[Page 740]

163. Report Prepared by Robert W. Galvin, Edward Teller, and John S. Foster, Jr., of the National Intelligence Estimate Evaluation Committee of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board1

A Review of




(NIE 11–3/8 series)

and of


A. Background

1. Since its establishment in 1956, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has been vitally concerned with the adequacy of strategic intelligence. This traditional concern was given sharpened focus when President Nixon, in March of 1969, assigned to it the task of providing a yearly threat assessment in order to supplement the regular intelligence assessment.

2. The key observations in previous assessments which the Board has made of the strategic threat include:

a. Expressions of confidence in short-term (two-year) force predictions, while noting concern with the inadequacies of longer range projections, and caution regarding pessimistic estimates of Soviet low altitude air defense capabilities and Soviet antisubmarine warfare potential.

b. A consistent underscoring of the number of wide gaps in US intelligence capabilities that continue to leave major uncertainties as regards missile accuracies, doctrine and tactics, and nuclear weapons targeting policies of the Soviet Union.

c. A repeatedly declared conviction as to the “. . . imperative need for an interdepartmental mechanism to conduct net evaluations of [Page 741]the strategic capabilities and vulnerabilities of the US and USSR.” The term most commonly used to describe this kind of analysis is “net assessment.”

3. In early August 1975, the PFIAB met2 with President Ford and supplied him with a letter of record dated 8 August, attached as Appendix A,3 which advised him of the PFIAB’s perception of deficiencies in NIE 11–3/8–74 and which suggested certain improvements. These were:

a. Perceived Deficiencies

(1) NIE 11–3/8–74 is seriously misleading in the presentation of a number of key judgments and in projecting a sense of complacency unsupported by the facts; as a consequence, it is deficient for the purposes it should serve.

(2) Judgments in critical areas are made with the force of fact although the cumulative evidence is conflicting, often flimsy and in certain cases, does not exist. These critical areas include estimates of Soviet ICBM accuracy; Soviet developments in antisubmarine warfare; and Soviet capabilities against US bombers.

(3) The NIE gives the appearance of a net assessment and thus the added weight of “operational” consideration when in substance it is not. For example, it assumes the survivability of the US command and control apparatus and accepts unproven data regarding US silo hardness.

b. Suggestions for Improving the NIE Process:

(1) Selected aspects of intelligence considered critical by key decisionmakers should be subjected to analysis which is conducted separate from and competitive with the analysis performed by the intelligence community; the alternate views developed should be presented to the President and other key users. The competitive analysis function should be directed by the DCI using governmental and private sector expertise.

(2) The NIE should avoid to the extent possible the appearance of being a “net assessment.” Indeed, the intelligence community should generate a “purely intelligence document” following which and together with the Departments of State and Defense, and under the aegis of the National Security Council, a genuine net assessment should be produced. Ultimately, the net assessment should be critiqued by an independent entity.

[Page 742]

4. At the conclusion of the briefing to the President, he asked that specific proposals for implementing the suggestions be submitted as soon as possible.

5. Pursuant to the President’s request, on 15 August, the Board staff developed proposals based on the 8 August letter to implement the aforementioned suggestions on a trial basis using the mechanism of a National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM).4 However, as a consequence of DCI Colby’s strong exceptions,5 implementation of the test was not pursued.

6. In a letter to Admiral Anderson of December 2, 1975,6 DCI Colby stated that the Board’s letter “. . . might cause the President to suffer an erroneous impression of the accuracy and seriousness of the 1974–75 strategic forces NIEs.” Accordingly, DCI Colby prepared a refutation of the major findings which was provided to the President and to his Assistant for National Security Affairs. The DCI’s rebuttal, attached as Appendix B7 to this report, is factually incorrect in a number of areas. However, more important in the Committee’s view, is that it misses the central thrust of the Board’s efforts and intentions: whether or not a particular technical judgment in the NIE is correct or incorrect is less significant than whether the document illuminates for a busy decisionmaker the range of threat possibilities and their implications relative to his special responsibilities. The Board had concluded that the NIE did not adequately perform this function and that the NIE process was not structured to encourage it; our suggestions to cultivate competition in analysis and in judgment formulation with respect to a few key intelligence issues were aimed at fulfilling this purpose.

B. The Assignment of the NIE Evaluation Committee

7. Stimulated by DCI Colby’s exceptions to the Board’s letter of 8 August, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (General Scowcroft), by memorandum of 4 December,8 asked the Chairman of the PFIAB to comment on the suggestion that the Board review NIE 11–3/8–75 (Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Conflict through the mid-1980s) and ascertain the extent to which this NIE overcomes deficiencies which the Board perceived in NIE 11–3/8–74, the estimate on the same subject for the preceding year. The Board was re[Page 743]quested to report its findings to the DCI and to the NSC staff, and to discuss specific courses of action.

