In this the end decade of the twentieth century the Soviet State has imploded. We watch what was once the Soviet Union struggle to recover from the “harebrained” schemes N.S. Khrushchev, his disciple, Leonid Brezhnev, and their cohort visited upon the Soviet peoples. Discussions of war between the Soviet Union and the United States, once chilling, now seem quaint.
Stalin perceived Capitalism as Communism’s implacable adversary and spoke of the inevitable1 war between the two. While Khrushchev perceived Capitalism as evil, he repudiated the inevitability of general war while recognizing its possibility and chose to compete in different, less violent arenas. L. I. Brezhnev, although he may have dismissed Khrushchev the personality, did not disclaim the Communist paradigm of violence in the affairs of states. Now this is no more.
For most of the latter half of the twentieth century the Soviet Union loomed as a brooding presence over American political discourse. To some observers, the Soviet Union was less threatening, to others more, but to all a threat nevertheless. It was a state so obsessed and so successful with secrecy that it was impossible to perceive to what extent the threat against which the U.S. prepared so assiduously existed in reality or only in our fears.
This was no accident, as the Communists were wont to say. The flip side of the coin of secrecy is deception. Through the use of a formal deception program directed from the highest Soviet echelons, the Soviet State participated mightily, if covertly, in the US defense debate in the period 1959 to the mid-1980s. The Soviet leadership sought to guide the US defense debate in directions conducive to Soviet security. For twenty of those thirty years, the Soviet strategic deception program enjoyed success. But by the mid- 1970s, at the very pinnacle of its achievements, the deception plan unraveled. With President Reagan’s inauguration in 1980, enough of this program had been uncovered to call into question U.S. assumptions and put at disadvantage those who argued a benign interpretation of Soviet military objectives. When President Reagan submitted his first Defense budget, which called for a significant increase in defense appropriations, opposition was muted. Soviet adventurism in Ethiopia, Angola and Afghanistan was responsible in part, but to a significant extent, Soviet strategic arms deceptions, recently uncovered, called into question the very validity of US intelligence estimates. The worst now seemed possible. The Soviet Union may have had neither intention nor desire to initiate war with the United States; however their widespread use of deception undercut that assiduously cultivated perception.
This article examines the Soviet deception plan, “The Shelepin Plan,” its conception, implementation success and ultimate failure. It was a bold, even audacious attempt to apply both the experience of the Great Patriotic War, of which its main architects were recent graduates, and the latest post-war discoveries in the cognitive sciences, cybernetics and modeling to influence the decision making process of the “main enemy”, the United States. In the end, it failed. That the Soviet Union worked unremittingly to guide the American political process should, after a few moments reflection, surprise no one. For all of the twentieth century, the United States was either potentially or in real terms the most powerful economic and military entity on the face of the globe. This was clear in the 1940s to Winston Churchill and the British Foreign Office. This was clear to Josef Stalin and his successors. It is no less so in the 1990s as Japan, Korea, Israel and a host of others watch carefully the seemingly random American political process.
The Soviet Stratagem
In the United States, defense policy is formulated in a diffuse, multi-dimensional and often quarrelsome manner. The American public examined nuclear war and recoiled; ultimately It neither could nor would envision war beyond the nuclear divide. In the 1960s the US government imposed a ceiling upon its nuclear capability. It superscribed its war-fighting potential in accordance with the doctrine of “Assured Destruction”, expecting the Soviets to accept the same logic, resulting in Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). However the long US subscription to MAD was not the result of internal American dialogue alone. The Soviet Union participated in this discussion, although in its own manner and in ways not apparent to the American participants.
In 1959, with the publication of Seven Year USSR Defense Plan (1959-1965), The Soviet Union undertook a commitment not only to deter, but also to prevail in a thermonuclear war. This commitment, which ultimately contributed to nation’s fiscal ruin and spiritual collapse three decades later, started with authority and high hopes. The Soviet body politic, small, compact and like-minded, move determinedly to achieve a war-winning military capability.
The Soviet leadership was clearly aware that in the struggle to achieve superiority over ones likely enemies, success could be attained not only by building weapons of better quality and greater quantity, but also by influencing his opponent to build fewer weapons of lesser quality. In 1957-59 the Soviet Union could not afford both gums and butter. To the extent the Soviet Union could influence the United States to restrain its weapons procurement, so was it better positioned to achieve the objectives of the Seven-Year Defense Plan.
