Library

 

Introduction and Overview of Conference Papers

Studies in Intelligence

"CIA's Analysis of the Soviet Union, 1947-1991" was the subject of a conference at Princeton University on 9 and 10 March 2001, sponsored by Princeton's Center of International Studies and the Center for the Study of Intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The conference drew experts including former and current analysts from CIA, members of the academic community, former members of the US policymaking community, and representatives of the media. The goal of the conference was to assess how well CIA--specifically its major analytic component, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI)--in concert with other agencies in the US Intelligence Community helped policymakers in Washington understand and gauge the readiness and the plans of Soviet military forces, the state of the Soviet economy, the capabilities of Soviet military technology, and the policies and internal workings of the Kremlin throughout the Cold War.

The conference was divided into seven sessions or panels. The first five focused on the organizational evolution of the DI and on CIA's analysis of Soviet economic, political, military, and scientific and technological developments during the Cold War. The sixth session assessed the extent to which Western analyses of the Soviet Union may have influenced the USSR's policymaking process. A seventh panel featured a roundtable discussion of how influential CIA's analysis had been on the foreign policymaking process in Washington.

The papers featured in this volume were presented at the first six panel sessions of the Princeton conference. A panel of experts provided comments on the papers and presented their own views on the subjects being reviewed. All of the panels were followed by open discussion among the authors of the papers, panel members, and the audience.

An examination of CIA's analytic record and performance from the early Cold War years through the collapse of the Soviet Union was made possible by the declassification and release for the conference of almost 900 documents produced by the DI. In addition, the authors of the papers and the scholars at the conference were able to draw upon a sizable collection--close to 2,700 documents--of previously declassified and released analytic documents on the USSR published by CIA between 1947 and 1991.

All of the declassified documents are available at the National Archives and Records Administration; those released specifically for the conference also are available on the CIA Electronic Document Release Center (or FOIA) Website at http://www.foia.ucia.gov. Absent from this collection of documents is the diet of CIA's daily current intelligence reporting and analysis tailored for the President and his closest circle of most senior policy advisers in the form of the Daily Intelligence Summary, later the President's Intelligence Checklist, and more recently the President's Daily Brief and the National Intelligence Daily. The contents of these all-source daily reports, while presumably influential, still are deemed too sensitive for declassification.

The six papers prepared for the conference are summarized below. In some instances, editorial comments are provided in an effort to put some of the issues in context or to raise issues for possible future research and discussion. The papers can be found in their entirety in Chapters I though VI. Speeches and concluding remarks follow in Chapters VII and VIII.

 

Origins of CIA's Analysis of the Soviet Union

Donald Steury's paper focuses on the evolution of an independent, analytical capability at the Central Intelligence Agency during the early years of the Cold War and the Agency's existence. Steury traces the development of the Central Intelligence Agency from the creation of the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in 1946 through the tenure of Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) in 1950-51. It was during this period that the nucleus of the Agency's future analytic organization--the DI and a Board of National Estimates (BNE)--was formed.

According to Steury, some US officials opposed the creation of a civilian intelligence agency, fearing it might become an American Gestapo. President Harry Truman, however, concerned with preventing another Pearl Harbor, created the Central Intelligence Group as a "sort of holding company whose main function would be the coordination of departmental intelligence." The first DCI, Rear Adm. Sidney W. Souers, was given a staff of only 29 people (17 of them on loan from other departments) and was dependent on the Department of State and the War and Navy Departments for both staff and funding.

Meanwhile, the military services, the Department of State, and the FBI jealously controlled their information and their role as intelligence policy advisors to the President. According to Steury, the military resented having to provide military data to a civilian agency and felt "civilians could not understand, let alone analyze, military intelligence data." Similarly, the Department of State immediately challenged the CIG on the issue of access to the President. When Truman asked for a daily intelligence summary from the CIG, Secretary of State James Byrnes insisted that State provide the President with a daily report as well. As a result, Truman received daily summaries from both the CIG and State. Thus, the War Department and the Department of State remained the focal point for providing analysis on the Soviet Union during this period. The CIG, with the creation of an Office of Reports and Estimates, concentrated on producing the Daily Intelligence Summary for the President.

The passage of the National Security Act and the creation of the CIA in 1947 did not greatly alter the situation. According to Steury, the "new kid on the block" found itself trying to carve out an analytical role in a pre-existing and bureaucratically entrenched national security establishment.

