Exclusive: Congress Probes Why Spies Got Putin’s Invasion Wrong
One U.S. intelligence agency told Congress that Russia wouldn’t take over part of Ukraine. Now Congress wants to know what the spies were thinking.
The House intelligence committee is ordering a review of the intelligence analysis leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after U.S. spy agencies last week concluded that Moscow would launch no such invasion.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he was ordering a review of the intelligence analysis that produced what was in retrospect a flawed assessment: that the buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border was simply a bluff by Vladimir Putin.
This assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was briefed to members of Congress on Thursday as Russian troops amassed for a military exercise on Ukraine’s border and Russian warships moved closer to the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. By Friday morning in Washington, that assessment looked shortsighted. While there was no open, mass invasion, Russian paramilitary forces did take over key transportation facilities in the Crimean peninsula and some troops poured over the border.
“There was a briefing from the ODNI staff on the Hill,” Rogers said. “People came out of that and they were miffed because they believe they were told nothing was going to happen and then 24 hours later there were Russian troops coming into Crimea.”
Rogers, who did not attend that briefing, said he had seen initial intelligence reports on Wednesday evening that said “there was indicators saying something was going on.” Rogers also said the ODNI analysis from Thursday did not reflect the same analytical conclusions as other intelligence agencies. The ODNI was created in 2005 in part to synthesize intelligence and analysis coming from the 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government.
“It was the analytic product, the certain conclusion in one particular case that nothing was going to happen in 24 hours—that was just wrong,” Rogers said. “There was another thing out there from another agency that was different.” Other U.S. government officials say the CIA assessments last Wednesday warned clearly that Russia might send more troops into Crimea.
Rogers was careful to say that he does not know yet that there was an “intelligence failure” last week. “I have ordered a review just to make sure, not there was an intelligence failure,” he said. “People have to make decisions based on the intelligence and information that was in front of them. One group of analysts came to one conclusion and another group were a little bit more careful to see how they say this.”
Rogers said the purpose of his review was to examine the process for how the agencies developed the analysis on Russian intentions last week. “It might be there was a difference of opinion between analysts. We are going to do a review it,” he said. “Is there something we should not have been doing that we didn’t? And is there an analytical reason one agency went one way and the ODNI went another way?”
On Monday, ODNI spokesman Shawn Turner issued a statement that defended his office. “Prior to and throughout the situation in Ukraine, the Intelligence Community has provided timely and valuable information that has helped policy makers understand the situation on the ground and make informed decisions,” he said. “That continues to be the case today. Any suggestion that there were intelligence shortcomings related to the situation in Ukraine is uninformed and misleading.”
“We’re aware that Chairman Rogers’ has asked his staff to work with intelligence agencies to get a better understanding of the Community’s early analysis of the situation in Ukraine. As always, we look forward to working with the committee in support of oversight efforts.”
A CIA spokesman said the agency has regularly updated policy makers since the start of the political unrest in Ukraine. "These updates have included warnings of possible scenarios for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine," the spokesman said. "Any suggestion otherwise is flat wrong."