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Appendix A

9. After the Fall

It is just four decades since the Report of the Commission on Government Security, the first and, until now, the only other statutory body to inquire into secrecy and security. The Commission Report was thoughtful and in no sense alarmist. Even so, it would have institutionalized the loyalty system through a Central Security Office, and would have greatly expanded the reach of government by making it a crime under the Espionage Act for persons outside of government--read "journalists"--to disclose classified information. Neither measure was adopted. (A third proposal to "make admissible in a court of law evidence of subversion obtained by wiretapping" was never formally adopted, but gradually and partially became accepted practice.) There have been numerous executive orders of differing degrees of consequence, but all fall within the overall statutory and administrative framework of the arrangements put in place during World War I. This system was designed to deal with conflict between nation states, in which the United States had to deal with internal as well as external conflict.

To say that the system has not changed appreciably is not to say that it has not degraded. Most of this degradation can be accounted for by recognizable bureaucratic behavior. First one agency; then another agency; then a third agency. First an activity exclusively directed from within the Executive Branch; next the emergence of equally forceful direction from the Legislative Branch. First a considerable degree of public concern at unfamiliar arrangements and activities, followed by familiarity and gradual acceptance.

In the years immediately following the Second World War, there was a considerable competition among the Defense Department (and its predecessor) and the State Department and the Justice Department (in the form of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) for primacy in directing what would be called "the intelligence community." In this competition the defense community won out, although the FBI remained a significant participant. Again, in the bureaucratic mode, no significant interest was entirely cut out; redundancy became the norm, especially as the extent of redundancy remained more or less undisclosed. Only the State Department lost relative influence and resources.

The secrecy system degraded most significantly in the form of "leaks," that is to say, "unlawful disclosures of classified information," as the Report of the Commission on Government Security put it. These occur routinely, typically in the course of contests within the Executive Branch, or between the Executive and the Legislative. It has become routine for high government officials to lament the dissonance brought on by the momentary inability to remember whether some important fact was learned in a highly classified briefing or from evening television. There is, effectively, no sanction for giving "classified information" to the press, as the term is generally understood. To the contrary, there are perceived rewards accruing to those who do so. (Not to mention the memoirs of presidents and cabinet members!)

This "Brief Account" has not attempted to judge either the gains achieved or the losses incurred by the secrecy system that developed over the course of the 20th century. Clearly, there were both. Indisputably, a vast range of contacts with other governments require secrecy while they are relevant. Clearly, covert actions require secrecy while they are relevant. Keeping in mind, however, that by definition others know of these secrets, and not always those we would wish. In a celebrated Cold War gaffe, an American official disclosed the existence, on the territory of a NATO ally, of a not-inconsiderable "listening post" directed at the Soviet Union. The Soviets knew of this; they could see it. The allied government knew of it; only its citizenry did not.

Clearly, a great deal of information concerning weapons systems also needs to be secret so long as the systems are operational. Finally, and most obviously, military operations need to be kept secret from enemy forces, although by definition they do not remain secret for long. Once Allied forces had landed in Normandy, the opposing German forces knew what was up. In the course of the Cold War, however, the United States increasingly resorted to "covert" actions which, if only partially understood by adversaries, were more or less completely concealed from the American public. Even formal military operations began to be concealed. During the war in Vietnam, North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia were recurrently bombed in 1969 and 1970. Cambodians knew; Vietnamese knew; but the American public was not told until 1973. During this period domestic opposition to American foreign policy attained an intensity never previously known. The incumbent president asked himself whether constitutional government would survive.


For all the distraction of covert action and military engagement on the periphery of Eurasia and in parts of what would come to be known as the Third World, the central, all-consuming task of statecraft during the Cold War was to establish an effective system of deterrence by which the Soviet Union would be dissuaded from nuclear war. The BIG SECRET of the American Government during the early and middle years of the Cold War was that Soviet economic and military power was advancing at a rate which made deterrence problematic at best. By 1957, a Top Secret Report entitled "Deterrence & Survival in the Nuclear Age," warned of "spectacular progress" on the part of the Soviets in achieving substantial parity in the essentials of military strength, and forecast a "crossover," as the term would be, when the Soviets would have achieved superiority.

