Each year we spend many billions on technology, most of it with the NSA, some with the CIA, and some with sat-intel.
There are only several countries with sizable nuke and conventional arms military, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, plus a few others. If our NSA is so bloody good that we can listen in on Merkel's private calls, I would suspect that we have tasked certain resources to these countries.
Knowledge is power, and power is dependent on being to apply that intelligence in the most effective and practical way.
What shocked me about Russia's Little Crimean Invasion was the reaction of so many of our political types, and even worse, how unprepared we seemed to be.
By every account I could find, both our CIA and our State Department was stunned, with their virtual pants around their ankles, having no clue that Russia would actually put 6,000 to 15,000 troops down on the ground in the Crimea.
The idea that those two critical entities were shocked at the Russian move is worrisome. How could that happen, in this day and age? That means, by analogy, that we can be surprised just as badly by Pakistan, India, China, or North Korea. That means that we have a serious problem.
Let's look at another group of people : The Select Committees on Intel in the House and the Senate. Despite having the unmitigated gall to put a clown like Michele Bachmann on one committee, most of the people who sit there are serious policy wonks. They are educated, experienced, and are briefed each day about the world's hot spots. They stay on the committee by doing good work, and by trying to keep the US safe.
From everything I could see, none of them had a clue about Russia's intentions.
Or, let's take the White House. Their reactions proved that they had no clue of the growing unrest in Crimea, or how the Russians had planned to deal with it. On a practical basis, you don't mobilize 6,0000 to 15,000 troops without a lot of preparation.
For example, even before our Little Iraqi invasion, people in Chicago could tell something was up, just because OHare Airport had over 100 flights of these massive troop and equipment carrying planes flying over, starting at 3:am and taking most of the morning. With noise like that, it is hard to keep them secret, especially given O'Hare's military importance with large scale military moves. (And, yes, Secretary Kerry, some nations DO invade other countries based on lies)
Same with the Russians. It is impossible to mobilize that many people without planning and preparation - things that our NSA, CIA, and DIA should have caught.
Yet, each and every group was shocked. The CIA was (by one account) flabbergasted (a word I rarely see, unless you are stuck in the Beltway). Our State department was honestly shocked and taken by surprise. Admitting something like that is not easy, unless it simply comes out because it was the truth. State's predicament is understandable. Dick Cheney decimated a wonderful boutique intel group there, because they were too smart, too independent, and he could not bend them to his will on Iraq. But no longer. State now relies on NSA and CIA.
Congress? The last I heard from any defense wonks (and unfortunately, McCain still is part of that) none of them had any heads up or expectation that Russia would dare invade Crimea.
Finally, the White House. Between the body language and the strained choice of words, one could tell that no one in the White House had a clue about this upcoming invasion, at least not in advance.
What does this all tell us? Nothing good, and a lot of bad. Here is my take on the possibilities. I am sure that there are others, and feel free to add your own.
A. WE KNEW, or at least the NSA KNEW.
If we did know in advance, then why were our political leaders, both within the White House and Congress, (not to mention State and the CIA - both of whom expressed real surprise and shock) so utterly unprepared when the Ruskies did what they did? Their collective reaction was not well thought out, planned, or one that was based on many kinds of analysis and game-playing. It was collective shock, pure and simple.
You would think that a heads up, especially to State and the CIA would have been appropriate, and would allow them to analyze what was coming and what we could do about it.
No, I think the surprise was real and that there was no heads up from the NSA's little spy munchkins allegedly reading their mails, texts, or calls.
B. WE KNEW BUT NSA DIDN'T TELL THOSE IN POWER
Given how badly the Cheney Bush admin screwed up our intel units, starting with politicizing the CIA, and decimating the State Department's truly effective boutique intel unit, (As I said above, they were right about WMD in Iraq, and everyone else was shitting their undies when Cheney demanded a particular response) there is a possibility that the NSA knew, but didn't or couldn't give this critical data to the House, the Senate intel units, State, the CIA and to the White House.
If that is the case, and if the NSA is so good at domestic spying, but has no way to share foreign data, we are in a heap'um big trouble, because while we piss off all of our friends by spying on them, the information is functionally and practically useless. if it cannot effectively advise and inform those who need to know, why do we still have the NSA?
C. WE KNEW BUT NSA MISREAD THE INTEL
Of all the possibilities, this is the second most scariest. It means that we have the technical means, but that our analysts are anal-cysts. Cysts so big that Rush is jealous.
This means the NSA is an utter waste of money. More money won't fix it, and it might actually make things worse. There are a few groups who are as bad at spring cleaning as our intel units, (who would rather attack honest whistle blowers) but at the moment, I cannot think of who.
D. THE NSA WAS NOT ONTO THIS.
The worst possible choice. Not only is our investment in Big brother pointless, useless, and a huge waste, but it gives us a false sense of security. Who cares if Big Brother can catch a California pot dealer, tell the authorities when they are driving to Chicago, and have local police nab them on a rummy toll booth violation charge? (this is true, unfortunately. The NSA gave the local Illinois PD the heads up. This was one of the first breaks in how the NSA grabs illegally gathered intel, shares it with local PDs, who then pretend to develop it separately and on their own. Criminal Defense lawyers are only scratching the surface.)
Unfortunately, this also seems to be the most likely.
Translated, our CIA, NSA, DIA monstrously huge military-intelligence-industrial complex is inept. Worse than worthless. Unable to do the job it was originally designed to do.
So far, no one in government or our media has bothered to put two and two together and to start asking questions about how and why our response has been so lame. And that is the saddest thing of all.