8. The Board staff responded to General Scowcroft’s 4 December memorandum and advised that Admiral Anderson had appointed an ad hoc committee composed of Mr. Robert W. Galvin as chairman, and Dr. John S. Foster, Jr. and Dr. Edward Teller as members to review and report on the subject.

C. Modus Operandi

9. The NIE Evaluation Committee has devoted the past four months to an intensive review of the NIEs regarding Soviet strategic forces, and more generally, to the process of intelligence estimating. This review has encompassed:

a. Individual discussions with approximately 40 authorities including:

(1) Intelligence analysts and senior level managers from most entities within the intelligence community;

(2) Users of intelligence estimates; such as those involved in US force planning and in arms limitation and disarmament negotiations; and

(3) Private citizens, well informed regarding US-Soviet strategic relationships.

b. A study, which was commissioned by Mr. Galvin and performed by representatives of the Deputy to the DCI for National Intelligence Officers (Mr. George Carver), to address the intelligence community’s 10-year track record in strategic estimating. This study was briefed to the full Board during the February meeting and written copies were provided for detailed examination. Important elements in this study are commented on in paragraph 30 below; the conclusions of the study have been extracted and are attached as Appendix C to this report.

c. Several discussions between the Committee members themselves, involving a review of what the Board has had to say about NIEs in the past and a careful reconsideration of what the Board proposed to the President on 8 August.

10. This report contains a number of observations made to the Committee by a variety of people interviewed. In documenting these comments, care has been taken to be as accurate as possible, without regard as to whether the views expressed are agreed with. The Committee believes that certain views have great significance irrespective of their objective validity, but simply because of the stature or position of the person espousing them and the sincerity and conviction with which they were stated.

[Page 744]

D. Note of Appreciation

11. Special mention is deserving of the cooperative and forthright attitude of intelligence community personnel who quickly and unfailingly responded to all Committee requests and greatly aided its efforts. Clearly, the people involved in the NIE process are talented, dedicated, loyal Americans who sincerely desire to produce the best intelligence estimate possible. The Committee’s judgments, however critical they may appear, are in no way intended to impugn the motivations and overall competence of these extremely hard-working professionals.

E. Comparison of NIE 11–3/8–75 with NIE 11–3/8–74

12. Both NIEs are very professional documents in their organization, presentation of data and readability. They demonstrate tremendous effort and coordination by and among many departments. As a work product which reflects the consequences of careful planning in the employment of sophisticated collection and analysis systems and the use of multiple disciplines in a coherent way, the NIEs are, as one authority put it, a “tour de force.”

13. There is evidence in the 1975 NIE of responsiveness to certain of the intentions in the Board’s 8 August letter. However, it should be noted that the production of the Strategic Forces NIE is a year-long endeavor with a November publication deadline. The 1975 edition was well along in August with little opportunity then to effect major changes, even if the authors had been persuaded as to the merits of the Board’s recommendations.

14. Some changes that were evident are:

a. Acknowledgment of improvements in Soviet ICBM accuracies; expanded discussion of the difficulties inherent in antisubmarine warfare; narrowing of the time period within which the Soviets might achieve an effective low altitude air defense system.

b. Expansion and more prominent positioning of dissenting views.

c. An enlarged key judgments section which attempts to clarify the degrees of uncertainty regarding various issues.

d. The term “interactive analysis” is used in lieu of “net assessment,” and a statement is included which clarifies the meaning of interactive analysis and which says it is not a net assessment.

15. These changes are noted and appreciated but the improvements are considered to be minor, relative to the overall significance and impact of the NIE. The Board’s primary concerns are not yet accommodated. A summary of changes as relates to deficiencies noted in the Board’s letter appears in a chart attached as Appendix D.

F. Questions Put to the Authorities Surveyed

16. In the Committee’s discussions with the authorities, we pursued answers to the following kinds of questions:

[Page 745]

a. What purposes does the NIE serve?

b. How do principal users view its adequacy?

c. What is their level of confidence in it?

d. Are the major threat issues illuminated?

e. What are the major criticisms of the NIE?

f. Is the level of effort involved in producing an annual NIE the most effective investment of intelligence community resources?

g. Could efforts at improving the process be attempted concurrent with, and so as not to disrupt, the normal production cycle?

G. Responses to the Survey

17. Responses to the question, “What purposes does the NIE Serve?” are worth singling out; in the Board’s 8 August letter we had identified four purposes:

a. Guide the formulation of Defense force levels and R&D.

b. Support Congressional authorization and appropriation proceedings.

c. Underpin arms limitation negotiations.

d. Shape the thought processes of policymakers regarding strategic relationships.

