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Why Russia’s New Strategic Capabilities Come As a Shock to US Intelligence Community

The United States of America spends something like $80 billion annually on intelligence gathering and analysis. When the CIA was founded by the National Security Act in 1947 the intention was to create a mechanism that would warn about an imminent threat. The memory of Pearl Harbor in 1941, when Japan attacked the U.S. naval base was still fresh, and the legislation was popularized by the slogan “no more Pearl Harbors.”

In spite of the dedication of considerable resources and manpower, there have been some major intelligence failures in the past seventy years, starting with the inability to anticipate the breakout of the Korean War and including the embrace of false intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. But the most recent failure is perhaps more consequential than either Korea or Iraq.

On March 1st, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke before his country’s Federal Assembly plus a large group of both local and foreign journalists, outlining his plans for the economy and also dealing with other domestic issues should he be reelected later this month. The final third of the presentation was on national defense and, in its substance, was clearly directed at a global audience, particularly the United States.

He explained

“During all these years since the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty [in 2001] we have been working intensively on advanced equipment and arms, which allowed us to make a breakthrough in developing new models of strategic weapons.”

He was referring to the RS-28 Sarmat ballistic missile, which has almost unlimited range and ultra-high speed, enabling it to employ trajectories including strikes coming over the South Pole that can defeat existing American Anti-Ballistic Defense systems. Russia has also produced and deployed a hypersonic glider weapon system Avangard.

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