22. Editorial Note

On April 6, 1961, the Director of Central Intelligence circulated NIE 11-61, “Probable Intelligence Warning of Soviet Attack on the US.” The estimate concluded: “Considering all the factors affecting the problem of warning, we believe that in most circumstances of an actual Soviet decision to attack at present or in the near future, intelligence could give warning of increased Soviet readiness, and could infer a possible intent to attack, perhaps a few days or more before the attack. Warnings of a probable Soviet intent are likely to be given, if at all, only a few hours before attack.”

In the next few years, there was little prospect for major improvement in the “firmness or explicitness” of warning, because improvements in intelligence technique would be offset by a decline in the number and accessibility of military indicators as missiles gained in importance and general Soviet readiness rose. Nonetheless, the “possibility of warning from physical preparations” would not disappear. “Indeed, the limited time between initial attack and potential retaliation would virtually force the Soviets to undertake various preparations, including those for defense and recuperation, prior to launching an attack.” In future, intelligence would also have “to place additional reliance for warning on the more ambiguous indicators not directly related to physical preparations.” In some cases, “the first preliminary warning of possible Soviet attack might arise from a judgment that the USSR was about to take a political initiative involving great risk of war with the US, or that a crisis was developing in such a way as to prompt the USSR to prepare for war.” (Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 79-R01012A, ODDI Registry) The full text of NIE 11-61 is in the Supplement.