Steury claims that neither the CIG nor the early CIA was capable of meeting America's early postwar intelligence requirements on the Soviet Union. The War Department was producing detailed, high-quality, analyses on Soviet military capabilities and making long-term projections about Moscow's intentions. Only after Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the American Military Governor in Germany, sent his famous "war warning" cable to Washington on 5 March 1948 did CIA get more actively involved in analytical assessments. Steury argues that the true motive of the Army leadership in seizing on Clay's cable was to justify increases in the US defense budget. Regarding the war warning crisis, CIA analysts took the position that the Soviet Union was unlikely to deliberately initiate war in the foreseeable future, despite its strong military position in Europe.

From this point on, the mission of CIA's analysts quickly grew, according to Steury. In addition to producing daily current intelligence and long-term estimates, they were asked to do wide-ranging research on topics such as economics, transportation, and geography. Also, in his view, bureaucratic opportunism played a role. While the Department of State and the military services remained adamant that political and military analysis should not be tasked to CIA, they left scientific and, increasingly, economic analysis to the Agency.

Following the recommendation of the Dulles-Jackson-Correa report, DCI Walter Bedell Smith created the BNE in 1950-51 and added the DI in January 1952. The Board was supported by an Office of National Estimates (ONE) and gradually became a major research organization in its own right. At the same time, CIA reached a landmark agreement with the Department of State that gave the Agency responsibility for economic research and analysis on the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. (The State Department retained primacy in political analysis.) The DI subsequently developed models of the Soviet economy that, with modifications over the ensuing decades, provided US policymakers invaluable insights into the USSR's massive but cumbersome economy. Gradually, the CIA assumed a broad mandate for analysis, especially with regard to the Soviet Union.

 

Assessing Soviet Economic Performance

CIA's Directorate of Intelligence allocated a large share of its analytic resources from 1947 to 1991 to the Soviet Union in general and to the Soviet economy in particular. Two watershed events in this effort were the recruitment of Max Millikan, an economist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to head the Office of Research and Reports (ORR) [1] --which focused on basic intelligence reporting including, most prominently, economic intelligence--and the agreement with the Department of State mentioned earlier, which enabled ORR to assume responsibility for economic research and analysis on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

James Noren, a leading expert in the DI's effort to analyze the Soviet economy during much of the Cold War, provides a first-hand account of the work the DI produced during this period. His paper chronicles an array of intelligence assessments of the Soviet economy and a record of significant achievements by CIA and the US Intelligence Community. It lays out how the DI attained the five goals set by Millikan for the Agency's economic analysis of the Soviet Union during the Cold War:

  • To help estimate the magnitude of present and future military threats by assessing the resources available to a potential enemy--now and in the future.

  • To estimate the character and location of possible military threats--how potential enemies have invested their resources.

  • To assist in divining the intentions of potential enemies in the conviction that how they act in the economic sphere is likely to reveal real intentions.

  • To help policymakers decide what can be done to reduce possible or probable military threats by impairing the enemy's capabilities.

  • To assist in establishing and projecting relative strengths of East and West.

Noren contends that all of Millikan's goals for CIA's economic intelligence were fulfilled:

Over the years, CIA learned a great deal about the Soviet economy, and shared its findings not only with policymakers but also academia and the general public… The Agency's economic analysis contributed to a better understanding of the threat posed by the Soviets in both economic and military spheres, and restrained a general tendency to exaggerate that threat. Noel Firth and I opined in our book that, in the absence of the defense-spending estimates, "The prevailing view of Soviet military pro­grams would have been more alarmist and US defense spending during the Cold War would have been much higher."

In his paper, Noren describes how CIA's economics division, which was small and largely unrecognized in the early 1950s, grew in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to become arguably the preeminent organization in the West engaged in analysis of the Soviet economy. Along the way, according to Noren, the DI undertook some precedent-setting work. For example, the Agency's economic analysts constructed a set of national income accounts for the USSR that built on the pioneering work of Professor Abram Bergson and his colleagues at Columbia, Harvard, and the RAND Corporation. Also, at a time when production-function analysis was in its infancy in the United States, CIA developed measures of combined-factor productivity--the efficiency with which labor, capital, and land were used--for the Soviet Union. These constructs became the backbone of the Agency's analysis of Soviet economic trends. They provided a way for the DI to gauge the rate of growth of the Soviet economy and to answer structural questions about it--such as how fast the USSR's capital stock was growing, whether or not living standards were improving, and how much of a burden defense spending was placing on the economy. They also provided a basis for international comparisons of the size and structure of the Soviet economy.

