CIA : “Our failures are known. Our successes are not.” Really?

“There have been only two kinds of CIA secret operations: the ones that are widely known to have failed — usually because of almost unbelievably crude errors — and the ones that are not yet widely known to have failed.”
Edward Luttwak

March 12 2022 — Cultural linguistics is a field of linguistics that studies the relationship between language and culture and how different ethnic groups perceive the world. For instance, it is hardly surprisingly that Eskimos have many words for snow and Japanese people have plenty of Kanji for seaweed. But the CIA has a near-infinite vocabulary for gradations of failure. And this is not funny. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY 

RELATED POST: CIA — The Language of Espionage : Lockerbie & The CIA Darkest Blunder [UPDATE]

RELATED POST: Two Years Ago — CIA Recruiting ‘AN US Russian Speaking  Citizen’ [UPDATE : On the art of avoiding assholes]

RELATED POST: CIA to Recruit Korean Speakers — Do you know your ABC?

RELATED POST: Spy Glossary — On the Origin of “GLOMAR Response” [UPDATE — John Le Carré’s Lexicon]

RELATED POST: Disinformation — Who Coined That Word Anyway?

RELATED POST: MEDINT — How to Read Body Language

“Our failures are known. Our successes are not.”
Walter Burke (Al Pacino) — The Recruit

Both Inuit and Yupik — the two main branches of the Eskimo language — have many different words for snow. 

Researchers studied the vocabulary of 10 dialects from both the Inuit and Yupik languages and conclude that there really are many more different words for snow than there are in English.

The Inuit dialect of Canada’s Nunavik region has 53 words for snow, including pukak for powder snow that looks like salt crystals and matsaaruti for the slushy snow that is useful for icing a sled’s runners.

In the other branch of the language, Central Siberian Yupik dialects have at least 40 such words.

In the hazardous Arctic environment, snow is not the only substance that requires such careful definition: the vocabulary used to describe sea-ice is even richer.

The Inupiaq dialect of the Alaskan Inuits has around 70 words used to describe sea-ice, such as auniq, ice that contains holes like Emmental cheese, utuqaq, permanent ice that does not thaw from one season to the next and siguliaksraq, a layer of thin, crystalline ice that forms just as the sea begins to freeze.

It is not only the Eskimo peoples who have specialized words for the ice and snow of their surroundings: the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia and Russia have around 180 words that are used to describe snow and ice.

Which language has the most words for snow? According to researchers at the University of Glasgow, the winner is….Scots! They claim that Scots has 421 words for snow.

Why so many words for snow?

According to an expert, “Weather has been a vital part of people’s lives in Scotland for centuries. The number and variety of words in the language show how important it was for our ancestors to communicate about the weather, which could so easily affect their livelihoods.”

“Perhaps the best-known example of language influencing thought is in George Orwell‘s novel 1984, in which one of the goals of the language Newspeak is to make it impossible to think a politically incorrect thought by eliminating all words that make such thought possible.”
Dave Wilton — Author of Word Myths: Debunking Urban Legends

As an island nation, Japan harvests numerous types of seaweed from all around the country, such as hijiki from the crevices of rocks by the sea, and kombu from the shallow waters off the coastline.

Seaweeds—and seaweed-derived products—have been central ingredients of Japanese cuisine for thousands of years and are still widely enjoyed today.

Nori, or dried laver, is perhaps the most familiar seaweed to those outside of Japan, as it is the variety used to make sushi rolls.

Kombu is a variety of bull kelp gathered mostly off the coast of Hokkaido in northern Japan. It has a tough, leathery texture and must be rehydrated before use. Packed with calcium and iron and a savory umami flavor, kombu is one of the main components of dashi broth, an essential ingredient in almost all Japanese dishes.

Wakame is one of the most commonly consumed types of seaweed in Japan and has a mild, sweet flavor. You may have seen this if you’ve had miso soup at your favorite local Japanese restaurant before. Fresh wakame is harvested from the Sea of Japan from February to June, but dried wakame is available year-round, and can be easily reconstituted by soaking in water or another liquid.

Wakame is a common addition to salads, sunomono (vinegar-pickled vegetables), and possibly most importantly, miso soup. mekabu is the flowering part of the same sea plant as wakame, found just above the root.

Hijiki is a type of seaweed collected from the rocky coastlines of Japan. This is yet another popular, healthy food as it’s rich in essential minerals and dietary fiber. It has a thin and knobby, somewhat branch-like appearance, and a nutty, earthy, slightly oceany flavor – without being over the top.

It is commonly used in stews and soupy dishes such as ochazuke, and in salads, where it is combined with ingredients such as fried tofu, julienned carrots, shelled edamame, konnyaku, lotus root, and other vegetables, dressed with sweetened soy sauce, and mirin.

For sure, I could go on and on, but you probably got the point…

James Bond: [Whilst being in bed with his Scandinavian language tutor] “I always enjoyed learning a new tongue.”
Miss Moneypenny: “You always were a cunning linguist, James.”
Tomorrow Never Dies

Back to the CIA

In “The Recruit”, Walter Burke (Al Pacino) is a CIA trainer with a list of slogans he uses to drill his operatives. In the beginning of their training, Walter Burke reminds his students that:

“Our failures are known. Our successes are not.”

In his first public speech (April 13 2017), CIA Director Mike Pompeo told his audience — and the rest of the world — that:

“Our accomplishments generally remain classified, but a few special ones are known to the world.”

