Analysis: How counter-terrorism has blinded our intelligence community

A mock U. S. flag set on fire by a group of about 50 angry Islamists, who were shouting anti-U.S. slogans and protesting against a film ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad near the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey. A mock U. S. flag set on fire by a group of about 50 angry Islamists, who were shouting anti-U.S. slogans and protesting against a film ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad near the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Burhan Ozbilici/AP

In the last 24 months, unpredictable events have caught U.S. policymakers by surprise: the "Arab Spring" movement in 2011 and the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. In the wake of both surprises, many in Congress and the public have been wondering: why didn't we see this coming?

Over the last decade of counterterrorism operations, the U.S. intelligence community (IC) has undergone a remarkable transformation. A relatively modest part of the national security community before the 9/11 attacks, by 2010 the IC had swelled to encompass nearly a million people largely focused on prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global counterterrorism mission.

In their landmark 2010 series, the Washington Post reported that the IC "has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."

While the sheer size of the IC is staggering -- the 2013 budget for intelligence activities tops $75 billion -- its mission is also of serious concern. Large areas of the IC have move away from their traditional role of analyzing a broad range of current events for policymakers and toward supporting the global counterterrorism mission. News stories about this shift suggest the counterterrorism mission has become the overarching concern of the national security staff.

Read more at The Atlantic.

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