To err is human. Unfortunately, human blunders can be pretty darn costly, especially when its large government agencies with important mandates who bugger things up. Here are stories from all over the world where a government leader–or even an entire agency–made some big mistakes.
30. Always Check Your Sources
In the early 2000s, the US government was getting their information on Iraq from a spy nicknamed “Agent Curveball” (real name: Rāfid Aḥmad Alwān). According to this spy, the Iraqi government was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, largely based on the assertion that Iraq possessed WMDs, as verified by United States intelligence. Later, a former CIA agent was interviewed in 2009, and he commented on the incident as a “complete intelligence failure.” The reports of the “Agent Curveball” informant, as well as other information produced by US intelligence, had been entirely discredited by both German intelligence prior to the US invasion of Iraq.
29. Too Big for His Britches
Then President Richard Nixon used his power to obstruct an investigation into criminal activities committed by supporters who were arrested while spying on the president’s opponents. Even though no evidence was found to implicate Nixon directly in the illegal surveillance, his role in the attempted cover up became a scandal unto itself, and ultimately led to the president’s resignation. The very word “Watergate” has become more familiarly associated with scandal and corruption than its namesake hotel and office buildings.
28. You Win Some, You Lose Some
On March 30, 1867, the Russian Empire sold Alaska to the US Government for a mere 2 cents per acre. Russia was afraid they would eventually lose the land to the United Kingdom and saw an opportunity to preemptively weaken British power by selling to the United States. It turns out, however, that Alaska held a huge amount of gold. 1896 saw the Klondike Gold Rush, with Eldorado Creek producing over $30 million (about $675 million today) worth of gold. The kicker? Forget about gold, most Alaska’s money is in oil and natural gas. Today, the petroleum industry supports one-third of all jobs in Alaska (110,000 jobs). The State of Alaska has collected $157 billion (inflation adjusted) from oil since 1959. The Alaskan Purchase is often placed alongside the Louisiana Purchase as one of the most profitable land deals in history. Russia probably wishes they could have that one back.
27. Let the Spirits Guide You
In 2016, South Korean President Park Guen-hye was impeached and put into prison because she was making huge decisions for the country by taking orders from a cult leader who brainwashed her into believing that she should leave the country’s destiny up to the “spirits” of past dead leaders. Yikes. It’s hard to tell where the bigger screw-up was, here. Was the mistake in electing her as president, when she was known to have ties to this cult, or was it in the cabinet members for not noticing this issue sooner?
26. Total Failure
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gathered 1,400 Cubans who had been exiled from the country and sought asylum in America. He had them go through CIA training, and then sent them to try to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. It was an epic failure. 114 of them were killed, and the rest were taken prisoner. This event was called “The Bay of Pigs.” This event only strained the relationship between the US and Cuba even further. Although Kennedy’s name is often associated with the invasion, the plan was actually cooked up by the CIA under Eisenhower.
25. Just Act Like You Belong There
When Barack Obama was president, an army veteran who was suffering from severe delusions decided to break into the White House. The man, named Omar Gonzalez, was carrying a pocket knife, and he somehow made it over the fence of the White House without being noticed by security. He then charged toward the White House front door (probably shocked that absolutely no alarm had sounded). Once there, he encountered a lone female security officer who he overpowered and stormed into the building. Once inside, he screamed and ran past the stairway to the President’s quarters (who wasn’t there anyway), and dashed into the East Wing. He even walked around the house, seemingly aimlessly, for almost a minute before he was tackled by an off-duty officer. After he was arrested, Gonzalez gave permission for his vehicle, parked nearby, to be searched. Agents recovered 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets, and a machete from the car.
This, quite thankfully, prompted the Obama Administration to increase White House security measures.
24. Equipment Failure
America’s most expensive jet was destroyed on a practice flight in Guam when faulty sensors caused the plane to stall on take-off and crash. Luckily, both pilots were able to eject safely.
23. Big Brother is Watching
In the United States, people have a right to privacy, and their homes are safe from “search and seizure” without a warrant. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) under the Obama administration was systematically spying on hundreds of millions of Americans, an act they deemed acceptable under Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act. While this did prompt some backlash from opposition, many people in the country didn’t find the revelation surprising at all, as there had already been several similar cases of government spying since the September 11 Terrorist Attacks.
22. Risky Business
Hana and Karl Koecher were a couple from Czechoslovakia who were “deported” for their anti-Soviet sentiments, and “forced” to live in the United States. The CIA offered to let them become spies for the United States. The main spot where they swapped secret information was at risque swinger parties in New York and Washington DC. After years of acting as a US informant, it was revealed that they were double agents, and the entire deportation was a ruse.