At the same time, according to Noren, the DI provided US policymakers with timely and useful analysis on a wide range of economic issues. CIA's analysis assessed the strengths, weaknesses, and prospects of the individual industrial, agricultural, transportation, communications, and energy sectors in the USSR in detail and on a continuing basis. The Agency followed Soviet agriculture, for instance, with state-of-the-art methods of predicting grain yields. According to Noren, coverage of Soviet agriculture, particularly the models of grain production, provided critical information that enabled US policymakers to successfully gauge large changes in Soviet grain production and therefore possible Soviet purchases in world markets. Noren pointed out that the Department of Defense was an eager customer of CIA's estimates, expressed in US dollars, of the cost of Soviet military programs. He noted that in 1977 Secretary of Defense Harold Brown had characterized the dollar estimates as "providing the best, single aggregated measure of US and Soviet defense efforts." Finally, Noren noted that the Agency took the lead in assessing the role of technology transfer in the USSR's economic and military development. According to Noren, the DI's analysts found that the technology gap--in the West's favor--was large and widening over the course of the Cold War, that the Soviet system of planning and management retarded the assimilation and diffusion of new technology, and that the volume of Soviet imports was too small relative to total investment to have a substantial effect overall.

Meanwhile, the Agency regularly provided assessments of the state of the Soviet economy to US policymakers. Noren points to a succession of analytic papers going as far back as the early 1960s that described a slow and steady decline in the rate of economic growth, a lack of improvement in the quality of life in Soviet society, and finally growing indications of political destabilization that ultimately resulted in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

  • The Agency's measures of Gross National Product (GNP) indicated that Soviet economic growth was slowing over time. Indeed, as early as 1963, CIA reported that Soviet GNP had grown only by a modest 2.5 percent, largely debunking Nikita Khrushchev's boast that the USSR would overtake the United States. By 1982, CIA was forecasting that Soviet GNP growth would average only 1.4 percent in the 1980s, projections that tracked well with actual 1980s growth.

  • The Agency's productivity analysis painted a pessimistic picture of the future of the Soviet economy. In 1961-63, for instance, CIA reported that the rate of growth of factor productivity had fallen to 2 percent per year compared with almost 5 percent per year in 1954-60. A 1970 paper concluded that returns on new capital were "strongly diminishing" and that a higher rate of capital formation would "not insure even a continuation of present rates of economic growth."

  • CIA's analysis of Soviet industry uncovered major vulnerabilities that were slowing the growth of industrial output--shortages of raw materials, slower growth in energy supplies, and rail bottlenecks--as well as the continuing priority given to the military, increasing planning snafus, and foreign trade rigidities.

  • CIA's analysis of the worth of a succession of economic "reforms" in the USSR was consistently skeptical. The DI's analysis found most reform programs--the 1965 Kosygin reform program, for instance, and the reform proposals that surfaced in 1957, 1965, and 1979, as well those put forward by Gorbachev--to be too "timid" and predicted they would yield only small positive results.

Finally, Noren also cites an impressive number of analytic papers done by the DI that were skeptical of Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroyka. These papers describe "financial imbalances and inflation," an economy "out of control," ill-conceived policies, partial economic reforms, misdirected investment resources, and a failure to improve living standards. Overall, the analysis done by the DI during the Gorbachev years, Noren asserts, painted a consistently pessimistic picture of an economy that was going steadily downhill. According to Noren, "The Agency tracked and projected an economy drifting toward stagnation, posing extremely difficult choices for Soviet leaders."

At the same time, Noren's paper reveals that some of the Agency's assessments were considerably off the mark. He indicates, for instance, that while CIA's analysis was correct on the fundamental problems that eventually brought about a fall in oil production in the USSR, the Agency's 1977 estimate of oil reserves in the USSR was too low, and its analysts did not take sufficient account of Moscow's willingness to shift men and equipment--in massive numbers--to the development of the Siberian oil fields in the middle of a five-year plan. The Agency's abrupt reassessment in 1976 of its ruble defense-spending numbers led to a lack of confidence in the Agency's work among some members of the Administration and Congress. Noren also points out that CIA's analysis of Soviet military power and intentions missed the mark in the late 1970s. A review of CIA's estimates of Soviet defense spending in 1982 found that while outlays for military procurement had leveled-off in the USSR since 1975 and the growth in total defense spending had slowed in real terms, the Agency's assessments continued to maintain that defense spending was rising at the historic rates of 4 to 5 percent per year.