DCI Colby’s letter of 2 December, 1975, emphasized two additional purposes:

e. To provide warning of various things the Soviets might do; and

f. To provide warning of various things the Soviets are not likely to do within given time-frames.

Finally, during the course of our inquiry, we heard such purposes as:

g. To keep the lid on defense spending by minimizing the threat.

h. To help rationalize an Administration’s foreign and domestic policies.

i. To project US perceptions of Soviet capabilities to our allies.

Regrettably, because of cited purposes such as the last three, many of the authorities look upon the NIE process as corrupt and upon the product as less than believable. (It is notable that among those who volunteered the above opinion, several complimented DCI Colby for greatly encouraging the inclusion of dissenting views in the estimating process and thereby contributing to a significant improvement in the product.)

18. Most users do not find the information in the NIE timely and those who require current information do not rely upon it. Indeed, some in this category do not read the document because they know that it does not reflect the latest intelligence. Depending upon the reader’s [Page 746]particular interest area, the contents are considered either too technical or insufficiently detailed. A number of readers who said the NIE was useful, when pressed for specifics, said that while they did not rely on “judgments” they did find the graphics to be very helpful as ready references to details of weapon systems characteristics. In striving to satisfy multiple purposes, the net effect seems to be that the document masters none completely.

19. Some readers in very important policy formulation positions indicated a belief in the validity of certain technical judgments—on the assumption that the raw data must have been carefully evaluated by independent, objective standards which were agreed to by the “experts.” A few, sophisticated readers expressed confidence in the technical analysis at the lowest levels, but believe that summaries thereof—the process of hammering out compromises, accommodating divergent views, etc.—result in generalized “mushy” statements devoid of meaning in a technical sense. These remarks suggest that the concept of “technical uncertainty” is not adequately conveyed.

20. Many readers acknowledged that NIE judgments are biased by agency or service prejudices—but shrugged this off as an inevitable consequence of bureaucratic life. Thus, many key judgments in the NIE are not only not accepted, but are viewed cynically. These readers believe the NIE cannot express judgments which would be considered “too far from an acceptable climate of opinion.” The dissents were viewed as exercises in polemics and the “high-low-best” estimates are seen as merely additives of a given number in order to accommodate divergence (e.g., the controversy over the Backfire bomber).

21. Many readers expressed the belief that a good deal of intelligence data as well as information on US forces is not made available to the analysts or has not been accurately addressed, and is therefore not factored into the estimate (e.g., results of high-level negotiations between USUSSR personnel; sensitive intelligence regarding Soviet antisubmarine warfare developments; information regarding US submarine operations; vulnerabilities in US command and control; accurate data on Minuteman silo hardness).

22. Several readers, including people who have been exposed to NIEs over a period of years, as analysts and as members of the United States Intelligence Board (USIB) which approves the final product, expressed the belief that most USIB principals are not competent to evaluate the highly technical data which is essential to the formulation of key judgments in the estimate. USIB principals were described as “. . . managers of organizations who have neither the time, training or experience in the variety of disciplines incorporated to do more than superficially review some of the available evidence.”

[Page 747]

23. A number of readers expressed the belief that information and judgments which do not fit comfortable patterns, or which are contrary to an agency’s inherent biases, are usually rejected from the final product. The recent CIA intelligence estimate which nearly doubled the agency’s previous estimates of Soviet defense expenditures despite several years of substantial evidence and argument to the contrary, was cited as one example.9 (More than one “insider” observed that any estimate which in effect judged that US Minuteman or Polaris ICBM forces were vulnerable, would never be made by the intelligence community without prior clearance from the Pentagon.)

24. Some readers in policymaking positions expressed the view that they ascribe less value to a “pure” intelligence judgment than they would to an assessment of “consequences” of the intelligence. This would require extensive data regarding US forces and thus there was near uniform agreement that it cannot be performed by the intelligence community.

25. While most readers expressed agreement with the desirability of having net assessments, one senior official opined that this function, particularly with respect to strategic relationships, is so complex as to be beyond the competence of any group in existence or which might be formed. He suggested that university-level scholarship be encouraged and funded—but not controlled—by the government in disciplines relating to the USSR and PRC. One element of governmental assistance would be the provision of raw intelligence data collected over the years but never analyzed.

26. A senior analyst acknowledged that because of ad hoc pressures there are enormous “opportunity costs” that limit thoughtful analysis. This person estimated that as a result, perhaps only 5% of the analysts are forced to carry the major responsibilities. An example cited was the annual Strategic Forces NIE and the National Intelligence Daily, two documents requiring enormous effort, much of which is focused on “cosmetics,” or non-substantive matters because these are highly visible products of the intelligence community.

