Worst intelligence failure/covert action in US history?

Greatest US intelligence/covert action failure?

  • Pearl Harbour

    Votes: 14 29.2%
  • Battle of the Bulge

    Votes: 1 2.1%
  • Atomic Spies

    Votes: 5 10.4%
  • Chinese intervention in Korea

    Votes: 6 12.5%
  • The Bay of Pigs

    Votes: 9 18.8%
  • Tet Offensive

    Votes: 4 8.3%
  • U2

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • USS Peublo

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Iranian revolution

    Votes: 4 8.3%
  • Eagle Claw

    Votes: 1 2.1%
  • Iran/Contra

    Votes: 1 2.1%
  • Other?

    Votes: 3 6.3%

  • Total voters
Dec 2011
Remember 1990 rule so no 9/11 etc

1. Pearl Harbour

2. Bay of Pigs

3. Fall of Iran

4. Tet Offensive

5. Chinese joining Korean War

6. Battle of the Bulge

7. Gary Powers/USS Peublo

8. Atomic Spies

9. Saddam invading Kuwait

10. Iranian hostage rescue

11. Iran/Contra

12. Other?

Pearl Harbour is always held up as the ultimate failure but in many ways a demonstration of a peacetime mentality against a wartime mentality and isolationalism. It was so unthinkable that no one could cut across the bureaucracy and take the action required (as in 9/11) but that's the nature of democracy.

As for the Bulge, it now seems impossible that the Allies could have missed the German build up but the weather blinded recon flights, Enigma was useless within Germany itself where the Germans used a secure phone system and the locals were pro-German.

Equally the Chinese intervening in Korea seems impossible to miss now, especially given allied air superiority. Not so much a failure in intelligence but of the powers that be not wanting to believe what they were hearing (which is a recurring theme in intelligence work).

The Bay of Pigs is overall a case of wishful thinking, the only way it would succeed is a widespread popular uprising (which would never happen in a Communist tyranny, especially as Castro still had much popular support in the early days) or direct invasion by the US to support the anti-Castro fighters (which the CIA thought would happen once the invasion started). JFK was banking on the former and the CIA on the latter and both were disappointed.

The Atomic spies leaked the greatest military secret of all time, Britain was more famous for having better bred spies but the US also had some doozies. But again that's the nature of free societies.

The capture of the U2 and Peublo were terrible intelligence losses. It seems so strange that they would have risked the U2 flight at that stage of the Cold War or that the Peublo wasn't escorted.

Tet was not as great as a surprise as is sometimes made out, ARVN intelligence saw it coming. It was perhaps an illustration of conventional military thinking vs unconventional, the US concentrating on Khe San rather than the guerrilla threat.

Iran seems to be a perennial thorn in the side of the US, the US not seeing the coming revolution and trading arms for hostages which is the political equivalent of drinking seawater. Giving the money to the Contras, well that eventually worked.

People always disparage Eagle Claw but it had to be a complex op, it wasn't like Op Nimrod in the centre of London. And who do you blame for the weather?

Much like the Falklands Saddam seems to have been a question of a gap in mentality, the US ambassador told him the US had no position in the dispute which to you and me means they are an honest broker but to Saddam means he's allowed to invade (yes, I missed this out of the poll, apologies).
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Ad Honorem
May 2016
Since the answers are in an after 9/11 mood maybe it would be better to change this to current affairs.

And I would say:

The prevision and defences against the capacity that hackers, individually, from organizations or foreign states, gained to influence and change the world, including access to confidential information and influencing elections in several countries, USA included;

The failure to coordinate and avoid the attack to the twin towers;

And, before 9/11, from the list, the Iranian hostage failed rescue.
Oct 2016
definitely Pearl Harbor imho

should have been expected.

not even a few extra air patrols?

there have always been rumors that FDR knew what was coming and deliberately allowed it to get us into the war.

runner up; probly the Tet Offensive.
Jan 2015
Front Lines of the Pig War
Those "rumors" aren't taken seriously by historians, and shouldn't. It's fully in tinfoil hat territory.
Although FDR had been warned about the danger of an attack against Hawaii.
Nonetheless, the "War Warning" alert the week before should have been enough to prompt a far more robust and vigilant defence.

definitely Pearl Harbor imho

should have been expected.

not even a few extra air patrols?

Air patrols!?
They had the Japanese strike force on radar for cryin' out loud!

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