The document, known as "The Gaither Report," for H. Rowen Gaither, Jr., then head of the Ford Foundation, was a product of the Security Resources Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee, this latter body having been created by President Eisenhower to provide independent advice about the state of such matters. The National Security Council requested it, and in the manner of the time, the job was done in six months. Not without cause: the Report was forwarded to the President just weeks after the October 4, 1957, launching of the Soviet Sputnik (for "Fellow Traveler"!). The first artificial Earth satellite. The conclusions were stark to the point of startling:

The figures that followed the above analysis (and which are reproduced below) were uncompromising. The first showed the Soviets reaching up towards United States production of coal and steel, and already producing twice the number of machine tools. The while the United States frittered away resources on consumer goods such as automobiles, washing machines, and refrigerators. The second showed the Soviet military effort just about to surpass that of the United States.

The assertion that Soviet Gross National Product was growing "half again as fast" as that of the United States was traumatic. In 1956, nominal growth in the United States was 5.5 percent, which would give the Soviets a nominal rate of 8.25 percent. The former rate was in line with the forecasts of the Council of Economic Advisers, which had been estimating long-run real growth of 3.5 percent, with inflation at about 2 percent. And so, the President's Science Advisory Committee informed the President that the "crossover" date would be 1998. By the end of the century, the Soviet Union would have a larger economy than ours, and presumedly vastly greater military strength.153

The intelligence community accepted and "improved" the assessment of the Gaither Commission. In May 1958, Allen W. Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence, spoke to the annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States on "Dimensions of the International Peril Facing Us." These were seen to be formidable:

Note that at a 6 percent growth rate for the U.S.S.R., the "crossover" date would be 1992. At 7 percent, 1983. As best this now distant history can be reconstructed, the Department of State was almost alone in questioning such fantasy. In 1962, the head of the Policy Planning Staff privately demurred that he was not one of those "6 percent forever" persons.155 Note, also, that the CIA estimate was as public as can be. The statistical and economic bases for the estimate remained secret, and secrecy carried conviction. Presidents believed it.

The Gaither Report remained "Top Secret" until 1973. But, of course, it had leaked well before then. As John Prados records, on November 5, 1957, two days before it was forwarded to the President, the New York Times reported that a secret study of the entire scope of national defense was about to be sent to the NSC. Then, on December 20, Chalmers Roberts of the Washington Post published a very detailed article in that paper.156 The "missile gap" now appeared. The Report had been explicit in this matter:

It is not clear, and probably never will be, whether the panel had access to the U-2 photographs then available, which evidently showed no sign of a massive ICBM build-up. In any event, President Eisenhower did know this, and was disinclined to see a crisis. Probably Senator John F. Kennedy did not know this, and so the "missile gap" entered the vocabulary of the 1960 Presidential election. For certain, the journalists Joseph and Stuart Alsop knew all manner of leading figures within the intelligence community. On August 1, 1958, they wrote:

Senator William Proxmire would later record that "Few documents have had as great an influence on American strategic thinking in the modern era. . . ."159 The missile gap turned out not to exist, but nearly four decades later the United States is still contemplating modes of missile defense. Civil defense has pretty much disappeared from policy debates, but the aftermath of a massive scare echoes on and on.

The question must be asked: what was gained by secrecy? Had the Report been made public, as Senator Lyndon B. Johnson requested at the time, might not the economics profession have become more engaged with the subject in an open public debate?

For fifty years, as Bryan Hehir has recently observed, the United States confronted a direct, unambiguous issue: "how to deter a conscious, rational choice to use nuclear weapons against American territory."160 Given the nature of the issue--a rational choice--a case surely can be made that our deliberations ought to have been much more public, much less "secret." Save for the Smyth Report of 1946, this case was never made. The Bomb created a mystique of secrecy that resisted any disposition to openness.

There was, to be sure, a vigorous public debate about nuclear strategy, principally based in universities and various "think-tanks" that now appeared. But within the Government, decisionmaking proceeded on the basis of tightly held--unless deliberately leaked--classified information and analysis. Of the roughly 100 persons associated with the Gaither Report there were few economists. None of the principals had any particular knowledge of the Soviet system, certainly not enough to add "investment in heavy industry" to outlays on the armed forces to produce an index of Soviet geopolitical strength defined as nuclear strike power. These passages from the Report are a close brush with the demented. What is merely painful is for all those physicists to measure the overall strength of an economy in terms of coal and steel production thirteen years after one of the first computers, the Mark 1 built by Howard Aiken, began operating at Harvard.