27. An individual in a senior key position indicated that a most welcome kind of analysis—not presently being received—would be for 2–3 experts to present their views as to the . . .

Consequences to Soviet society flowing from a Brezhnevr decision to rapidly develop a strategic counterforce capability. What indicators would appear to alert US decisionmakers that such a decision had been reached?

[Page 748]

28. The response to questions regarding user confidence in the NIE did not vary greatly: the high mark was a 75% level of confidence over the next two years in the accuracy of weapons systems characteristics; this declined to 50% confidence beyond that time-frame, a rating which was admittedly achievable by flipping a coin.

29. A former senior government official said that especially in the strategic arms limitations area the NIE 11–3/8 series is viewed as the “par” or standard of judgments regarding USUSSR strategic relationships, against which any differing views must be rationalized. In this sense, the “power of the first draft” is valued very highly since judgments are difficult to change. Moreover, during Congressional hearings, the NIE may present serious problems to Defense officials whose programs are based on different threat appraisals.

H. Ten-Year Track Record in Strategic Estimating

30. Certain observers hold the strong belief that the NIEs over the years have been required to avoid the appearance of overstating any threats which could be used to justify higher military spending. The Board itself has perceived that the NIE 11–3/8 series minimizes the Soviet threat and strategic potential of the USSR. As noted in paragraph 9.b. above, the Committee asked the Deputy to the DCI for National Intelligence Officers for a 10-year track record study in strategic estimating; the 9-page summary of conclusions has been extracted, highlighted and is attached as Appendix C. The Board’s perception of consistent underestimation in the NIEs is supported by a number of the points in this study, which are paraphrased below:

a. Estimates in the mid-1960s “. . . failed to foresee the degree to which the Soviets would not only catch up to the US in number of ICBMs but keep right on going. The 1966 five-year estimate projected that the Soviets would have between 805 and 1079 ICBMs. The actual count for 1971 was 1475. There was a similar failure to recognize that the Soviets would want—and demand in negotiating the Interim Agreement in 1972—more than the 35–50 modern ballistic missile submarines which the estimates took to represent rough parity with the US.”

b. “The NIEs overestimated Soviet concern about provoking new US deployments or force improvements and were overimpressed with the problem the Soviets faced in achieving and retaining full equality with the US.”

c. “The estimates failed to warn of a number of qualitative improvements such as missile accuracy, throweight and modernization of launch control facilities.”

d. “The estimates of the mid and late 1960s failed to convey an adequate sense of the determination of the Soviets to build up sizable force and war fighting capabilities.”

[Page 749]

e. The 1972 estimate10 “. . . gives the impression that Soviet acceptance of the 1972 SALT accords involved greater Soviet interest in a stabilized strategic relationship and a greater concern to avoid action which might jeopardize détente than proved to be the case.”

f. On the other hand, the NIEs overestimated: (1) Soviet willingness to deploy antiballistic missile defenses beyond Moscow; (2) surface to air missile force goals; and (3) force goals of two classes of interceptor aircraft.

Our view is that these categories of overestimation are far below the magnitudes of importance of the categories in which underestimation prevailed.

I. Conclusions/Recommendations

31. The Committee has been struck by how frequently important judgments in the NIE (often labelled “best”) are based on very incomplete or partial information and by the fact that most users are not conscious of the often flimsy basis on which these judgments are based. We note that policymakers are not normally aware that a key judgment (as, for example, survivability of the US Minuteman force) may in large measure be based on incredibly complex analysis which only a very few people are competent to understand, and regarding which serious disagreement may exist. Extrapolation of the technical analysis to the level of “key judgment” and the uncertainties extant throughout this process are obscured in the NIE and are unknown to the policymaker.

32. Despite the NIE’s disclaimer of intention to perform a net assessment, many of the key judgments cannot help but leave a reader with a sense that some degree of net evaluation has been performed. For example, Soviet ASW is estimated to be inadequate for the next 10 years to threaten our deployed Polaris submarines. This judgment is in part predicated on assumptions regarding US submarine capabilities and operational procedures. Additionally, Soviet ICBMs are estimated as being highly unlikely to threaten US Minuteman ICBMs by the end of the 1970s. This judgment is in part predicated on assumptions regarding US silo hardness. In neither instance is the intelligence community authorized to challenge the assumptions regarding US capabilities. Moreover, both judgments should involve—but within the NIE do not involve—a serious appraisal of the effectiveness of US command, control and communications systems. The Committee does not fault the intelligence community, but again notes the essentiality to the decisionmaker of having net evaluations performed on these critical issues.

