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


Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
Resisted by who?
Resisted how?
For 3 whole days? :think:

The first full day of the war was Sept 4, 1939
(UK declared war on the afternoon of the 3rd)

The first convoy "OB-1" left Liverpool on the morning of Sept 7, 1939
So within days of war being declared, the RN began escorting convoys.
The initial OB convoys didn't go al the way to Newfoundland, but only to about 750 nautical miles west of Ireland, beyond the range of expected U-boat attacks. By 1940 they were conveyed all the way across the Atlantic

ConvoyWeb - Arnold Hague Database - OB convoys
True but we still tried to use carriers on anti-submarine sweeps until the loss of the Courageous.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
It's hard to tell what is really a failure. It is all secret and you don't know the real purpose of everything in domestic and international politics. There are questions about some events like Pearl Harbor.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
Really? Rather bold, especially since a person in Feller's position may not have had other codes.
A person always has choices. He was warned the code was possibly compromised. He flat out told his superiors the code was likely compromised. Then ditch it. "In all good conscious I cannot carry that order." Career killer sometimes but no wirse then the literal thousands of British soldiers and sailors who didn't lose their careers but their lives.

Even without warnings of compromised cable communication, his reports should have been hand carried by courier. He wasn't just providing basic updates. He was providing extremely detailed strength reports with their locations, future plans, supply convoy info, basically everything.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
Even without warnings of compromised cable communication, his reports should have been hand carried by courier. He wasn't just providing basic updates. He was providing extremely detailed strength reports with their locations, future plans, supply convoy info, basically everything.
Ijust don;'t understand why Washington needed such detailed information quickly. The British sere trying seduce the US into the war and providing information was part of that. But there was no operational reason to have the information quickly, the US was not involved in the war at that point, it was a political gesture.
Oct 2018
Baja, Mexico
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).
A ship like the USS Pueblo, on a covert intelligence gathering mission, will never have an escort. We needed some specific information and she was sent to get it. There were errors: The fleet should have known where she was in case she was attacked. She should have not have had a gun. Her navigation was imperfect; she was too close to shore. Many other similar missions have resulted in higher loss of life without the hoopla surrounding this case.


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
most of the error noted reflect less a failure of intelligence gathering and more of the inability of getting the message accepted
nowaday the proliferation of "intelligence" agencies led to the situation where a government can shop around for the intelligence it desire ,
to justifies the course of action they wanted all along .
those giving the "right" intel get listened to and have their budget and prestige increased
those giving the bare inconvenient truth get a short shrift and meager budget

this is not a new phenomenon and is an inherent conflict between rulers and advisors
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Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
Stockport Cheshire UK
Actually, they had much more detailed information from the Opana Point radar, it wasn't a dozen expected planes (B-17s) coming from the east, it was a 100+ aircraft coming from the north.
The radar operator suggested notifying Wheeler, but the officer on duty decided not to.
The officer was a fighter pilot Lt. Kermit Tyler, who was doing a "familiarisation tour" and had been told to stay after all the other officers had left for breakfast. he had little authority and the radar station was not yet fully integrated into any defence system.

Considering the War Warning the previous week, and the memo of Dec 4 indicating that the Philippines and Hawaii were both targets, its incomprehensible that intelligence warnings were ignored - hence an intelligence failure.

Pearl Harbour memo shows US warned of Japanese attack on Dec 4
The senior commanders at Hawaii were fearful of sabotage, but they considered a major attack this far from their bases beyond the capabilities of the Japanese navy.