CIA Analysts Highlight Value of Declassified Cold War Intelligence Reporting on Warsaw Pact Military Forces
January 23, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, January 16, 2014, during a symposium hosted by the Wilson Center, retired CIA analysts Joan and John Bird touted the value of thousands of declassified intelligence documents in providing analysis on Warsaw Pact military forces to policymakers and other analysts.
Also speaking at the symposium, titled after a monograph authored by the Birds, CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting, were A. Ross Johnson, Wilson Center senior scholar and Hoover Institution visiting fellow; Mark Kramer, director of Harvard University’s Cold War Studies Program; and Barry Watts, Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
According to Kramer, the monograph and documents are an “extraordinarily important collection for those interested in the Warsaw Pact.” Signed in 1955, the Warsaw Pact was mutual defense treaty between eight Communist nations of Central and Eastern Europe, including Cold War Soviet Union. The treaty was in reaction to the inclusion of West Germany into NATO.
Joan and John Bird provided an overview of their study, which focused on the contribution of now declassified clandestine source reporting to the production of finished intelligence on the Warsaw Pact’s military doctrine, strategy, capabilities, and strategic intentions from between 1955 through 1985. The collection – available online via cia.gov – includes more than 1,000 declassified CIA raw clandestine intelligence reports, CIA finished intelligence publications, and national intelligence estimates (NIEs) produced by the Intelligence Community at that time. Although the study focuses on the reporting from clandestine human sources, the finished analysis incorporates both clandestine and covert technical operations as well, for example the U-2 and satellite reconnaissance programs.
Joan Bird highlighted a number of specific human sources who generated the reporting, but gave particular focus and attention to two key sources – Pyotr Semyonovich Popov and Oleg Penkovsky. As noted in the Bird monograph, Popov was a senior officer in the Soviet military intelligence organization, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye (GRU); he was the first GRU officer successfully recruited by the CIA in 1952. During the six-year timeframe he worked for the CIA, Popov provided the CIA with documents on Soviet military capabilities and doctrine – information that had a direct and significant influence on the U.S. military’s organization and tactics. According to the monograph, Popov’s reporting saved the Pentagon “at least 500 million dollars in its scientific research program.” Popov came under suspicion in the late 1950s, and was executed by the Soviets in January 1960. “The documents Popov provided,” noted (Joan) Bird, “continued to inform CIA analysis years after his death.”
John Bird noted that between 1955 and 1960, “the CIA had no military analytic directive because each service did their own intelligence collection. The CIA’s mandate was economic and scientific intelligence. But due to the gap in intelligence on Soviet bomber and missile capabilities, CIA’s mandate was expanded to include military issues,” explained (John) Bird. “The recruitment of Popov, who was the first source inside the Soviet military Communist apparatus, gave us unique insight,” said (John) Bird. “In addition to documents, Popov provided his own analysis of those documents as well.”
Another GRU officer, Oleg Penkovsky, provided the CIA information about the Soviet response to the Berlin Crisis of 1961-1962, as well as key documents pertaining to the broader issue of Soviet military doctrine, which at the time included the role of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs). “These documents helped analysts understand how the Soviets set up and conducted missile operations, including Soviet operations in Cuba,” added (Joan) Bird.
“Penkovsky also provided his own reflection of Soviet military council meetings and discussions with his superiors,” noted John Bird. “During the Berlin crisis, the Soviets were not confident of their capabilities and did not want to go to war. Knowing this was an important aspect of informing the administration’s tact at the time towards the Soviets.”
Watts, who was a U.S. Air Force F-4 fighter pilot in the early to mid-1980s noted that the CIA’s assessments “were more accurate than what we were receiving from USAF intelligence at the time.” “The CIA’s analysis of Soviet tactical aircraft and tactics, for example the combat or operational radius of an airplane, helped the Air Force operations officers become smarter on how the Soviets were likely to operate their aircraft,” noted Watts.
In cooperation with other intelligence agencies, the Warsaw Pact documents were declassified by the Historical Review Program within the CIA’s Information Review and Release Group of the Agency’s Information Management Services. All of the documents selected for the CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting study are available on the CIA’s website at http://www.foia.cia.gov/special_collections.asp or https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/historical-collection-publications/the-warsaw-pact-forces/index.html. The documents are also accessible using the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) located at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, MD. Other declassified historical collections from the CIA are available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/historical-collection-publications/.