The accuracy of CIA's analysis of the Soviet economy has been questioned, and has become the subject of substantial debate since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Noren's analysis buttresses the assessments of a number of other analysts who maintain that the Agency did as well as could be expected in anticipating the collapse of the Soviet economy in the early 1990s. [2] Other analysts, meanwhile, continue to disagree. They charge very broadly that CIA failed in one of its main missions--to accurately assess the political, economic, and military state of the Soviet Union. [3]

 

Analyzing Soviet Politics and Foreign Policy

Douglas F. Garthoff, a former analyst and senior official at CIA, provided an account of the Agency's analysis of Soviet politics and foreign policy and also described the organizational changes that affected the production of political analysis within CIA during the Cold War. He recounted CIA's reading of political events in the USSR beginning with the initial reporting to the President by CIA's predecessor organization--the CIG--in mid-February 1946, through the Stalin and Khrushchev periods, the Brezhnev and post-Brezhnev eras, and finally the controversial Gorbachev period.

On the whole, Garthoff assigns the Agency and the Intelligence Community high grades for political analysis, describing the views of experts "who had immersed themselves in the subject rather deeply and who had no policy-driven axes to grind in forming their conclusions." At the same time, he is critical of the Agency's cautious or conservative approach in evaluating statements regarding Soviet foreign policy. According to Garthoff:

There seems to have been a bias in favor of not making analytic mistakes in the direction of being too "optimistic" about Soviet policy choices, proba­bly in the conviction that this was the most prudent and therefore most responsible way to shape analysis for senior US policymakers.

Garthoff asserts that two other biases were built into CIA's analysis of Soviet foreign policy: (1) that threats to US interests were more important to identify for US policymakers than opportunities for advancing US policy interests; and (2) that attention to the military dimension of the Soviet threat dwarfed all other aspects of the analysis of the USSR. [4] Garthoff acknowledges that the Agency's basic mission was, and still is, to warn of possible military threats to the United States. Nonetheless, he maintains, "CIA sometimes attempted to relate appreciations of Soviet military strength to Moscow's general foreign policy in ways that emphasized the military or assertive aspects of Soviet policy." He leaves open the question of how the Agency could have done a better job of integrating its analysis of the political, economic, and military dimensions of Soviet policymaking.

In his concluding section, Garthoff addresses the issue of whether or not CIA predicted the demise of the USSR. He gives the Agency relatively high grades for the quality of its effort:

The papers currently available show that CIA's analysts interpreted Gor­bachev's words and actions as serious efforts to bring about real change in the USSR, that the analysts kept pace with changes as they occurred and thought through their possible implications, and that they understood after a while that the impact of Gorbachev's changes might turn out to be beyond his expectations, understanding and control. It may be said of CIA that it did not predict with exactitude that Gorbachev would fall or when he would fall, but it also must be acknowledged that CIA documented many indications of the troubles he encountered (and engendered) and the seriousness of their danger to his political health.

Garthoff cites a number of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) and intelligence assessments as examples of the tenor of the Agency's analysis during the Gorbachev period, including the following:

  • An NIE published in November 1987 titled Whither Gorbachev: Soviet Policy and Politics in the 1990s, which concluded that Gorbachev's intent was to be bold and visionary and that he was "now convinced that he must make significant changes to the system, not just tinker at the margins." The estimate goes on to say that Soviet foreign policy was in for "profound" changes, with a de-emphasis on military intimidation as a policy instrument and a reduction in tension with the West so that growth in defense spending could be constrained.

  • A December 1988 intelligence assessment titled Gorbachev's September Housecleaning: An Early Evaluation, which stated that "new thinking" on national security and foreign policy involving a "more pragmatic, non-ideological approach to foreign affairs" was now more likely.

  • A March 1990 intelligence assessment that described reform in the USSR as at "a critical juncture," and warned that domestic problems threatened to overwhelm perestroika, that Gorbachev had to choose between moving more decisively toward democracy and economic reform or backtracking on both, and that near-term instability and conflict seemed likely to persist and possibly intensify.

Garthoff's ability to assess comprehensively the Agency's analysis of political events for more than four decades was, in his view, limited. He writes that his paper deals only "with high points of topmost level leadership politics and policies" and "the main lines of the basic East-West competition" with respect to Soviet foreign policy issues. One constraint he faced was the uneven availability of declassified CIA studies dealing with Soviet political and foreign policy issues, a problem that plagued all authors of the papers in this volume. But the problem was most severe in the political area, according to Garthoff, because previous declassification efforts involving CIA's analyses of the USSR resulted in the release of relatively larger and more representative samples of documents dealing with military and economic affairs. [5] The fact that the conference covered the entire Cold War period from 1947 through 1991 also was a problem. Garthoff found that addressing all of the major events over that entire time period posed a daunting task. [6]

A careful reading of Garthoff's paper points out the need to understand the organizational structure of the Agency and how it changed over time if one is to fully comprehend CIA's role in providing political analysis to policymakers. Much of the Agency's early political analysis, for instance, was provided to policymakers in the form of current intelligence--daily, short-term assessments of events as they unfolded--although long-term research papers were done early on as well, such as, the so-called CAESAR and ESAU papers produced by the Senior Research Staff and its predecessor. [7] The formation of the Office of Soviet Analysis in 1981 was a significant organizational change in that it brought together military, political, and economic analysts in one office and provided the basis for a more multidisciplinary approach to Soviet issues.

