Reuters Exclusive: Congress probing U.S. spy agencies' possible lapses on Russia
Senior U.S. lawmakers have begun probing possible intelligence lapses over Moscow's intervention in Syria, concerned that American spy agencies were slow to grasp the scope and intention of Russia's dramatic military offensive there, U.S. congressional sources and other officials told Reuters.
A week after Russia plunged directly into Syria's civil war by launching a campaign of air strikes, the intelligence committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives want to examine the extent to which the spy community overlooked or misjudged critical warning signs, the sources said, according to Reuters.
Findings of major blind spots would mark the latest of several U.S. intelligence misses in recent years, including Moscow's surprise takeover of Ukraine's Crimea region last year and China's rapid expansion of island-building activities in the South China Sea.
Though spy agencies have sought to ramp up intelligence gathering on Russia since the crisis over Ukraine, they continue to struggle with inadequate resources because of the emphasis on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, according to current and former U.S. officials.
A senior administration official, who also asked not to be identified, insisted that there were "no surprises" and that policymakers were "comfortable" with the intelligence they received in the lead-up to the Russian offensive.
Spy agencies had carefully tracked Russian President Vladimir Putin's build-up of military assets and personnel in Syria in recent weeks, prompting White House criticism and demands for Moscow to explain itself.
But intelligence officers – and the U.S. administration they serve – were caught mostly off-guard by the speed and aggressiveness of Putin's use of air power as well as a Russian target list that included U.S.-backed rebels, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"They saw some of this going on but didn't appreciate the magnitude," one of the sources told Reuters.
Russia's sudden move to ramp up its military involvement in the Syria crisis has thrown Obama's Middle East strategy into doubt and laid bare an erosion of U.S. influence in the region.
A shortage of reliable information and analysis could further hamper President Barack Obama's efforts to craft a response on Syria to regain the initiative from Washington's former Cold War foe.