[Page 750]

33. There are common threads which run through the remarks made by the variety of people interviewed: the NIE 11–3/8 series in particular and the estimating process in general are not highly respected for their power to authoritatively and conclusively appraise threats; although the collection of data and the presentation of facts are admirable, the NIEs themselves are regarded as composites of consensus judgments achieved through a process of arbitration and conciliation; external observers as well as members of the intelligence community believe that institutional pressures shape the purposes of the NIE, and the interpretation of data and formulation of judgments therein. NIEs breed degrees of disbelief. An unbelieved estimate is ignored, misused and challenged for political as well as technical reasons.

34. The generally negative receptivity regarding the NIE 11–3/8 series which the Committee encountered is serious, regrettable and alarming. NIEs should indeed signify the very best that our system of intelligence can offer. They should be eagerly awaited (and thoroughly read) by policymakers. There should be absolutely no question regarding their purposes, utility or relevance. Attitudes of key people in government on complex issues should be significantly influenced by intelligence estimates. The NIEs should command uniform respect as major contributors to the conduct of national security affairs. Their success should be measured by whether they stimulate policymakers to face up to hard decisions in sufficient time to make a difference and by the thoroughness with which threats, uncertainties and alternatives have been illuminated.

35. An analysis of why the NIE 11–3/8 series does not meet the above criteria should begin with the intelligence consumer. The essential question is: “What does the consumer want?” The Committee observed that there are many different needs among a wide variety of consumers; these may range from short, concise statements of factual data (e.g., photographic intelligence which counts missile silos), to the best judgment of a group of analysts who comment on Soviet strategic objectives, to detailed appraisals of what is known and what is not known regarding weapon system capabilities. In certain cases, and with particular reference to the task of evaluating Soviet capabilities for intercontinental conflict, we judge that the user frequently demands one answer or one best judgment, or is so perceived by the intelligence community. The intelligence community responds with its “best effort,” even in those cases where the data available does not permit a single answer or judgment or where the user actually needs alternate interpretations; thus unrealistic user demands (sometimes expressed and sometimes assumed) and a compliant intelligence community result in a product that ultimately does not satisfy and which cannot [Page 751]withstand serious challenge. The following chart depicts that relationship—among many—where the consumer demands “an answer.”

36. Clearly, an effort should be made to improve the system by which truly critical issues are analyzed and reported to decisionmakers. Accordingly, the Board’s proposal of last August, that the DCI create an experimental competitive analysis group, should be pursued. This holds attraction for its modesty and potential. The Committee’s belief is that a competitive environment would make the most of situations where the intelligence community only has incomplete or partial information, because a range of judgments would be derived rather than a single judgment labelled “best.” In this structure, perhaps there would be two or three judgments with the choice of what to accept (or which mixture of each) left to the decisionmaker. We do not believe competition of this character can be fostered wholly within the intelligence community (as, for example, by encouraging DIA and CIA to compete with each other) and that to expose weaknesses in the estimating process, “outsiders” who are given access to current information are necessary. The competitive process would hopefully sharpen the use of language, illuminate differences, uncertainties and consequences. We propose that the Board again suggest the implementation of an experiment in competitive analysis and net evaluation which was proposed to the President last August.

37. Recognizing that the exchange of correspondence initiated by the Board’s 8 August letter contributed to a resentment of the views expressed therein rather than to an acceptance of the helpful spirit in which it was tendered, no additional formal correspondence is recommended at this time. In particular, this report should not be circulated outside of Board channels.

38. We recommend the Chairman advise General Scowcroft that the efforts of the NIE Evaluation Committee in response to his letter of 4 December, have been completed; that such views were presented to [Page 752]full Board at its April meeting11 during which a consensus was expressed that the Committee discuss its observations with the Committee on Foreign Intelligence (CFI) at the earliest practicable date. (The CFI was created by President Ford in his “omnibus” Executive Order of 18 February 1976,12 for the purpose, inter alia, of establishing policy priorities for the collection and production of national intelligence. The membership is: The Director of Central Intelligence (George Bush), who serves as Chairman; the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (Robert Ellsworth); and the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (William Hyland). Although the CFI is not responsible for the production of substantive intelligence, the cooperation of its principals must be secured if the Board’s recommendations are to be implemented.) A memorandum for the Chairman’s signature which proposes such a meeting is attached as Appendix E.13

39. Assuming the CFI is receptive to the Board’s views, a National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) to implement the suggestions should be considered. A draft is attached as Appendix F.14

40. In addition to the above conclusions and recommendations which are of primary relevance to our task, the following collateral items were adduced during the interviews and committee discussions, and are offered for consideration:

a. The subject of Soviet intentions, objectives and tactics in the broadest sense is deserving of more comprehensive treatment than it now receives in NIE 11–3/8. Perhaps a separate NIE on this central topic should be commissioned.

b. Consideration should be given to establishing a small (no more than six), part-time group of “elder statesmen” who, under the DCI’s aegis, would review and comment on selected NIEs or on other crucial intelligence products—prior to publication and after being given full access to all of the evidence used by the analysts in formulating their appraisals.

c. A thorough study should be made to determine whether the intelligence community has an affirmative obligation to declassify and provide information to the public. As a related matter, whether the intelligence community should be required, upon the publication of each annual strategic forces estimate, to specify in the document which of the key judgments it is willing to be held publically accountable for five years hence, should also be considered.

