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Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK

World: Americas

What the CIA didn't know

The CIA did not spot Indian nuclear test preparations

With the failure of US intelligence to detect both the East Africa bombings and India's recent nuclear tests, Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus investigates whether the CIA is losing its edge.

The bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam came from out of the blue. America's huge and sophisticated intelligence gathering machine seemingly provided no warnings of the attack.

Ex CIA analyst Melvin Goodman: The CIA learnt about India's tests from CNN
No intelligence service - not even the CIA - can know everything.

But the setback in East Africa is not the agency's only recent failing.

In May 1998, India conducted a series of underground nuclear explosions. And not for the first time, the US intelligence services failed to spot the preparations for the tests.

Melvin Goodman: "This is where the CIA dropped the ball"
Melvin Goodman, the Central Intelligence Agency's chief Soviet analyst during the 1970s, points out that in the late 1940s the CIA learnt about Soviet atomic testing from the Associated Press.

Useful intelligence

We live, so we are constantly told, in an information age. Round the clock news broadcasts, e-mail and the Internet give people unprecedented access to information.

And amidst this avalanche of so-called open source material there is much useful intelligence - you have simply got to know where to look.

Company drector Mark Lowenthal defines open source information
In Fairfax County, Virginia - just outside Washington DC - Open Source Solutions is a new company set up to provide its clients with their own daily intelligence briefings.

The intelligence services no longer have a monopoly on information gathering. And their world is changing in other ways too.

Gone is the existential Soviet threat - replaced by a world more like the 1920s, where future threats are harder to define.

Intelligence expert Robert Steel: Environment is national security issue
New issues are forcing themselves onto the security agenda. Earlier this year, for instance, the CIA established an Environment Centre.

The CIA must also learn to work more closely with US law enforcement agencies like the FBI.

[ image: FBI agents examine the truck bomb in Nairobi]
FBI agents examine the truck bomb in Nairobi
The investigation of the bomb attacks against the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya will provide an important test of this new inter-agency cooperation.

The CIA is a little over 50 years old. Seventy percent of the CIA's effort was directed at the Soviet Union and it still failed to see the internal weaknesses that finally precipitated the collapse of the Soviet regime.

There are now signs that the CIA is more ready to look at its failings.

How it addresses these problems will determine its effectiveness during the decade ahead.

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