To this end The KGB developed a strategic deception plan, probably as an annex to the Seven-Year Defense plan. This 1959 Soviet deception annex to the Defense plan was undoubtedly keyed to a fundamental conflict in the American view of the international relations in the nuclear era. The American policy elite was divided between those who shared a spiral theory and those who favored deterrence theory as the dominant paradigms explaining and prescribing the course of nuclear arms competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. Those inclined to deterrence believed that the greatest danger arises if the aggressor believes the defender of the status quo lacks either power or resolve. The challenger will test the status quo power, and if the latter backs down, will push again. The dominant historical references are the events leading up to WWII.
Those inclined toward the spiral model suggest that the anarchy in international relations causes opponents to believe the worst and act accordingly. Thus in a world of more and more weapons and greater and greater fear, the tension will eventually and inevitably cause war. The dominant historical reference are the events leading to WWI. A second assumption normally followed this spiral; namely that any nuclear war would mean the end of any life on earth worth living. This image was powerfully and evocatively evoked in Western literature and film from Nevil Shute’s 1957 “On the Beach” to variations on nuclear winter in the mid-1980s.
The message the Soviet policy making elite shared through this period was similar is respects, but ultimately different. Certainly there was no lack of appreciation for the horrors of war. One could not observe the ceremonies marking the lifting of the sieges of Leningrad or Volgograd without appreciating the deep humanity and understanding of war’s incredible horror. But in the official writings, one simply did not find reference to nuclear war being the end of anything, save capitalism. The nation better prepared to wage war would emerge victorious, nuclear weapons or no nuclear weapons. “There is profound erroneousness and harm in the disorienting claims of bourgeois ideologies that there will be no victor in a thermonuclear world war,” a Soviet decision maker so bluntly and inelegantly stated it. N.S. Khrushchev could avow with feeling “that the living would envy the dead,” while he and his successors purchased with gusto the means to carry that day.
Deception in Soviet Foreign Affairs
Deception had been an integral part of the craft of Soviet foreign affairs since the state’s inception. Lenin is reported to have responded to CHEKA chief Felix Dzerzhinsky’s query as to the content of the first Soviet foreign deception in 1918 with “Tell them what they want to hear”. Dzerzhinsky ran the “Trust”, an intricate deception, against the anti-Bolshevik Russian emigre opposition for five years, utterly destroying it. The Bolshevik conspiratorial approach, a constant sense of crisis of survival and spectacular foreign policy and security successes ascribed to deception have endorsed deception as an effective foreign policy tool in the Soviet mind. J. Richards Heuer has noted that:
Even in the West, deception is recognized as a necessary and important activity under some circumstances, especially in wartime. It is, however, relegated to a game of wits between intelligence specialists or military commanders, so that diplomats and top civilian leaders may keep their hands clean. By contrast, in the Soviet Union as in most non-Western societies, deception is an integral part of national policy and strategy; the top leaders are the principal players. It is in this context that the Soviet really are the pro’s, and we are indeed , babes in the woods.7
The Deception Takes Form – The Seven-Year Plan
With the consolidation of Khrushchev’s rule in 1957, one could sense a great rolling up of sleeves. There was enthusiasm, lightly leavened by reality, for the Soviet Union’s potential. Khrushchev’s first major task was to reorganize an economy which was showing signs of slowing down. To jump start the Soviet economy, Soviet planners used the “proven” Stalinist8 economic planning structure, modifying its form to accommodate the seven-year planning cycle, but not its content, which projected ambitious goals in agriculture, industry, energy, consumer consumption and of course defense. Soviet historian Roy Medvedev summarized the new direction:
The main problems considered were those of the country’s economic development in the coming seven years. The control figures given in Khrushchev’s report were most impressive. It was proposed to increase gross industrial production by 80%, engineering production by 100 per cent, the output of electric power by by 120 percent and that of the chemical industry by 300 per cent… The share of oil and gas in the country’s fuel and power balance was to increase from 31 to 51 percent, and all branches of light industry were to expand , particularly consumer durables such as television sets, refrigerators, and washing machines. Real incomes of workers and collective farmers were to rise by 40 per cent. Fifteen million flats were to be built in the towns and 7 million houses in the villages.9
The economic plan was approved during the January 1959 Extraordinary Congress ( 27 January- 5 February 1959). It was a heady, exciting moment in the march of Communism. All too soon though the component annexes of the plan began failing,10 some sooner, others enduring to the end. Ultimately only the defense plan endured until the collapse of the Soviet State.
