Now we know why the Central Intelligence Agency seems so great at keeping secrets. It doesn't have many secrets to tell -- because it doesn't know what's going on.
The so-called world's most vaunted intelligence agency failed to anticipate some of the most historic events since World War II, including the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the collapse of the Soviet Union and, this week, India's detonation of five underground nuclear explosions.
Even after Monday's wake-up call of three N-blasts, the agency failed to anticipate Tuesday's two additional blasts -- much to the embarrassment of the United States.
The last two explosions went off at about the same time President Clinton was on the phone urging Pakistani leaders to show restraint. Talk about bad timing.
"This was a colossal failure on the part of our intelligence community," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is inexcusable, "when our intelligence gathering agencies do not in a timely manner find out that there is a likelihood of some type of nuclear testing, especially of this magnitude ... in an area that we've been watching for a long time and could be a flash point for a nuclear exchange."
That's what's especially distressing about this particular intelligence failure -- U.S. spy satellites were trained on the nuclear test site. How could CIA analysts miss it? Apparently, they were asleep at the switch -- literally.
The Washington Post reports the satellites did pick up clear-cut evidence of test preparations Sunday night, but no one was there to see it. When analysts came in Monday morning, the blasts had already been detonated.
To get a jump on Congress' investigations, red-faced CIA Director George Tenet has appointed a review team headed by retired Adm. David Jeremiah to report back in 10 days on "what lessons can be learned."
Lesson No. 1 is simple: Don't fall asleep on the job.
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