Sunday, March 27, 2011

faulty intelligence

It always astounds me when I learn of egregious intelligence errors in the halls of power of Washington.

In 2009, an information packet put together by the DEA in Washington, for the media to learn more about the drug war, mistakenly included the name of former anti-organized crime prosecutor Jose Luis Santiago Vasconsuelos as an official suspected of corruption and collusion with the drug cartels.

I say mistakenly, because when I reported out the story, I got a sincere apology from the DEA spokesperson at the time, who blamed the error on the fact that a subordinate had put the report together and his supervisors had not had time to fact check it.

Oops, no harm, no foul.

I'm in Nicaragua right now, and have been doing a bit of looking into the reports that the Iranians are building up a vast mega-embassy – the kind the US has built up in Baghdad and other parts.

There have been rumours, talk of some 70-100 personnel, a sign that the Iranians can only be up to something, attempting to expand their sphere of influence in Latin America. Nicaragua has some unseemly allies, of that there is no doubt, but Iran? Is it really building up a presence here?

“The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said back in 2009. “And you can only imagine what that’s for,” she added, calling the effort “quite disturbing.”

Her comments were quickly debunked by reporters who went to Managua and saw that the Iranian embassy consists of a small compound, with a dozen staffers, max.

Still holds true today. And Iranian investment is still quite minimal here in Managua.


Human beings are fallible, even the intelligence community makes mistakes (or especially, depending on your point of view). There are all sorts of unknown unknowns to contend with. But sometimes, these intelligence mistakes have serious consequences, and lead to decisions that, for instance, lead to wars that last a long time and don't show much sign of success. Or instill Cold War-style fears about a country that does need to be understood and dealt with, but not necessarily through fear-mongering. Sometimes the intel is manipulated in the wrong hands, who do whatever they like with it in order to satisfy their own agendas.

Oops, indeed.

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