The Seven-Year Defense Plan
The Seven Year USSR Defense Plan (1959-1965) was the military annex to the overall USSR Seven Year Plan. According to the Seven Year Defense Plan, the USSR would prevail through a strategy of preemptive defense of the motherland; simultaneous nuclear-rocket strikes would be launched upon several hundred enemy command centers and nuclear-missile sites. With the enemy thus stripped of his nuclear arms, massive conventional formations would secure the peace by occupying the enemy’s territory.11 Based on their WWII experience, the Soviet planners conceptualized thermonuclear war and developed their strategy from this vision. Leonid I. Brezhnev, then a Secretary of the Central Committee, reportedly presided over this reformulation of defense strategy,12 and relied upon the advice of his commanding officer from World War II, Lt. Gen A. I. Gastilovich of the General Staff Academy. In 1958-59, according to a published history, Twenty Five Years of the General Staff Academy, work done at that institution led to a revolution in military strategy, with formal adoption of a program by the General Staff in 1959. Upon adoption of The Seven Year Defense Plan, Soviet planning procedures call for tasking of subordinate and lateral echelons to write implementing plans. The KGB was a lateral organization so tasked.
The Shelepin Deception Plan
The KGB, under newly appointed Chief A.N. Shelepin undertook to create a security plan which would defend the new military strategy from western countermeasures. Alexander N. Shelepin ushered in the modern era of Soviet deception. Through his friendship with Brezhnev and a series of well-received proposals on assigning the KGB a more active role in foreign affairs, Shelepin became KGB chairman in December 1958. At a conference of senior KGB officers in Moscow May 1959, Shelepin addressed the “new” political tasks assigned to the organization. Among the more important were (1) the identification of the United States as the “Main Enemy” (Glavny Protivnik); (2) the notion that Soviet bloc security and intelligence services would cooperate to influence international relations and KGB operatives among the Soviet intelligentsia would be directed against foreigners. Anatoly Golitsyn, an early Soviet intelligence operative who defected in 1961, was the original source on the conference and reported that a significant KGB task was as follows:
The Security and Intelligence services of the whole bloc were to be mobilized to influence international relations in directions required by the new long-range policy, and, in effect, to destabilize the “main enemies’ and weaken the alliances among them.
The newly established disinformation department was to work closely with all other relevant departments in the party and government apparatus throughout the country. To this end, all ministries of the Soviet Union and all first secretaries of republican and provincial party organizations were to be a acquainted with the new political tasks of the KGB to enable them to give support and help where needed. 13
Leonid I. Brezhnev-A Key Role
Leonid I. Brezhnev had a key role in guiding the formulation of military strategy incorporated in the Seven Year Defense Plan. He was also a skilled and practiced deception specialist. Reading Brezhnev’s collected works14 is like reading military officer effectiveness reports, i.e. mostly formula fiction. In stark contrast to this claptrap is Malaya Zemlya (How It Was ), a forceful personal narrative of his role World War II and the reconstruction, spoken like a man who had seen it15. Brezhnev was a political officer for the war’s duration. The political officer, since World War II to the recent past, was assigned responsibility for supervising the implementation of the unit deception plan. Brezhnev described with pride the deception operation supporting the liberation of Novorossiisk.
Everybody knows that once the enemy realizes what you are planning, the thing is half-doomed before the start. So our first concern was to maintain absolute secrecy. All correspondence about the forthcoming operations was categorically forbidden. As few people as possible were involved in the planning. We began a meticulous reconnaissance, along a broad front so as not to show our intentions. Special steps were taken to misinform the Germans; several cleverly executed projects convinced them that we were again going to attempt a landing near Yuzhnaya Ozereika.16
Colonel David Glantz’s 1989 book Soviet Military Deception in the Second World War17 provided unprecedented primary source material on Soviet WWII deception plans and personalities. The 18th Assault Army was assigned major, possibly main, deception responsibilities for the 1st Ukrainian Front Deception Plan. Colonel Brezhnev is mentioned by name in the 18th Army deception orders.
In the small tight world that was the Soviet leadership until the Gorbachev era, the special relationship between Leonid I Brezhnev and General Anton I. Gastilovich should be kept in mind. Leonid Brezhnev was assigned as the political officer to the 18th Assault Army in April 1943.18 In November 1944 General Gastilovich transfered from command of the 17th Infantry Corps, a component of the 18th Assault Army, to command the 18th Army through the end of the war (18 May 1945). Brezhnev appeared to be a man of intense loyalties, no more so that his WWII comrades-in-arms.
Brezhnev was a apt student of deception with skills honed in the harshest of environments. When the Central Committee assigned him the task of reformulating Soviet defense doctrine in 1957, he called upon General Gastilovich, whom he trusted not only as an effective general, but additionally as one appreciative of the efficacy of deception. Leonid I Brezhnev, a deception specialist, oversaw the design and implementation of Soviet military policy from 1957-1983. He chose as aides those with proven similar skills. What the students of Soviet deception in the modern, nuclear era miss is L.I. Brezhnev’s background as a skilled practitioner and true believer in the art and importance of deception.
