208. Memorandum From the Director of the Program Analysis Staff, National Security Council (Lynn) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • CIA Review of NIEs on Soviet Military

Director Helms has initiated a re-examination of the “form and content of the major National Intelligence Estimates on Soviet military subjects.” (Tab A)

Andy Marshall and Walter Slocombe2 talked to the Office of National Estimates staff about some of the dissatisfactions that we had noted from time to time in connection with the major Soviet NIEs. The points they emphasized included:

  • —suppression of dissents and imprecise statement of differences between agencies where they are revealed;
  • —failure to develop and present systematically a full range of alternative hypotheses to explain observed data, especially where no USIB member is an institutional advocate of a particular approach;
  • —inadequate attention to issues of politics, institutions, economics, and society as they may affect foreign and military policy;
  • —lack of relationship between doctrinal analysis and force structure discussion;
  • —use of a single set of documents to serve both top-level policy makers and the lower level bureaucracy;
  • —arbitrary division of the problem into separate NIEs;
  • —need for more attention to presentation of evidence and analysis supporting conclusions, and reasons for rejecting alternative hypotheses;
  • —lack of historical perspective, including failure to identify and discuss the accuracy of past estimates.

The State Department’s response (Tab B) suggested:

  • —separation of the process into a set of “summary estimates” for the top policy makers and a set of much more detailed papers for lower level people. The “summary estimates” would be much shorter than the present NIEs, focusing on the most current and controversial points; the basic NIEs would be considerably expanded to include more evidence and analysis;
  • —more attention to doctrine and strategy, more closely linked to the force analysis;
  • —inclusion of tables on U.S. forces, for comparative purposes.

DOD sent a brief reply (Tab C) urging:

  • —relegating detail to appendices and concentrating in the main body on the more critical aspects;
  • —more explicit statement of significant changes, intelligence community disagreements, and levels of confidence in the judgments expressed;
  • —quarterly updating of the major estimates;
  • —having the NIEs focus on five-year estimate, to mesh with the DOD planning cycle;
  • —include a discussion of changes from previous NIEs, explaining divergences and attempting to identify systematic errors.

CIA is now working internally toward some very limited changes: (see Tab D)

A new set of estimates, nominally intended for high-level people, will be attempted. The model they seem to have in mind is the recent ONE Memorandum on Soviet Strategic Programs. (Copy at Tab E.)


Developing a special set of estimates for top-level people is a worthy idea, but if CIA is serious about taking the Strategic Programs memo as a model, no good will come of the effort. That memo was almost a caricature of the defects of CIA’s output. (See your memo to [Page 443] Helms commenting on it, Tab F.) Andy Marshall’s memorandum to you on improving the intelligence produced for top-level policy makers suggests some ways to get this effort back on the track.3

The basic estimates, 11–8 on offensive forces, 11–3 on defensive forces, and 11–14 on general purpose forces, would continue as before in terms of format, organization, and scope, except that ASW would be treated as a part of strategic defensive forces rather than general purpose forces. There would be a declared policy of increased attention to historical perspective, economic aspects of military policy and strategy and doctrine. Annexes would be used as ways of presenting detailed evidence on particular points, especially technical ones.


It is impossible to quarrel with these intentions. The problem is whether they are carried out in practice. It would be useful to try to see whatever detailed plans CIA makes, particularly any “models” or “samples” which are prepared.

—More graphics.



There is apparently no plan for:

  • —serious attention to improved analysis of Soviet doctrine or institutional pressures as factors in estimating Soviet military forces. These points are not even included in the declaratory list of improvements.
  • —systematic flushing of alternative hypotheses or any basic change in the practice of papering over dissents instead of discussing them openly;
  • —improved presentation of evidence and argument supporting the conclusions reached.

If the top-level estimates effort can be rescued, a large part of your basic problem would be dealt with. However, you have a strong interest in the basic as well as the top-level estimates:

  • —The basic estimates exist and will continue; the “top level” ones are still just a project. For the next year or so at least, the basic estimates are likely to be the only ones available.
  • —Even after the new series is being published, most of the bureaucracy will be relying on the basic estimates, and, very likely top-level people or their staffs will rely on them for many purposes.

To some degree, basic changes in the standard estimates probably depend on restructuring the Office of National Estimates. Andy Marshall’s [Page 444] memo on that subject discusses how you may be able to influence that process so as to improve the output.

However, you may also want to act directly on the basic estimates issue: The basic points have been repeated several times, by you, by the staff, and by other consumers—getting action to follow the communication of the points is another matter. A direct conversation with Helms would be the most effective way of impressing on him the fact that you are dissatisfied with the estimates and that you think fundamental improvements, going far beyond what seems to be proposed, are required.


That you talk with Dick Helms, using the talking points at Tab G.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 360, National Intelligence Estimates. Secret. Sent for action. The tabs are attached but not printed. Kissinger wrote at the top of page 1: “Lynn—I want to discuss soonest.”
  2. Slocombe was a member of the NSC Program Analysis Staff.
  3. Document 206.