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Intelligence agency is a misnomer, whether one defines intelligence as an ability to gather and analyze information, or as an ability to determine the salient and what it portends. Foreign CIA outposts are often stocked with so-called experts who don’t know the native language. They read translated documents and media reports, but the outposts are insular and agents miss on-the-ground intelligence and sentiment they would pick up talking with natives at a neighborhood bar. The locals they do talk to are often English-speaking collaborators with CIA-approved agendas, funded by US government and US-backed nongovernmental organizations. They tell the agency what it wants to hear. The CIA sees itself as a master manipulator, but it is often more manipulated than manipulating.
Intelligence whiffs are legendary. Individual members of the intelligence community and military undoubtedly realized that most Vietnamese saw the US as the latest in a long string of hated imperial powers, but that truism was never officially embraced. If it had been, history might have been dramatically different. In 1956, US puppet Ngo Dinh Diem reneged on a promise to conduct elections that would have reunified Vietnam. He almost certainly would have lost to national hero Ho Chi Minh. From that point on, the US was seen as just another subjugating power. That single fact doomed the US effort from the beginning, but it was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the voluminous intelligence and military reports, even ones that talked about winning “hearts and minds.” (A bizarre tenet of US government groupthink: foreigners have no memories. Thus, what was done in 1956 was supposedly forgotten by 1957. See also the history of Iran since 1953. The intelligence community never saw the 1979 revolution coming.)