Soviet Deception Organization
It is perhaps not surprising that the elaborate apparatus the Soviet state created to transmit and then track its deception message did not sooner come to the attention of Western intelligence and academia. Soviet information organs and techniques had at first glance strong similarities to Western government information agencies. Propaganda in the Moscow sense and “spin control” in Washington, D.C. seemed analogous. Secrecy did the rest. Only after a long series of defectors; Penkovski, Golitsyn, Sejna, Shevchenko, Levchenko and so on, repeated the same message, i.e., there were formal organizations headed by influential personnel in key positions to both control and manipulate the information flow to the United States did the deception infrastructure come slowly into focus.
Soviet Theory of Deception
Like the Eskimo and his one hundred words for snow, Soviet terminology concerning deception was rich, varied and creative. Within the Soviet Union, activities that Westerners may regard as strategic deception fall within the scope of three quite distinct programs, each conducted by different organizations: active measures; counterintelligence; and maskirovka. Active measures was the Soviet term for a form of political action aimed at foreign public opinion, political elites, and decision makers. Counterintelligence endeavored to neutralize the activity of foreign intelligence and security services. Maskirovka encompassed camouflage, cover and deception by the military.19 A 1960 KGB training manual defined strategic disinformation as follows: “Strategic disinformation is directed at misleading the enemy concerning the basic questions of state policy, the military-economic status and the scientific-technical achievements of the Soviet Union.20
Soviet writing on deception had both a practical and theoretical side. Soviet academic papers on associated topics under the aegis of the Academy of Science were world-class, if unread in the West. Modeling in social phenomenon received strong intellectual and financial support. Indeed Soviet theoretical work in modeling and later non-linear programming and bifurcation theory off developed independent of Western discoveries. Soviet modeling approaches examined the mechanics of decision making to determine to determine where the process could be influenced. One researcher, Vladimir Lefebvre (now living in the United States), articulated a concept of indirect control of an opponents actions, which he termed “reflexion”21 or “reflexive control”. Reflexive control is a Soviet elaboration that derived from Soviet interests in cybernetics in the late 1950s. He suggested a model where an opponent, using a completely rational decision process, can be guided indirectly through a controlled information flow:
In making his decision the adversary uses information about the area of conflict, about his own troops and ours, about their ability to fight, et cetera. We can influence his channels of information and send messages which shift the flow of information in a way favorable to us. The adversary uses the most contemporary method of optimization and finds the optimal decision. However, it will not be a true optimum, but a decision predetermined by us. …Thus, reflexive control means conveying to a partner or an opponent specially prepared information to incline him to voluntarily make the predetermined decision. 22
Another cyberneticist, M.N. Kadyrov in his 1984 “Mathematical Model of Relations Between Two Capitalist States,”23 described how one state would be able to modify the behavior of the leader of the opposing state (from hawk to dove behavior) by taking foreign policy initiatives which the opposing leader’s population interprets differently than their leader.
V.V. Druzhinin and D.S. Kontorov, two military writers who applied reflexive control to problems at the Political-military strategic level noted:
The inner world of ideas and concepts is a filter through which all external data pass. Reflection assumes studying the alien filter, inner world, perception, evaluation, and using its functional structure in one’s own interests, sometimes against the interests of the controlled system. It is necessary to change intentionally the stream of incoming information and transform it from cognitive to controlling24
Druzhinin and Kontorov noted the high skill levels required to carry out reflexive control. Outsmarting and outmaneuvering an enemy could also be costly for a commander’s own forces. Programs of deception and disinformation can easily produce confusion and loss of combat readiness in one’s own ranks. They noted that manipulating an enemy’s psychology can often distort and undermine the psychology of friendly forces. Changing an adversary’s images of your own forces cannot help by affect your own self image over time.25 It doesn’t appear that Kontorov and Druzhinin were aware of the larger context for their warning.
The Process of Deception
Deception is simple in concept though complex in execution. The initial target of a military deception is usually a state’s intelligence organization. The intelligence organization consists of those who monitor the channels, be they foreign newspapers, electronic intercept, photographic reconnaissance or enemy agents. The channel monitors evaluate and coordinate the information and pass it up echelon to senior intelligence officials who choose which reports to forward to the military and civilian decision makers, presumably the objects of the deceptive information. The deception however cannot continue unless the deceivers can evaluate the impact of the deceptive message on the deceived. The feedback channel is all-important if the deception is to succeed.
