A pair of classified CIA intelligence reports released in the days before a major Hamas attack on Israel warned of a potential escalation of violence but did not predict the complex, multifaceted attack that Hamas gunmen launched against Israel days later, according to US officials.
The first of the intelligence reports, dated September 28, described the possibility that Hamas would launch rockets into Israel within days.
The second report, dated October 5, was based on the first but was shorter and more analytical.
The Oct. 5 report appeared in the CIA’s daily intelligence summary that is widely distributed to policymakers and lawmakers, officials said. But intelligence officials did not brief either President Biden or senior White House officials on any of the reports. The CIA did not identify the reports as particularly important to White House policymakers, the officials said.
Several US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, described the reports as routine, similar to other intelligence reports on the possibility of Palestinian violence that have been written throughout the year.
One U.S. official familiar with the Sept. 28 report said it contained language warning of a possible escalation by Hamas through more cross-border fire into Israel from Gaza.
CIA analysts regularly report on violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the West Bank, which has escalated sharply in recent months. On the day the report was published on October 5, Hamas said two of its members in the West Bank had been killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
But the CIA has recently focused more on the risk of violence in the Gaza Strip, as evidenced by the agency’s recent reports, which describe how poor economic conditions are in Gaza, where Hamas holds sway. They also said the group’s growing frustration with Israel’s long-standing blockade of the territory could lead to continued attacks on the border.
CIA and White House officials said they would not comment on classified documents.
While the reports warned of potential rocket fire, they did not say Hamas intended to employ new tactics against Israel, such as a ground incursion.
It is unclear why Israeli intelligence agencies and their American counterparts did not discover Hamas’ preparations for the October 7 attack. Israeli intelligence agencies share a lot of intelligence from the Palestinian regions with their American counterparts.
The attack began with a large barrage of rockets. Hamas then launched the largest and deadliest incursion into Israel in decades, killing around 1,200 Israelis. Hamas gunmen are also holding around 150 hostages.
The failure to uncover Hamas’ preparations has raised questions about whether intelligence agencies misjudged the group’s capabilities and intentions or diverted resources to monitoring other threats. Hamas may also have found ways to prevent intelligence agencies from eavesdropping on their communications.
The reports were based on intelligence the CIA gathered itself or received from partner agencies, the officials said, although they would not discuss the nature of that intelligence. They were written amid weeks of protests by young men in Gaza.
For many years, US intelligence agencies did not make Hamas or the Gaza Strip a top priority, compared to other threats they watched much more closely, including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Every year, US intelligence agencies issue a report on major threats to global security. The 2023 report highlights the threat Israel faces from Iran, Hezbollah and “other partners and proxies,” without naming them.
Hamas was last mentioned in the annual report in 2017. Gaza has not been mentioned since 2013.
Since William J. Burns became CIA director in 2021, he has warned, publicly and privately, that violence between Israelis and Palestinians could escalate, echoing comments by other US officials working in the region.
In a statement at Georgetown University in February, Mr Burns recalled his role as a senior diplomat two decades ago during the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada.
“What we see today bears a very unfortunate resemblance to some of the realities we saw back then,” he said.
More recently, Mr. Burns warned of the risk that Israel’s opponents could see growing divisions within Israeli society over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies as an opportunity to step up their attacks on the Jewish state.
Eric Schmitt contributed to the reporting.