How did we miss that? – TTG

DIA Director LTG Scott Berrier testifies during a Senate Armed Services hearing to examine worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A heated exchange between Senator King and DIA Director General Berrier on whether the intel community failed to predict/understand Ukraine’s will to fight. 

Berrier: “there was never an intelligence community assessment that said the Ukrainians lack the will to fight.”

King: “The assessment was Ukraine would be overrun in a matter of weeks. That was grossly wrong.”

Berrier: “Grossly wrong, but not a question of will to fight. We assessed their capacity to face the size of the Russian forces that were massed on their border was going to be very difficult for them.”

King: “Well, all I’m saying is the intelligence community needs to do a better job on this issue.”

Berrier: “I think the intelligence community did a great job on this issue, Senator.”

King: “General, how can you possibly say that when we were told explicitly Kyiv would fall in three days and Ukraine would would fall in two weeks, you’re telling me that was accurate?”

Berrier: “I look at the totality of the of the entire operation. I think the the enormity rests on the predictions of what the Russians were going to do versus whether or not the [Ukrainians] were going to be successful.”

King: “Well, if you don’t concede there was a problem on this, then we’ve got a problem.” 

Berrier: “Senator, I didn’t say that. We are going to take a hard look at this, but but I think in the totality of the entire operation, there are a lot more successes and failures.”

The crux of the argument here seems to be that Berrier, while conceding the US intel community overestimated the strength and performance of Russia’s military, what the IC understood about the capabilities and sizes of both militaries pointed to a likely Russian victory. This question of why the US IC didn’t better understand the Russian military’s internal weaknesses – lack of leadership, poor training – is something Berrier said earlier that officials will need to review.

Comment: Okay. The DIA is not populated by shamans able to foretell the course of human events with absolute accuracy. But they have to do a better job of sizing up foreign military capabilities than they’ve done lately. This is different from plans and intentions. It’s also different from analyzing the technical capabilities of weapons and force structure of foreign armies. Capabilities may not even be the right term. We need to have a more accurate view into how a military force, friendly or enemy, regular or irregular, will function in combat. 

What we need is a sociological or anthropological focus on how an armed force functions under combat. We need to go far beyond the numbers and advertised (or even tested) capabilities of military hardware. What do soldiers believe and disbelieve? How about the junior and mid-level leaders? How do they interact and how will they react under stress? Special Forces teams do this with forces they train and advise all the time. At the very least, we have to be better at honestly assessing the real effectiveness of those militaries we train.

I think a Human Terrain Team (HTT) approach applied to foreign armies would fit the bill. This would be an intelligence function, a DIA mission. It would entail debriefers, clandestine intelligence collectors, SIGINT collectors and the right analysts to collate the information collected and drive further collection. The product of such an approach can then be married with what we know about plans and intentions of decision makers and what we know of the technical quality and size of the armed forces. It’s time we stop being surprised every time something breaks.


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35 Responses to How did we miss that? – TTG

  1. Fred says:

    The people currently populating DIA are the same ones who told us the Afghans, who we spent more than a decade training and equiping, would stand and fight. They didn’t. Nobody got fired, either.

    Were DIA and the rest of the intel agencies ‘calling it in’ during Covid or were they actually onsite where they could get the feedback (where appropriate) from peers/colleagues when disucssing just such things as you bring up?

    • TTG says:


      This isn’t a “one off” problem. The IC missed the call on the Ukrainian, Russian and Afghan armies. They also missed the call on the collapse of the Iraqi army when ISIS popped up. I think there was an emphasis on plans and intentions to the detriment of every other question for a very long time. A leader may have the plans and intentions to do something, but if his army aren’t capable or willing to carry out those plans and intentions, it really doesn’t matter what that leader wants.

  2. walrus says:

    Regarding Russia, whatever happened to their theory of reflexive control?? Do CIA and DIA believe the Russians practise that?

