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“We got him,” said President Barack Obama, leaning back in the White House Situation Room, after watching the killing of Osama bin Laden on video link. Sure, the retort might be—but while intelligence services were hunting the al-Qaeda leader, they failed to foresee the Arab Spring. British and US services were wrong about Iraq’s weapons, and worse, its propensity for civil war; years before that, they failed to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union.

What should we expect of the intelligence services? A decade after the September 11th attacks, the answer matters. It affects whether we feel safe in…

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