[Page 753]

d. The question of the time period to be covered by the NIE 11–3/8 series should be reconsidered in light of the consumer’s desire for timely information and in view of the limitations of the intelligence community with regard to accurate, long-term predictions.

e. The Board should consider encouraging policymakers and decisionmakers to schedule oral intelligence briefings on topics of interest as principal means of receiving intelligence. The purpose would be to develop a direct relationship with the knowledgeable intelligence officer, and cultivate a better understanding between the user and the producer.

f. The intelligence community should reassess the function of the NIE, the variety of readership that must be served, and the kinds of topics that are most important to each. For example, in lieu of a single NIE on Soviet offensive and defensive forces for intercontinental conflict, it may be preferable to place greater analytic emphasis on addressing narrower topics in varying degrees of detail, depending upon the principal audience of interest.

g. Awareness of the efforts of this Committee served as a stimulus for a number of activities by the intelligence community with regard to observations in the Board’s letter of 8 August 1975. The full Board should consider establishing an “NIE Evaluation Committee” as a permanent body of the PFIAB and, to aid in the maintenance of “fresh ideas,” the membership should be rotated periodically.

[Page 754]

Appendix C

Summary Conclusions of a Study Prepared by the Office of the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for National Intelligence Officers15

Washington, February 6, 1976.


An Evaluation of the Strategic National Intelligence Estimates, 1966–1975


1. The intelligence community, as judged by the findings in its national estimates, has a good record of detecting and determining major characteristics and missions of new weapons systems soon after testing begins and usually well before IOC.

a. This capability has improved since 1966 with the development of higher resolution photography [less than 1 line not declassified] capabilities.

b. However, the community was not always right from the outset:

—The SS–N–8 was considered to have a 3,100 nm range (3,500 nm maximum) until it demonstrated 4,200 nm in November and December 1972 (IOC was in April 1974). Lacking firm data, the analysts misjudged how close to 100 percent to propellant capacity was being used.

—There was initial confusion about the size and functions of some of the new hardened missile silos introduced in the early 1970s.

—Not until the early 1970s was it determined that some SS–11 silos which began deployment in 1967 were oriented to provide previously lacking coverage of China and that others were oriented to cover Europe, the Mediterranean and South Asia. All, however, can be used against the US and are so counted.

c. [1 paragraph (5 lines) not declassified]

—[1 paragraph (6 lines) not declassified]

2. The intelligence community has also been generally successful in monitoring the deployment of new weapon systems and the introduction of major modifications in existing ones, despite some initial difficulties in determining the scope and pace of deployment. There have been recurring minor uncertainties and disagreements about how many silos are under construction, how many submarines are in the [Page 755]building shed, and the like. These uncertainties have been reduced but not eliminated with the advent of better, more precise sensors.

a. The principal problems arose during the mid-1960s, before the full scope of the ICBM buildup and the pace of Y-class submarine production were clear.

3. The community’s record is spottier on predicting likely Soviet force goals over the longer run, on which direct evidence was usually lacking.

a. The most obvious shortcoming was the failure of the earlier estimates to foresee the degree to which Soviets would not only catch up to the US in number of ICBMs but keep right on going. There was a similar early failure to recognize that the Soviets would want—and demand in negotiating the Interim Agreement in 197216—more than the 35–50 modern ballistic missile submarines which the estimates took to represent rough parity with the US.

