In the wake of this…
The CIA is supposed to work for the president. It was created in 1948 to be the president’s civilian, non-partisan, non-policy intelligence arm. Its job is to provide an accurate picture of facts and trends so that decision makers can formulate good policy. Too often the agency has performed that job miserably, the greatest example being its gargantuan miscalculations about the Soviet Union. In retrospect, this is perhaps unsurprising. The CIA has always had a leftist bent, well represented in its upper echelons even under directors of staunchly anti-Communist and pro-national-security orientation.
It’s important to link back to this…
Today, the Team B reports recall the stridency and militancy of the conservatives in the 1970s. Team B accused the CIA of consistently underestimating the “intensity, scope, and implicit threat” posed by the Soviet Union by relying on technical or “hard” data rather than “contemplat[ing] Soviet strategic objectives in terms of the Soviet conception of ‘strategy’ as well as in light of Soviet history, the structure of Soviet society, and the pronouncements of Soviet leaders.”
And when Team B looked at “hard” data, everywhere it saw the worst case. It reported, for instance, that the Backfire bomber “probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984.” (In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.) Team B also regarded Soviet defenses with alarm. “Mobile ABM [anti-ballistic missiles] system components combined with the deployed SAM [surface-to-air missile] system could produce a significant ABM capability.” But that never occurred.
Team B found the Soviet Union immune from Murphy’s law. They examined ABM and directed energy research, and said, “Understanding that there are differing evaluations of the potentialities of laser and CPB [charged particle beam] for ABM, it is still clear that the Soviets have mounted ABM efforts in both areas of a magnitude that it is difficult to overestimate.” (Emphasis in original.)
But overestimate they did. A facility at the Soviet Union’s nuclear test range in Semipalatinsk was touted by Gen. George Keegan, Chief of Air Force Intelligence (and a Team B briefer), as a site for tests of Soviet nuclear-powered beam weapons. In fact, it was used to test nuclear-powered rocket engines. According to a Los Alamos physicist who recently toured Russian directed-energy facilities, “We had overestimated both their capability and their [technical] understanding.”
Team B’s failure to find a Soviet non-acoustic anti-submarine system was evidence that there could well be one. “The implication could be that the Soviets have, in fact, deployed some operational non-acoustic systems and will deploy more in the next few years.” It wasn’t a question of if the Russians were coming. They were here. (And probably working at the CIA!)
Team B hurled another brickbat: the CIA consistently underestimated Soviet military expenditures. With the advantage of hindsight, we now know that Soviet military spending increases began to slow down precisely as Team B was writing about “an intense military buildup in nuclear as well as conventional forces of all sorts, not moderated either by the West’s self-imposed restraints or by SALT.” In 1983, then-deputy director of the CIA, Robert Gates, testified: “The rate of growth of overall defense costs is lower because procurement of military hardware–the largest category of defense spending–was almost flat in 1976-1981 . . . [and that trend] appears to have continued also in 1982 and 1983.”
In short, the CIA was wrong about Soviet military capacity; it overestimated that capacity in almost every case. The CIA was wrong about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction; it severely overestimated Iraqi capabilities. The cause of these severe overestimates, problematic not because they were wrong but because they failed to support a right-wing ideological line, is the presence of radical leftists in the Agency.
You know what the problem is today with America? Our conservatives are too goddamn stupid. Democracy requires a minimal level of responsibility from all participants, and American conservatives have systematically abandoned even the pretense of interest in the public good.