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It’s a Dog’s Life, Being a Spy

Both the head of Mossad and the CIA are taking heat for not having seen the Mideast turmoil coming. Obama’s apparently thoroughly ticked that the CIA didn’t see either how the Tunisian uprising would end or what it would lead to in other states. I ran this by my husband, who’s a mathematician, just to see him blow a gasket. (Hey, it’s fun.)

Sure enough, he pronounced the eagerness to slam the intelligence services “complete [expletive deleted].” “If they put the odds of a revolution in Egypt at only 5% and then it happened, does that make them wrong?” he said. He then mentioned Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short, which is about people who shorted subprime and made a killing when the real estate bubble popped. The implication is that the people who did this possessed rare and admirable foresight. They did, but so did lots of other people who shorted subprime but did it too early. They got slaughtered, and nobody’s writing books about them.

Timing is everything, in other words, and getting timing right in any sphere has more to do with luck than most anything else. There are plenty of circumstances under which intelligence services should be taken to task, but not predicting a wave of revolutionary fervor that has managed to fail to burst forth for thirty years might not be one of them.