Books Monographs

Watching the Bear: Essays on CIA's Analysis of the Soviet Union

Edited by Gerald K. Haines and Robert E. Leggett


During the entire period of the long Cold War (1945-1991), the United States faced in the USSR an adversary it believed was bent on world domination.  US intelligence was pressed to focus much of its attention on the Soviet  Union and attempted to understand its leaders, discern their intentions, and calculate the capabilities of a closed, totalitarian society. It was a formidable  task. Nevertheless, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US  Intelligence Community provided US policymakers with a wealth of information and analysis.

How good was this intelligence? Some critics have charged that the Agency and the Intelligence Community failed to accurately assess the political,  economic, military, and scientific state of the Soviet Union. Some argue that  the CIA gravely miscalculated Soviet military power and intentions and even missed the signposts on the road to the final downfall of the Soviet empire.  Others believe that the intelligence was adequate but that policy miscues led  to missed opportunities to relieve tensions or speed the transformation in  the USSR.

Now, more than ten years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we  have a chance to review a representative sample of this intelligence and to  judge more accurately whether US inteUigence was truly “asleep at the  switch.” The CIA released over 80,000 pages of newly declassified materials  relating to its role in providing intelligence to US policymakers on the Soviet Union. Several well-known scholars were asked to review these and earlier  released materials and to critique CIA’s analysis of Soviet political,  economic, military, and science and technology developments. This volume  is the result of that effort.

In March 2001, the Agency co-sponsored with Princeton University a  conference on this topic, which provided an in-depth review of the issues. I  attended the conference, and after reviewing the documentation and  reflecting on the task these scholars faced, I must say I found the essays fascinating for their nearly comprehensive portrayal of the US effort. From my perspective, the Intelligence Community worked much better than many assumed. Much of my career in the American Foreign Service was spent  studying the Soviet Union. As Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan  (1983–1986) and as US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1987–1991), I had  access to and relied on US intelligence data on all aspects of Soviet  developments. It was not always right, and it missed certain developments.  But, I must say, it was right more often than not.

Intelligence, one should remember, is rarely perfect, however much we  would like it to be. For the most part, and I say this from personal  experience, the CIA and its partners in the intelligence business provided  policymakers with timely and useful intelligence which helped them  formulate and carry out effective US policies. This volume is invaluable in  helping to understand not only US intelligence analysis, but also the  bureaucratic process involved in the production of finished intelligence, and, finally, its impact on US policymakers. Moreover, given the tragic events of  11 September 2001 and the sudden emergence of a new focus for America’s  intelligence—international terrorism—I would suggest to critics and would- be reformers that they begin any discussion of US intelligence with a  thorough reading of this thought-provoking examination of the US  intelligence analysis effort against the hardest target of the Cold War, the  Soviet Union.

Jack F Matlock, Jr.
Former US Ambassador to the USSR

Introduction and Overview

“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.


Zbigniew Brzezinski was President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser and is presently Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins.

Douglas F. Garthoff, a former senior CIA officer who served in the  Directorate of Intelligence, is an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in Washington, DC.

Raymond L. Garthoff, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in  Washington, DC, is a prolific author on Soviet affairs and former US  Ambassador to Bulgaria.

Donald P. Steury, visiting professor at the University of Southern California  in 2001, is a senior historian on the CIA History Staff at the Center for the  Study of Intelligence.

Jack Matlock, George Kennan Professor at Princeton University’s Institute  for Advanced Study, is a former US Ambassador to the USSR.

John E. McLaughlin is the current Deputy Director of Central Intelligence  (DDCI).

James H. Noren is a retired senior economic analyst at CIA and co-author of  Soviet Defense Spending: A History of CIA Estimates, 1950-1990 (College  Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1998).

Clarence E. Smith, a senior industry executive with Space Applications  Corporation and Emergent Information Technologies, Inc., is a former Vice  Chairman of the Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation and a former Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence.

James R. Schlesinger is a former DCI, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of  Energy.

George J. Tenet is the current Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

Vladimir G. Treml, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, a Russian-born economist, co-directed the Duke University-University of North Carolina  Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European studies.


PDF 1 (32 pages)
Introduction and Overview of the Conference Papers
Chapter I: Origins of CIA’s Analysis of the Soviet Union

PDF 2 (40 pages)
Chapter II: CIA’s Analysis of the Soviet Economy

PDF 3 (48 pages)
Chapter III: Analyzing Soviet Politics and Foreign Policy

PDF 4 (29 pages)
Chapter IV: CIA’s Analysis of Soviet Science and Technology

PDF 5 (52 pages)
Chapter V: Estimating Soviet Military Intentions and Capabilities

PDF 6 (41 pages)
Chapter VI: Western Analysis and the Soviet Policymaking Process

PDF 7 (47 pages)
Chapter VII: Concluding Observations
Chapter VIII: Speeches Delivered at March 2001 Conference
Opening Remarks of the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
Remarks of the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John E. McLaughlin
Address by Former DCI James R. Schlesinger
Recollections and Recommendations for CIA by Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski

Note to readers: This entry is being reconstructed. Unfortunately, in the changes made at the end of 2020, about one-half of the entire collection of essays and senior officer presentations were left out.  A complete collection of PDFs accessing this 317-page work is in preparation. (Aug 10, 2022)