21. Kitty Killing Tragedy
During the 1300’s, The Black Plague was killing people all over Europe. In London, a rumor began that cats were to blame. The government was the royal family. They were more concerned with saving themselves and staying away from disease-ridden commoners than helping them. Without giving the people a logical explanation or solution to the Plague, people had to take matters into their own hands. Cats were associated with witchcraft and the Devil. Even the more educated English royal family was known for believing in these sorts of things. So, people started to kill cats. This actually made the problem so much worse, because the real carries of the disease were the rats and mice. So, without cats to kill the mice and rats, the disease spread even more, killing more people.
So essentially, when people decided to murder all the cats to stop the spread of The Black Plague, they accidentally caused millions of unecessary deaths, simply because they didn’t realize that cats were actually preventing the spread of the disease.
20. Proud to Be An American
The Department of Defense faced harsh criticism in the mid-2000s when it was revealed that they were paying more than $10 million annually for patriotic displays at soccer matches and NASCAR races. Specifically, the National Guard spent approximately $136 million on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR sponsorship from 2012-2017 to encourage enlistment. Even with the $27.35 million spent on Earnhardt in 2009 alone, only 346 guardsmen were recruited that year. This means that even if all of them joined solely because of the Earnhardt sponsorship, it would have cost $80,000 per guardsmen. In 2012, a survey of guardsmen revealed that not one had joined because of NASCAR sponsorships. Despite this, in 2012, the U.S. House voted to continue spending on pro sports sponsorships.
19. Better Safe Than Sorry?
During the cold war, the US spent $16 million manufacturing M65 atomic cannons, often referred to as “Atomic Annies.” These were large artillery pieces designed to launch a nuclear warhead similar to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, with a range of almost 20 miles. The only issue was that the size of the cannons and lack of range made them practically useless. The colossal cannons weighed in at 83 tons, approximately twice the weight of tanks in the 1950s. In a combat scenario, the weight of the system would completely hamper its mobility because very few bridges used at the time could support them. Furthermore, the 20-mile maximum range is not enough to prevent the men firing it from getting fried by radiation, especially facing a headwind. The lack of mobility and enormous size would also make it easy for Soviets to track the cannons and target them in combat.
18. That’s Not the System We Used!
A group of Lockheed engineers used Imperial units of measurement to build the Mars Orbiter, but the rest of the team used Metric. The use of two different systems caused the spacecraft to approach Mars on a trajectory that brought it too close to the planet. It disintegrated as it passed through the upper atmosphere. The mistake cost NASA approximately $125 million back in 1999.
17. Caught Red-Handed
The Manhattan Project was the creation of the atomic bomb. A scientists by the name of Klaus Fuchs was chosen by the British government to help the Americans with the bombs. For six years, he was actually leaking information back to the Soviet Union. When he was found out, Britain put him in prison. He eventually moved to East Germany.
16. Partying Too Hard
In 2012, members of the American Secret Service were in Columbia. They were caught partying, hiring prostitutes, and doing drugs. They were also found to have passed out from alcohol while on-duty and protecting the President. Apparently, this is a common issue.
15. Up in Flames
The National Park Service, which is an extension of the US government, uses a technique called “controlled burns” to prevent forest fires. This is basically burning flammable natural debris in a small area, allowing new plants to grow, which makes a wildfire less likely. However, in the year 2000, the New Mexico National Park Service started a controlled burn when the weather was way too dry, hot, and windy. As a result, it started the massive Cerro Grande Fire, which burned down over 400 family homes and created $1 billion in damage.
14. The Four Pest Campaign
In 1958, Mao Zedong declared that China would get rid of its “pests” from their new People’s Republic. The four targets of this campaign were mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows. This was a mistake, because as the sparrows were killed off by both government officials and average citizens alike, it increased the insect population. Sparrows eat locusts, which were now ravaging crops. At the same time, Mao’s Great Leap Forward encouraged farmers to produce more food than was humanly possible. The farmers, not wanting to admit defeat, falsified their surpluses. This lead to millions of people starving to death in China.
13. Real-Life Conspiracy
Operation Northwoods was a plan by the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to fake a terrorist attack from Cubans, as an excuse to go to war with their country. President John F. Kennedy stopped them from doing it. He was assassinated soon after, which has led (at least partially) to the conspiracy theory that he was assassinated by the CIA.
12. Don’t Trust Magicians
The Romanov family were the last royal dynasty to ever rule Russia. One of the mistakes that the family made was trusting Rasputin, a man who claimed to have magic powers. He became the advisor of the family, and his growing influence is credited with separating the Tsar from the people. Rasputin’s notorious affairs with aristocratic women, as well as a rumor that he was having an affair with the Tsarina herself, convinced many that he was a disgrace to the court and inspired great anger amongst the people. Soon enough, the Bolshevik Revolution happened, and the entire Romanov family was executed.
