“I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’ strong showing,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referring to the landslide victory of the Islamic Hamas party in the January 25 Palestinian elections. Hamas won 76 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian legislature, compared to 43 seats for the ruling Fatah party.
“I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming and I hope that we will take a hard look, because it does say something about perhaps not having had a good enough pulse on the Palestinian population,” she told reporters on January 29.
It sounded like a confession of another failure of U.S. intelligence, having been stymied once again by the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics.
But despite Secretary Rice’s odd protestations, no one did a better job of tracking the growing popularity of Hamas than the State Department’s own intelligence analysts.
“When the parties [Hamas and Fatah] are directly compared, likely voters tend to see Hamas as more qualified to clean up corruption, resist occupation, and uphold societal values,” the analysts reported in a January 19, 2006, pre-election assessment (pdf) obtained by Secrecy News.
“A lack of hope in the peace process may also contribute to support for Hamas. Likely voters who have little or no hope that there will be a peaceful resolution to the conflict clearly prefer Hamas (30%) to Fateh (12%).”
Though they did not explicitly predict a Hamas victory, the State Department intelligence bureau reported on the steady rise in popular support for the Islamic party, which they said made it newly competitive with Fatah.
“A just-completed Office of Research survey in the Palestinian Territories shows a much closer race at the polls than some have predicted,” the assessment stated.
(The Office of Research is a component of the Bureau of the Intelligence and Research [INR], which is the State Department intelligence unit.)
“The likely success of Hamas at the polls reflects the long-term rise of public trust in the party. The proportion in the January survey who say they trust Hamas matches the historic high of 27%, first seen in spring 2005, and represents a 6 point increase since November.”
The State Department intelligence assessment is marked “For Official Use Only.” Do not use it for recreational purposes.
See “Hamas and Fateh Neck and Neck As Palestinian Elections Near,” January 19, 2006.
(“Fateh” is the preferred INR spelling for “Fatah.” Due to a typographical error, the first page of the January 2006 analysis is dated 2005.)
The State Department’s intelligence bureau is widely considered to be among the most independent-minded and competent members of the U.S. intelligence community. In 2002, it famously dissented from the erroneous view that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Not coincidentally, it is also the least secretive of U.S. intelligence agencies.