412. Report Prepared by the Intelligence Community Staff1

THE PERFORMANCE OF THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY BEFORE THE ARAB–ISRAELI WAR OF OCTOBER 6, 1973: A PRELIMINARY POST-MORTEM REPORT

[Omitted here are the title page and table of contents.]

Principal Conclusions and Recommendations2

1. There was an intelligence failure in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war in the Middle East on 6 October. Those elements of the Intelligence Community responsible for the production of finished intelligence did not perceive the growing possibility of an Arab attack and thus did not warn of its imminence.

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The information provided by those parts of the Community responsible for intelligence collection was sufficient to prompt such a warning. Such information (derived from both human and technical sources) was not conclusive but was plentiful, ominous, and often accurate.

2. Our post-mortem survey suggests that there were errors of evaluation among all producing offices. These can be attributed, in part, to attitudes and preconceptions lying behind the analysis, and also to various systemic problems affecting the analytical effort.

Certain substantive preconceptions, reinforced by official Israeli interpretations, turned the analyst’s attention principally toward political indications that the Arabs were bent on finding non-violent means to achieve their objectives and away from indications (mainly military) to the contrary.

It is true, of course, that the analyst was faced with the tremendously demanding task of discriminating between the good and the bad in the flow of information crossing his desk. And the machinery of which he is a part did not always make his task any easier or provide him with systematic ways to challenge the quality of his own assessments.

3. We preliminarily recommend that: (a) efforts be made to further attune aspects of the collection system to the needs of the analytical systems; (b) regular systems be established to encourage analysts to exchange views and challenge consensus and to improve their ability to evaluate data; (c) the Community’s warning system be revamped and the language of its issuances be designed to clearly reflect degrees of probability; (d) the Community consider the advisability of adopting a coherent national family of products for publication during periods of crisis; and (e) the Community provide for continuing assessments of the handling of intelligence during crises and potential crises. (These recommendations are given fuller treatment in Section V. p. 21 ff.)

4. Finally, our preliminary post-mortem report has some implications for the general problem of resource allocation within the Community. If it is true in this instance that the collection effort was generally adequate but that our analytical effort was deficient, then a program to improve the latter will oblige us to try to augment the quantity, improve the environment, and add to the quality of the manpower which devotes itself to the production of finished intelligence. This in turn might require us to find additional resources, and these might have to be drawn in part from other areas of effort within the Community.

[Omitted here are Sections I. Key Questions, and II. The Community’s Performance.]

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III. The Collection Effort3

In intelligence jargon, the principal categories of the effort to obtain (collect) information are HUMINT (human sources: clandestine, military, and diplomatic), SIGINT (encompassing communications [COMINT] and electronic intelligence [ELINT]),4 and PHOTINT (including satellite photography). A post-mortem survey of collection activities in these three areas of acquisition during the crisis period reveals that there were problems which were peculiar to each country involved, and which in the aggregate affected the quality, dissemination, and ultimate value of the data collected. But there were no major weaknesses or uncompensated omissions in the overall effort. In particular, information concerning, for example, the kinds and numbers of weapons in the Arab inventory was adequate (though the effectiveness of some Soviet weapons—e.g., the SA–6, which had not previously been observed in combat—came as something of a surprise). [1½ lines not declassified] Some HUMINT too should be counted as quite good, [less than 1 line not declassified].

Intelligence From Human Sources

Specifically concerning clandestine reporting, it is apparent (at least in retrospect) that [less than 1 line not declassified] in late September gave a clear indication of impending hostilities. [1½ lines not declassified]

“[less than 1 line not declassified] Syrian Army units are expected to be in position by the end of September. [3½ lines not declassified] Missiles and antiaircraft units are deployed close to the front lines to support the attack at zero hour.

“[1½ lines not declassified] Cities, particularly Damascus, are in the process of taking all possible civil defense precautions.

“[1 paragraph (12 lines) not declassified]”

Copies [less than 1 line not declassified] with similar content were disseminated within the Community in May, June, September and early October and were sent to appropriate diplomatic and military addressees in the field and to the NSC Staff. They also reached officials at high policy levels whose concern and interest were aroused, sufficiently at any rate to prompt requests for immediate assessments of the material by analysts in the Community.

Two clandestine reports which suggested that Syrian military movements were defensive in nature [less than 1 line not declassified] were disseminated in early October. This opinion contradicted what [Page 1171]purported to be fact in the other reports (we now believe that the other reports were indeed substantially factual5) and the contradiction (which may have been inspired by Syrian “misinformants”) seems to have reinforced the conviction of many analysts that the reported Syrian attack plans were merely “visionary.”

