59. Letter From Director of Central Intelligence McCone to Secretary of Defense McNamara1

Dear Bob:

A few weeks ago you asked me to examine and report to you personally on the history of Air Force dissents to national intelligence estimates.2 The examination resulted in the attached report,3 which I submit to you in complete confidence. It indicates Air Force dissents have been numerous and, in recent years, far exceeded the dissents of the Army, the Navy or DIA.

The most disturbing issue, of course, has been the Soviet ICBM’s. You will note in Tab B that the Air Force has consistently taken the position of crediting the Soviets with a greater current and prospective capability than the other members of the intelligence community. In retrospect the Air Force has been wrong though the estimates have taken a somewhat downward trend in recent years. It is interesting that in February, 1960 the Air Force estimated the Soviets would have 250 ICBM’s in mid-61 and 800 in mid-63. This is far above what actually occurred. Incidentally, the community’s estimates of 140 to 200 ICBM’s in mid-61 and 350 to 450 in mid-63 proved to be high. Again in August of 1960, the Air Force estimate of 950 ICBM’s in mid-64 and 1200 in mid-65 is obviously high. In our most recent exercise (October 8th, 1964), the Air Force was about 20% above the community with respect to the current situation but I note that as they look into future years they consistently project a greater capability than the accepted view of the balance of the community.

With respect to heavy bombers, there have been consistent differences. However I find that in July, 1962 the community, as indicated in Tab C, lowered the estimate on Soviet Bisons and Bears. The Air Force dissented and in this instance the Air Force appears to be correct, as the community estimate was somewhat low. I think the community and Air Force views in this area are now compatible.

Tab D sets forth an Air Force dissent on capabilities of the Soviet Theater Forces. They here took the position that Soviet doctrine maintains that nuclear weapons will play a dominant role in all phases of [Page 172] a general war and that the initial phase of such a war may be decisive. The Air Force dismisses the concept of a non-nuclear war of substantial proportions.

With respect to the main trends in Soviet capabilities and policies (Tab E), the community has concluded that the Soviet’s objective is the attainment of a substantial deterrent and pre-emptive attack capabilities. The Air Force dissents from this view and takes the position that the Soviet rulers are endeavoring to attain at the earliest practical date a military superiority over the United States which would be decisive.

There are other dissents relating to the introduction of new bombers, the attitude toward nuclear propelled aircraft, which are of lesser importance than the four mentioned above.

I wish you to handle this communication on a very personal basis as the existence of the study would obviously create misunderstanding within the community which might better be avoided.


John A. McCone 4
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 01676R. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified].
  2. This request has not been further identified.
  3. The attached report, which apparently includes Tabs B–E referenced below, has not been found.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.