144. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1

TCS 9594–66


  • NIE 11–8–66, “Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack”2
Attached is the extremely sensitive, all-source National Intelligence Estimate, “Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack.” In my judgment, its conclusions can be summarized as follows:
The Soviets are building powerful strategic attack forces along with the strategic defense and other elements of their military establishment. Their main object in building these forces is to deter the US and support their own foreign policy.
Over the past year, the Soviets have started to build ICBM launchers in larger numbers than ever before. By 1968, they will have a considerably bigger operational force than we anticipated in our estimate of a year ago. Most of the ICBMs will be in dispersed silos to protect them from attack. This force should give the Soviet leaders greater confidence in their deterrent because of its ability to inflict mass destruction upon the US even if the US were to strike first.
In their planning for the years beyond 1968, the Soviets must consider such things as the cost of building more ICBM launchers, their [Page 444] technical ability to develop better systems, and the possible course of US military programs. They may decide that there is little strategic advantage in building an ICBM force much larger than the one they will have in 1968. On the other hand, they may seek to strengthen their deterrent and military power still more by increasing their ICBM force to about the size of the one now planned by the US. In either case, they will probably introduce new ICBMs with greater ability to survive US attack and greater effectiveness to strike at US forces. But the Soviet leaders almost certainly do not expect to build forces so powerful that they could launch a first strike against the US without receiving unacceptable damage in return.
The Soviet strategic attack forces will continue to include numerous missile submarines. In about 1968, the fleet will probably begin to have improved submarines with longer range missiles, more like US Polaris submarines than are present Soviet types. Missile submarines will increase their patrolling in the open seas, and in a few years a number of them may be on station within missile range of the US. The USSR will keep large numbers of bombers and missiles which could deliver massive attacks against Europe and Asia. It will continue to have a small force of bombers to use against the US.
The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, does not agree with certain major views expressed in the NIE. He estimates that “programs already underway, plus a continuing strong R&D effort, reflect a Soviet determination to rise from a position of strategic inferiority to one of at least numerical parity with the US in the belief that such a position would markedly enhance the aggressive pursuit of Communist aims.” He considers that the Soviets will build somewhat more ICBM launchers than forecast in the NIE and that the estimate underplays the role of bombardment aviation in Soviet intercontinental attack capabilities.
This estimate on Soviet strategic attack forces will be followed within the next few weeks by estimates setting forth our latest findings on Soviet strategic defenses and Soviet general purpose military forces.
I commend the entire document to your attention, especially its Summary and Conclusions.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Miscellaneous CIA Intelligence Memoranda, Box 14. Top Secret; [classification marking not declassified]; Handle Via COMINT Talent Keyhole Channels Only. A copy addressed to President Johnson is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 263.
  2. Document 143.