Minimising intelligence failures on development

BY: Brig Gen Samuel Yanyi-Akofur (retd)
Mr Albert Kan Dapaah, Minister of National Security
Mr Albert Kan Dapaah, Minister of National Security

IN recent times, one case of intelligence failure with devastating repercussions is arguably the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 (9/11) in the USA which led to 2,996 deaths and 6000 injuries and a $2 trillion price tag (Institute for the Analysis of Global Security). 

This underscores the threat intelligence failures pose to national development and the need for nations to institute steps to forestall them.

In Ghana, the March 2002 Dagbon Chieftaincy crisis, which led to the death of Yaa Naa and 40 others (Wuako Commission Report, 2002) is a major case of intelligence failure.

Reports that the Yaa Naa was against the curfew and got it lifted sounds untenable since the officials, with the benefit of credible intelligence reports, should have maintained the curfew to prevent the fighting.

Constituting 16.6 per cent of Ghana’s population (CIA World Factbook, 2018), the impact of this 16 year-long conflict on national development can never be over emphasised.

Other cases of intelligence failures include the recent KNUST student riots, which reportedly caused damages of GH¢1.7 million (Daily Graphic, October 31, 2018) and the October 17, 2018 Drobo/Japekrom clash that led to two deaths and 14 injuries.  

These were intelligence failures because of their lingering nature, which should have alerted intelligence officials to monitor the issue more closely to take the appropriate preemptive action.

Other failures

Other intelligence failures that occurred in our financial circles include the calamitous collapse of the Capital Bank and the UT Bank in August 2017 and of Beige, Sovereign, Construction, Unibank and Royal banks in August 2018.

Effective economic intelligence could have prevented this debacle which cost the nation GH¢13 billion, (Myjoyonline.com, October 2018).

 One may place this bill in a developmental perspective by comparing it to the GH¢453 million cost of the Free SHS policy in 2018 (Myjoyonline.com, May 2018).  

The fact that Ghana currently lies in a “terrorist endemic zone” with reports of terrorist attacks in neighbouring states should heighten the requirement for effective counter intelligence work to combat them.  

Other areas of cross border crimes that deal in narcotic drugs, illegal migration, firearms trafficking, maritime piracy, etc, pose intelligence challenges.

 In fact, the proliferation of 2.3 million small arms (Graphic online, October 2016) should be considered an intelligence failure that severely undermines national development.  


Jerkins (Abolurin, 2011), defined intelligence as “fore knowledge which confers an advantage on those who have it and when judiciously exploited, this foreknowledge permits those who have it to anticipate the action of others and when necessary take pre-emptive action or act pro-actively”.
Lowenthal (2016), however, conceptualised intelligence failure as “when an intelligence agency fails to achieve one or several functions of national intelligence among four basic functions, to avoid strategic surprise; provide long-term expertise; support the policy process; and maintain the secrecy of information, needs and methods.

Interestingly, Richard Betts (1978), argues that “failures in intelligence are not only inevitable, but even natural because the failure is primarily a result of politics and psychology, rather than analysis and organisation.”  

He added that “the most crucial mistakes have seldom been made by collectors of raw information, occasionally by professionals who produce finished analyses, but most often by the decision makers who consume the products of intelligence services.”  

Finally, failures are caused by “gaps in the procedures of transmitting intelligence analysis to policy makers, as well as the struggle to convince policy makers of the importance of the particular intelligence at hand.”


In fact, since intelligence failures could occur in any sector of national activity and pose significant threats to national security, there is need for a deliberate intelligence strategy to counter them.  

In line with Betts’ theory, Ghana should institute a robust review system of investigating intelligence failures and applying appropriate sanctions to inject professionalism into the intelligence corps.  
For instance, in the Drobo/Japekrom case, BNI leadership should investigate whether officials picked and reported intelligence on the clashes and what the superiors did with it.  

As with Ghana’s military, intelligence personnel should swear an oath of allegiance to the state to raise their commitment.  

Furthermore, Ghana should train political leaders to effectively handle and coordinate with intelligence officials to prevent intelligence failures.  
Ghana should keep “Human Sources” in all government institutions to deepen her Human Intelligence capacity.  

Open Source Intelligence gathering could also enhance counterintelligence work of the Research Department and CID.  

Since cameras are effective in facilitating surveillance and crime investigation, they should install them in principal streets, population centres and premises of institutions.

The government should create awareness that intelligence is everyone’s responsibility so that Ghanaians become observant and ready to share information.        

Intelligence failures could pose existential threats to nations and undermine national development, so Ghana should institute a systematic and robust intelligence system to reduce their occurrence.

Politicians should exercise appropriate oversight in preventing intelligence failures.
The writer is a retired soldier who currently writes extensively on military issues