Soviet Access to US Intelligence Process
The US counterintelligence screen proved remarkably inept during the period 1959-1985. Based only on publicly available information, Soviet access to US Intelligence inner deliberations has been in depth, constant and detailed. National Security Agency cryptanalysts Mitchell and Martin defected to Moscow on June 25, 1960. Between December 1959 and February 1961 U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Whelan on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, transmitted information on “Atomic weaponry, missiles, military plans of the defense of Europe, (SAC) retaliatory plans and military intelligence reports. By mid 1960 a chauffeur and courier for the Assistant Director of the National Security Agency was selling documents to Soviet intelligence, apparently until his death in 1963. A communications operator assigned to HQW USAF Communications center compromised cryptosystems in the period 1965-66. Geoffrey Prime, a employee of the the NSA British equivalent GCHQ delivered Signals Intelligence documents from 1962 until the late 1970s. Perhaps the KGB piece de resistance, the Walker-Whitworth team was delivering cryptographic material to the Soviet Union from 1968-1978 with the clear implication that the material permitted breaking US communications systems without the need for further crypto material.26 Without going through the dozens of one-time, short-time and low level turncoats, the Soviet Union had in play from at least 1959 the structural equivalent to the U.S. and British WWII Double Cross System27. The Soviet Union could consistently send deceptive messages through a variety of channels and then evaluated their impact on American strategic thinking.
The Shelepin Plan Impact
That significant and influential individuals and organizations among the US Policy elite and professional intelligence community largely misinterpreted both Soviet strategic objectives in broad outline and capabilities in detail .in the period 1960 through the mid 1970s there can be no doubt. A representative spokesmen of this approach, George F. Kennan tirelessly argued that the Soviet Union, if handled with understanding, would be a responsible participant in world affairs. Kennan’s position, stated in a 1978 article, could very well serve the same purpose for the Council on Foreign Relations, under the auspices of which such individuals as Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Paul Warnke and similar argued that the Soviet Union was a conventional great power. George F. Kennan noted that Brezhnev and his cohort was
… an aging, highly experienced, and very steady leadership, itself not given to rash or adventuristic policies. It commands, and is deeply involved with, a structure of power, and particularly a higher bureaucracy, that would not easily lend itself to the implementation of policies of that nature. It faces serious internal problems which constitute its main preoccupation.
The most active external concerns of this leadership relate, today, to the challenge to its position within the world Communist movement now being mounted by the Chinese and others. It will consider itself fortunate if, in the face of this challenge, it succeeds in preserving its pre-eminence within the Communist sector of the world’s political spectrum, in avoiding a major war, which as it clearly recognizes, would be the ruin of everyone involved, itself include, and in ending its own days peacefully- its members going down in history as constructive leaders who contributed, much more than Stalin and at least as much as Khrushchev, to the advancement of the glory of the Soviet Union and the cause of world communism.28
It was an argument which fairly stated the outlook of an influential segment of elite American opinion. It was also pretty much wrong. The Soviet leadership, as if reading Kennan’s description of them as dim and dying old coots, launched within the year the invasion of Afghanistan, stepped up its adventurous and militaristic foreign policy in the Horn of Africa and middle Africa and accelerated several strategic weapons programs.
The US Intelligence Community
George F. Kennan based his conclusions on his own considerable experience with in Russia and substantive body of Intelligence community conclusions. In the period 1959-1976, The Central Intelligence Agency with consistency and coherence, incorrectly projected Soviet strategic weapons capabilities and numbers, conventional force growth and the budget allocated to purchase these forces. During the first decade and one-half of the Shelepin plan, CIA estimates were certain, decisive, and wrong.
It was not until the period 1974-76 were these perceptions challenged, ultimately successfully, by three outside observers.
In 1974 Albert Wohlstetter, using the annual presentations of two Secretaries of Defense of programs and budget to Congress, described a consistent and gross underestimation of Soviet strategic weapons production extending from the the missile gap 1957-1960 through that year 1974.29 The Secretaries of Defense, who presumably had motivation to overestimate predicted Soviet strategic weapon system construction rates, consistently under-estimated by a factor of two.