On the other hand, the abolition of the ONE's board and staff in 1973 was a less positive development. ONE was replaced by a system of National Intelligence Officers responsible for drafting NIEs for geographic or specific subject areas. In the process, the collegial structure that had existed in ONE--in which the Board reviewed each National Estimate--was lost. The effect of structural change on the Agency's analysis is a subject that warrants further research and study.

Finally, Garthoff necessarily relies heavily on NIEs to chart the course of the political analyses done by CIA and the Intelligence Community during the Cold War. NIEs, the DCI's most authoritative written judgments on the Soviet Union, present the views of the entire Intelligence Community. The text of an NIE generally reflects the Agency's analytic position on the issues; when it does not, the Agency's position is stated in a dissent. On balance, the judgments reached in NIEs usually paralleled those reached by the DI in its own, ad hoc intelligence assessments.

 

Analysis of Soviet Science and Technology

Clarence E. Smith asserts in his essay, "CIA's Analysis of Soviet Science and Technology," that a revolution in technical intelligence collection capabilities at CIA during the Cold War led to the development of new analytic techniques as well. These advances ultimately brought significant successes in discerning Soviet scientific and technical capabilities, especially with respect to advanced offensive and defensive weapons. Smith describes the difficulties CIA and the US Intelligence Community faced in collecting intelligence on hard targets in the denied areas of the Soviet Bloc. Traditional espionage, severely restricted at the time, was not producing the needed information. As a result, US policymakers feared another surprise attack that could be far more devastating than the one on Pearl Harbor. For example, on 23 April 1952, DCI Walter Bedell Smith told the National Security Council:

In view of the efficiency of the Soviet security organization, it is not believed that the present United States intelligence system, or any instru­mentality which the United States is presently capable of providing, includ­ing the available intelligence assets of other friendly states, can produce strategic intelligence on the Soviet Union with the degree of accuracy and timeliness which the National Security Council would like to have and which I would like to provide. Moreover, despite the utmost vigilance, despite watch committees, and all of the other mechanics for the prompt evaluation and transmission of intelligence, there is no real assurance that, in the event of sudden undeclared hostilities, certain advance warning can be provided.

Smith describes how civilian scientists, led by James Killian of MIT and Edwin M. Land as part of a Technological Capabilities Panel established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, found that the Intelligence Community needed to "increase the number of hard facts upon which our intelligence estimates are based to provide better strategic warning, minimize surprise in the event of an attack, and reduce the danger of gross overestimation or gross underestimation." To counter the Soviet threat the panel recommended a vigorous program using the most advanced knowledge in science and technology.

This, according to Smith, led CIA and the Intelligence Community, in partnership with private corporations, to develop revolutionary collection programs designed to provide the needed intelligence data. CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), later to become the Directorate of Science and Technology, spearheaded the effort that included advances in collecting electronic intelligence (ELINT), the development of manned reconnaissance platforms, and the creation of space-based imaging satellites.

Smith notes that the flow of new data brought a revolution in analysis as Intelligence Community analysts worked to assimilate and make sense of it. At the outset of the Cold War, CIA had only a small analytic unit, the OSI, to analyze Soviet atomic capabilities. In May 1954, DCI Allen Dulles approved a dedicated ELINT program to intercept non-communication signals associated with the USSR's ability to deliver atomic bombs or weapons of mass destruction, as well as signals associated with its defensive systems. According to Smith, this unique program allowed CIA analysts to dissect, early on, Soviet missile and satellite telemetry data and to assess the performance of Soviet missile systems.

Smith's paper also discusses the use of the U-2 high-attitude reconnaissance aircraft developed by the Agency in cooperation with the Air Force and the Lockheed Corporation. The U-2, first flown over the Soviet Union on 4 July 1956, helped settle the "bomber gap" issue with overhead imagery of the Soviet Union. Later photo imagery was invaluable in also dispelling the "missile gap" issue and in determining the precise location of Soviet strategic delivery systems and Soviet defensive systems. Smith describes how the U-2 eventually became a dual-use reconnaissance platform, capable of collecting both imagery and ELINT. CIA's OXCART program, better known by its Air Force designator SR-71 (or Blackbird), followed the U-2 and brought technological breakthroughs in aerodynamic design, engine performance, and stealth techniques.

