Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fact, Fiction and the CIA

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fact, Fiction and the CIA

Article excerpt

The CIA is defending the indefensible and failing to defend the defensible.

When Mary McGrory (in a column published March 15) criticized in passing "their most egregious and expensive blunder about the Soviet economy," the acting director, Adm. William O. Sturdeman, huffed: "The most objectionable piece of fiction is the canard that the intelligence community's analysis of the Soviet economy was wrong. . . . The facts have been on the public record for any journalist who cares to do her homework."

The homework-skipper is the admiral. In 1988, when the CIA made public its estimate that the Soviet gross national product was about half of ours and that less than 16 percent of the Soviet economy was devoted to arms production, academics like Harry Rowan, Charles Wolf, Anders Aslund and Richard Ericson took sharp issue.

I went to CIA Director Bill Webster's office armed with their opposing view: that the Soviet GNP figures were phony, that its economy was half its CIA-estimated size and that the portion going to arms was an unsustainable 30 percent, compared with 6 percent in the United States. That would mean Moscow was on the brink of economic meltdown.

The assembled CIA experts pooh-poohed this. When I suggested a "Team B" to challenge the CIA evaluation, Webster looked toward his deputy, Robert Gates, who scornfully said, "It's the same different view."

No independent assessment was permitted - might hurt community morale, you know - and the projections in Judy Sheldon's book "The Coming Soviet Crash" were brushed aside.

Result: The CIA failed to alert the president and Congress about the inexorable Soviet collapse. The present CIA director, wishing it all away, is in a curious state of institutional denial.

Now shift gears. After the fallout from the Aldrich Ames affair and the resignation of Director Jim Woolsey, the agency faces months of headlines about its support of the Guatemalan government - especially its payments to an informer within the government who has been "linked" by a Democratic congressman to the deaths of an American citizen and an insurgent leader. …

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