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July 30, 2014
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Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131SINkETThe lead time is inversely proportionalto the confidence in the judgmentALERT MEMORANDA?THE TRACK RECORD(b)(3)(c)(b)(3)(n)The Alert Memorandum is an interagency publication issued by the Director ofCentral Intelligence on behalf of the Intelligence Community. It warns explicitly ofimpending potential developments abroad that may have serious implications for USinterests. It is a fast reaction document, with usually no more than forty-eight hourstranspiring between conception and promulgation. While designed primarily for theWashington policy community, it receives wide electrical dissemination abroad. Addi-tionally, each memorandum is published in the next National Intelligence Daily tofurther inform consumers of national level concern.The Alert Memorandum was an active vehicle between 1974 and 1976. When theSpecial Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence for Strategic Warning rotatedto a new position in 1976, the position was left unfilled and Alert Memoranda fell intodisuse. In October 1978, a National Intelligence Officer for Warning was appointed,largely in response to Congressional demands for a central point of warning respon-sibility, and the Director of Central Intelligence concurrently revivified Alert Memo-randa. Since then,[(b)(3)(c)lhave been issued.The decision to publish an Alert Memorandum is reserved to the Director ofCentral Intelligence, although anyone in the policy or intelligence communities mayrequest he do so. In practice, the National Intelligence Officer for Warning usually hastaken the initiative.An Alert Memorandum is not predictive; rather, it explores the possible outcomeof development abroad which have serious implications for US policy. In fact, thegreater the potentially adverse effect on US policy, the lower the threshold for issuingan Alert Memorandum.It is aximomatic that the amount of lead time is inversely proportional to theconfidence of the community's judgment. There has been a constant, and probablyhealthy, struggle between the warners, who wish to act earlier, and the analysts, wholike to wait for more evidence in order to buttress their confidence. There is also therisk of false alarms, of -crying wolf" and flooding the market with warnings. In thefinal analysis, there is no rule of thumb. Each incipient crisis has been judged on itsown merits, and the decision whether to issue an Alert Memorandum has been uniqueto the problem at hand.The Track RecordI. Iran: On 29 November 1978, the Director of Central Intelligence warned,"the Shia Muslim holy month of Moharram that begins on 2 December 1978 is likelyto bring an especially severe challenge to the Shah of Iran and to the military govern-ment installed by the Shah in early November." (This was the first in the new series ofAlert Memoranda.) In a second Alert Memorandum on 5 December, the Director'sjudgment was, -we see no reason to alter our conclusions that civil unrest may threatensC42ET 67Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131 Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 0061831314)S.T Alert Memorandathe survival of the monarchy, and that the risk to Americans will increase. Seriousdemonstrations began in Tehran and the provincial cities at the outset of Moharram,and will continue to build, taxing the resources and morale of the military and securityservices.- The Shah departed Tehran on 16 January 1979, about six weeks after thefirst Alert Memorandum, and the Bakhtiar government which he had installed col-lapsed on 10 February. A third Alert Memorandum, published on 1 March 1979,warned, -the Bazargan Government may not survive the combined pressures posed byinternal friction and a sustained external challenge from the left.- On 6 November1979, the Bazargan Government fell (two days after the American Embassy was oc-cupied). In this case, about nine months warning had been given.H. Beagle Channel: On 8 December 1978, as Argentina was moving substantialmilitary forces south to strengthen its claims in the Beagle Channel area, an AlertMemorandum warned, -Argentina will be prepared to make a military move after 15December. Should hostilities .break out, Chile will almost certainly invoke the RioTreaty.- The Pope intervened, and the situation subsequently quieted down. ThisAlert Memorandum was the first to refer explicitly to United States policy consider-ations?involving the Rio Treaty?a trend which was to continue.III. China-Vietnam: On 5 January 1979, the Director of Central Intelligencewarned that -Vietnamese military operations against Kampuchea are proceeding rap-idly in the face of only token resistence from out-gunned and out-mannedKampuchean units. With some Vietnamese forces already west of the Mekong Riverand within striking distance of Phnom Penh, it is possible that the capital could fall orbe abandoned in the next several days and a Vietnamese client regime be establishedthere. At the same time, China appears to be preparing for a major show of force alongits frontier with Vietnam. Thus, the present situation contains the seeds of rapidescalation to Sino-Vietnamese conflict and heightened Sino-Soviet tension.