President Barak Obama's decision to pivot away from the woes of the Middle East for the remainder of his term has filtered down strongly to the heads of US intelligence, its evaluators and its spies in the field, as government, intelligence and security officials in the region are discovering.
Those accustomed to conferring and sharing with US colleagues draw a blank when they seek details about developments in the region.
"It simply does not interest them," some senior intelligence officials said this week to DEBKA Weekly.
One official commented: “Even if US spy services wanted to credibly analyze what was going on, they are short of informed, current data to chew on."
"This is not due to lack of competence, but orientation," says another senior source. From 2012, President Obama has focused all American intelligence efforts in the region on securing a nuclear accord with Iran and its ramifications. “US espionage agencies learned to distance themselves from their former, now extraneous, Middle East fields of interest.”
DEBKA weekly sources say that this disconnect is palpable – even on the active fronts, such as Iraq and Syria, in which American forces are engaged. Up until four years ago, US intelligence experts were still to found with knowledge of the fine details of the forces in the field. They could cite exactly which Syrian rebel groups operated in which territory, with chapter and verse on the ethnic, religious factors behind them. That expertise is gone for Iraq as well as for Syria.
Masoud Barazani, President of the Autonomous Iraqi Kurdish Republic (KRG), who commands the Peshmerga army – the only Iraqi force, other than the pro-Iranian Shiite militias, capable of fighting ISIS in northern Iraq and Mosul – has been trying for months to talk to a US intelligence official in Washington.
Barazani wanted to complain about Iranian Revolutionary Guards agents infiltrating armed Kurdish groups to subvert them against the Iraqi-Kurdish leadership. He has given up on these attempts. "No one in any American espionage agency is willing to listen,” he told his advisors.
Indeed, American undercover agencies have no ears for any regional issue except for the Islamic State and the fight against it. Even Israeli spy chiefs, who for years maintained excellent give-and-take ties with their US colleagues on common issues of concern, are reporting that of late no one has any answers to offer at the American end of the line.
DEBKA Weekly intelligence experts see this void as offering fertile ground for a number of untoward developments:
- Major political upsets in the Middle East, such as hostile alliances or coups, will surprise Washington and find the administration unprepared.
- Various terrorist groups, having noted that US clandestine and military bodies are only interested in ISIS, are enjoying freedom of action without American spooks on their tails.
- It takes years to build a competent intelligence work group with experts in specialized fields. Once that infrastructure dissolves, it is very hard to reconstitute.
- The next US administration taking office in January 2017 will find its first steps in the Middle East crippled by the loss of intelligence capabilities.