In the aftermath of President Trump dismissing the CIA’s conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, I thought I might do a thought experiment regarding who has the best intelligence service. One could quickly argue the parameters used in this power ranking, but I’m using capability, execution and influence as my big three. I base this assessment on a multitude of meetings with most of those cited. If anyone has a better perspective, please chime in…
The United States of America
One could easily argue that the USA’s technical collection of capability alone sets it far and away above the rest. Next to Britain, Russia and Israel, our human sources are unmatched, and our case officers are as good as it gets. The quality of our intel, in terms of policy influence, is also unmatched, when not influenced by internal politics (i.e., Iraq 2003, Cuba 1962, climate change today). What happened to Radio Free Europe? It’s there somewhere, but not nearly as effective from what I’m seeing lately.
Russian intelligence existed before we were a country. Their technical capability is not as good as ours, but they are willing to use it when necessary (i.e., the 2016 election). I studied the Soviet propaganda machine in the late 80s and was very impressed with their ability to influence opinions across the globe. It is largely a HUMINT infiltration effort that grew from their success during the Stalin era. Now they use our own technology against us (Facebook) in the best influence campaign the world has ever seen.
The USA did it too, I believe largely to counter the strong Soviet effort in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The Sovs/Russians get better points for their HUMINT ops, and ability to influence the common Joe.
The United Kingdom
British intelligence existed before the Sovs/Russians. They used to be the best, and still may prove to be the best. Slightly less technically capable than the U.S. and better than the Sovs/Russians. Glad these guys are on our side. If these guys were a big country like the U.S.A., I believe they could easily be number one.
I just shake my head at how good the Israeli’s are. Maybe it’s because their country has been threatened every day since it came into existence in 1947. They are a country as big as New Jersey, but they are some of the baddest asses in the world. Their HUMINT is the best in the world.
If it weren’t for the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service, we would not be nearly as secure as we are today. Great sources, but I wonder sometimes. I think they hold a lot back. Just my opinion.
The General Directorate for External Security (DSGE) is quite capable and a good partner, usually. They tend to get bogged down in internal politics, in my view. Good technical capability. Always looking for a deal, like the Israelis.
The Ministry of State Security (MSS). They’re just big! I admit I don’t know much about these guys. So maybe they should be higher.
So, what’s the point? As we all know, intelligence is provided to decision makers, not to persuade them, but to inform them of the facts and our assessment of those facts, so that they can make the important policy decisions of the day. Should we blockade Cuba? Should we invade Iraq? Should we withdraw from Afghanistan and Syria? Should we send troops to our southern border to thwart the invaders from Central America?
What our leaders decide to do based upon this intelligence is what makes history. When intelligence is politicized to justify reckless policy decisions, things usually don’t end well: Blockade Cuba? Good. Get stuck in Vietnam? Bad. Invade Grenada? Good. Invade Panama? Good. Invade Afghanistan to kick the crap out of al-Qaeda and the Taliban? Good. Invade Iraq because they supposedly possess weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and are friendly with Osama bin Laden? Really bad. Forget Afghanistan and concentrate on Iraq for five years? Really bad. Drone the crap out of al-Qaeda, Taliban, AQAP, TTP, al-Shabaab, etc? Good
Send troops to repel “invaders” from Central America? Are you kidding me?