In 1976, John Collins, then of the Congressional Research Branch of the Library of Congress, produced a first net assessment of the relative Soviet vs. American strategic and conventional capabilities and documented an aggressive Soviet weapons acquisition program, which described disquieting trends in the ultimate Soviet military capabilities.30
Also in 1976 and working independently in the complex complex and arcane field of Soviet economic statistics, William T. Lee then at the Stanford Research Institute published an exception to the CIA’s conservative estimate of Soviet National Security Expenditures (NSE). He was able to argue, ultimately convincingly, from Soviet data31 that Soviet spending on defense since 1958 was clearly twice what CIA had estimated, imposed a tremendous burden on that society, but was a sacrifice the Soviet leadership for some reason was willing to make. William Lee’s argument was aided by the fact that CIA had shortly before, based on fortuitously provided classified data, doubled its estimate of Soviet NSE for 1970-1974. So although the “corrected” CIA data for 1970-74 was approximately correct, Lee developed a strong case that the methodology was hopelessly flawed and would never produce data relevant to estimating the comparative burdens of defense on the respective economies.
On a jocular note, Mr Lee noted he still encountered vigorous defense of the CIA estimates throughout the 1980s until Gorbachev and Politburo member Yegor Ligachev stated in May 1990 that the USSR has been spending 18-20 percent of the country’s national income (13-15 percent of gross national product.) on defense.32
These three analyses provided coherent argument to vague foreboding among certain of the American elite who had been suspicious not only of Soviet intentions but of American responses. It was on the basis of the these three analyses that the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), an organization of prominent business executives and other public figures responsible for overseeing the intelligence community on behalf of the Executive branch. In early 1975 PFIAB chairman Admiral George W. Anderson proposed a “competitive analysis” to President Nixon. but because of Watergate and CIA Director William Colby’s strong opposition, it died.33 In August 1975 he repeated the proposal to President Ford, who liked the idea and endorsed it to George B. Bush, the new Director of CIA. In 1976 two analytical teams, one made up of CIA personnel and a second composed of outside analysts under the overall leadership of Harvard professor Richard Pipes reexamined the relevant data. The results of the A Team/B Team competitive analysis, in retrospect, shifted the paradigm. The CIA conventional wisdom, that the Soviet Union sought only nuclear equality and accepted the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, intellectually discredited. The contrary concept, that the Soviet Union was seeking nuclear superiority, prevailed.34
Unaddressed, either then or in this paper, is the question of what the Soviet sought to do with this superiority. Events rapidly overtook the bureaucratic battle. It is sufficient for this article to say that by the summer of 1980 a new nuclear doctrine, formulated in Carter Administration Presidential Directive (PD 59) marked the U.S. shift to a nuclear war-fighting strategy
The Deception Broken
The question now arises as to what caused those grievous errors in intelligence judgement. Although the disastrous performance of the mainline intelligence organizations was apparent, the reason for the performance was not. The dominant assumptions were that through a combination of excellent Soviet security, poor American analysis, wishful thinking, and self-deception, the mainline intelligence organizations simply blew it. Depending on the commentator’s position along the political spectrum, one or the other reason received predominance. The possibility of conscious Soviet manipulation of US intelligence performance was considered far-fetched. 35
Concurrent with the Wohlstetter-Collins-Lee unclassified analyses, contrarian studies were filtering through the intelligence community. In the period 1976 through 1980, Dr. William R. Harris of Rand Corporation developed a compelling, though complex, technical argument that Soviet deception planners manipulated the telemetry data of the early Soviet Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the SS-5, SS-7 and the SS-9, which resulted in a significant underestimation of Soviet ICBM missile accuracy. In first classified channels, and subsequently unclassified forums, he was able to show that the Soviet Union was able to delay U.S. recognition of Minuteman I vulnerability by a decade and thus delay employment of US countermeasures by a similar period36. The Harris case was however difficult to master, requiring such a detailed, technical expertise that only the most ambitious intelligence analyst was able or willing to learn it.
Thus until 1981, the existence of a formal Soviet deception program whose objective was to manage American perceptions concerning the Soviet Strategic threat was unresolved. If you believed in the existence of such, then the intelligence construct was overwhelming; if you did not believe either in the existence or the possibility of Soviet deception, then the evidence was just a heap of disconnect facts and surmises. You either believed or did not believe that US intelligence could be manipulated over the long haul.
