[Washington Babylon ]The CIA’s Foggy Crystal Ball | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[Washington Babylon]

The CIA’s Foggy Crystal Ball


In December 2000, the National Intelligence Board, under the authority of the CIA, released a report called “Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About The Future With Nongovernment Experts.” The experts included James Steinberg, who is now the deputy secretary of state, and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The report, available at this CIA website, was supposed to be a far-reaching assessment of upcoming issues and threats, compiled by the nation’s premier intelligence agency and leading intellectuals.

Global Trends proved to be more an exercise in group think and ass-covering than anything else, and events have shown the “experts” to be wrong on practically every item of fundamental importance. “The global economy, overall, will return to the high levels of growth reached in the 1960s and early 1970s,” the report predicted. “Economic growth will be driven by political pressures for higher living standards, improved economic policies, rising foreign trade and investment, the diffusion of information technologies, and an increasingly dynamic private sector.”

Other highlights:

The widespread improvement in recent years in economic policy and management sets the stage for future dynamism.

International trade and investment flows will grow, spurring rapid increases in world GDP… International capital flows, which have risen dramatically in the past decade, will remain plentiful.

Rapid expansion of the private sector in many emerging market countries—along with deregulation and privatization in Europe and Japan—will spur economic growth by generating competitive pressures to use resources more efficiently. The impact of improved efficiencies will be multiplied as the information revolution enhances the ability of firms around the world to learn “best practices” from the successful enterprises. Indeed, the world may be on the verge of a rapid convergence in market-based financial and business practices.

Also included in the report were a healthy dose of worthless platitudes obvious even to the average middle-schooler (“The information revolution will make the persistence of poverty more visible, and regional differences will remain large”), as well as weak alibis in the event they were wrong (“Potential brakes on the global economy—such as a sustained financial crisis or prolonged disruption of energy supplies—could undo this optimistic projection”).

The cost to the taxpayer for such sage analsysis? $55 billion.

More from