—The estimators appear to have been overimpressed with the magnitude of the problems and uncertainties the Soviets faced in achieving and then retaining full equality with the US and to have overestimated Soviet concern about provoking new US deployments or force improvements. At the same time, they evidently underestimated the strength and persistence of the political, institutional, and probably most of all military pressures for continuation of the buildup—probably in part because of doubt that a push much past equality would be of real military value.

b. [1 paragraph (10 lines) not declassified]

c. [1 paragraph (7 lines) not declassified]

d. [1 paragraph (9 lines) not declassified]

7. The estimative record in foreseeing qualitative improvements in Soviet strategic systems is mixed. For the most part, they appear to have been successful in identifying major requirements the Soviets would probably seek to satisfy through new or improved weapon systems, though not exactly when or in what form the improvement would appear. In particular, they foresaw the development by the early or mid-1970s of MIRVed ICBMs with improved accuracy and hard target kill capability. They also foresaw the introduction of longer range SLBMs than those of the Y-class. In the various fields of strategic defense, they appear to have identified correctly the problems the Soviets faced are the most promising lines of development.

a. However, there have been some surprises. While anticipating greater Soviet emphasis on the survivability of their ICBMs, they did [Page 756]not foresee—before construction actually began—that the Soviets would undertake the very extensive remodeling of silos and construction of new launch control facilities now going on. More important, they failed to foresee that the Soviets would greatly increase the throwweight of their new missiles and introduce new launch techniques with some. Although the throwweight issue was examined in the context of possible SALT constraints, no one anticipated that the Soviets might greatly increase missile volume without increasing silo diameter.

b. In addition, the Soviets have thus far failed to make a number of advances which analysis in the estimates indicated would be necessary or desirable—e.g., the development of quieter submarines with a capability for covert trail of US submarines.

8. In terms of the threat to the Triad, the record can be summarized as follows:

a. The threat to Minuteman from Soviet hard target MIRVs has been overestimated in terms of how soon high accuracy would be obtained, if the current estimates are correct, but was underestimated in terms of throw weight and number of RVs. Although the key consideration remains accuracy, the early availability of additional RVs will move up the date when there will be enough to threaten Minuteman survivability.

b. The threat to US bombers and ASMs penetrating Soviet territory has grown about as the estimates indicated, with the Soviets continuing to make incremental improvements in virtually all phases of air defense, but not the drastic improvements in low level intercept capabilities that were required. Although it is now judged that the Soviets may be able to overcome current deficiencies by the early 1980s, it remains uncertain whether this will provide an effective operational capabil-ity under actual combat conditions. There is no indication that the So-viets are developing a depressed trajectory mode of operation for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, so that they could be used against US bomber bases with reduced warning time.

c. Soviet ABM capabilities did not develop as expected; improved systems have been slower to develop, additional deployment at Moscow or elsewhere failed to take place and deployment is now severely limited by treaty.

d. Soviet ASW capabilities against US SSBNs have remained very low as was estimated, despite vigorous Soviet ASW programs.

9. With respect to the effectiveness of the NIEs in depicting Soviet motivations, goals, and expectations over the past decade, it is probably impossible to provide an evaluation that will satisfy everyone. However, in terms of the intelligence community’s present perceptions and judgments, the only particular shortcomings we would note are the following:

[Page 757]

a. In retrospect, it is evident that the estimates of the mid and late 1960s failed to convey an adequate sense of the determination of the Soviets to build up sizable force and warfighting capabilities, however long it took. Perhaps there was temporary uncertainty in Moscow about what courses of action to follow and how the US might respond, as those estimates suggest. It now looks as though the Soviets adopted ambitious strategic force goals and moved steadily forward without much concern that the US might feel it necessary to step up its own programs in turn.

b. NIE 11–8–72 gives the impression that Soviet acceptance of the 1972 SALT accords involved greater Soviet interest in a stabilized strategic relationship with the US and a greater concern to avoid actions which might jeopardize détente than proved to be the case—although it estimated that new weapon programs would be “vigorous and demanding,” and presented force projections comparable to or in some cases more ambitious than the modernization programs now in progress.

b. In fact the Soviets have taken a highly competitive view of the strategic relationship with the US, have evidently considered a high level of force development activity as quite consistent with détente, and appear to have looked on arms control primarily as a means of constraining US force development rather than as a means of curtailing the overall competition and thus achieving greater stability.

10. One final point is that, just as the strategic situation has changed greatly over the past decade, so have the scope and contents of the estimates. The estimates of the mid and late 1960s were relatively short and general in nature, with details about how future Soviet forces might develop relegated to supplementing documents like the NIPP. More recently they have included greatly expanded and more explicit treatments of the evidence and analysis underlying key judgments and more on the organizational aspects and operational implications of the capabilities being built up. The content and focus of the estimates have since varied in some degree from year to year, depending on the observed progress of Soviet programs, on what topics were considered most pertinent and important, and on the availability of new analytical studies. Beginning in 1974 the NIE 11–3 and NIE 11–8 series have been combined in a single document, so that all aspects of Soviet strategic policy and activities are considered together.

