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
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.
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?