11. Puppet Masters
Project MKULTRA was a CIA operation that involved experimenting on controlling the minds of human beings. This is not only scary, it’s completely illegal and unethical. Somehow, they got away with it, and we will never know exactly what went on behind closed doors, because they burned the documents.
10. Just Trolling?
A man pretending to be a republican congressman named Donald Payne Jr got backstage access to an event in New Jersey. He got backstage, where he was only a few yards away from President Obama, and actually mingled with legitimate members of Congress until a White House aide realized the man wasn’t actually Rep. Payne. He was asked to leave, and complied without incident. No one was able to figure out the man’s true identity, or his motives for pretending to be Payne, but it could have been seriously bad if he was an assassin or spy.
9. Honeypot Espionage
A blond female spy named Gerda Munsinger infiltrated the Canadian government. It was later revealed that Munsinger actually had affairs with multiple members of the Canadian government, most notably cabinet ministers George Hees and Pierre Sévigny. Sévigny and Hees had actually co-sponsored her application for Canadian citizenship in 1960.
After learning that the Central Intelligence Agency considered Munsinger to be a “definite security risk,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police interrogated her and conducted surveillance on her telephone conversations, but found no evidence of spying on Canada.
Regardless, news of the affairs became public in March 1966, and a UK news report concluded that “a blond playgirl… has thrust Parliament into a state of suspended degradation.”
8. Should Have Prepared for Winter
In June of 1941, Hitler was riding high on his victories, and was determined to claim the Russian territories to fulfil Germany’s destiny. Convinced that he would easily win, he ignored the warnings of his military, and reportedly told them that “We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten Russian edifice will come tumbling down.” Thanks to some strategical miscalculations on Hitler’s part, delays, and their unpreparedness for Russian winter, the German soldiers were eventually forced to retreat.
7. Blood Thirsty
When Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States, he conspired with the military and media sources to publish reports about North Vietnamese attacks on American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. The largely unsuccessful American invasion of Vietnam, which led to 50,000 deaths, was a supposed retaliation to these attacks. Evidence has since proven that at least one of these attacks, and potentially both, were entirely false.
6. Where is He?
For years, there has been a conspiracy theory that Adolf Hitler never died following World War II, and that he ran away to live in Argentina. In 2009, a group of forensic scientists wanted to settle the rumor once and for all. The Russian government is responsible for holding on to his remains, and they allowed scientists to run a test on the famous piece of Hitler’s skull. The tests revealed the skull belonged to a female.
5. Clearing Out Space
NASA is the United State’s national space program that is controlled by the government. You would think that a government agency’s records would be near perfect, but in reality, they made a huge mistake: they deleted the original video footage of the moon landing. They had to gather video from TV stations who made sure to hold on to the footage in order to re-assemble their own new, restored copy.
4. Never Forget
The CIA had been trying to find and take down Osama Bin Laden since 1990, so they were fully aware of many terrorists who didn’t like the United States. The CIA didn’t share information with the FBI (or any other agency for that matter!) about the arrival of at least two well-known Al-Qaeda operatives on US soil in 2000. These two men, Nawaf Alhamzi and Khalid Al-Midhar, were two of the hijackers responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Insider sources have blamed professional rivalries and poor protocols for inter-agency communication for the lack of coordination. Had the FBI been informed, it’s likely that these two men would have been watched by the FBI, and it’s possible the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks could have been prevented.
3. You’ve Got the Wrong Guy!
By the year 2003, the CIA had captured around 3,000 people under the suspicion of being involved in Al-Qaeda. Many of these people are presumed to be innocent. One man in particular, named Khaled el-Masri, was kidnapped because he had the same name as a criminal. He was imprisoned for five months before the CIA realized their mistake.
US intelligence helped Saddam Hussein’s Party seize power in 1963. Evidence suggests that Saddam may have been on the CIA’s payroll as early as 1959, which is when he participated in a failed assassination attempt against Iraqi strongman Abd al-Karim Qassem. In the 1980s, the US government (as well as Britain’s government) backed Saddam in the war against Iran. The United States provided him with arms, money, satellite intelligence, and materials for chemical weapons. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, many of the Iraqi forces they fought against were shooting at American soldiers with guns and ammunitions purchased by the United States government.
In the 1960’s, the CIA used the as a spot to spy on the Chinese nuclear missile tests. They convinced a group of Sherpa men to help them carry a plutonium-filled device called a “SNAP unit” up mount Nada Devi. However, they totally underestimated the power of nature. A snow storm forced them to hide the SNAP unit in a crevice, and wait until spring to return. When they came back, it was missing. They found evidence that the plutonium device slid down the hill… never to be seen again.