Unlike Walter Burke (The Recruit), Director Pompeo made no references to past failures, and that is perhaps all right.

But Pompeo also suggests that one the CIA’s great successes was to shut down the A. Q. Khan’s nuclear network.

“For example, CIA has been a crucial player in the global campaign against nuclear proliferation.

We’ve helped unravel the nuclear smuggling network used by A.Q. Khan.”

That statement is simply not true. In fact, it is documented that the CIA allowed Khan to build his network.

If it was not for the intervention of the CIA in the Netherlands, Khan would have been arrested first in the 70’s and then again in the 80’s.

“Intelligence shortcomings, as we see, have a thousand fathers; secret intelligence triumphs are orphans. Here is the unremarked story of  ‘the Farewell dossier’: how a C.I.A. campaign of computer sabotage resulting in a huge explosion in Siberia — all engineered by a mild-mannered economist named Gus Weiss — helped us win the cold war.”
William Saffire — New York Time

For sure Operation Farewell was a great success. Nevertheless, there is a small problem with William Saffire’s argument. First, this project came from the French spooks!

As Richard V. Allen — President Ronald Reagan’s Former National Security Advisor — wrote:

“So the accomplishments of FAREWELL, in summary, are enormous. It was a major — major — accelerator to the end of the Cold War. (…) It was a critical and heroic accomplishment by President Mitterrand and his government.”

Second, and most importantly, according to Weiss himself, this operation would have been considered a success no matter the outcome!

“If some double agent told the KGB the Americans were alert to Line X and were interfering with their collection by subverting, if not sabotaging, the effort, I believed the United States still could not lose.

The Soviets, being a suspicious lot, would be likely to question and reject everything Line X collected. If so, this would be a rarity in the world of espionage, an operation that would succeed even if compromised. Casey liked the proposal.”

The CIA lexicon lists many words that originate from the US military including BOHICA [Actually used as code word on CIA covert communications!], FUBAR, FUBU, SNAFU, SUSFU AND TARFU, to name just a few…

Of all the slang words use to describe a failed CIA operation (Are they any others?), the term ‘BLOWBACK’ deserves special attention.

This word first appeared in the Clandestine Service History [Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952 – August 1953], the CIA’s internal history of the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, sponsored by the American and British governments, which was published in March 1954.

A blowback is defined an operation that has turned on its creators. Osama bin Laden is widely regarded as the personification of the textbook blowback.

“Blowback does not refer simply to reactions to historical events but more specifically to reactions to operations carried out by the U.S. government that are kept secret from the American public and from most of their representatives in Congress.

This means that when civilians become victims of a retaliatory strike, they are at first unable to put it in context or to understand the sequence of events that led up to it.

Even though the American people may not know what has been done in their name, those on the receiving end certainly do: they include the people of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1959 to the present), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Vietnam (1961-73), Laos (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-73), Greece (1967-73), Chile (1973), Afghanistan (1979 to the present), El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua (1980s), and Iraq (1991 to the present).

Not surprisingly, sometimes these victims try to get even.” [Chalmers Johnson on the CIA and a blowback world]

Nowadays, reports of CIA failures have become so routine that the law requires the agency to inform Congress of these failures… in advance.

It is Intelligence Community [IC] policy that IC elements shall, in a timely manner, keep the Congressional intelligence committees fully informed, in writing, of all significant anticipated intelligence activities and intelligence failures, as well as illegal activities. [ICD 112, Congressional Notification, 16 Nov 2011]

A meaningful Democracy can only exist if the people have at least a basic understanding of all their government agencies, including their Intelligence Agencies.

Over its short existence, the CIA has been the source of great embarrassment to the US government, as with the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the CIA assassinations — and attempts — carried out during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, the domestic spy scandals of the mid-1970s, and the Iran-contra scandal a decade later.

Intelligence errors have enormous consequences that can last decades, as when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 based in part on CIA faulty intelligence assessment that Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs that could strike the United States and the United Kingdom.

Secretary of State Dean Rusk once suggested that all intelligence reports ought to start off with the honest caveat, “We really don’t know what is going to happen, but here is our best guess.”

“This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”
Roman historian TacitusAgricola 27:1 (98 AD)

Dying of the Light (2014) – “I Resign!” Scene

“You fucked this up like you fucked up everything else. You fucked up Iran-Contra, fucked up Ames, 9/11, WMD, Afghanistan, Iraq, Benghazi…

Not, you yourself of course!

You are just the latest in a long line of fuck-ups who turned this agency into a cesspool of politics and special interests on behalf of weapons makers and the surveillance industry who get rich while we get weaker.”


The Inuit Don’t Have 100 Words For Snow, So Why Does The Myth Persist? — BuzzFeed

Inquissima haec bellorum condicio est: prospera omnes sibi indicant, aduersa uni imputantur

Tacitus, Agricola 27:1 (written ~ 98AD)

In 1942, the Italian Diplomat, Count Galezzo Ciano (Mussolini’s son-in-law) was almost certainly quoting a local proverb when he said:

La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso

In 1961, responding to a question by a journalist about the Bay of Pigs, JFK put it:

Victory has 100 fathers but defeat is an orphan.


CIA : “Our failures are known. Our successes are not.” Really?

This entry was posted in CIA, Joke and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to CIA : “Our failures are known. Our successes are not.” Really?

  1. Their failures are known…how many serious ones have they been held accountable for?

    Big difference.

    Owing to the fact we are not talking about solving house infernos here but supposedly trustworthy billion dollar agencies!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s