    From my armchair, Russian strategy has been consistent with restrictive rules of engagement, a desire to minimise their own casualties by slow attrition and minimising civilian casualties. Look closely at news video and observe not the smashed apartment block, but what is still standing unscathed. Then there are the utilities – water, sewerage power, railways its all still there! So much for scorched earth!

    Selective deafnes; how

    • TTG says:


      The Russians have certainly not minimized their own casualties, but they haven’t embarked on a clear strategy of scorched earth, either. That so much of Ukrainian infrastructure is still in working order is remarkable. Part of that is no desire by the Russian military to engage in a scorched earth policy, but a large part of it is the inability to do so. That shows in their inability to stop the trains, stop the flow of Western supplies across Ukraine and the inability to gain total air superiority.

      The original goal was a near bloodless coup in Kyiv and a quick collapse of the whole regime based on the carefully cultivated myth of Russian military invincibility. That myth has been shattered among the Ukrainians and much of the West. Worst of all, it was shattered among the Russian armed forces. What’s left is the continued belief in the myth among most of the Russian people. That, by itself, is a successful application of reflexive control.

      • Jovan P says:


        I don’t understand what part of equipment, ammunition, knowledge, experience and etc. you think the Russian military lacks to engage in a scorched earth policy? Wouldn’t that be the easiest course of action for the Russians? Blow everything up, don’t a give a damn about the civilians, count the dead in millions.

        • TTG says:

          Jovan P,

          Do you think the Russians made a conscious decision to let Ukrainian trains continue to bring Western supplies to the front? How about letting the Ukrainian aircraft, helicopters and drones continue to fly? No, the Russians just don’t have the ability and/or capability to stop it.

          • Jovan P says:

            Trains are used not only for transport of Western weapons, but for transport of people and non-military goods in all directions. It’s seems logic that the Russians made a conscious decision not to destroy Ukrainian railway infrastructure. Same goes for all of Ukrainian infrastructure. OTOH, I don’t argue that the Russians don’t have total air-superiority.

          • TTG says:

            Jovan P,

            The Russians recently tried to interdict the train system. It was a half-assed effort. They failed. But good on them for not interfering with the early mass movement of refugees to the west. That would have been truly monstrous.

  3. English Outsider says:

    TTG – I don’t think your Intelligence Services got it wrong that much. They knew that when the shelling across the border intensified the Russians would have no choice but to go in and stop it. They’ll have had plenty of military experts around who’d have told them that to stop the shelling the Russians would have to go further than the Donbas.

    So since they knew they were creating the conditions in which the Russians would have to respond, they knew that the Russians would respond. And roughly how. No mystery about any of that.

    Where they go it wrong was that they didn’t guess Putin would order an initial “invasion lite”. They should have guessed that. Part of the purpose of the invasion was to save the ethnic Russians of the Donbas from Azov and such like. They should have guessed that Putin would order his military to avoid as far as possible civilian casualties among the people he was rescuing.

    Should say though, I don’t have any truck with all the stuff I see on the internet about the Americans being taken by surprise by brilliant Russian tactics. That’s nonsense. There’ll be experts tucked away in the Pentagon who’d have gamed all possible contingencies just as well as the Russians did. Probably better, since we’ve been training up the Kiev forces for years and therefore know their capabilities better than the Russians.

    So that man briefing the Senators was shooting a line. He knew that the Kiev forces weren’t up to full combined operations warfare and that what they’d have to do was put themselves in among civilians to slow the Russians down, He probably knows that the NATO hope of bleeding the Russians by getting a guerrilla war going is nonsense too. But that’s not the sort of thing Senators want to hear so why fuss them with such details?

    • d74 says:

      E O, I think you are right.
      The IC didn’t get the beginning wrong. No wonder, he was the one who caused it. (‘He’ : IC, foggy bottom, borg, etc..)
      As for the results, USA -and all other countries, except maybe UK- have no experience of fighting with a peer. The past can hardly be used. Twenty years of police operations against 50,000 goat and sheep herders are meaningless here.
      (Especially with the massive amount of technology used to subjugate this unfortunate country.)

