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


  • NIE 11–3–71, “Soviet Strategic Defenses”

Attached are:2

A memorandum from you to the President (Tab A) summarizing the national intelligence estimate on Soviet strategic defense forces. Your memorandum to the President also notes that, like the earlier NIE 11–8–70 on “Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Attack,” this NIE is a considerable improvement over last year’s effort, though additional work still needs to be done.
A detailed analytical summary (Tab B), for your reference, of the major points made in the NIE, with comments on the adequacy of the analysis and on the questions the NIE still fails to consider.
A copy of NIE 11–3 (Tab C).
A copy of my earlier memo to you and your memo to the President on NIE 11–8 (Tab D). The memo to you provides some background on the events leading to the changes this year (pages 3–7) and some comments on the difficulties we must overcome in order to get an even better product (pages 8–10).

Evaluating the NIE 11–3–70

As I indicated in your memorandum to the President, this NIE, like NIE 11–8, is a major improvement over last year’s efforts. Richard Helms recognized last year’s weaknesses and solicited comments from intelligence consumers. After getting the President’s reaction, you provided comments and had your staff work closely with the intelligence community. The results, as reflected by these two NIEs, are encouraging:

  • —There is some frank, clear discussion of the characteristics and purposes of Soviet forces.
  • —The discussion is backed by considerable detail which is presented in usually very clear ways (e.g., graphics) and which even spills over into a number of annexes.
  • —A wide range of sources is often used to advance the analysis.
  • —One of the best improvements is the development of a wide range of alternative force models based on assumed differences in Soviet objectives, the pace of Soviet technological developments, and the resources which the Soviets are willing to apply. This approach forces everyone to remember that estimates rely heavily on underlying assumptions. However, to avoid the real danger that any point along the wide spectrum would be undifferentiated from any other point, the NIE designates certain assumptions and their accompanying illustrative force structures as most likely.
  • —All the alternative force models are provided in considerable numerical detail which is essential for an understanding of the differences between the alternatives.

I believe that NIE 11–3 shows even greater improvement than found in the last NIE 11–8.

  • —It introduced and did a creditable job with a whole new section on Soviet ASW capabilities.
  • —It was more willing to discuss the strategic implications of facts. For instance, with very limited evidence at that time, it analyzed well the significance of the new missile system complex at the Sary Shagan test range.
  • —It considered in detail Soviet command and control which is so essential to effective use of strategic forces, especially for the complex mission of strategic defense.

More work is still required, however. The present NIE suffers from two serious weaknesses:

It fails to draw on all sources and research methods which could advance the analysis. The greatest emphasis is still on observed activity at test ranges, construction sites, and operational bases. However, a variety of other material could be useful—e.g., Soviet doctrinal and strategic writings, economic information, analysis of Soviet institutions.
The NIE often fails to estimate Soviet objectives and strategies, yet such information is fundamental to understanding present Soviet programs and estimating future ones. For instance:
  • —How sophisticated is Soviet strategic thinking? How do various individuals and groups define “parity” and “sufficiency?”
  • —What are the likely Soviet war plans? What are the Soviet views as to the possibility and outcomes of limited strategic war?

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Obtaining Further Improvements

While I noted in the memo on NIE 11–8 that getting further improvements would not be easy, we are mounting an ambitious campaign.

Of course, the NSC/OMB work on reorganizing the intelligence community has as one of its objectives improving the intelligence product for consumers.
The earlier letter from the President to Richard Helms (Tab B of memo to the President)3 congratulating Helms and the intelligence community for their work on NIE 11–8–70 has provided some positive feedback which should encourage them. Moreover, it identified the particular strengths of the NIE from your viewpoint.
As you directed on my memo regarding NIE 11–8, I will arrange a meeting in mid- to late May between Helms and you to discuss the new NIEs. We waited until NIE 11–3 was published so that you would have a larger sample to discuss.
We will continue to send for your signature directives to the intelligence agencies tasking them to do specific work which we are particularly interested in. Already:
  • —You have asked CIA (Tab E) to restart its in-depth study on the SS–9 focusing on Soviet decision-making processes. (Andy Marshall is now working with CIA at the staff level.)
  • —Your earlier memo (see Tab F) to Helms in response to the CIA study on the Soviet perception of the U.S. threat has resulted in an inadequate, but good-faith, answer from them. My staff is now working with CIA to improve their work further.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 360, National Intelligence Estimates. Top Secret; Ruff; Zarff; Umbra; Restricted Data. Sent for action. At the top of page 1 is written “Outside system” and, in Kissinger’s hand, “Do note from me to Helms.” A memorandum to Helms was signed by Kissinger on June 9.
  2. None of the attachments are printed.
  3. Document 227.