Studies in Intelligence

During the entire period of the long Cold War (1945-1991), the United States faced in the USSR an adversary it believed was bent on world domination. US intelligence was pressed to focus much of its attention on the Soviet Union and attempted to understand its leaders, discern their intentions, and calculate the capabilities of a closed, totalitarian society. It was a formidable task. Nevertheless, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US Intelligence Community provided US policymakers with a wealth of information and analysis.

How good was this intelligence? Some critics have charged that the Agency and the Intelligence Community failed to accurately assess the political, economic, military, and scientific state of the Soviet Union. Some argue that the CIA gravely miscalculated Soviet military power and intentions and even missed the signposts on the road to the final downfall of the Soviet empire. Others believe that the intelligence was adequate but that policy miscues led to missed opportunities to relieve tensions or speed the transformation in the USSR.

Now, more than ten years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we have a chance to review a representative sample of this intelligence and to judge more accurately whether US intelligence was truly "asleep at the switch." The CIA released over 80,000 pages of newly declassified materials relating to its role in providing intelligence to US policymakers on the Soviet Union. Several well-known scholars were asked to review these and earlier released materials and to critique CIA's analysis of Soviet political, economic, military, and science and technology developments. This volume is the result of that effort.

In March 2001, the Agency co-sponsored with Princeton University a conference on this topic, which provided an in-depth review of the issues. I attended the conference, and after reviewing the documentation and reflecting on the task these scholars faced, I must say I found the essays fascinating for their nearly comprehensive portrayal of the US effort. From my perspective, the Intelligence Community worked much better than many assumed. Much of my career in the American Foreign Service was spent studying the Soviet Union. As Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan (1983-1986) and as US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1987-1991), I had access to and relied on US intelligence data on all aspects of Soviet developments. It was not always right, and it missed certain developments. But, I must say, it was right more often than not. Intelligence, one should remember, is rarely perfect, however much we would like it to be. For the most part, and I say this from personal experience, the CIA and its partners in the intelligence business provided policymakers with timely and useful intelligence which helped them formulate and carry out effective US policies.

This volume is invaluable in helping to understand not only US intelligence analysis, but also the bureaucratic process involved in the production of finished intelligence, and, finally, its impact on US policymakers. Moreover, given the tragic events of 11 September 2001 and the sudden emergence of a new focus for America's intelligence--international terrorism--I would suggest to critics and would-be reformers that they begin any discussion of US intelligence with a thorough reading of this thought-provoking examination of the US intelligence analysis effort against the hardest target of the Cold War, the Soviet Union.

Jack F. Matlock, Jr.

Former US Ambassador to the USSR


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 16, 2007 09:03 AM
Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 01:03 PM