Before Intelligence Failed Cover

Before Intelligence Failed

British Secret Intelligence on Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Soviet Union, South Africa and Libya

Mark Wilkinson

Hurst Publishers, London, 2018, 240 pages

Book Review published on: July 27, 2018

Before Intelligence Failed is a detailed examination of the relationship between intelligence analysis and foreign policy in the United Kingdom. Mark Wilkinson presents an objective question up front that asks, Which drives which? Does foreign policy drive intelligence requirements and analysis, or do the results of intelligence analysis drive foreign policy matters? What is the nexus between the two?

The book examines three case studies: the Soviets undeclared offensive chemical and biological (CB) program during the Cold War, South Africa’s CB program from the 1970s through the 1990s, and Libya’s CB program from the 1980s to 2003. It also looks briefly at the intelligence assessment leading up to the 2003 Iraq intervention. In all of these studies, the UK’s intelligence program missed its mark on the formal analysis that supported the official foreign policy with respect to each nation. How could that be?

Wilkinson provides extensive background research, including unclassified first-hand interview accounts of exchanges between previous foreign policy officials and intelligence community members, which provides insight into the biases and predispositions involved that ultimately led to the shaping of intelligence collection efforts and final analysis presented to policy decision-makers. The analysis of the three cases show some similarities in the flow of information and the interaction between the intelligence community and the policy makers but also the tremendous differences among the cases. Wilkinson does a very good job of identifying key events, people, and actions that led to the ultimate failure in each study. In each case, there was no one single point of failure; all contained multiple problem areas such as wrong assumptions (in guidance), wrong qualifications (of key people), or wrong organizational designs (that stove-piped information) that eventually contributed to wrong decisions by policy makers. He also brings out many of the thinking traps that large organizations fall into when trying to solve problems.

Before Intelligence Failed is organized into eight chapters, with three dedicated to the aforementioned case studies. The remaining examine the various aspects of problem areas between the collectors/analysts and the decision-makers.

Wilkinson is an independent consultant specializing in security and risk management. He previously served sixteen years as a commissioned officer in the British army, completing his final tour of duty as a bomb disposal officer in Afghanistan in 2010. He has active research interests in terrorism and intelligence. The book is well written and is cited accordingly. I would recommend this book to members of the intelligence community as well as those wanting to read more about critical thinking within large organizations.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired, Lansing, Kansas