However in early 1981, a small group of analysts working outside the mainstream intelligence world detected a Soviet gigantic defense project which through a elegant program of denial and deception had gone undetected under the eyepieces of US satellite systems. Kenneth DeGraffenreid, the senior director of intelligence at the National Security Council from 1981-87, reported:
In early 1981, a small group of intelligence analysts working outside the mainstream was tasked with examining the meaning and implications of known Soviet deceptions and with searching through intelligence data in an attempt to locate and identify other likely deceptions,. In less than a year, these young analysts made a startling discovery: for forty years, the Soviets had had under way a vast program to ensure the survival of the national leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), even in the he event of full-scale nuclear war. This massive, multifaceted construction program, with its profound strategic implications – not to mention its direct relevance to the twenty-year debate over Soviet defense-had gone undetected by U.S. intelligence. Under the continuous monitoring of the multibillion dollar U.S. intelligence collection system, but before the uncomprehending eyes of U.S. analysts, the Soviets had constructed a series of extremely deep and hard underground bunkers, tunnels, secret subway lines, and other facilities beneath Moscow, other major Soviet cities and the sites of other major military commands to protect a sizable number of their top leadership. This deep underground program, which rivaled Soviet strategic offensive weapons program in the scale of construction and level of resource commitment, simply was missed by U.S. Intelligence because of an extremely effective Soviet denial and deception effort.37
Whereas the William Harris case was complex, though plausible through a reasoned argument, the above case was amply documented through satellite photography.38 Its impact on those in intelligence circles arguing against the reality of Soviet deception was devastating.
Two Paradigms and Two Nations: The Deterrence vs Spiral Models
In the pull and shove between the adherents of the deterrence and spiral models in the period 1976-1980, events favored the deterrence advocates, culminating in the Reagan presidential victory in 1980. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown’s laconic 1978 characterization of the arms race with ” When we build, they build; When we stop, they build” reflected a Carter administration sobered by the changed perspective, no longer admonishing about an “inordinate fear of the Soviet Union”.
Soviet deception planners could not have been totally dissatisfied when the Shelepin Deception Plan 1959 unraveled in the waning years of the 1970s. Sir John C. Masterman, the author of the classified history of the British program Double-Cross, felt the Abwehr was close to breaking the British stratagem in 1944, only five years after the British deception began.39 A strong case can be made that for twenty years, the Soviet Union was able to encourage in the minds of key US decision makers the spiral model of international relations and denigrate the deterrence model. Eventually, however Lenin’s original admonition, “Tell them what they want to hear,” could no longer bear the contradiction between the Soviet declaratory vice actual military strategy.
What Does It Mean?
To a great extent, the inability of key U.S. intelligence personnel to admit to the possibility of deception was unhelpful. Deception is a constant, if double-edged, menace for the policy maker. One may see deception where none exists and ignore the deception that threatens. However when you look at the bottom line, the performance of professional US intelligence was horrendous. Although the cold war has turned out badly for the Soviet Union, the Soviets were too close to achieving their original objective – to develop a war-winning capability over the “main enemy”. In these post cold-war years, as US intelligence reorients itself to a new world, there is something to be learned about doing intelligence in “non-Western” societies where deception is a natural and integral part of statecraft.
The original cohort of Russian deception planners, WWII veterans all, knew from bitter battlefield experience that stratagem was effective and was a natural tool that they reached for when Krushchev identified the United States as the “main enemy” with whom they would fight to the finish.
The original Soviet estimate of US vulnerability, i.e. a highly centralized intelligence apparatus – the CIA, was apt and conceptually simple. For all the alphabet soup of NSA’s, DIA’s, INR’s, FBI’s, there was in the beginning only one, the CIA, that wrote the end product. The Soviet Union rapidly developed and implemented a strategy to control this channel and manipulate the information to support their interests. Eventually the CIA monopoly on insight into Soviet Affairs evaporated. Academics developed arcane methodologies to estimate the actual state of the Soviet state. Ethonographer Helene Carrier d’Encausse, Demographer Murray Feshbach and the previously cited Economist William T. Lee in recreated Soviet reality with elegant and unforeseen methodologies. In the end the cacophonous and dissenting studies overwhelmed the impression the Soviet deception planner so assiduously perpetrated through intelligence channels.
Has the American problem with foreign deception plans now evaporated along with the Soviet Union? Does it remain only a problem subset of military operations like Desert Shield so spectacularly concluded?
A reporter once asked Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau why the Canadians paid such close attention to seemingly trivial political events in the United States. He replied that when you are sleeping next to an elephant, you are acutely conscious of its every gurgle and twitch. The United States has throughout the twentieth century commanded both the greatest real and greatest potential economic and military power of any nation on earth, and for that matter, any combination of nations on earth.
Has this condition passed with the passing of the Soviet Union? The temptation for foreign powers to attempt to manipulate American foreign policy formulation, in manners both foul and fair, are as existent this year and they were yesteryear. It is a rational act for a foreign county affected by American policy to attempt to affect that policy being made. We are not surprised when Saudi Arabia takes out a full page advertisement in the New York Times nor when the Government of Japan makes a representation to the Department of State. There exist however strategies of persuasion infinitely more sophisticated. It is curiously naive not to expect their use.
