minds of the public until something goes wrong. And when things go wrong in the intelligence community, they go very, very wrong. Click ahead for 10 of the biggest blunders (that we know about) from the world of cloak-and-dagger.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (Iraq, 2003)
The CIA relied on a single source -- an Iraqi citizen codenamed “Curve Ball” who defected in 1999 -- who claimed Iraq was manufacturing mobile weapons laboratories. Even journalists are supposed to have at least two corroborating sources before going to print. The United States attacked a nation based on the veracity of one. To be fair, when CIA veteran Tyler Drumheller appeared on “60 Minutes” in 2009, he said, “It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure. It’s an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure ... the idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other.”
Bay of Pigs (1961)
President Kennedy used 1,500 Cuban exiles to try to overthrow Fidel Castro. The plan was for a CIA-trained force of exiles to seize an isolated area along Cuba’s southern coast. The invasion was a disaster. In a postmortem conducted by the CIA, inspectors “concluded that the operation’s unorthodox command structure ensured that vital information would not be properly disseminated,” and thus “the Agency’s principals had been derelict in their duty to advise the White House of the growing possibility of disaster” (CIA).
Basically, the CIA knew the invasion would most likely not succeed, and didn’t inform the president. Conspiracy theorists would later posit that this is why the CIA wanted to assassinate Kennedy: He was angry and thought, “How could I have been so stupid?” to trust the people who were advising him, and he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.” (Marquette University)
The Wrong Man (2003)
In 2003, Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen in Macedonia, was grabbed off a bus and taken to a secret prison in Afghanistan as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. He was held there for five months. El-Masri was suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda, but he was the wrong guy. The mix-up was due to a misunderstanding concerning his name with the real suspected terrorist, as the names are spelled the same when using Arabic script. He was released on an order from then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice when she learned of his detention.
Since 2001, the CIA has captured an estimated 3,000 people and transported them around the world. The program is still in existence, although scaled back. New rules state that suspects will be treated humanely and taken only to countries that have jurisdiction over the individual.
The Collapse of the Soviet Union (1991)
People agree the fall of the Iron Curtain was a good thing. However, the surprise of it all was a bad thing, which resulted in a costly and unnecessary U.S. defense buildup. Critics would argue that it was the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality that forced the Soviet Union to go broke and collapse. As Gregory Treverton from the RAND Corporation wrote, “In retrospect, there were signs aplenty of a sick society. Emigres arrived with tales of Soviet toasters that were as likely to catch fire as to brown bread.” Author Thomas Powers contended that most observers, including the CIA, thought, “psychologically we had a very deep investment in believing that nothing was going to happen -- forever.” (CIA) Either way, for many years there was hype regarding the Soviet military threat from the intelligence community, and only after the fall of the Berlin Wall did the world get a chance to see decaying military systems up close.
Nixon and Watergate (1972)
In June 1972, five people broke into the Democratic National Headquarters in order to bug their telephones. The event led all the way to the top of the food chain: Republican President Richard Nixon. Nixon resigned in disgrace, but he tried to save himself first. In what became known as the “Smoking Gun,” tapes revealed Nixon and his Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, trying to block investigations by having the CIA falsely claim to the FBI that national security was involved. Nixon approved the plan. Click here to listen to it.
The FBI initially agreed to this due to a long-standing agreement between the FBI and CIA not to uncover each other's sources of information. Though within a couple of weeks, the FBI demanded this request in writing, and when no such formal request came, the FBI resumed its investigation into the money trail.
While not a true blunder per se, the case isn’t helped by the fact that one of the burglars was an ex-CIA agent, E. Howard Hunt.
Indian Nuclear Test (1998)
India conducted nuclear tests and the American intelligence apparatus was caught off guard. The failure could’ve led to a nuclear arms race in Southeast Asia. Richard Shelby, then-member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called it a “colossal failure.” Nuclear experts credit India with "knowing when to hide from U.S. spy satellites rather than American spies being asleep at the wheel.” Said Indian nuclear researcher G. Balachandran, “It’s not a failure of the CIA; it’s a matter of their intelligence being good, our deception better.” (Federation of American Scientists)
Pizza Hut (Iran, 2011)
This recent, shocking blunder involves more than a dozen CIA informants in the Middle East facing execution after being caught by Hezbollah. Basically, their CIA handlers were using traceable mobile phones and used the code word “pizza” when agreeing to meet at a Beirut Pizza Hut. According to the Associated Press, Hezbollah counter-intelligence detected mobile phones that “were rarely used or always from specific locations and only for a short period of time.” A former intelligence officer told ABC News that, “CIA officers ignored warnings that the operation could be compromised by using the same location for meetings with multiple assets ... We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah.” (Not to mention getting these guys, in all likelihood, killed).
Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait (1990)
As described in the book “Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner, the CIA was caught completely off-guard when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Then-CIA Director Robert Gates was at a family picnic when a friend of his wife asked him, “What are you doing here?” He replied, “What are you talking about?” She said, “The invasion.” Mr. Gates asked, “What invasion?” (The Telegraph)
Unfortunately, this back-and-forth lacked a lot of central intelligence.
Dr. Gottlieb and Project MKULTRA (1950s – 1973)
Dr. Gottlieb is the stuff movies are made of. A chemist, he worked for the Technical Services Division of the CIA and was known as the “Black Sorcerer,” which sounds more like a nickname for a Nazi than an American. Under the direction of CIA Director Allen Dulles, Gottlieb spearheaded Project MKULTRA, which tested LSD and other mind-altering drugs on unwitting suspects. Gottlieb also concocted various scenarios to assassinate leaders unfriendly to the United States, including Fidel Castro. One of the known deaths from the experiments was Frank Olson, a U.S. Army biochemist, who died suspiciously a week after ingesting LSD. Reports vary that he was depressed and jumped out a window during a psychotic break, or that the CIA, who felt he was a security risk and might reveal details of the program, murdered him. Yikes.
Next: Epically Hilarious Photos Vol. 4
The most notable CIA blunder on the list is the catastrophe of 9/11. The seminal event of this century, it created a National Intelligence Director, a National Counterterrorism Center, gave birth to rendition, two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), the rise of the TSA and the ubiquitous concrete barriers around skyscrapers. All because, as the 9/11 Commission noted, the intelligence community had “an overwhelming number of priorities, flat budgets, an outdated structure, and bureaucratic rivalries.” (Foreign Policy) Various autobiographies written later had their authors, of course, say they tried to sound the alarm but were ignored, (Richard Clarke, etc.) To be fair, the CIA had been trying to find and stop Osama bin Laden since the 1990s with its code-named “Alec Station.” Sadly, he was able to hurt us big time before we got him.