Exaggeration Of The Threat: Then And Now

Test of Soviet SS-18 (R-36) ICBM. (Kosmotras Web site)

Test of Soviet SS-18 (R-36) ICBM. (Kosmotras Web site)

A recently declassified study on Soviet intentions during the Cold War identifies significant failures in U.S. intelligence analysis on Soviet military intentions and demonstrates the constant exaggeration of the Soviet threat.

The study, which was released last week by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, was prepared by a Pentagon contractor in 1995 that had access to former senior Soviet defense officials, military officers, and industrial specialists. It demonstrates the consistent U.S. exaggeration of Soviet “aggressiveness” and the failure to recognize Soviet fears of a U.S. first strike. The study begs serious questions about current U.S. exaggeration of “threats” emanating from Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

In the 1980s, long after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signaled reduced growth in Soviet defense spending, the CIA produced a series of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) titled “Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Nuclear Conflict,” which concluded that the Soviet Union sought “superior capabilities to fight and win a nuclear war with the United States, and have been working to improve their chances of prevailing in such a conflict.”

The notion of winning or prevailing in a nuclear conflict was, of course, ludicrous in the extreme, but this did not stop the CIA’s leadership (Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates) from endorsing the view that the Soviet Red Army could conduct military operations on a nuclear battlefield and had improved “their ability to deal with the many contingencies of such a conflict, and raising the possibility of outcomes favorable to the USSR.”

The CIA ignored the Soviet slowdown in the growth of military procurement, exaggerated the capabilities of important strategic systems, and distorted the military and economic power of the Warsaw Pact states. As late as 1986, the CIA reported that the per capita income of East Germany was ahead of West Germany and that the national income per capita was higher in the Soviet Union than in Italy. Several years later, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact collapsed, and former CIA director Stansfield Turner wrote that the “corporate view” at the CIA “missed by a mile.”

The Pentagon study demonstrates that the Soviet military high command “understood the devastating consequences of nuclear war” and believed that the use of nuclear weapons had to be avoided at “all costs.” Nevertheless, in 1975, presidential chief of staff Dick Cheney and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld introduced a group of neoconservatives, led by Harvard professor Richard Pipes, to the CIA in order to make sure that future NIEs would falsely conclude that the Soviet Union rejected nuclear parity, were bent on fighting and winning a nuclear war, and were radically increasing their military spending.

The neocons (known as Team B) and the CIA (Team A) then wrongly predicted a series of Soviet weapons developments that never took place, including directed energy weapons, mobile ABM systems, and anti-satellite capabilities. CIA deputy director Gates used this worst-case reasoning in a series of speeches to insinuate himself with CIA director Bill Casey and the Reagan administration.

In view of the consistent exaggeration of the Soviet threat throughout the 1980s, when the USSR was on a glide path toward collapse, it is fair to speculate on current geopolitical situations that are far less threatening than our policy and intelligence experts assert.

For example, is it reasonable to argue that the United States needs to deploy a strategic air defense in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend against a possible Iranian attack against Central Europe? How did our military planners come up with a scenario that projects Iran’s intentions to target Europe? Why do we dismiss Russian fears of the deployment of such a system in two former Warsaw Pact countries near Russian borders?

North Korea, like Iran, is another country that provokes irrational behavior and threat assessments on our part despite its military and economic backwardness. For the past several months, the Pyongyang government has consistently signaled an interest in improving relations with both the United States and South Korea.

The release of two American journalists and a South Korean worker as well as an agreement to allow tourism and family reunions to resume with the Seoul government point to an effort to ease relations after months of growing tension. What is North Korea demanding? Nothing more than bilateral talks with the United States. Why is this so difficult?

And why does President Barack Obama consider Afghanistan to be an “international security challenge of the highest order” and the Afghan war a “war that we cannot afford to lose.” The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were operating independently of any national government and did most of their organizational work in Germany and the United States. We were compelled to rout them from Afghanistan in 2001, but the wars in Iraq and the continued war in Afghanistan has not contributed to the security and stability of the United States.

The exaggeration of the Soviet threat in the 1980s led to an additional trillion and a half dollars in defense spending against a Soviet Union that was in decline and a Soviet military threat that was disappearing. It is time to recognize the great harm that was done to the intelligence community and the CIA with the politicization of intelligence in the 1980s as well as the militarization of intelligence over the past twenty years.

If we don’t reform the intelligence process and create a genuinely independent intelligence capability there will continue to be threat exaggerations that cost us greatly in blood and treasure over the next 10 years.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, is The Public Record’s National Security and Intelligence columnist. He spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.

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7 Responses for “Exaggeration Of The Threat: Then And Now”

  1. Chris Herz says:

    You leave us with one and only one conclusion: The USA are an aggressor state which exaggerated and presently exaggerates these international threats for the sake of its imperial operations. Is this what we deal with?