Smith also details the role of the Agency in the development of the first space reconnaissance program, CORONA, and rates the technical advances made in camera systems and orbital life as "simply phenomenal." By September 1964, CORONA had photographed all 25 of the existing Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) complexes. While stressing CIA's role, Smith credits the entire Intelligence Community for contributing to the technological breakthroughs. In his view the new collection systems enabled US policymakers to become increasingly confident in their ability to discern Soviet military capabilities and to provide warnings of possible Soviet attack. In turn, he believes these pioneering collection systems made possible the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and the signing of arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union because they provided the United States with the means to verify Soviet compliance.

 

Estimating Soviet Military Intentions and Capabilities

Raymond L. Garthoff's paper addresses how CIA responded to policymakers' questions about Soviet military power and intentions. Garthoff traces the gradual development of CIA's role in military analysis from the "bomber gap" and "missile gap" controversies in the 1950s and early 1960s to questions surrounding Soviet intentions concerning nuclear parity or superiority in the 1970s, to the Agency's estimates of Moscow's growing military power in the 1980s and 1990s. He argues that CIA's analysis was not always right, nor always accepted, but that it played a predominant role in the US policymaking process because it was "more correct, more often."

Implicit in CIA's analysis of Soviet military power, according to Garthoff, was an assumption that we were dealing with a "given," an objective and established reality. There was little recognition, Garthoff argues, that the underlying reality might have been contingent and dynamic and, at least in part, reactive--that Soviet intentions and military programs might have been significantly affected by US policies and actions, and that US intelligence assessments and their consequences for US policy and military programs might have influenced the nature and extent of the very threat being analyzed. According to Garthoff, the main reason for this blind spot was the tendency of CIA analysts to see Soviet objectives, intentions, and capabilities as principally, if not exclusively, offensive in nature.

Like Donald Steury, Garthoff asserts that CIA analysis, especially of Soviet military affairs in the earliest years of the Cold War, was neither especially stellar nor influential, although this would soon change. At the outset, even though CIA had a voice, the most important judgments regarding Soviet intentions fell to others, especially the US military. When the CIA was established, according to Garthoff, there was a general understanding that the Army, Navy, and the newly created Air Force would exercise primary responsibility for military intelligence. Garthoff argues convincingly that during the 1950s the US military seriously miscalculated the threat posed by Soviet forces. He cites as examples of underestimation: the growth of Soviet military expenditure in the mid-1950s, the size of Soviet Army ground forces, the number of Soviet medium bombers, and the availability of uranium and U-235. The US military overestimated the growth of the Soviet submarine force and the production of Soviet long-range bombers, which led to the so-called "bomber gap." Garthoff points out that instead of the 700-800 long-range bombers the US Air Force estimated from 1955 to 1957, Moscow never deployed more than 150, U‑2 reconnaissance flights and other technical intelligence led CIA to deflate the feared "bomber gap" by 1958.

Garthoff also discusses the famous "missile gap" controversy that developed in the early 1960s. According to Garthoff, Air Force Intelligence egregiously overestimated current and future Soviet ICBM capabilities. The feared "missile gap" was dispelled by CIA analysts when satellite photography during 1961 clearly showed that the Soviet leaders were not deploying large numbers of ICBMs.

On balance, Garthoff gives the Agency good grades for its military analysis during the 1950s and early 1960s, calling it "probably the best in the Intelligence Community." It was also, according to Garthoff, the least influenced by institutional interests, especially compared to the military intelligence services.

Garthoff illustrates this point by contrasting CIA's analysis during the 1960s and 1970s with military intelligence estimates. According to Garthoff, the documents CIA declassified for the Princeton conference indicate that CIA believed the Soviets probably sought no less than strategic equality with the United States, although they would have preferred some degree of strategic advantage if it could have been achieved. The US military, on the other hand, was convinced by December 1976 that the Soviet buildup of intercontinental nuclear capabilities was part of an effort to achieve world domination. The Air Force called it "the Soviet drive for strategic superiority." As a result, US military analysts opposed the administration's policies of détente, arms control, and increased trade with Moscow, contending that the Soviet Union had "exploited them to the serious disadvantage of the West."

