308. Memorandum From Michel Oksenberg to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • Intelligence Community Watch on China

I have sent you a number of memos on the inadequacies of the intelligence community’s work on China.2 We are vulnerable to the same massive intelligence failures we suffered on Iran. The community runs:

—[1 paragraph (1 line) not declassified];

—[1 paragraph (2½ lines) not declassified];

—translation series that do not convey the breadth of available, pertinent articles on Chinese domestic and foreign affairs;

—[1 paragraph (2½ lines) not declassified];

—political analysis divisions at CIA, DIA, and State with insufficient language capability, redundancy on current intelligence, insufficient basic research capacity, and inadequate attention to policy-relevant issues that will affect us over the next six months–three years.

In general, the intelligence community has just not caught up with our new relationship with China. Basically, China is considered an adversary, to be studied at a distance. Intelligence needs and opportunities that arise from our direct involvement with China are down-played. Yet the need has never been greater to understand, for example, the Chinese banking system or Chinese joint-venture laws.

Compounding the problem, I have discovered upon my return to Michigan, is that the academic community seems slow to understand the full implications of normalization. Academic China specialists are [Page 1108] as unprepared for, and hesitant about, a full, extensive relationship with China as the intelligence community.

But as Roger3 and I have thought about ways to grapple with this massive problem, we see a two-year bureaucratic chore. Explicit Presidential and SCC backing will be necessary. Both of us are attracted by a challenge that will touch on almost every facet of the intelligence community. But because it is a two-year effort, we have decided that now is not the time to address the issue in a concerted manner. Budgetary uncertainties, Turner’s tenure in a second term, the situation at the mid-stream, having done some damage but not yet having put the new pieces in place. I therefore reluctantly bite my tongue, and if the situation permits in early 1981, Roger and I will seek to put the issue on your agenda. In the meantime, we may be back to you on smaller parts of the problem, such as the Taiwan dimension.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 57, Policy Process: 9/79–12/80. Secret; Outside the System. Sent through Sullivan. At the top of the page, Brzezinski wrote, “OK—give me recommendation for action. Good. ZB.”
  2. One example is a February 28 memorandum from Oksenberg to Brzezinski on the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. intelligence on China. Oksenberg argued that “political-social-economic analysis at the Agency” fell below minimally acceptable standards. Among the reasons for these failures Oksenberg cited inadequate language competence and area expertise, lack of career incentive to specialize, homogenization of product due to the clearance and editing process, insufficient institutional memory, estrangement of policymakers from intelligence analysts, and duplication of effort among analysts in different agencies. Oksenberg noted Sullivan’s concurrence with his views and suggested that Stansfield Turner “appoint a panel of outside experts to assess the Agency products in the economic/political sectors and to make recommendations for improvements.” Brzezinski wrote, “good” on the memorandum. (Ibid.)
  3. Roger Sullivan.