Book Review: Central Intelligence and National Security
REVIEWER: Abbot Smith
A collection ol articles on the historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects ol intelligence.
All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence arc those of
the authors They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations
CRITIQUES OF SOME RECENT BOOKS ON INTELLIGENCE
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY. By R. B. Rantom. (Cambridge: Harvard University . )
This is the best study that has been written on theorganization, and problems of the US IntelligenceThe author declares that his goal is "to describecentral intelligence insofar as this can be done from nonsccrethis goal be has admirably attained; It is remarkable indeed how much can be learned from "nonsecret" sources if they are industriously and skillfully used. The tone of the book is throughout temperate and scholarly. The reader will find an excellent brief discussion of what Intelligence is, and of how it is supposed to operate. He will find goodaccounts of the history, functions, and presentof all the IAC member agencies, and of CIA itself.outsiders willood deal that is new to them, and students in CIA training courses will find this an excellent textbook.
reatperhaps excessivedegree the story centers about National Intelligence Estimates. Partly, no doubt, this is because the existence of these estimates and the general manner of their production Is no secret. But partly It Isthe author entertains the highest notion of their"No development In American governmentalIn recent years Is more Important than the evolution of the mechanism for producing the National Intelligencehe says. This mechanism Is accurately and quite fully described. And there Is much explanation of why successful policies can only be made on the basis of good Information and sound estimates.
But the author runs Into trouble when he attempts to say how good National Intelligence Estimates really are. Even If he had been given all the texts of all the estimates be would not have found tt easy to arriveudgment of their validity.
it is, the best he can do is to quote people like Admiralwho says that we always overestimate the strength and capabilities of the Soviets, and other people like Joseph AJsop, who says that we always underestimate them. The reader will not be much wiser after such quotations; indeed he may well wonder why Alsop should be cited at all as an authority on the subject.
Then the author worries about the dangers of "intelligence by committee"the perilsatered-down consensus. He fears that there may not be enough weight given to variant opinions. "On the most Important ofays he, "is likely to be found the greatest variety of dissentinghisommonly held notion, which the present reviewer believes to be false. The fact is that there is not often much difference of opinion in the Intelligence community on "the most important of questions"it is on the less important that argument is most apt to be sharp. Indeed, most of the tune devoted to coordinating the text of Estimates is spent inrelatively minor matters of emphasis, phraseology, and the like. When there are firmly held differences of viewruly important question, nobody desires to minimize the matter or toissent by watering down the collective judgment.
The author's discussion of tbe relationship betweenand policy Is always Interesting, and sometimesalarming. Policy-making, says he,ynamic process.
A great deal hangs on the confidence and firmness with which an Intelligence estimate is rendered, whetheronsensus orissentirm Judgment Is given. It may be sufficient by itself to determine US policy. But intelligence estimators would be irresponsible if theyirm judgment when the evidence did not warrant It They would In effect beolicy decision in the guise of mtelhgence, and they ought not to do this. It seems to me that the author of this book, along with others who decry the "watering down" of intelligence estimates, misses this point He gives intelligence estimators no credit for honest doubts, or for decent intellectual humility In the face of Insufficient evidence. He is clear, however. In his caution that intelligence estimators must base theiropinions strictly on the evidence, and not upon extraneous
ey element in It la the information available. The man or group controlling Information thusegree controls policy. If knowledge Is power, he remarks. CIA through an increasing efficiency has come toajor role In national security policy.
He goes yet further. CIA, he says, will probably increase Its influence, simply because increasing centralization of power and of function Is more or less Inevitable in the modern age. At some tune or other the policy-making elements in the Executive and Legislative branches of the government may reach an impasse. When that day comes It may be that CIA winthird force" within the Executive Branch, and successfully espouse Its own foreign-military policy. This horrendous prospect disturbs theittle, and is one reason why he favors the appointmentongressionalto oversee the operations of CIA In the way suggested by Senator Mansfield.
Despite these fears, the author sketchesonsiderable extension In the traditional activities of intelligence Too little attention has been given, be says, to the discovery of factors by which the United States may Influence the future. There has been too little Basic Research, and too much accumulation of facts. "The whole Intelligence enterprise tends to focus upon the fillingast warehouse of encyclopedicnd again, "too little regard is shown generally to theory,or the Inductivee it so. but an Increasing mastery of these methods, and an increasing weight of product from them, might In the long run make CIA virtually an arbiter of policy.oubt that we shall ever be wise enough to reach that position on the "most Important questions."
Tbe foregoing observations are directed to some points raised hi the last chapter of the book under consideration. Primarily tbe book Is descriptive, not argumentative; it deals with the intelligence mechsnism as it exists, and eschews theory. There Is an excellent apparatus of footnotes,engthy critical bibliography. Altogether thisajor work In our field, and one to be warmly welcomed.
Abbot SmithOriginal document.