- PhnomPenh fell two days later on 7 January. On 19 January, a second Alert Memorandumreported, -the Chinese appear to be completing a deployment of forces and a propa-ganda groundwork that will enable them to take military action against Vietnam at atime of their choosing.- A third Alert Memorandum on 14 February 1979, said, -theChinese buildup along the Vietnamese border has grown unabated since our last AlertMemorandum of 19 January. We think that in military terms the Chinese are ready togo, and that their push, if it occurs, would be larger than we thought in mid-January.-The Chinese punitive action started on 22 February. Six weeks of warning had beengiven.IV. Pakistan: On 8 February 1979, an Alert Memorandum opined that uphold-ing the death sentence of former Prime Minister Bhutto would place Zia's position inheightened jeopardy. Obviously, Zia survived. This was the first instance, however, ofan Alert Memorandum being used to gain attention while policymakers were preoccu-pied with another crisis (China/Vietnam).V. Lebanon: On 2 March 1979, an Alert Memorandum stated, -Christian Mi-litias and Syrian forces in Beirut seem to be heading for a new outbreak of heavyfighting within the next two months.- It then discussed the possibility of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation. While the situation in Lebanon did not result in an Israeli-Syrianclash, once again the Alert Memorandum raised policy implications for the UnitedStates Government.VI. Egypt/Libya: Sadat and Quadhafffs mutual animosity results in a perennialwarning situation. On 29 March 1979, an Alert Memorandum warned, -tension alongthe border has been heightened by alerts and troop movements by both sides, and hasincreased the chances that war will break out either by deliberate attack or by68Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131 Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131Alert Memoranda E'S'RETunpremeditated escalation of border incidents." On 1 August 1979, the Director ofCentral Intelligence warned that "the Egyptian plan for a large-scale military incur-sion into eastern Libya?scheduled for later this month or September?is still ontrack." This Alert Memorandum, too, went on to discuss the implications for UnitedStates policy. The attack has yet to materialize, but the root problem remains.VII. Cuban Troops in South Africa: On 27 April 1979, the Director of CentralIntelligence reported, -there has been accumulation of reports and rumors recentlywhich suggests that some number of Cuban forces, or possibly a significant incrementof advisor) personnel, are about to be introduced into Frontline States contendingwith Rhodesia. The intelligence is by no means conclusive, but I believe that thesituation bears especially close watching at this time, and I am making you aware ofmy concern." This Alert Memorandum provided a good example of the lower thresh-old assigned to a potential event of very high political significance; it was published onextremely fragmentary information. While Cuban troops did appear later on, theirarrival was not related to the evidence sited in this Alert Memorandum?it was a falsealarm.VIII. Nicaragua: In a 12 June 1979 Alert Memorandum entitled -Marxist Threatto Somoza in Nicaragua," the Director of Central Intelligence estimated that thepossibility of a victory by the Sandinistas "looms large.- Somoza fell on 17 July, fiveweeks later.IX. Basques: On 19 June 1979, while all eyes were on Nicaragua, the Director ofCentral Intelligence warned that the Basque autonomy negotiations were encounter-ing problems, and that Prime Minister Suarez was under strong pressure to resort toforce. Once again, the Alert Memorandum served to focus attention on a secondary,simultaneous potential crisis.X. Afghanistan: The Soviet-invasion of Afghanistan provided probably the mostserious policy crisis during the period covered in this paper. It prompted three AlertMemoranda. The first, on 14 September 1979, said, -The Soviet leaders may be on thethreshold of a decision to commit their own forces to prevent the collapse of theTaraki regime and protect their sizeable stake in Afghanistan." Further, -the Sovietsmay now be more inclined to gamble on a substantial intervention in Afghanistan."The second, on 19 December, reported, -the Soviet leaders have crossed a significantthreshold in their growing military involvement in Afghanistan." And, -the Soviets arebuilding up other more substantial forces near the Soviet-Afghan border." The third,on Christmas day, reported?correctly?that the invasion probably had begun. Abouttwelve weeks warning had been given.XI. El Salvador: A 5 October 1979 Alert Memorandum predicted the coupwhich took place on 15 October, and highlighted the possibility of "an opening forextreme leftists to organize a general insurrection." In a following Alert Memorandumon 24 January 1980, the judgment was that -a leftist extremist thrust for power. . .could come at any time, and with little warning."