A national intelligence apparatus is only as effective as those who act on its findings.
Ample money and resources, scientific and analytical expertise, and networks of sources around the world are useless in a post-truth environment—a world in which personal preference, tribal loyalty, and feeling count for more than data, proof, and facts.
As a case in point, look no further than our new friends, the Russians.
For a good portion of the past 80 years, Soviet and Russian intelligence collection and subversion efforts were superior to those of the U.S. In the early years of the Cold War, the Soviets had infiltrated almost every critical institution in the U.S. and Europe, while we didn’t have a single agent in Moscow. In the 1930s and ’40s, they penetrated our most secret national enterprise, the atomic program, so effectively that they could cross-check the reporting of their various sources. The Soviets knew more about the Manhattan Project than the vice president.
At the same time, however, they often failed to take advantage of their superior position due to an inability to analyze, interpret, and above all believe what they collected. The insular and untraveled Soviet leaders relied on subterfuge, lies, and assassination to make it to the top, and could not shed their conspiratorial delusions once they arrived. They used intelligence to reinforce, not correct their misconceptions of the outside world. Although they exploited stolen scientific information effectively—they developed an atomic bomb—they often disregarded political realities.