Great efforts were made within the Federal Government to get a grasp on the size and direction of the Soviet economy. In the main, the results followed the disposition put in place in the Eisenhower years to see the Soviets as a modern industrial economy growing more so. Here is testimony from Nicholas Eberstadt, presently of the American Enterprise Institute, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in July 1990, a year before the formal collapse of the Soviet regime:

At the same hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Michael J. Boskin, then-Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, estimated that the Soviet economy was "about one-third" the size of the United States.162 At this time, the official Handbook of Economic Statistics, produced by the intelligence community, put the ratio at 52 percent.163 Obviously, the lunacy of the earlier projection was no more, but the disposition to exaggerate--not to take the chance of underestimating--was still much in evidence. The United States GDP for 1990 was $4.8 trillion. The intelligence community put Soviet GDP at $2.5 trillion. The President's chief economist made it more like $1.6 trillion. The difference is $900 billion. Which would buy a lot of missiles.

Government secrecy is not to be overblamed here. The CIA's estimates of Soviet GDP had been made public as early as 1959. The essential fact is that economists in general failed to grasp the stagnation that settled on the Soviet economy after a brief post-Second World War spurt in industries beloved of Heroes of Soviet Labor. Dale W. Jorgenson writes that "this has to be one of the great failures of economics--right up there with the inability of economists (along with anyone else) to find a remedy for the Great Depression of the 1930's."164

Henry S. Rowen of Stanford, whose distinguished government service included his chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council from 1981-83, has echoed this sentiment; "Sovietologists" both within the intelligence community and in academia, trained to rely on the same general assumptions and data, had engaged in a form of "group-think" that resulted in a monumental failure of analysis. By 1985, he circulated a paper to senior Reagan administration officials outlining his conclusion that actual Soviet economic growth was close to zero; in April 1986, he expressed his views directly to the President and Vice President.165 Even so, the system failed and the United States paid a price.

By Fall 1991, only a few weeks before the Red Flag would be taken down at the Kremlin (on Christmas Day 1991) for the last time, Stansfield Turner, former Director of Central Intelligence, summed up:

The answer has to be, at least in part, that too much of the information was secret, not sufficiently open to the critique of the likes of Eberstadt, or the Swedish economist Anders Åslund, who for a long while described the Soviet Union as "a reasonably well developed Third World country, calling to mind Argentina, Mexico, or Portugal. . . ."167 Too little attention was paid to ethnic issues. The Soviet Union, after all, broke up along ethnic lines. Finally, much too little attention was paid to the decline of Marxist-Leninist belief. It was as if the 1917 Revolution were carried out by the RAND Corporation, intent on more efficient and abundant weapon production.


One legacy of a century of real and imagined conspiracy, most of it cloaked in secrecy, is that the American public has acquired a distrust of government almost in proportion to the effort of government to attempt to be worthy of trust. After all, in this "long twilight struggle," men and women of singular qualities devoted much or most or all of their working lives to defending American society against manifest hostility and danger. As time went on, this effort--so much of it secret--seemed less and less rewarded with an appropriate respect. To the contrary.

While, as Richard Hofstadter and others have documented, conspiracy theories have been part of the American experience for two centuries, they would appear to have grown in dimension in recent decades. The best-known and most notorious is, of course, the unwillingness on the part of the vast majority of the American public to accept that President Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (or by another lone gunman). A poll taken in 1966, two years after release of the Warren Commission report concluding that Oswald had acted alone, found that 36 percent of respondents accepted this finding, while 50 percent believed others had been involved in a conspiracy to kill the President (14 percent had no opinion). By 1978, however, only 18 percent responded that they believed the assassination had been the act of one man; fully 75 percent believed there had been a broader plot. The numbers have remained relatively steady since; a 1993 poll also found that three-quarters of those surveyed believed (consistent with a popular film released that year) that there had been a conspiracy.168

The public concern with conspiracy has a counterpart in the "understanding," if that is the term, by Washington elites as to the extent to which the CIA and the FBI have established a dossier system which routinely intimidated persons in power or aspiring to it. The law that organizations in conflict become like one another may be noted: this was a KGB specialty, as regards Soviet citizens, but with Americans also targeted as opportunities arose. Writing in 1995 of the early years of the CIA, a respected journalist, citing two earlier histories, gave a fair example:


Which brings us to the present. The central fact is that we live today in an Information Age. Open sources give us the vast majority of what we need to know in order to make intelligent decisions. Sound analysis, far more than secrecy, is the key to our security. Meaning decisions made by people after debate and argument, in which both assumptions and conclusions are scrutinized with great care. Decisions made by those who understand how to exploit the wealth and diversity of publicly available information, who no longer simply assume that clandestine collection, i.e., "stealing secrets," equates with greater intelligence.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and Admiral William A. Owens, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, make the point nicely in a 1996 article in Foreign Affairs. Knowledge is the "power resource of the future," and the key comparative advantage of the United States today and in the future will be in its "ability to collect, process, act upon, and disseminate information. . . ."170 Even so, they note, "outmoded thinking clouds the appreciation of information as power"; senior policymakers and others apparently prefer to continue to focus on the "traditional measures" of power even though "these measures failed to anticipate the demise of the Soviet Union, and they are an equally poor means of forecasting for the exercise of American leadership into the next century."171

