May 17, 2003
INTELLIGENCE....Just a quick followup about Andrew Sullivan's comment yesterday that "our intelligence caused Bush and Blair to commit extraordinary errors in front of the entire world."
It's ironic, isn't it? The CIA spent most of the 80s issuing dire
warning about Soviet strength, warnings that we now know were completely
wrong. By the time Reagan came to office, the Soviet Union was already
teetering on the economic edge, and the CIA was completely off base
about both their economic and military strength.
This embarrassed them, and so by the 90s they had rightfully decided
to be more cautious in their assessments. Then came 9/11, and the
Pentagon, having decided that the CIA was now just a bunch of
analysis-paralysis weenies, set up the Office of Special Plans to take a more aggressive look at intelligence data.
Well, now it looks like the OSP was wrong about Saddam's WMD, but who's getting the flack? The CIA.
These guys just can't win, can they?
(And while we're on the subject, am I the only lefty who finds it a
bit disconcerting that I sort of feel sorry for the CIA these days...?)
Posted by Kevin Drum at May 17, 2003 02:36 PM
And yet, despite those mistaken estimates of Soviet strength, the
myth has STILL been spun that Reagan was some kind of
Super-Genius-Statesmen, because he spent the Soviets into the ground. No
doubt the Bushies are attempting the same kind of thing, because hey,
it worked then.
One line I've heard recently is the CIA is doing worse because its
capabilities in "humint" (human intelligence) have been eroded due to
the inconvenient meddling of the Church Committee in the '70s, etc.
So, I'm sure at some point, the CIA's flaws will be made into "the liberals'" fault.
In fact, the story that the CIA & FBI was unable to prevent 9/11
because it had been handcuffed by the liberal reforms was spun
furiously, by no less than Straight-Talk McCain, within 48 hours of the
And it was and is a widely believed lie.
Hard to say if there was a huge breakdown in intelligence because we
don't get to read the reports. It would seem prudent for the CIA(and
politicians) to cover their butts with more pessimistic outlooks then
That said, the 'evidence' that was supplied by Powell and Blair to
make their cases was weak, so weak they looked like fools. This would
seem to indicate to me that the intelligence reports were a lot of
conjecture and low on fact content....so low as to be guesswork if SH
really had any WMD to begin with.
Also, the erroneous assessments of the Soviet Union in the '80s were
the result of politicized intelligence, just as we're seeing now with
WMDs in Iraq.
I distinctly remember, as a high schooler in the late 1970s, reading
about CIA reports that projected a Soviet economic collapse in the
Would it surprise anyone here if the Reagan folks took office, read
the accurate assessments, and figured out a way to "get ahead of the
story" so they could not only take credit for the coming collapse but
help their good friends in the defense industry as well?
Bush and Blair can't blame Iraq on intelligence, and it appears the
OSP was set up so they could spin what the CIA refused to. Several
intelligence people, as well as strategists, pundits and bloggers around
the world, complained that B & B's urgency was unfounded. There
were documented warnings from all over the world about 9-11, and
appropriate measures were not taken by the administration. I realize
that CIA and FBI and NSA are in bad shape, but the last time I looked,
in the military, whoever's in charge gets the blame.
Not that this is conclusive, but another data point: I've read a few
comments (Gorbachev making one) that the USSR wanted to do the
Perestroika and Glasnost things earlier in the 80's, but were hindered
by the hard line taken by the Reagan and Bush I admins.
Also, seems the same kind of dynamic in say, Iran. Reformers are
thwarted by a tough talking US pres. (Bush II now) giving the mullahs
more strength. And I always wonder, maybe that really is the goal.
Neo-realists have to admit, being the toughest bully on the playground is sometimes the safest position, but not always.
There's an interesting precedent for the Office of Special Plans in
"Team B" in the late 70s, also set up because political leaders wanted a
more aggressive look at intelligence data, in other words because they
thought the dire warnings about the Soviet Union that you complain about
weren't dire enough. See for example http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/1993/a93/a93Teamb.html
I hate to break it to all the CIA-Cold Warrior bashers having a fest
today but the CIA/DIA underestimated -not overestimated - the number of
nuclear warheads possessed by the Soviets by roughly 80 %. They also
grossly undersetimated the percentage of GDP that the Soviets were
devoting to their military and state security - in part because the
percentage in real terms was so fantastically high as to be
unsustainable. The Soviets were economically far weaker than any western
analyst realized but their military expenditure was as threateningly
high as the hard-liner anticommunists claimed.