      In short, I largely acquit IC of unfortunate failures.

      As for TTG’s recommendation (‘sociological or anthropological focus’), I am doubtful. Sociology and anthropology are not even inaccurate sciences. They carry several ideologies (at worst, one per university department head). The middle term is an unworkable mixture. The danger that the most useless ideology imposes itself is obvious.

      I return to Norman F. Dixon’s book on military incompetence. ‘Common sense’ and ‘practicality sense’ are the real compasses in the fog of war and intel, present or future.
      These two qualities cannot be taught. They are specific to a given person. They are acquired from childhood and through long lasting practice. The carriers of these genes should be detected.
      Let’s not forget the luck attached to a person, the ‘baraka’, that also counts.

      And let’s remember the great teaching of our host, Pat Lang:
      The peace period does not select the right man in the right place, but paper fighters.

      (Norman F. Dixon , On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Random House or Jonathan Cape, 1974 -1976)

      • TTG says:


        I’ve been trained as an anthropologist and as a SF officer. Anthropological methodology is ideally suited for this kind of study and analysis. The whole point of anthropological fieldwork is to look at cultures other than one’s own and understand that culture in terms of that culture. If anything, anthropologists are known for going native more than any other kind of social scientists.

  4. plantman says:

    Yes, we could spend more $$$ to improve our Intel capability or we could rebuild our diplomatic corps. It’s our choice.

    To date, there has been no communication between Blinken and Lavrov at all.. even though that is where you would expect reasonable people to begin to discuss their differences.

    Why is that, do you think?

    Do you think that maybe the neocons at the State Dept wanted this war to “weaken” Russia for good? Do you think that maybe crushing Russia was the plan all along?

    Was it unreasonable for Putin to resist NATO on his doorstep? Should he have welcomed a hostile military alliance along with it bases, its combat troops and its missile sites on his border?

    Would any American president accept a similar situation on the Mexican border?

    • TTG says:


      NATO accepted a heavily armed, and possibly nuclear armed, Kaliningrad without resorting to the threat of an invasion or an actual invasion. This after Russia’s repeated boasting about hitting the capitals of Europe with their hypersonic missiles within a few minutes from their Kaliningrad bases. That’s not some hypothetical situation. That’s reality. Another reality was Russian aircraft and troops in Venezuela. Our reaction is pissing and moaning about it. That’s it. Never did we even threaten to take out the Russkies.

      • Fred says:

        “NATO accepted a heavily armed, and possibly nuclear armed, Kaliningrad without resorting to the threat of an invasion or an actual invasion. ”

        You mean NATO moved East to the border of Kaliningrad 23 years ago when Poland was allowed to become yet another one of America’s obligations.

  5. Pat Lang says:

    For people like Barrier King’s criticism is a death threat. The heads of the IC agencies rely on the praise of senior sycophant staff and mutual self praise among themselves to maintain their positions and the system.

    • English Outsider says:

      Colonel – that article fits well with the article you linked to the other day. It’s off the subject of the Ukraine here, though not entirely so. It was a devastating article. I’ve been brooding over it ever since. This one:-

      Devastating not because it offered the easy if dramatic rhetoric of “J’accuse” but because, more effectively, it was a quiet and informed account of the process of corruption of a hitherto uncorrupted governmental apparatus. As I read it I realised I was looking at nothing less than an insider’s account of how the crazies got out of the basement.

      And I immediately wondered whether the same thing happened in England at around the same time. I don’t think so. Thinking back over various incidents that became visible even to the general public over the years, it didn’t happen to us because we were already long corrupted.

      This is David Habakkuk’s territory but I speculate that at some time in the past our spooks, as you call them, moved away from the ultimate justification for their work: that ” … we do disagreeable things, but we are defensive. That, I think, is still fair. We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night.”