The critical point recognized by Nye and Owens, but too often ignored elsewhere, is that U.S. "information dominance" and in turn global leadership will be maintained not through the imposition of measures that preserve maximum secrecy, but instead by "selectively sharing" our dominant knowledge. The technologies that drive the Information Revolution are already available around the world; they are not secrets that adversaries are attempting to steal in order to gain an advantage. Openness, not secrecy, thus offers the better means of "winning hearts and minds" and, by so doing, of expanding American influence.172

The danger, simply put, is that the secrecy system will remain in place regardless. In 1996, an Independent Task Force of the Council on Foreign Relations issued a report entitled, Making Intelligence Smarter. The word "secrecy" does not appear anywhere in the report, save in one Additional View. That the American public surely has a right to know and a need to know much or most of what is still reflexively labeled "Secret" simply does not rise to the issue of a policy choice. But it is surely that. The Cold War is over. Yet this most pervasive of Cold War-era regulation persists without change.

There is just now a vigorous debate taking place concerning intelligence estimates of Soviet strength during the 1970s and 1980s. In particular, it can be shown that any number of papers by CIA analysts depicted a troubled, even declining economy. But it cannot be shown that any president believed this. It is to be doubted that any such proposition ever made its way through to a president. One National Security Council staffer has observed that "Intelligence estimates typically are written so they can never be wrong. The consequence, of course, is that they never are right." And, indeed, by the late 1980s the president was receiving so many daily intelligence digests from the assorted intelligence agencies that it is doubtful any were actually ever read by the person for whom they were nominally intended.

We ought not to fault American presidents for not understanding a situation any better than their Soviet counterparts. Still, there is a formidable case to be made that by the 1970s and 1980s an enormous institutional interest had developed in "threat analysis in worst possible case conditions." It is, for example, a matter of record that the American diplomats who negotiated the Strategic Arms Treaty (START) with the Soviet Union over the better part of a decade, beginning in 1982, had no intimation until the early 1990s that in the end the Treaty would be signed not with the U.S.S.R. but with four entirely "new" governments: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.173 Again, we may assume that the Soviet negotiators had no inkling that their empire was about to implode, but there is a sense in which that would have been kept a secret in the U.S.S.R. when it could have easily been an open possibility within and without the American Government. Indeed, from the time Murray Feshbach, in 1976, published his findings of the decline of life expectancy in Soviet males, it was open in the United States.174 Perhaps the problem was that Feshbach, then in the Bureau of the Census, had simply studied data from the Soviet census. No secrets there; accordingly, little interest.

Even so, this clearly ought to be the mode in which our Government tries to make sense of the world around us. Secrecy is natural to an information-poor society. Accordingly, information is hoarded, exchanged cautiously, with large transaction costs. All this is past. We live, as James S. Coleman observed some years ago, in an "information-rich society." This extends to information about getting information. Everything can be gotten. Open sources give you everything; and for practical purposes there are no closed sources.

The Soviet Union failed to realize this and, accordingly, failed to survive the 20th century. When the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl blew apart in 1986, the United States knew instantly. In those days, we photographed the U.S.S.R. once a day. American officials urged General Secretary Gorbachev to tell the world what had happened. Gorbachev, however, thought it could be kept a secret. As the radioactive fall-out drifted beyond the Soviet borders, sensors, first in one, then another Warsaw Pact country, picked it up, and in time there would be no more Warsaw Pact. It is not necessary to assert a direct connection to make the general point.

The Soviet Union is gone. But the secrecy system that grew in the United States in the long travail of the 20th century challenge to the Western democracies, culminating in the Cold War, is still in place as if nothing has changed. The system is massive, pervasive, evasive. Bureaucracies perpetuate themselves; regulations accumulate and become even more invasive.

This would be expensive and a bit absurd in any situation, but in time for the United States, it is very likely dangerous as well. The future is not likely to be any more peaceful than the past. Conflict rages in many parts of the world, but the basis of conflict is very different from that of the immediate past. The universalist ideology of Communism is past. The assumption that it will now be succeeded by a universal acceptance of legality and democracy, sustained by free and open markets, is surely open to question. It was no accident that the conflict of the 20th century which began with the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, had no more finally come to an end when a new ethnic/religious war broke out in . . . Sarajevo, and the Balkans generally. Harkening back to the borders of the Eastern and Western Roman empires, the medieval Christian divide, almost at the limit of Muslim conquest in the age of Suleiman.