It was an odd combination that did not compute if you looked at statistics for say, annual tonnages of steel production
( highly inflated and included gross amounts of waste ) but in
retrospect it makes sense when we look at states today like North Korea
which if anything is a more extreme example of this phenomena.
Whether the overall threat posed by the Soviets was exaggerated will
depend upon your view of what motivated Soviet decision-making. If you
believe they merely passively reacted to American actions you will think
the threat is overblown; if you think that the Soviets were motivated
at least in part by internal politics and power struggles over ideology
then the Soviets appear erratically aggressive.
A recently published good book on this subject, which is mostly
critical of US spending priorities by the way, is _The Fifty Year Wound_
by Derek Leebaert
Sorry to post so soon again but Gorby is spinning - he deserves
credit for glasnost/perestroika but the other, earlier proposed economic
reform programs had zero chance of going anywhere politically in the
CPSU central committee - not Kosygin's ( lost power to Brezhnev), not
Khrushchev's ( deposed by Kosygin, Brezhnev and Suslov) not Beria's (
executed by Khrushchev) not Vosnesensky's ( executed by Stalin).
No real reform occurred until the chief ideologist Mikhail Suslov
died, freeing Gorbachev ideologically to move against the party
nomenklatura and put reformers into power positions. Suslov was one of
the last surviving Stalinists and had a network of loyal zealots,
basically Brezhnev let him veto things on ideological grounds. Suslov
was also a key voice on the Politburo agitating for the invasion of
Afghanistan in 1979.
You know, I remember reading small articles in seventies and eighties
(in Detroit Free Press or News) about how the Soviet Union was going
bankrupt and that its minority republics were likely to try to break
away. The articles were always based on CIA reports. Am I they only
one who remembers seeing them?
LowLife, see my comment above. The articles I remember were in the major newsmagazines (Time and Newsweek, IIRC) in August 1977 or thereabouts.
Swopa is right. The really crazy part is that it was the same people
back then who deliberately overestimated the threat from the USSR. The
same people were involved in the Iraq thing. Look up "Team B" and you'll
find all sorts of stuff.
There are always people who by nature exaggerate the threat from
foreign enemies. Other countries have these people too. Sometimes
they're right. There's supposed to be a balance though.
China for instance has people who say that a nuclear war with the USA
is inevitable. It has others who say we can push the war into the
future, maybe forever. The key to national security is peace. That
doesn't mean we must have a war with China. They key is to get people
into power in the USA and China who don't want to have a war.
In fact they did it the same way, with a small outside group coming
up with a scary report, then using political pressure to get the CIA to
adopt those positions. Really the only way to combat propaganda is to
have a collective memory of just how the lies were generated before, and
a collective realization that they were lies, and a waste of money and
In a way the kindergarten history of the Cold War, which we accepted,
left us unprepared for the shenanigans these same crooks and shysters
would pull on us in the following decades. Let's hope people become more
aware now, as the bombs are going off all around us.
andrew b: If you happen to look at this thread again, do you think
you could provide a citation for the Gorbachev quote you alluded to? I'd
like to have it. I read a quote by Kennan in consortiumnews saying the
same thing, but I'd love to have a Gorbachev quote.
I had saved this site as reference sometime ago. Have not read it in
quite awhile, so, for what it's worth relevant to the conversation...
"No doubt the Bushies are attempting the same kind of thing, because hey, it worked then."
You mean, Star Wars II is a way of spending Al Qaeda into the ground
until it collapses? Or maybe they're looking for an arms race with
China? My own feeling it that they're primarily, if not exclusively,
looking for a way to funnel billions of dollars into GOP contributors'
pockets (the arms people). I believe the word boondoggle was invented
for precisely this eventuality.
Perspective, people, perspective. The 'underestimated' Russian
military, could still have swept right through Western Europe if the US
didn't oppose the USSR. It isn't as if they were a bunch of girl
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