Ex- CIA Chief: Why We Keep Getting Putin Wrong


The last time Russian troops invaded one of its neighbors, the U.S. intelligence community was also caught off guard.

The year was 2008 and the country was Georgia instead of the Ukraine. And just as in 2014, back then there were early signs that Moscow was serious—it was issuing visas to ethnic Russian speakers in Georgia, like it's doing now in Ukraine. U.S. analysts just didn’t believe Russia would go as far as it did. 

Today, as in 2008, American policy makers have found themselves burned after trying to make Vladimir Putin a partner when Putin himself sees America as a rival. This has often led Republican and Democratic led administrations to find themselves flat footed in the face of Russian aggression and U.S. intelligence analysts racing to explain how they misread Putin’s motivations.

“This is less a question of how many collection resources we throw at Russia and more broadly about the analytic challenge of understanding Putin’s mind set,” said Michael Hayden, a former CIA director and NSA director under President George W. Bush. “Here our Secretary of State is saying this is not the Cold War, it’s win-win and it’s not zero sum. But for Vladimir Putin it is zero sum. That’s what we need to understand.”

Of course, U.S.-Russian relations have overlapped in some areas of mutual interest. The two countries have worked to maintain the International Space Station, with Russian Soyuz capsules bringing American astronauts into orbit. Both countries have cooperated, at times, on sanctioning Iran for its nuclear program. And both sides agreed to an ambitious plan in Syria to dismantle the regime's chemical weapons arsenal.

But when it comes to the status of the newly independent nations..

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