144. Letter From the Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (Anderson) to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President:

Pursuant to the charge you gave your Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board on March 14, 1969,2 our April meeting3 was devoted to a comprehensive examination of the strategic threat. We met with principals in the Defense and Intelligence communities and carefully considered the latest estimates of present and future Soviet capabilities and the US strategic force structure.

The consensus of the Board is that the strategic forces of the USSR are continuing to grow, in quantity and quality, essentially unabated by the interim Strategic Arms Limitation agreement; further, that the Soviets may soon have within their grasp the capability to achieve nuclear weapon superiority over the US and its Allies. We make this judgment notwithstanding the fact that the People’s Republic of China temporarily represents a net strategic gain to the US since it poses no direct threat to us and causes the USSR to divide its forces. France’s medium-range ballistic missile capability also contributes to a diversion of some Soviet strategic weapons. Nevertheless, the sum of what Russia already possesses and the anticipated results of their research and development (R&D) programs are serious cause for special national concern. We believe the Soviets perceive themselves as approaching the threshold of strategic superiority and that this is a situation of unique significance—unparalleled in Russian history—which will give rise to even greater uncertainties regarding their conduct of foreign affairs.

The Board readily acknowledges the historic importance of SALT I, yet notes no diminution of Soviet strategic programs, as evidenced by their:

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• sustained efforts to improve existing weapons systems;

• extraordinary commitment to R&D; and

• continuing development of widespread civil defense measures.

With regard to the intelligence required to support your foreign policy initiatives in this area, Mr. President, we observe that:

• The Intelligence Community continues to refine its ability to evaluate those Soviet weapons systems being tested and those which are operational. [13 lines not declassified]

• [1 paragraph (5 lines) not declassified] The latest National Intelligence Estimate, “Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Attack” (NIE 11–8–73),4 states that “under no foreseeable circumstances in the next ten years are the Soviets likely to develop the ability to reduce damage to themselves to acceptable levels by a first strike against US strategic forces.” We believe the statement pays insufficient tribute to the potential for rapid technological advances in general or to Soviet achievements in particular, and have asked the Director of Central Intelligence to personally reassess the basis for this judgment.

• In a similar context, the possibilities are rated poor that the USSR will achieve a major scientific breakthrough in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) technology in the next ten years. We acknowledge the technical difficulties involved, but given the magnitude of overall Soviet R&D efforts and the clear strategic advantage the Soviets would achieve if they were able to detect US submarines, we believe the Intelligence Community must place greater emphasis on those Soviet programs which appear to have ASW applications, for example—Soviet laser technology, which receives high priority in the USSR.

• The SIOP (Single Integrated Operations Plan), prepared by the Defense Department, assigns US strategic forces to Soviet targets. Periodically, the SIOP is war-gamed against an assumed Soviet war plan known as the “RISOP” (Red Integrated Strategic Operations Plan). Both reflect intelligence assessments provided by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The outcome of the SIOP and RISOP significantly influences not only strategic force planning, but national defense strategy as well. [3½ lines not declassified] Although your Board’s principal effort was directed at a strategic threat assessment, the members feel impelled to include some observations on the implications of the Soviet threat for the US:

• Critics inaccurately label US strategic force improvements as a subterfuge for the US to achieve a first-strike capability. This is a diversionary argument which inhibits the upgrading of our strategic defense and must not be allowed to stand. We believe that your own clear percep [Page 656] tion that the Soviets can be successfully negotiated with only from a position of strength and resolve needs your repeated public affirmation to counter defense critics in Congress and the media.

• Similar misunderstandings contribute to under-emphasis of those R&D areas requiring greatest effort if the US is to maintain a technological edge over the Soviets. In particular, we believe laser weapon technology should be given higher priority, and that a breakthrough in ASW should be sought by enlisting the very best scientific talent the nation has available.

• Perhaps of greatest underlying significance is the absence of a national strategic plan which clearly spells out, for all Government departments, US policy towards the Soviet Union, the means by which this policy is to be pursued, and the priority for the objectives sought. Too often we find various echelons of the US Government interpreting “détente” for themselves and the public in terms which do not take adequate cognizance of larger economic, political or security implications. There is no yardstick against which policy interpretations can be measured, nor is there a comprehensive statement of objectives to resolve the evident conflict between the desire to expand US export markets and the desire to restrict the flow of materials contributing to the refinement of Soviet strategic capabilities. We urge that a comprehensive national strategic plan be promulgated as a matter of priority under National Security Council auspices.

As a final note, Mr. President, we observe that intelligence estimates of Soviet strategic forces require both the keenest possible technical evaluation as well as sophisticated value judgments of Soviet perceptions—of themselves as well as of other nuclear powers. In evaluating Soviet missile system capabilities, the possible range of performance characteristics is enormously extended by minute technical variations in the manipulation of available raw data. Value judgments of Soviet intentions are, in turn, also influenced by our perception of Soviet capabilities. We believe that the users of intelligence—principally US negotiators—must continually bear in mind the uncertainties which prevail in these areas and the ambiguities they portend.

Respectfully yours,

George W. Anderson, Jr. Admiral, USN (Ret.)
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 278, Agency Files, PFIAB, Vol. 8 (1973). Secret. Copies were sent to Kissinger, Schlesinger, and Colby. Byers forwarded the letter to Scowcroft under a covering memorandum of April 30, which noted that Rockefeller and Kissinger had reviewed a draft of the letter on April 24. (Ibid.)
  2. In his statement, March 14, 1969, announcing the deployment of the Safeguard ABM system, Nixon also announced that he had directed PFIAB “to make a yearly assessment of the threat which will supplement our regular intelligence assessment.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, p. 218) EO 11460, March 20, 1969, which reestablished the board, directed it to review foreign intelligence and to report its findings to the President. The EO is Document 188 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. II, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972.
  3. No record of the meeting was found.
  4. Document 141.