Certainly few intelligence analysts seemed prepared to believe the contents and implications of the reports on Syrian attack plans. This was partly so because there was an element of “cry wolf” in them (the imminency of a Syrian attack on Israel has been repeatedly reported since May), partly because there was contradictory reporting from clandestine and other sources, partly because the political climate did not seem warlike, and partly for reasons (e.g., the predispositions of the analysts themselves) which are discussed in a later section of this paper (in Section III).

Clear in hindsight, but not apparent to analysts at the time, is a pattern in the development of the Syrian war plan. Over time [2½ lines not declassified] the Syrian plan evolved and revealed an increasing degree of precision concerning order of battle, movements, axes of attack, locations of forces, etc.—a degree of precision never before detected in any previous “exercise” or “defense deployment.” Moreover, analysts failed to take account of ample earlier evidence of a coordinated Egyptian-Syrian plan.

Clandestine reporting from and concerning other areas in the Middle East during 1973 was more equivocal. Except for a large volume of reports [less than 1 line not declassified] suggesting the likelihood of war in the spring, the reporting was not very extensive in any case.

During June, July, August, and early September, most of the reporting from CIA, US diplomatic posts, and the offices of the US Defense Attachés in the Middle East tended to support the analysts’ belief that various political developments in the area militated against the outbreak of war.6 (In contrast, most of the reporting from these sources during the spring had tended in one way or another to reinforce the supposition that President Sadat was at that time seriously considering war.) There were few if any real substantive disagreements in the reports from State and Defense Attaché officers, and this was also generally true of CIA reports [less than 1 line not declassified].

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All US human collection efforts of course suffered from difficult or peculiar operational environments. [3 lines not declassified]. In some instances, HUMINT also suffered from the need to depend to a very large degree on [less than 1 line not declassified].

Reports from official Israeli sources through US liaison channels were nearly unanimous in their judgment that war was unlikely. An assessment provided by the Israeli foreign ministry officer in charge of Middle East affairs on 3 October, for example, concluded that Arab military movements were routine and that “the voice of reason” would prevail in Damascus. The Israelis apparently remained relatively relaxed about the possibility of war until the evening of 5 October.

[Omitted here are sections on SIGINT and Photographic Intelligence (PHOTINT).]

IV. The Analytical Effort7

Attitudes Behind the Analysis

The Legacy of History

It is true that intervals of peace have occurred from time to time in the tortured relationship between Arab and Israeli, but these have regularly been marred over the past quarter of a century by military incidents and harassments, displays of strength, and menacing rhetoric. Thus the Middle East analyst—in or out of government service—has long since become accustomed to a precarious state of affairs between Arab and Israeli. He has for some time lived with, and has more or less calmly adjusted to, the notion that war could resume at almost any time and that eventually it almost certainly will. And because of the frequency of one or another variety of threats of war, especially from the Arab side, the expert has had to learn to discount most indications of hostile intent.

There is then a Cry Wolf factor at work here: the seasoned analyst has been provoked too many times by alarms which seem to others to signal particular peril but which, more often than not in the past, have subsequently proved false. A senior officer in one of the Community’s production offices put it this way:

“Some analysts who are not real Middle Eastern experts had a greater sense of danger than those who are; the experts fell victim to a trap, ignoring the simplistic and obvious (e.g., SIGINT) indicators.”

Some very specific aspects of the Cry Wolf problem are clearly apparent in published intelligence assessments. They have also been cited [Page 1173]by analysts who have sought to explain the analytical problems they faced in the pre-hostility period. For example:

“For several years we have watched training (by small units almost exclusively) in water crossing operations and in the negotiating of tank barriers, such as those along the eastern edge of the Golan Heights. Both Syrian and Egyptian forces had been deployed in great strength in areas contiguous to the cease-fire lines for at least three years with artillery emplaced well forward in what at first observation would be described as an offensive posture. Exercises of many types have taken place periodically and readiness postures have been raised frequently during times of tension and during periods when Israeli forces were active in field training exercises. The posture of the Egyptian and Syrian forces was one of defense but one which could become offensive almost as quickly as the decision to do so could be made. Troop movements, exercises, and armed clashes have taken place on many occasions since 1967 in an environment of belligerent rhetoric without leading to actual acts of war.”

And, from another source:

“We looked at military activity as it fit into the political picture and did not also see it by itself. We eventually were forced to make military information fit into the political puzzle, even when the pieces didn’t fit very well at all.”

