The U.S. intelligence community performed worse than the press in anticipating and analyzing the 1973 oil embargo and subsequent oil price increase, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee staff report released yesterday.
Despite an abundance of information available in field reports, the report concluded, intelligence analyses of the precarious Middle East situation were inadequate largely because "organizational arrangements impeded the analytical process."
The study was done by the staff of the subcommittee on intelligence collection, production, and quality, chaired by Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson (D-III). It is the first in a planned series designed to evaluate the intelligence services' work.
It examined three questions: How well the mid-1973 changes in Saudi Arabia's policy were recognized; how well OPEC's ability to sustain its 400 per cent price hike was gauged; and how well the effects of the price hike on the international economy were analyzed.
The only instance in which the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research did as well as the specialized financial and oil publications, according to the committee, was on the third question, where "neither (intelligence nor the press) gave extensive coverage to the isxue."
"On the issue of the Saudi use of oil as a political weapon, public sources reported more consistently on the changing intentions of the Saudis over the period from April to August 1973 than did the intelligence community," the study said.
"A policymaker could easily have read this (intelligence) reporting without sensing the importance of Saudi developments."
The study noted a similar pattern on the issue of price sustainability: "The intelligence agencies anticipated a fall in prices (which did not occur), and conveyed the sense that Saudi Arabia alone could and would reverse the increases" (which it did not do).
The problem with the intelligence analyses, the Senate study suggests, lay not with the amount of information collected in the field but with the way that information was transmitted and used.
For example, analysts tended to rely too heavily on embassy sources rather than other intelligence data because embassy reports are concise and easy to read while other data are "far more detailed and require integration and assessment."
"Longstanding tensions" between the operational and intelligence arms of the CIA limited communication between the two and their ability to make full use of all the available data, the study said.
It also noted that although "the intelligence process is intended to encourage reconsideration of widely held ideas . . . (analysts') fixed views suggest that the system did not encourage airing dissent or developing alternative views."
A note at the end of the summary reveals that the CIA disagreed with the study's uncomplimentary comparison with the press. The CIA said its estimates were wide of the mark because it did not anticipate the Yom Kippur War or its aftereffects.