      That justification is examined further in a brief look I found at the origin of Churchill’s possibly apocryphal comment on the same lines:-

      At some time in England, it would be difficult to guess when, that moved on to Le Mesurier territory. Notions, however frayed, of “fairness” or “honour” are put aside. No longer do we do disagreeable things because ours is a just cause. We do disagreeable things because we’re good at it and that’s just what we bloody do. And with that, any limits on how disagreaable – or dishonourable – can also be put aside.

      It led me to wonder further how much that corruption of our governmental apparatus had contributed to the corruption of yours. Quite a lot, I’d guess. Remembering the Steele affair, and various episodes during the Syrian adventure, I’m not sure the Special Relationship has been that beneficial to the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised if our crazies hadn’t contributed a fair bit to helping yours clamber out of their basement.

    • glupi says:

      Thank you, Col. Lang!

      That you’ve managed to preserve a sense of humour and not turn into a misanthrope in such an enviironment never ceases to amaze me

  6. plantman says:

    Are you comparing Russia’s meager presence in Venezuela and Kaliningrad to the hundreds of US military bases and countless interventions and coups around the world?

    If you want to compare the recent record of aggression of the US to Russia, I think Russia’s record looks pretty impressive.

    Besides, you haven’t answered the question: Would a US president allow a hostile military alliance to establish its military base and missile sites on the Mexican border?

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    • TTG says:

      Russia’s presence in Venezuela is, indeed, meager. The Kaliningrad presence is massive. There is a motorized rifle division, a separate motorized rifle brigade and a naval infantry brigade there along with nuclear capable Iskander-M missile batteries.

      “Would a US president allow a hostile military alliance to establish its military base and missile sites on the Mexican border?”

      Don’t know. It hasn’t happened. We haven’t driven Mexico to turn to Russia or China for military support.

    • Fred says:


      There are plenty of hostile cartels there that are successfully funelling dope North that kills Americans by the thousands annually. The ‘deep state’ was outraged at the mere suggestion that (to use Biden’s term) the Maga King Trump would blow them up with cruise missles or drone strikes. The agents behind all the poison is destroying two countries, Mexico and the US, but “we can’t do that” rules Washington. Sometimes.

      • TTG says:


        I don’t think the MAGA king’s intent was wrong as all. His proposed solution was all assed up. Secret cruise missile strikes? Who is that supposed to fool? Now if he proposed a pseudo gang operation, he might have on to something. Of course, the MAGA king (I love that nickname) probably doesn’t have a clue what a pseudo gang is.

        • Fred says:


          I agree. We discussed this at least once on the prior iteration of this website.d “pseudo gang” would have to be defined. It sounds surprisingly like Obama’s Fast and Furious that only helped one cartel consolidate a lot of operations from their competitors. It didn’t curtail anything. As to Esper, he and the rest didn’t even consider discussing the idea of knocking off drug lords after it was broached. 160,000 dead Americans annually doesn’t bother the folks inside the beltway nor their corporate or globalized elite fellow travelers. Oh, wait, Covid! and the old people, now there’s something for them to sink their authoritarianism into.

  7. Leith says:

    Wonder if SecCom testimony before the Senate is based on better intel than the DIAs originally? Raimondo said yesterday that Russia is using fridge and/or washer electronics in their mil equipment.

    But then so what? The US military has also used Commercial Off-the-Shelf or COTS products in some cases where speed of production was considered more important than MilSpecs. And I doubt Russian MIC defense industry would use Bosch or Samsung appliance chips in key targeting applications. Although with the endemic corruption of Putin’s oligarch buddies any system might be fair game to save a ruble for their ratfooking of the military.

  8. Barbara Ann says:


    Better to get it wrong this way around. I expect the Kremlin is having similar, but more fraught conversations with their IC about how they were told the Little Russians would fold in days. Then again perhaps the Russian leadership is still in the denial phase.

