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Failure To Predict What Did Not Happen

Failure To Predict What Did Not Happen

The record of CIA analytical products illustrates one of the points made in the report of the HPSCI Review Committee-that some of the criticisms levied at CIA stem from public misconceptions and from critics' distortions of what, in fact, happened. The CIA did not, for example, describe a sudden economic ``collapse'' that was roughly synonymous or coincident with a breakup of the Soviet Union itself. Those who believe that is what happened will disagree with CIA's analysis, but they also should be required to show the case for their ``collapse'' interpretation.

The CIA did not forecast the breakup, either in timing or form, with the same sense of inevitability that is touted in many of the retrospectives critical of CIA's assessments. The Agency did predict that the failing economy and stultifying societal conditions it had described in so many of its studies would ultimately provoke some kind of political confrontation within the USSR. The timing of this confrontation, however, depended on the emergence of a leadership to initiate it, and its form depended on the specific actions of that leadership.

After that leadership finally appeared in the form of Gorbachev, the consequences of its actions-well intentioned but flawed-were dependent on diverse political variables and decisions that could be and were postulated but could not be predicted even by the principal actors themselves. Many of the critical events were precipitated and shaped by decisions made by Gorbachev that even he-at the time he assumed power-could not have predicted that he would make. When, for example, did he decide to undertake his September 1988 ``housecleaning,'' and what would have been the outcome had he not done it?

It was by no means inevitable that the new leadership would appear when it did or follow the particular course that it did. It was not inevitable that Chernyenko would die when he did. And if he had not, how much longer would the Soviet Union have muddled along?

It was not inevitable that Gorbachev would succeed Chernyenko. Indeed, the effort among Soviet political apparachiki to head off his apparent succession was of sufficient prominence that US Embassy reporting shortly before the death of Chernyenko speculated that Moscow Party boss Grishin had become the leading contender. This same view was carried back from Moscow by a prominent US academic who had been there just before Chernyenko's death. Had Grishin succeeded Gorbachev, would the Soviet Union have broken up in 1991?

"The economic and societal conditions made it inevitable that something would happen. That was clearly reported by CIA. What actually did happen depended on people and decisions that were not inevitable.''

The timing and outcome of the coup attempt clearly were not susceptible to econometric forecasts of inevitable outcomes as seems to be implied in some of the criticism. Would the outcome have been the same if the Russian elections-made possible by Gorbachev's political actions-had not put Boris Yel'tsin in the position to take the stand that he did? Were the actions of the military-of Pavel Grachev-inevitable?

The economic and societal conditions made it inevitable that something would happen. That was clearly reported by the CIA. What actually did happen depended on people and decisions that were not inevitable. The CIA's record in tracking this process and describing longer term implications is available for review.

 

 


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 02:26 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:10 PM