It is reasonable to assume, at the very least prudent to assume, that such conflict will be endemic to the next century. It is characterized by acts of nontraditional warfare, which we call terrorism. It is meant to be frightening and it is. Our concern should be that we not give way to fear. To that end, we must surely strive to be as open about such matters as is ever possible. To learn from our past. Secrecy responds first of all to the fear of conspiracy, regularly and consistently associated with one or another ethnic or religious group within American society. (Again, it should be obvious that our Muslim citizens are now especially vulnerable.)

It should be equally obvious that in this new period, the United States will be best served by the largest possible degree of openness as to the nature of the threats we face. To do otherwise is to invite preoccupation with passing conspiracy, after all that we have sacrificed in this century to destroy sustained conspiracies that might very well have destroyed us.

153 If real, as against nominal, growth rates are used, the "crossover" does not occur until the year 2021, but the Soviets would have, by any such calculation, long since established a potential military superiority.
154 Allen W. Dulles, "Dimensions of the International Peril Facing Us," Address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington D.C., April 28, 1958. Vital Speeches of the Day, vol. xxiv, no. 15, 15 May 1958, 453.
155 W. W. Rostow, conversation with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1962.
156 John Prados, The Soviet Estimate: U.S. Intelligence Analysis & Soviet Strategic Forces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 74.
157 Joint Committee on Defense Production, Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age (The "Gaither Report" of 1957), 94th Cong., 2d sess., 1976, 25.
158 Prados, The Soviet Estimate, 80, quoting Joseph and Stewart Alsop, New York Herald-Tribune, 1 August 1958.
159 "Gaither Report," introduction, iii.
160 Bryan Hehir, The Uses of Force in the Post-Cold War World (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, August 1996), 3.
161 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Estimating the Size and Growth of the Soviet Economy: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, 101st Cong., 2d sess., 1990, 49.
162 Ibid., 33.
163 Central Intelligence Agency, National Foreign Assessment Center, Handbook of Economic Statistics, 1990, 38.
164 Dale W. Jorgenson, letter to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 18 March 1991.
165 While concluding that this failure of analysis was not unique to the intelligence community, Dr. Rowen also has noted at least four major areas in which the "CIA economic assessments differed markedly from those of observers outside the community," including the overall size of the Soviet economy; the economy's performance; the military burden/share of Soviet GDP; and what he terms the "costs of empire." Henry Rowen and Charles Wolf, Jr., "The CIA's Credibility," The National Interest (Winter 1995/96): 111-12 (letter to the editor responding to an article in the previous issue vindicating the CIA's analysis).
166 Stansfield Turner, "Intelligence for a New World Order," Foreign Affairs (Fall 1991): 162.
167 Anders Åslund, "The CIA vs. Soviet Reality," Washington Post, 19 May 1988, 25.
168 National polling data (from the Gallup Organization; Louis Harris and Associates; ABC News/Washing-ton Post; Time/CNN/Yankelovich; CBS News/New York Times; and Gallup/CNN/USA Today surveys) provided by the Assassination Records Review Board and on file at the Commission offices. Congress in 1992 established the Assassination Records Review Board to review all records related to the Kennedy assassination and make them available to the public (subject to narrow exemptions) as soon as possible. The efforts of the Board are likely to do a great deal to clarify the historical record concerning the assassina-tion and the activities of Oswald and others; it is far less likely that they will have much impact on future polls concerning the matter.
169 Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men, Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 239, citing Thomas C. Reeves, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (New York: Free Press, 1991), 217-18; Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 103.
170 Joseph S. Nye, Jr. and William A. Owens, "America's Information Edge," Foreign Affairs (March/April 1996): 20.
171 Ibid., 22.
172 Ibid., 27-28, 34.
173 When the Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the Treaty in 1992, I had the following exchange with Ambassador Ronald F. Lehman, then Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and Ambassador Linton F. Brooks, Chief START Negotiator and Acting Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Nuclear and Space Talks:

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, The START Treaty: Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, 102d Cong., 2d sess., 1992, 67-68.
174 Murray Feshbach and Stephen Rapawy, "Soviet Population and Manpower Trends and Policies," in Joint Economic Committee, Soviet Economy in a New Perspective, 94th Cong., 2d sess., 14 October 1976, 113.

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