    There is an appreciation of reality in the Russian press. From time to time Marko Marjanović posts various interesting translations on his blog. Here is one from the daily tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda:

    In 2022, not a single unit of the Ukrainian army switched to the Russian side, and not a single unit refused to fight. Moreover, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are engaged in such fierce battles that they forced the Russians to radically change their military strategy. So what is the strength of the army of Ukraine?

    The Ukrainian army is an amazing and very strong combination of a Russian soldier, a fascist officer and an American general, in many respects it is really the army of the XXI century, and to a much greater extent than most other armies in the world

    Another which may be of interest to the Committee is from the popular Russian site Military Review entitled “The Second Stage of the Military Operation in Ukraine: Everything Is Going According to Plan” (intended sarcastically). Strelkov gets a mention in it. Here is the link:

  9. Jimmy_W says:

    DIA et al cannot conduct such an HTT mission on military culture et al evaluation. To do so, would mean an honest assessment on masculinity and leadership, as well as scripted exercises and culture. The methodology would be too hostile to the Diversity Industry and women-in-combat cultists. Not to mention too embarrassing to some NATO allies.

    The Army TRADOC already has a cultural-supremacist “Western Way of War” theology. If DIA were to create an objective metric to quantify culture and leadership’s combat power multiplier, then we get into a perceived critique against the Global South. DIA would also have to rank the masculine vs feminine leadership styles.

    Army can’t even get the ACFT without ditching the “leg tuck” and gender-neutral scoring.

  10. Mishkilji says:

    I was involved in a similar debate regarding a Mideast country in the early stages of what would become a grinding civil war. My experience was the analytic team makes the right call. Senior analytic briefers closer to the seats of policymakers reversed it.

  11. Mishkilji says:

    Capabilities= Will x Means. We can count Means through OOB through various INTs. Determining Will requires years of on the ground exposure to the target set. It is, as Pat puts it, an Art.

  12. Tidewater says:

    ‘How did we miss that?’

    That’s nothing as to what gets missed. There’s a lot they cannot talk about. Not in a public hearing.

    Please try to give consideration to some facts which at first glance might seem to be utterly fantastic:

    The modern American nuclear attack submarine has a test depth roughly of about 1600 feet and a crush depth of 2400 feet.

    Russia has a submarine that is a mother ship which probably normally operates within the same range as an American sub, if perhaps a little deeper. But this sub carries underneath it a smaller sub with a crew of about twenty gydronauts which has the capability of diving down to and functioning normally at a depth of 8200 feet. This remarkable fact is known to American naval intelligence, possibly because of an accident in the Arctic ocean.

    But what is the real capability of this deep-diving submarine, one of the most classified of the specialized boats of the Russian Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research (GUGI), identified as Losharik, of Project 10831? It is thought that it might be able to dive to a depth of 19,685 feet! ( I have no idea how this possible estimate was calculated, nor do I know much about this entire subject, but it all adds up to what I think is simply the shocking insecurity of the internet.) Losharik can also at some point in its evolutions release its own unmanned nuclear-powered midget submarines, which have the capability of doing work on underwater cables at even more extraordinary depths. These drones can cut cables, plant explosives, attach draglines to mile-long sections of fiber-optic cable that could weigh nine or ten tons, and drag the cable for miles along the sea bottom. This has happened off Norway. The missing cable was discovered. It was a warning.

    What this means–as I see it–is that an American attack submarine cannot follow this special mission Russian submarine sortie down to the bottom of the ocean, and it can neither know what the Russian submarines are doing down a thousand feet below it, nor can it stop them from doing whatever it is that they are doing. It could take weeks or months for the cable owner to find out what has happened, when forced to charter an expensive cable-layer expedition, though the system will know immediately that something has gone wrong at a certain location of the cable. They just can’t get there. Further, if the Russian mother sub has a bodyguard of, say, an Akula attack submarine in an overwatch position, it creates a further problem for the American sub. This scenario depends, of course, on the American submarine having been able to pick up the Russian submarines in the GIUK Gap and trail it, in the first place.