  2. Jesse Hemingway says:

    The Day Democracy Died:
    May 1, 1960

    By: Jesse Hemingway

    I would like to recognize Francis Gary Powers and give him a tribute for his courage and patriotism. He was just another American and became just another of countless causality at the hands of elements, cabal, and factions which currently exist in the United States government. These groups are still able to conceal their existence; any person attempting to draw attention to the possibility of these elements is deemed a conspiracy theorist, tin-foil hat, and part of the black helicopter crowd. On May 1, 1960, an oversight occurred due to the arrogance of two individuals, Allen Dulles, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Richard Bissell, the second in charge at the CIA. This catastrophe was completely white-washed by President Dwight Eisenhower, as he took full responsibility for the U-2 incident of May 1, 1960. The truth behind the situation is unveiled in “Memorandum for Record”, written by A. J. Goodpastor, President Eisenhower’s staff secretary; this memo was dated April 25, 1960, and classified top secret.

  3. Jesse Hemingway says:

    Foreign Relations of the United States
    May – July 1960 : The U-2 Airplane Incident
    Editorial Note

    Editorial Note

    On May 1, a U.S. U – 2 unarmed reconnaissance plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers who was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, was shot down by Soviet military authorities 1,200 miles inside the Soviet Union near Sverdlovsk. In the following days, Nikita Khrushchev exploited the incident to sabotage the summit meeting between the Heads of Government of the United States, Soviet Union, France, and the United Kingdom, which began in Paris on May 16. Documentation on the relationship between the U – 2 incident and the collapse of the summit is in volume IX.

    The President’s recollections of his role in authorizing the U – 2 reconnaissance flights and the responses of his administration to the crash of the U – 2 plane and subsequent Soviet recriminations are in Waging Peace, pages 543 – 559. Regarding background on the President’s decisions on overflight operations, see Documents 70, 72, and 82.

    In a memorandum for the record, April 25, Goodpaster, presumably referring to a proposed U – 2 flight, wrote: “After checking with the President, I informed Mr. Bissell that one additional operation may be undertaken, provided it is carried out prior to May 1. No operation is to be carried out after May 1.” (Eisenhower Library, Project Clean Up, Intelligence Matters)

  4. Jesse Hemingway says:

    History of
    Written & compiled by J.A. Sierra

    INVASION at Bay of Pigs

    The Plan
    Vice President Richard Nixon was devoted to the idea of opposing Castro as early as April 1959, when Castro visited the U.S. as a guest of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. “If he’s not a communist,” said Nixon, “he certainly acts like one.” On March 17 1960, President Eisenhower approved a CIA plan titled “A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime.”

    The plan included: 1) the creation of a responsible and unified Cuban opposition to the Castro regime located outside of Cuba, 2) the development of a means for mass communication to the Cuban people as part of a powerful propaganda offensive, 3) the creation and development of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which would respond to the orders and directions of the exile opposition, and 4) the development of a paramilitary force outside of Cuba for future guerrilla action. These goals were to be achieved “in such a manner as to avoid the appearance of U.S. intervention.”

    Official diplomatic relations were broken on January 1961, nine months after the plan was approved.

    The operation came to life when Eisenhower approved an initial budget of $4,400,000. The budget included $950,000 for political action; $1,700,000 for propaganda; $1,500,000 for paramilitary; and $250,000 for intelligence collection. The actual invasion, a year later, would cost U.S. taxpayers over $46 million.

    Follow the money; Bay Pigs operation funded in March 1960 enter George H. Bush into the covert extravaganza big bucks and no accountability. Follow the money $$$$$$$$$$$$

    In a meeting at the White House on January 3 1961, described by Richard Bissell, CIA Director of Plans, in his book Memoirs of a Cold Warrior: from Yalta to Bay of Pigs, Eisenhower “seemed to be eager to take forceful action against Castro, and breaking off diplomatic relations appeared to be his best card. He noted that he was prepared to ‘move against Castro’ before Kennedy’s inauguration on the twentieth if a ‘really good excuse’ was provided by Castro. ‘Failing that,’ he said, ‘perhaps we could think of manufacturing something that would be generally acceptable.’ …This is but another example of his willingness to use covert action-specifically to fabricate events-to achieve his objectives in foreign policy.”

  5. Jesse Hemingway says:

    The point I am trying to get at is this; yes there is a cabal (the shadow government) within the United States government that works out side the laws for corporate gain. In all my years of research the downing of the U-2 aircraft on May 1, 1960 compromised the nucleus of the leadership of the shadow government. Alan Dulles the director of the CIA ordered the flight on May 1, 1960 Allan Dulles ordered the flight in direct violation of President Eisenhower’s orders. Vice President Richard M. Nixon was in preparation to become the next president and overseeing the Bay Pigs operation and received the initial funding in March of 1960. George H, Bush was a fresh up start with financial ties to the Bay Pigs operation through Zapata Oil.

    My year’s research was primarily focused on the members of the Warren Commission and the theft of over 7 billion dollars in critical material from 1952-1960. As I was developing the research it be came apparent that two members were directly involved with the theft of the 7 billion dollars of American taxpayers property Allan Dulles and John J Mc Coly. That indicates that the shadow government had two representatives on the Warren Commission and the FBI had their representative Gerald Ford. From the onset of Warren Commission half the members of the Commission already had a game plan to steer the outcome of that Commission. Now look at the formation 9/11 Commission and you have exact same internal genetics as the Warren Commission.