The Impact of Preconceptions

The latter view (above) identifies another significant element which influenced, indeed led astray, pre-war evaluations of Arab intentions, viz, the power of preconceptions. The relevant quote here is from an authority, whose observations, if themselves perhaps preconceived, are also at least well-conceived:

“There are always two aspects to intelligence. One is a determination of the facts, the other is the interpretation of these facts. And there is the tendency of most intelligence services . . . to fit the facts into existing preconceptions and to make them consistent with what is anticipated. And if you start from the assumption that a war is probably unlikely—if you know that there have been Egyptian maneuvers every September over the last ten years—then there is probably a tendency to make observed facts fit your preconceived theories. This is one of the gravest dangers of all intelligence assessments. And facts are much easier to come by than intentions.”8

No preconceptions seem to have had a greater impact on analytical attitudes than those concerning relative Arab and Israeli military [Page 1174]prowess. The June War9 was frequently invoked by analysts as proof of fundamental and perhaps permanent weaknesses in the Arab forces and, inferentially, of Israeli invincibility. The Arabs, despite the continuing acquisition of modern weapons from the Russians, remained about as far behind the Israelis as ever: “Israel superiority in such factors as technical competence, morale, leadership and the like offsets the Egyptians (or all Arab) superiority in quantities of men and equipment.” (From the joint CIADIAINR Arab-Israeli Handbook, July 1973) Moreover, from the same source, an unusually flat assertion (to be proved wrong within three months): “. . . the (Egyptian) ground forces are (not) capable of a multi-divisional operational assault across the Canal.” And, again from the same source: “. . . the recent introduction of new (Soviet) air defense, naval, and ground force materiel (including SA–6s and SA–7s) has not significantly increased Syria’s military potential.”

There was, in addition, a fairly widespread notion based largely (though perhaps not entirely) on past performances that many Arabs, as Arabs, simply weren’t up to the demands of modern warfare and that they lacked understanding, motivation, and probably in some cases courage as well. These judgments were often alluded to in conversations between analysts and were reflected somewhat euphemistically in published statements such as the following:

“A fundamental weakness of the Egyptian army continues to be the quality of Arab manpower . . . the average conscript lacks the necessary physical and cultural qualities for performing effective military services. . . . In the field the troops have little motivation and tend to approach difficult situations with a fatalistic attitude.”

CIA UAR Handbook, July 1971.

There is of course no disputing the validity of the Community’s basic judgment that the Israelis retained military superiority. This, we believe, was about to be demonstrated once again, dramatically so, on the west bank of the Suez Canal when the cease-fire actually went into effect on 24 October. Moreover, implicit in the low judgment of Arab capabilities vs. Israeli capabilities was the strongly held view that the Israelis would not be caught by surprise and be so unprepared in the event of an Arab attack. But the successful crossing of the Canal by major Egyptian forces, the establishing of a substantial bridgehead on the east bank, and the initial successes of Syrian forces in the Golan Heights, all came as a surprise to the Community (and many others). So too did the slow-reaction time of the Israeli forces and the magnitude of Israeli losses.

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There is no question that the effect of errors of judgment concerning Arab military capabilities on the Community’s political estimates was significant. It is clear, for example, in the following statement of an analyst seeking to identify the reasons for his and others’ misinterpretions of events:

“A second element in our estimate was the degree of deterrence afforded by Israeli military superiority. The results of the 1948, 1956, and 1967 Arab-Israeli fighting and the 1969–70 war of attrition clearly established that Arab troops were no match for Israel, that the Arabs knew it, and that an Arab decision to go to war, though it could never be ruled out, would be a desperate emotional and/or irrational act.”

The implication of this view was apparent in intelligence publications throughout the summer of 1973 and into October itself: if resorting to war would be an irrational act for, say, Sadat, then—since Sadat is a rational man—he would try to find other, non-military ways to achieve his objectives. Thus, succinctly:

“The whole thrust of President Sadat’s activities since last spring has been in the direction of bringing moral, political, and economic force to bear on Israel in tacit acknowledgment of Arab unreadiness to make war.”

CIA Assessment of Purported Syrian Military Preparations, Memorandum for the Secretary of State. 30 September 1973.10

A Case of Wisdom Lost

But in hindsight it is clear that a vital element was missing from this calculus, i.e., the estimate that—at least so long as Sadat seemed to have political alternatives—Arab military weakness would probably preclude war. What was missing here, but which had been firmly in view during the spring, was the estimate that the question of Arab military capabilities might have little bearing on the issue of whether or not the Arabs would actually go to war; Sadat and Asad might make the decision to go to war with little or no consideration of the chances of a disastrous military outcome.

Community analysts agreed in the spring (in NIE 30–73, “Possible Egyptian-Israeli Hostilities,” 17 May 1973),11 for example, that a continuing diplomatic stalemate would tend to precipitate hostilities if Sadat (despite his awareness of Egypt’s military weakness) concluded that this “would stimulate more active US and Soviet involvement in the settlement process.” In other words, an Egyptian (and Arab) decision to resort to war—quite limited war in the view of the NIE—did not rest at all on an assessment of the prospects (dismal) for Arab military success. [Page 1176]On the contrary, rational men like Sadat and Asad might make such a decision in full anticipation of defeat on the battlefield, but with hope for a victory at the conference table.

