Chapter VII

Concluding Observations

The National Security Act of 1947 charged the Central Intelligence Agency with coordinating intelligence activity for the United States and with correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence concerning America's national security. The mission of CIA implied in that legislation is to inform the President and other senior-level officials responsible for formulating effective foreign and security policies. That mission was especially important during the Cold War when the global contest between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the international relations of both countries.

The goal of the conference at Princeton University was to determine how well the CIA, in concert with the rest of the Intelligence Community, helped US national security policymakers understand events in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and thereby equipped them to formulate policies to cope with the threat from what was perceived as a belligerent nation bent on destroying the United States. [1] In evaluating the Agency's work, the conference participants in essence considered two related questions:

(1) How good was the analysis on the Soviet Union that CIA and the Intelligence Community provided to policymakers?

(2) How much impact or influence did it have on the making of US government policy?

The consensus of the conference on the first question was that, overall, the analysis CIA's DI provided on Soviet issues across the board was good to excellent--although the author of each conference paper pointed out that there were significant shortcomings along the way. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, said in a luncheon address to the conference that he found CIA analysts over the years to be "intensely able, dedicated," and deserving of "truly high praise for their inventiveness, for their daring." He singled out the President's Daily Brief--CIA's most sensitive and closely held current intelligence product--as perhaps the most important communication between the Agency and the President. He found the quality of the reporting to be excellent and "very helpful to the President on some major issues, most notably arms control and the strategic dimension." As noted earlier in this volume, Douglas Garthoff gave CIA's political analysts high marks for analysis that represented the views of well-grounded and politically impartial experts. In the economics field, James Noren's paper described an impressive array of high-quality CIA analysis including ground-breaking national income accounting work and production-function analysis. Ernest May gave the Agency's analysis of the US policymaking process a grade of "A-." Richard Kerr said that, although the process of producing analysis at the Agency was "messy," the resulting product was good.

Critics of the Agency continue, of course, to maintain that CIA's analysis often should have been much better, as it missed such important developments as the timing of the Soviet atomic bomb, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslavia. They point out that the Agency also overestimated the size of Soviet strategic forces and underestimated the Soviet's regional force deployment and buildup. Also, as mentioned earlier, they assert that CIA failed to foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Measuring the degree to which US policymakers read, understood, and acted on the intelligence assessments they received is a much more difficult and complicated task. Conflicting views on this were expressed at the conference. Ernest May borrowed Sir Jeffrey Vickers' concept of "reality judgments"--that is, analysis that answers the question, "What's going on?" versus "What difference does it make?" or "What should be done about it?" In May's view, the Intelligence Community is responsible only for answering the question "What's going on?" He concluded that the "reality judgments" provided by the DI did "shape the appreciation of the US government as a whole" and "did so decisively."

On the other hand, a number of speakers and audience participants thought the DI's analysis often was less effective than it could have been. Richard Kerr, for example, pointed out that the Intelligence Community often fell short in its responsibility to find out what was important and how to deal with policymakers. "We sometimes didn't have the slightest idea about the nature of the immediate consumers we were providing the information to," he said. "We didn't understand what drove them. We didn't understand their biases." Some participants complained that CIA's analysis was too late, too long, too complex, or did not answer the questions policymakers wanted answered. Others said policymakers often were too busy to read the intelligence that was provided to them and noted as well that high-level officials often were reluctant or unwilling to communicate their pressing policy concerns to the Intelligence Community. Brzezinski, while stating that he was a voracious consumer of the DI's analytic products, indicated that "we, at the level at which I was working, did not assist the Agency all that much in determining what would best help us. This I regret because I know that the Agency would have been more helpful if it had been more deliberately tasked, very specifically tasked, with clearer emphasis on what was needed, and perhaps with clearer identification earlier of what really is not all that helpful to the top policymakers." [2]

CIA's Directorate of Intelligence has wrestled with how to best serve the policymakers' need for analytic intelligence since it was first established. In the mid-1990s, the DI underwent a number of fundamental changes in approach and emphasis in an effort to make the policymaker the driving factor in intelligence production and to redefine its analytic tradecraft to emphasize "facts" and the "findings" derived from them. [3] Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin, in luncheon remarks to the conference, spoke of the continued attention being given to how the Agency does its analysis and how it focuses its analytical resources:

I am conscious every day of how important it is for our analysts to chal­lenge the conventional wisdom, to separate what we really know from what we merely think--to consider alternatives; in short, not to fall victim to mindset, overconfidence, or maybe someone's pet paradigm. Our country and its interests are at their most vulnerable if its intelligence professionals are not always ready for something completely different.

McLaughlin said that the Intelligence Community currently was:

  • Repositioning itself institutionally to meet the changing nature of the new world, including paying more attention to nontraditional areas, such as demographics, disease, and water scarcity while continuing to chart trends in energy, economic development, and weaponry.

  • Giving a high priority to providing analysts with the technical tools they need to deal with the growing problems of the volume and speed of information.

  • Strengthening the community's analytic ranks through recruiting drives, intensive training programs, more opportunities to travel, and by various programs to engage outside experts in the Intelligence Community's work.

All things considered, the results of the conference at Princeton University indicated that although CIA's analysis during the Cold War was not always correct, it played an important role in US decisionmaking process. The Agency sought to establish a larger strategic context for assessing Soviet intentions, threats, and capabilities. Understanding that Moscow's military power required a strong economy, it produced regular assessments throughout the Cold War of Soviet economic problems. It grasped early the virulence of revolutionary nationalism in the Soviet Union and warned about the Kremlin's ability to harness it for its own ends. In the final analysis, the fact that the Cold War did not become a "hot" war is a powerful indicator that US policymakers, with Intelligence Community assistance, generally had a good understanding of military, political, and economic issues in the Soviet Union and their implications for the West.



[1] The conference examined the record with regard only to the finished analytic documents produced by the Directorate of Intelligence as well as selected National Intelligence Estimates on the Soviet Union. The current intelligence documents produced on a daily basis by the Intelligence Community, as well as an assortment of raw intelligence provided to policymakers, were not examined. As a result, the conference considered only a partial picture of the analysis provided to US policymakers during the Cold War, albeit a very large and important segment of the intelligence that was made available.

[2] A critical assessment of the DI's tradecraft done in the early to mid-1990s found that the DI's analysis failed to recognize that high-level officials were almost always up-to-date on events in the Soviet Union that affected their most pressing policy concerns. They had staffs dedicated to keeping them informed, and they had ready access to reporting through diplomatic and defense channels, open sources, and even raw intelligence. They also routinely talked to the "DI's competitors," such as their foreign counterparts, journalists, academicians, contractors, and lobbyists. See Douglas J. MacEachin, The Tradecraft of Analysis: Challenge and Change in the CIA (Washington, DC: Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, 1994), p. 9.








Historical Document
Posted: Mar 16, 2007 09:03 AM
Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 01:06 PM