Garthoff asserts that every NIE from 1974 to 1986 overestimated the magnitude of Soviet strategic force modernization programs. By 1982 analysts in CIA's Directorate of Intelligence determined that Soviet defense spending had in fact increased by only 2 percent on average since 1976 and that the rate of growth of weapons procurement had been almost flat. Nonetheless, the heads of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the military intelligence services, Garthoff points out, continued to argue that "Soviet leadership is now confident that the strategic military balance has shifted in the Kremlin's favor and that the aggressiveness of its foreign policy will continue to increase as the Soviet advantage grows."

Garthoff sharply criticizes the "Team B" approach created by DCI George H. W. Bush in 1976 as an alternative to the Intelligence Community's military estimates. Team B's report was highly critical of CIA's analysis but, according to Garthoff, virtually all of Team B's criticisms proved to be wrong. The Team B exercise, in his view, was "ill conceived and disappointing" in its attempt to identify ways to improve the estimating process. The Team B members, according to Garthoff, were less concerned with objectively evaluating Intelligence Community estimates than with pushing their hard-line views of a dangerous Soviet Union bent on world domination.

Garthoff concludes that perhaps the greatest shortcoming of the NIEs and CIA's assessments of Soviet military power from 1988 to 1991 was a failure to recognize the radical changes in Soviet outlook, doctrine, policy, or military strategy. He cites as an example a 1988 NIE that concluded, "To date we have not detected changes under Gorbachev that clearly illustrate either new security concepts or new resource constraints in the Soviet fundamental approach to war." Garthoff viewed this as a lost opportunity to identify and analyze changes that indeed were taking place. Nevertheless, he concludes that analysts at CIA were well ahead of the Intelligence Community as a whole in assessing Soviet military intentions and capabilities.

 

Western Analysis and the Soviet Policymaking Process

Vladimir Treml's paper assesses whether government officials in the former Soviet Union read Western studies of the USSR and, if so, the degree to which the studies influenced policymaking in the Kremlin. Treml focuses his analysis almost exclusively on economic issues--that is, on Western studies that assessed "the performance, effectiveness of policy, and structural changes in the Soviet economy"--but believes his conclusions apply generally across the range of disciplines that focused on the Soviet system.

Treml's study covers the period from the mid 1950s--when secrecy and censorship in the USSR were most severe--to the implementation of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of openness or glasnost in the late 1980s. Treml points out that Soviet officials and academics were not allowed during most of this period to deviate from the Communist Party line on the performance of the Soviet economy, nor could they use or cite economic data not approved by officials from the USSR's Central Statistical Administration. In essence, they were hamstrung in their ability to assess objectively the performance of the Soviet economy and were largely, if not completely, isolated from the work of other economists throughout the world.

While Treml's paper focuses on Western analyses of the Soviet Union in general, he points out that CIA was the dominant intelligence organization analyzing the Soviet economy during this period. CIA analysts wrote many of the papers that appeared in the compendia published by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) and Treml estimates that more than 40 percent of these JEC articles on the Soviet economy were "either completely translated, summarized, excerpted, or reviewed in classified Soviet publications, and, once in a while, in open publications in Soviet economic journals."

Treml's paper seeks to determine the extent to which Western studies of the Soviet economy were translated into Russian, reviewed, and studied by Soviet academic and government economic specialists with appropriate clearances, and used to make policy recommendations to high-level Soviet officials during the roughly thirty-five years covered by his study. In an effort to determine this, he (1) combed Russia's central archives for formerly classified as well as open Western documents that had been translated and for other information and documents that indicated such materials were made available to Soviet officials or policymakers; (2) interviewed Russian economists to determine the extent of their knowledge on the subject; (3) reviewed Soviet and post-Soviet literature for evidence that Western analysis had been used during the Soviet era; and (4) interviewed Western experts on the Soviet economy to determine whether they had any knowledge of altered Soviet practices during the period in question.

Treml's conclusions can be summarized as follows:

1. The Soviet Government made a massive effort to severely restrict the dissemination of Western studies to a small number of Party and government officials. Even the most prominent Soviet economists saw relatively few translated Western studies and only heard about the results contained in others.

2. Some Western studies of the Soviet economy were selected, translated into Russian, classified, summarized, and distributed to Soviet leaders--estimated by Treml to include the top 200 to 500 party and government officials. Treml found in the Soviet archives, for example, a 1976 JEC study that had been translated into Russian and distributed to the Central Committee. About half of the Politburo's members had initialed the document.

