Did Team B do more than "second guess" the CIA professionals?


Team B did not "second-guess" the CIA. It participated in a competitive analysis.  Such a competition was a unique experiment in the annals of US intelligence.

Here is what happened:  in January 1976, in response to pressure from the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) to examine the way the CIA arrived at its National Intelligence Estimates, George Bush, then the newly appointed Director of Central Intelligence, agreed to a test in which both the CIA (called Team A) and a panel of non-CIA experts (called Team B) would independently analyze the same underlying material on three national security issues.

Team B members, all approved by the CIA, included Harvard political scientist Richard Pipes, General Daniel Graham, who had headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, Paul Nitze, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, General John Vogt, the former Air Force Chief of Staff, Thomas Wolfe, a top Rand Corporation executive, General Jasper Welsh, the head of the Air Force's system analysis and Paul Wolfowitz, who was at the Arms Control Agency.

The three topics selected by the National Security Council were 1) Soviet missile accuracy, 2) the ability of low-flying US bombers to penetrate Soviet defenses and 3) overall Soviet strategic capabilities and intentions. (A fourth proposed topic, the detectability of US submarines, was rejected by the Navy). The exercise began in August 1976 and ended in December 1976, with both sides presenting their conclusion to PFIAB.

The same data produced two startlingly different results. On the issue of Soviet missile accuracy, for example, Team A concluded that Soviet missiles were relatively inaccurate (1/4 of a nautical mile), and therefore did not pose a major threat to US silos; whereas Team B concluded that Soviet missiles may have attained sufficient accuracy (1/15th of a nautical mile) to threaten these same silos. ( As Soviet missile testing later revealed. Team B turned out to be correct on this issue.)

The lesson of this extraordinary disputation was not that the Soviet Union had a greater or lesser capacity but that intelligence estimates, no matter how objective they may seem, are an inherently uncertain enterprise, based on questionable assumptions and selective exploitation of sources. The facts of intelligence work are not like marbles that can be lined up, counted and weighed. They assume different meanings depending on who selects them and orders them into a mosaic. Intelligence estimates are at best, therefore, an incomplete product.

As one perceptive member of Team B later pointed out, "To succeed in these circumstances, policymakers must become, in effect, the senior analyst on their core accounts. Above all, they must become adept at the analytic techniques for doing battle with incomplete information and contradictory assumptions." That was what was learned from Team B.

Corollary Question:

If policy-makers, including the President, are responsible for vetting the intelligence that they use, is the term "intelligence failure" anything more than convenient camouflage for a failure of policy-makers?

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