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Event Highlights the CIA's Role in Busting Cold War Missile Gap Myth

September 27, 2011

On September 26, 2011, historians and intelligence experts gathered at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston to discuss the Central Intelligence Agency’s role in resolving the U.S.-Soviet “missile gap” question of the 1950s and early 1960s. In conjunction with the event, the CIA released a collection of recently declassified Cold War-era documents, which provide insight into what was a pivotal issue for the United States during those years.

“The CIA is proud to release a collection of documents detailing analysis covering…a growing perception in the U.S. that the Soviet Union was quickly developing an intercontinental-range ballistic missile capability earlier and in greater numbers…than the U.S.,” said Joseph Lambert, CIA’s Director of Information Management Services (IMS).

Breakthroughs in technology, including the innovative use of aerial and satellite photography, eventually provided the CIA with a more accurate assessment of Soviet missile capacity, allowing the Agency to debunk the Soviet missile superiority myth. The declassified documents show how the Agency’s assessments “improve as new intelligence is collected,” Lambert explained.

The political pressures and conflicts that surrounded the missile gap were explored in a series of panels led by historians and academics Robert Jervis, Timothy Naftali, and John Prados; retired intelligence analyst John Bird and Gene Poteat, head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers; journalist and national security author Fred Kaplan; and Ted Warner, the Secretary of Defense Representative to New START and senior advisor to the Undersecretary (Policy) for Arms Control and Strategic Stability.

Jervis remarked that the missile gap narrative demonstrated the importance of strong intelligence. “Really good information does make a very big difference,” Jervis said, “And it’s worth a lot to get that sort of information.”

Both the JFK Library event and the declassification of the nearly two hundred documents are the work of CIA’s Historical Collections Division (HCD), a division of IMS. HCD seeks to identify and declassify collections of documents that detail the Agency’s analysis and activities relating to historically significant topics and events.

“To promote the release of documents, we partner with presidential libraries, academic institutions, historical societies, and professional organizations to create events that add both context and color,” Lambert explained. He described the CIA’s overall declassification efforts, saying, “We do believe that we hold these records in trust for the American people, and that when their sensitivity attenuates over time that we have a responsibility to declassify them.”

A publication with more information on the documents and the JFK event can be found here.

Historical Document
Posted: Sep 27, 2011 02:46 PM
Last Updated: Apr 29, 2013 01:32 PM