3. Kremlin officials generally mistrusted official Soviet analyses of the USSR's economy, and whenever possible would read or at least scan restricted Western studies. Kosygin and Gorbachev, for instance, indicated in their memoirs that they read Western studies of the Soviet Union. Treml also found that such Western studies as Morris Bornstein's work on Soviet prices; CIA's estimates of the rates of growth of the Soviet economy and of Soviet defense spending in rubles and dollars (which were sent directly to Brezhnev); the work of Professor Gregory Grossman and others on the "second economy" in the USSR; and the report by Christopher Davis and Murray Feshbach on the deteriorating state of public health in the USSR were read by top party officials.

Treml was unable to assess with much certainty the impact Western studies had on Soviet policymakers because many Central Committee records remain classified, are lost, or were destroyed. He found the paper trail of Central Committee policy decisions to be shoddy or nonexistent. But in what appears to be the clearest example of the impact of Western analysis on Soviet policy, Treml found references in the Central Committee's archives to two still-classified documents that reference CIA studies in the late 1970s. The CIA reports concluded that the Soviet petroleum industry was beset by serious problems. He notes that, following the release of the CIA study, the Kremlin directed a major shift in investment spending in favor of the oil and gas industries and that Soviet extraction and exploration policies changed in the late 1970s.

 

 

[1] Max Millikan’s tenure at CIA was quite short—about a year. Nonetheless, in this short period he initiated an extensive recruitment program, hiring economists who formed the core group of CIA’s economic analysts for the next decade, and set a course that the Agency’s Soviet economic analysts followed for the next forty years.

[2] See Douglas J. MacEachin, CIA Assessments of the Soviet Union: The Record Versus the Charges (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1996), p. 7. Other analysts who have defended the Agency include Bruce Berkowitz and Jeffrey T. Richelson, “The CIA Vindicated: The Soviet Collapse Was Predicted,” The National Interest, no. 41, (1995); and Kirsten Lundberg, “The CIA and the Fall of the Soviet Empire: The Politics of Getting It Right,” Harvard Case Study C16-94-12510, Harvard University, 1994.

[3] Most prominent among the critics of the Agency are former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, William Safire of the New York Times, and author Nicholas Eberstadt. See, for example, Daniel P. Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998); George P. Schultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993), 864-869; and Melvin Goodman, “The Politics of Getting it Wrong,” Harper’s Magazine, November 2000, pp. 74-80.

[4] The over-attention paid to the military dimension of the Soviet threat was addressed by two members of the panel, Dr. Fritz Ermarth and Dr. Peter Reddaway. This issue also is addressed in some depth in a recent book by Willard Matthais. His book surveys more than 50 years of national security policy and the role played by intelligence in its formulation. A major theme of the book is that diverse views developed during the Cold War on the importance of military power in the determination of foreign policy. Matthais points out, for example, that the military establishment saw military power as the prime determinant of the behavior of states. As a result of this narrow viewpoint, he believes that military and political leaders demonstrated “a grievous failure to understand the Soviet leaders and communist doctrine.” On the other hand, in his view, the Office of National Estimates was more correct in that it kept Soviet policies “under continuing review” and “did not take refuge in any fixed theories about Soviet intentions.” See Willard C. Matthias, America’s Strategic Blunders: Intelligence Analysis and National Security Policy, 1936-1991 (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).

[5] As was noted in the “Introduction” to the conference publication, the body of DI documents on the Soviet Union published during the Cold War years, which had not yet been declassified, was far too large to have been reviewed for declassification and released for the conference. The Agency’s goal, therefore, was to assemble a collection of documents large enough and sufficiently diverse that (1) most, if not all, of the major developments and analytic issues that occurred during the period were represented; and (2) the tenor and substance of the DI’s analysis was adequately captured. Nonetheless, the process of declassifying and releasing documents was uneven and resulted in a collection of documents that was not perfectly representative of events as they occurred over time, despite considerable effort to make it so. See CIA’s Analysis of the Soviet Union 1947-1991, edited by Gerald K. Haines and Robert E. Leggett (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2001), pp. 10-12.

[6] Historians and scholars will require the declassification and release of additional documents to sort out many of these issues. The Director of Central Intelligence has pledged to continue the release of these and other Cold War materials within the limits imposed by law not to jeopardize sources or methods, impinge on liaison relations with other countries, or interfere with the Agency’s ability to carry out its mission. Included in the priority list for review are finished intelligence analyses on the former Soviet Union. See “DCI Statement on Declassification,” dated 29 May 1998.

[7] Although current intelligence assessments were not included in the body of declassified materials made available to the conference authors, papers such as those in the CAESAR and ESAU series are discussed by Douglas Garthoff in Chapter III.


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 16, 2007 09:03 AM
Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 01:04 PM