    The embryo of the shadow government on May 1, 1960 was Richard M Nixon, Allan Dulles, and George H. Bush. If a person were to start from May 1, 1960 – September 11, 2001 using Richard M Nixon, Allan Dulles, and George H. Bush and create a family tree you will find a direct correlation to this family and reoccurring disasters against the United States of America.

  6. Jesse Hemingway says:

    The next point I am getting at is that 9/11 had to do with adjusting the world wide oil inventory on the books that had gotten out of control during Bush and Clintons years in office. These oil inventories are exactly the same as the Critical Materials that went missing from 1952-1960 that lead to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I never said the shadow government was creative but they have a propensity of making extremely large sums of resources disappear and a lot of people dead. Just run the numbers below and the picture will become perfectly clear.

    I have been doing a little math and you might want check this out.

    Use this as your base line: Mar 13, 1986
    Estimated proven reserves, in billions of barrels, as of Jan. 1, 1986
    Saudi Arabia. . . 168.8 Kuwait . . . 89.8 Iran . . . 47.9 Iraq . . . 44.1 United Arab Emirates . . . 32.9 Venezuela . . . 25.6 Libya . . . 21.3 Nigeria . . . 16.6 Algeria . . . 8.8 Indonesia . . . 8.5

    In 2006 let’s look at these same countries oil reserves:

    Saudi Arabia..267 billion bbl Kuwait..104 (some sources say 48 billion – the difference is 5% of world reserves) Iran..132 Iraq..115 UAE.. 98 Venezuela.. 79 Libya.. 39 Nigeria.. 36 Algeria..12 Indonesia.. 4

    Estimated Oil reserves increases up from March 13, 1986 – 2006 by %

    Saudi Arabia..37% Kuwait..15% Iran..63% Iraq..62% UAE..66% Venezuela..68%
    Libya..47% Nigeria..55% Algeria..33%

    Indonesia is the only country that has decreased in their estimated oil reserves by

    Report by: Robert L. Hirsch Titled “The Inevitable Peaking of World Oil Production”

    According to this report it totally contradicts the pervious information there is absolutely no evidence of the dramatic oil reserves increase from 1986? 2006. It indicates the complete opposite.

    Page 1 “last super giant fields were found in the 1960’s” on page 4 of this report there is a 60 year bar graph from 1940 – 2000 that breaks down annual oil consumption versus new oil field discovers. Link below:…Production.pdf

    This link below states the obvious that there have never been any controls built into the oil industry it is strictly run by estimation. The fact I do know is that the Bush Administration has bet at least 3 trillion dollars and untold human loss to take over Iraq’s oil fields. If all the present information concerning the oil industry statistics is legitimate then the need to invade Iraq would be totally unnecessary.

    P.S. you may have search under the titles of the articles to verify the references

  7. And even without it, JH: there’s no justification for war of aggression, no exception, none, not even for the most exceptional country of all time, as some would have us believe ourselves to be.

    With all due respect to your diligent research, facts don’t move electorates; in fact, I think your research shows that the truth matters less than the narrative’s effect on the polity. Just look at the absurdity of the Republicans in the health care reform debate. They’re rousing their rabble not with facts, right? That’s obvious.

    They’re jacking and jerking their own supporters around with weapons-grade propaganda running on the power of myth.

    If our machines ran on sunshine, would we justify going to war for the light? Can’t corner that market, no cartels of photo-states (replacing petro-states) to control distribution.

    War is the way too many of us believe the world to have been created to work, with society as one giant perpetual motion holy war cash machine led by god’s own landlords here on earth and governed by kinetic activity.

    What’s the opponent force to kinetics? Kenotics: the power of thin leaves of grass bursting through eight inches of asphalt from within. All we know is kinetics, so that’s what we do.

    What are we doing in Afghanistan? We don’t know, say the experts/contractors, but we’re going to need a lot more force and money to do it.

    That’s why we treat military reports as if they were weather reports: we think kinetic force governs a god-forsaken machine, there’s nothing more grand to being human than that.

    How did that happen? By reducing the myths out of people that shape their worlds, turning humans into automata governed by kinetic force. Got a problem with other people? Imagine them to be “ticking time bombs” and “defuse” them, right?

    We’ve been hacking into human psyches, with all the subtlety of gorillas with sledgehammers, of innocent humans without their consent, in our black sites. That’s what I’m on about: the misapplication of Newtonian mechanics to human problems. In the world of the mechanists, torture is how the world *works.*

    Doesn’t the idea of weaponizing the human psyche creep you out? Makes my skin crawl, right now. In other words, they’ve turned this space right here, and this activity right here, into battlespace and a conflict to be dominated.

    People who believe in life as eternal holy war shouldn’t be expected ever to deliver peace, they just ain’t gonna do it, no matter what fuel they use.

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