(b)(1)XIII. Thai-Kampuchea Border: On 6 December 1979, an Alert Memorandumreiterated that the increasing pressure Vietnam was placing on Thailand might causeSEeKTApproved for Release: 2014/07/29 00618313169 Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131Alert Memorandathe Thai to invoke the assistance of the Manila Pact or seek an accommodation withVietnam if all else failed. Again, policy implications were highlighted.XIV. Saudi Arabia/Yemens: On 11 January 1980, an Alert Memorandum dis-cussed the implications that Yemeni unity might have for Saudi Arabia and the UnitedStates.XV. South Korea: Following the assassination of President Park on 26 October1979, two Alert Memoranda were issued. On 8 February 1980, the Director of CentralIntelligence said, "I am concerned that a showdown in Seoul, which may involve openfighting, will lead to North Korean miscalculations.- The showdown did not result inopen fighting, but on 9 May 1980, a second Alert Memorandum reported, "while whatwe have observed of North Korean reactions to developments in the South since thePark assassination does not yet suggest an intention to exploit the situation militarily, Icontinue to be concerned about the adequacy of warning on Korea. In this light, thecurrent South Korean unrest, which brings with it the possibility of a militarytakeover, is yet another in a series of recent events that could undermine stability inthe South and tempt Pyongyang to attack."XVI. Syria: In July 1980, the administration's attention was rivetted on Iran andAfghanistan. Once again, to direct it to another potential problem, the Director ofCentral Intelligence on 11 July reported, "Although not imminent, Syrian PresidentAssad's assassination or overthrow is significantly more likely today than it was beforethe 26 June assassination attempt. I believe that United States policymakers need tofocus sooner rather than later on the potential adverse regional consequences ofAssad's removal from the scene. The attached Alert Memorandum outlines brieflysome of these regional implications."XVII. Poland: On 19 July 1980, an Alert Memorandum noted, -Labor unrest inPoland has dramatically increased in recent days in the Southeast city of Lublin.While our information about unrest in other areas of Poland is sparse, it is possible thatdisturbances will intensify ane(6-50 yd to other areas" On 19 September, a secondreported,  leads me to believethat the Soviet leadership is preparing to intervene militarily in Poland if the Polishsituation is not brought under control in a manner satisfactory to Moscow. Recentevents in Poland itself suggest that the Kania regime may encounter severe difficultiesin meeting Moscow's requirements.- In a third, published 25 November, the DeputyDirector of Central Intelligence said, "The Polish leadership is facing its gravest chal-lenge since the strikes on the Baltic Coast in August. I am concerned the Kania regimemay resort to force. The present situation moves us closer to coercive measures by theregime or a possible Soviet military invasion.- In a fourth on 2 December, the Directoropined, -I believe the Soviets are readying their forces for military intervention inPoland. We do not know, however, whether they have made the decision to intervene,or are still attempting to find a political solution.- Finally, a fifth memorandum on 2April 1981, judged, "We believe that the Soviet leaders have been convinced by theevident impotence of the Polish party and government that military intervention isnecessary.-XVIII. Iran-Iraq: On 17 September 1980, an Alert Memorandum reported, "theintensification of border clashes between Iran and Iraq has reached a point where aserious conflict is now a distinct possibility.- The war started five days later, on 22September.XIX. Iran-Kuwait: On 14 November 1980, the Director of Central Intelligencewarned that -recent attacks by Iranian aircraft on Kuwaiti border installations raisethe possibility that Tehran is now prepared to widen the war in order to stop Arab aid70 RApproved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131 Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131Alert Memorandato Iraq. I believe the greatest danger?should Iran continue this course of action?isthe possibility that Kuwait or other Arab oil facilities will become targets for Iranianattacks.What Did We Miss?If, on the one hand, we examine those crises which were anticipated and of whichwe warned, the other side of the coin may reveal situations which we missed al-together. This, of course, raises the questions of thresholds and relevance to US policy.While Poland's importance is obvious, a coup in Guinea-Bissau may be of little morethan passing interest.For some time the Cybernetics Technology Division of the Defense AdvancedResearch Projects Agency has been conducting research in the area of crisis identifica-tion and ,prediction. Among their efforts is an Executive Aids System based on opensource data. Querying that data base yielded more -crises- than those treated by AlertMemoranda to wit:(b)(1)Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 00618313171 SkR.FApproved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131Alert Memoranda(b)(1)The reader is left to ponder which of these situations might have deserved AlertMemoranda.72 SItEZApproved for Release: 2014/07/29 006183131