11. How effective these changes have been in improving the usefulness of the estimates is for the customer to say. With respect to the estimative track record, however, it is pertinent to note that the analysts whose work is reflected in the estimates have had to address increasingly complex questions and in answering them have been under heavy pressure to be explicit about the nature and extent of their evi[Page 758]dence, how their conclusions were arrived at, and how much confidence can be placed in them. Moreover, while there remain important limits on how much can be learned about Soviet strategic weapons and about Soviet strategic plans and policies, there have been important improvements in both the quality and quantity of information available to US intelligence.

[Page 758a]

Appendix D

Chart Prepared by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board17

Washington, undated.


PFIAB Letter to President Ford of 8 August 1975 NIE 11–3/8–74 (paraphrased) NIE 11–3/8–75 (paraphrased)
  • I. NIE 11–3/8–74 is deficient:
    • a. Key judgments are misleading . . .
    • b. Projects sense of complacency unsupported by the facts . . .
    • c. Deficient for the purposes it should serve, which are:
      • 1. Support Congress
      • 2. Guide the Defense Dept.
      • 3. Underpin SALT
I. “We doubt whether Soviets have settled on achieving clear-cut strategic superiority.” I. “Scope and vigor of Soviet programs raise the elusive question of whether they have embraced some form of superiority as an objective.”
II. “It is extremely unlikely that during the next ten years the Soviets will conclude that they could launch an attack which would prevent devastating US retaliation.” II. “Forecasts for 10 years are made with varying degrees of uncertainty: it’s almost certain USSR won’t have a pre-emptive force; it’s probable that a rough strategic balance will be achieved; it’s possible but unlikely USSR will acquire greater capability than the U.S. to back up policies.”
III. Key judgments section is five pages. III. The key judgments section is 10 pages.
IV. “We don’t foresee technological advances that will sharply alter the strategic balance.” IV. “We have re-examined R&D breakthrough potentials and rate chances as small” (but note Air Force dissent).
V. ICBM accuracy data is inconclusive and is interpreted very differently by analysts. The NIE averages worst and best cases. V. “Soviets would be uncertain regarding the outcome of an attack on the US Minuteman force.” V. Same judgment as NIE 11–3/8–74 prevails . . . but further in the text, there is an acknowledgement that present Soviet ICBM accuracies are better than previously estimated and that longer term improvements are likely to be even better.
VI. Sov. ASW capability could “breakthrough.” VI. “Soviet ASW Forces will be unable to locate and destroy US SLBMs at sea.” VI. Same judgment as NIE 11–3/8–74 prevails (but see the lengthy discussion of difficulties inherent in successful ASW operations).
VII. Sov. Air Defense improvements raise question of US bomber survivability. VII. “No significant improvement to low altitude air defense before 1985.” VII. No indications of major improvements to low altitude air defense before 1980s except with a very high level of effort by the Soviets.
VIII. ICBM accuracies. VIII. “In the 1980s, Soviet ICBMs will be a potential threat to US Minuteman.” VIII. “Soviets have evidently realized that qualitative improvements will have greater affect on the strategic environment in the 1980s. But is is highly unlikely that Soviet ICBMs would threaten Minuteman III silos by the end of the 1970s; they will probably pose a major threat in the early 1980s.
IX. NIE doesn’t highlight the uncertainties enough. IX. Near term estimates: high confidence Mid term estimates (2–5 years): some confidence Longer term estimates (5–10 years): cannot estimate with confidence.
X. NIE shouldn’t give appearance of a net assessment. X. Now called “interactive analysis” and is limited to stereotyped scenario involving only ICBMs (no submarines or bombers). Note is made of fact that command, control and communications vulnerabilities would have great effect but wasn’t included.
  1. Source: National Security Council Files, Ford Intelligence Files, Box I–013, NIE Evaluation by PFIAB. Secret. Galvin, the committee's chairman, forwarded the report to Carver under a covering memorandum of April 29. (CIA, NIC Files, Job 91M00696R, Box 7, Competitive Analysis, Background, 1976.)
  2. Document 154.
  3. Document 155.
  4. See Tab A to Document 156.
  5. See Document 159.
  6. Document 160.
  7. See the Attachment to Document 160.
  8. See footnote 7, Document 161.
  9. See Document 162.
  10. NIE 11–8–72, October 26, 1972, is Document 225 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXXIV, National Security Policy, 1969–1972.
  11. No record of the meeting was found.
  12. E.O. 11905 reorganized the intelligence community, the first major such reorganization since 1947. The order, among numerous other reforms, created the CFI as an intelligence management body. (Public Papers: Ford, 1976, pp. 348–350, 362–366)
  13. Cherne's April 1 letter to Scowcroft, as signed, is attached, but not printed.
  14. The draft NSDM, summarized herein, is attached, but not printed.
  15. Top Secret.
  16. See footnote 3, Document 2.
  17. Secret.