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NSA Review Of Intelligence Failures In The Yom Kippur War

(October 1973)

These redacted documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) discuss intelligence related to the Yom Kippur War. Part 1 discloses that an intern in the Office of Middle East and North Africa believed in September 1973 a war was imminent. Others gradually agreed, however, the NSA could not communicate this view because the NSA was prohibited from producing “finished intelligence” (a defect corrected in later years). The intern briefed the CIA on October 4, which was skeptical of her conclusions even though the agency had become concerned about Egyptian and Syrian activities in mid-September. 

The Israelis at the time were still unconvinced war was imminent as was the CIA; nevertheless, Deputy Director of the CIA Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham asked for a briefing from the Agency’s Middle East expert, Samuel Hoskinson, who also doubted there would be an attack and believed Egypt was conducting exercises as it had during the previous two years.

“The USIB Watch Report issued on the afternoon of October 4 indicated that war was not expected,” according to the NSA, “a conclusion that was to haunt the intelligence community like no other since Pearl Harbor.”

Meanwhile, the Israelis were “waffling on their convictions and had requested guidance” but none was provided.

Part 2 of the NSA review discusses intelligence during the war itself. It noted the “dear price” Israel paid for its intelligence failure in casualties, loss of equipment and economic devastation. “Next to her casualties,” the report observes, “Israel lost something just as irreplaceable: her deep-felt feeling of invincibility.”

When the Israelis surrounded the Egyptian Third Army, the Soviets who, “had much better information,” threatened to unilaterally intervene to stop the fighting. The U.S. believed a confrontation with the Soviets was likely and raised the alert level to DEFCON 3, “the same state of readiness imposed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

The CIA later admitted “the intelligence system had failed to provide good intelligence to Henry Kissinger and the State Department.”

An NSA historian blamed “self-delusion” as a major cause of the intelligence failure. The U.S. believed the Arab armies were weak and that their leaders knew this and would never think of attacking Israel. Analysts in the U.S. and Israel were also fooled into thinking the Arabs were engaged in routine exercises. “In short,” the report concludes, “none of the players believed their eyes, and there was much atonement to be done.”

Source: National Security Agency.