The NIE did not say that it was likely that Arab considerations of this character would in fact lead to war. It estimated, correctly, that “substantial Egyptian-Israeli hostilities appear unlikely in the next few weeks” (and this responded directly to the principal question raised by the requester of the Estimate). But it also stated that, though the danger of war would “probably rise if UN debates and the US-Soviet summit pass without any results judged useful by Cairo, this does not mean that hostilities will then become inevitable or even probable.”

There was no published dissent to that judgment in the NIE. But within two weeks of the NIE’s issuance, INR analysts recorded their disagreement in an Information Memorandum addressed to the Secretary:

INR is inclined to state the case on the risk of hostilities for a political purpose with a little more urgency (than the NIE). If the UN debate of next week produces no convincing movement in the Israeli-Egyptian impasse, our view is that the resumption of hostilities by autumn will become a better than even bet. . . .”

This remarkable memorandum then argued the case on wholly political grounds:

[Omitted here are three quoted paragraphs of the May 31 INR memorandum; see Document 65.]

Lamentably, as the summer wore on, analysts seemed to lose sight of this wisdom. They became convinced that King Faysal, in league with Sadat, was determined to use the oil weapon in peacetime to pressure the US into making Israel withdraw from occupied territories, that this was seen by the Arabs as a viable option, and that therefore Arab military action was not necessary. This despite the Arabs’ continuing apprehensions about the results of the US-Soviet summit, their sustained disappointment with US actions and policies, and their unrelieved frustration about the impasse at the UN—all matters which the NIE had suggested Sadat would find “intolerable.”

It is probably true that for a time last summer the Arab leaders would have welcomed acceptable non-military means to achieve their objectives, and that they made some effort to find such means. But none of this precluded a simultaneous effort to plan seriously for military “solutions” which would be implemented if “peaceful” approaches failed. Nor—as the May INR memorandum pointed out—would the Arabs’ fears of military inadequacy necessarily determine their course of action. But in late September and early October, the analysts were examining events as they happened and did not review or consciously recall this wise counsel from the previous spring.

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Precisely when and why Sadat and Asad decided to embark on hostilities (essentially for the reasons adduced in the INR memorandum) remain questions for which there are no factual answers. There is, however, reporting to the effect that the Israeli shootdown of 13 Syrian MIGs on 13 September12 was the last straw and led to Sadat’s and Asad’s subsequent decision to attack when the circumstances seemed propitious.

[Omitted here are a section on Other Elements of the Problem; Section V, Preliminary Recommendations; and the Note on Sources and Methods.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency Files, Subject Files, Job 83–M00171R, Box 18, Folder 4. Top Secret; Handle Via Byeman–Talent–Keyhole–COMINT Channels Jointly. The report was reviewed by the U.S. Intelligence Board. A note on the title page reads in part: “This is the first of several reports concerning the activities of the Intelligence Community before and during the Arab–Israeli War of October 1973 which will be submitted to the NSCIC by the DCI or his representatives.” A Note on Sources and Methods at the end of the paper explains the methodology used by the “post-mortem team,” which was composed of Intelligence Community staff and officers from CIA, DIA, INR, NSA, and IDA. The note reads in part: “The interpretations of events and judgments of intelligence performance appearing in this report rest on the facts as perceived by the post-mortem team and, unless otherwise indicated, reflect in general (though not necessarily in detail) a preliminary Community-wide view.”
  2. This section is classified Top Secret; Sensitive.
  3. This section is classified Top Secret; Ruff; Zarf; Umbra; Handle Via Byeman–Talent–Keyhole–COMINT Channels Jointly; Limited Distribution; No Foreign Dissem; Sensitive Intelligence Sources and Methods Involved.
  4. Brackets in the original.
  5. Studies seeking to compare the [less than 1 line not declassified] contained in these reports with the actual attack mounted on 6 October are in progress. So far, the accuracy of the report seems to have been basically confirmed. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. Among these were, as interpreted by the analysts, Egypt’s improving relations with Saudi Arabia, the signs related to the growing viability of oil as a political weapon, Egyptian and Syrian suspicions of Soviet motives toward the Arab world in light of USUSSR détente, etc. [Footnote in the original.]
  7. This section is classified Top Secret; Sensitive.
  8. Secretary Kissinger, 12 October 1973. [Footnote in the original. Reference is to Kissinger’s comments during his press conference; see footnote 5, Document 159.]
  9. That is, the June 1967 war.
  10. Document 93.
  11. Document 59.
  12. See footnote 2, Document 93.