    It is said that, because of redundancy, the undersea fiber optic cable system has the ability to be “self-healing.” A large-scale attack on fiber optic cables in the Atlantic could simply mean if it got bad enough that the internet traffic gets transferred to the Pacific. What no one wants to talk about publicly, I believe, is what if there was a systematic attack on undersea cables using explosives at certain specific, well-known chokepoints and traffic hubs in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Pacific, the Carib- bean, as well as the Atlantic, by, say, more then one boat, perhaps even by as much as a fleet of ten boats? You think that is crazy? No, not at all. This is quite possible.

    My rudimentary little scenario about operations in the Ocean Deep is simply what I would regard as the most vulnerable point of the undersea internet cable system and the safest point for an attack ; but the fact is, at every point including land stations or 400- foot deep Atlantic or Pacific ocean coastal shelves the entire system is amazingly vulnerable. Right up to the beach, into a manhole, or beyond into the parking lot by the internet provider’s operations building. It is amazing!

    Escalation is built into the war that has just begun in Ukraine. Hardliners have gotten themselves caught and wrong-footed. Hardliners think they can now go ahead and keep the land war going war without any fear of asymmetric, hybrid Russian warfare. They can’t. I think that the whole American financial system is at risk.

    • Leith says:

      Tidewater –

      The deep diving Losharik that you mention had a major fire a couple of years ago killing 14 of the crew. I recall it was at a fairly shallow depth when the fire started else the entire crew would have been killed.

      Reportedly it was a battery fire. Ironic that Losharik originally used much safer silver-zinc batteries from a supplier in Ukraine. But some idiot decided to swap them out for the much more flammable lithium ion ones made in St Pete.

      She might not be able to be returned to service until 2025.

  13. Tidewater says:


    The question I am posing here is whether you think the internet is safe or not.

    I said ten boats might be used in an attack in three or more different oceans. And that they have them right now. These would not operate in the deepest part of the ocean. I think that such a widespread attack is plausible, as things stand. Even two or three boats could do real damage. And I don’t think you need one boat, one cable. But it is valid as to the direction of things as to how an attack in the most challenging part of the ocean could play out. I was aware of the fire etc. What I think I am right about is how such an attack will work. We have no idea about this whole very important and practically unknown Russian special mission operation. The Northern Fleet is Putin’s pet obsession. Since 2019 I would expect there to have been great progress in developing these internet-focused submarines. And that’s not all. Any NATO fleet that challenges the Northern Fleet will be in grave danger from hypersonics. There has been a tremendous buildup in the Russian Arctic. This is where it could really blow up.

    There is a seabed “observatory” off the coast of Norway called the Lofoten-Vesteralen (LOVE) offshore observatory fiber optic and electric cable network some forty miles long which has steel platforms on the seafloor which are fitted out with sensors for measuring methane emissions, climate change, local sea life such as cod, and monitors sound and makes photographs –all of which information is transmitted to the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment Institute for study. In late September 2021 this network was successfully attacked by human agency. It had to have been a submarine.

    I think it was a warning, and there have been others. I think there is a black hole of bafflement, fear, and silence about this sea-floor cable threat.

    But you think that there is nothing to all this?

    • Leith says:

      Tidewater –

      I did not say there was nothing to it. It is definitely something that we need to be able to counter.

      But I’m not sure I understand your train of thought: Are you saying they now have ten boats capable of the same depths as the Losharik? And regarding the hypersonics, is the Tsirkon operational yet? The Kinzhal has been used in Ukraine but has not yet proved to be a game-changer. The Avangard would seem to be the most dangerous. But I believe that is another system where they had to substitute a critical piece because it was manufactured in Ukraine. So how good is the replacement? I would hope that the Navy is doing serious R&D work on upgrades to SM-3 and SM-6 to defend against both these systems and the Chinese ones.

  14. Al says:

    Turkey’s Erdogan says he will block Finland /Sweden joining NATO.

    No one saw that coming?

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