1. This does not mean that Stalin himself thought war between the Soviet Union and the United States inevitable. For a lucid discussion of Stalin’s actual objectives during the drafting and promulgation of NSC-68 (circa March 1949), when American fear of Soviet aggression was at its height, see William Taubman; Stalin’s American Policy – From Entente to Detente to Cold War. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 1982. Chapter 8. Taubman notes “…That the Soviet wanted not war but expanded power and influence without war is a proposition defended in this book.” p. 181.
2..N.S. Khrushchev, “Statement of the Meeting of the Representatives of the Communist and Workers’ Parties” November 1960 and “New Victories for the World Communist Movement,” World Marxist Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 1961, pp 3-28. In these two speeches, N.S. Khrushchev described Soviet opposition to nuclear war, support for wars of national liberation and underlined the eternal enmity between the two economic systems, Communism and Capitalism.
3. Robert S. Dudney, “A Bigger Defense Stick to Back Up Tough Talk,” U.S. News & World Report, Vo XC, No.10, (March 16, 1981) p. 24. The Pentagon budget for the 1982 fiscal year beginning in October (1981) would reach 222 billion dollars. Even that was only a first installment of a continuing build-up. The administration envisaged 1.5 trillion in defense spending over the next five years – some 200 billion more than planned by President Carter.
4. Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 62
5. N.V. Karabanov in N.V. Karabanov, et al., Filasofskoe nasledie V.I. Lenina i problemy sovremennoi voiny (The Philosophical Heritage of V.I. Lenin and the Problems of Contemporary War”) (Moscow, 1972), pp. 18-19, cited in Leon Goure’, Foy D. Kohler, and Moses L. Harvey, eds. The Role of Nuclear Forces in Current Soviet Strategy (1974), p. 60.
6. Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev. (New York: Harper Collins, 1990), pp. 97-106.
7 J. Richards Heuer, Jr., “Soviet Organization and Doctrine for Strategic Deception” in Soviet Strategic Deception, Brian D. Dailey and Patrick J. Parker, ed., (Lexington, Toronto: Hoover Institution Press 1987) Chap. 2, p. 26.
8 Arthur W. Wright, “Soviet Economic Planning and Performance,” in Stephan F. Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch and Robert Sharlet, The Soviet Union since Stalin, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 117.
9 Roy Medvedev, Khrushchev, Brian Pierce, trans. (Oxford, England; Basil Blackwell Publisher, 1982), p. 158.
10 Medvedev in Khrushchev, p. 161. In December 1959 the agenda of a regular Central Committee plenum provided for discussion of ‘the further development of agriculture’. Reports were given by the leaders of all the Union Republics. Khrushchev began his own report with a section headed ‘ What the example set by the working people of Ryazan oblast teaches us.’ The point was that just before the plenum opened the Ryazan leader had announced that his oblast had fulfilled all its obligations and had sold the state 150,000 tonnes of meat. They had even undertaken to increase the amount available for procurement to between 180,000 and 200,000 tonnes the next year….It turned out that the success of Ryazan oblast had been a deception. A considerable proportion of the breeding stock and many of the milch cows had been dispatched to meat-packing factories, and collective farmers had been obliged to purchase cattle from neighboring oblasts the following year. Many were ruined. The oblast could not hope to fulfill even its obligations under the Seven-Year Plan, let along more ambitious target. When he realized that his ruse had been uncovered, the First Secretary of the obkom, A. N. Larionov, shot himself.
11 Oleg Penkovski, The Penkovski Papers, Peter Deriabin, trans. (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc 1965) pp. 248-257. Penkovski passed the documents composing the “Special Collection” of the journal Military Thought, to the West. His hand-written summaries were published after he was executed. Their impact in the West was strongly ameliorated by two factors: First they were think pieces and it was unclear if they would be eventually translated into hardware; and second Soviet counterintelligence was able to strongly encourage the idea among Western journalist of all political persuasion that the Penkovski Papers were a CIA creation. The final word on Penkovski’s bona fides is Andrew and Gordievski’s 1990 “The KGB- The Inside Story.
12 V.D. Sokolovskiy, Soviet Military Strategy, Third Edition. Edited with commentary by Harriet Fast Scott. (New York: Crane, Russak & Company, Inc. 1975), p. 48. Originally published as Voyennaya Strategiya, (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1968).
13 Anatoliy Golitsyn, New Lies for Old: The Communist Strategy of Deception and Disinformation, (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1984) p. 49. The conference details have been collaborated in Andrew and Gordievsky book KGB: The Inside Story, p. 464.
14 The Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Leonid I. Brezhnev-Pages from his Life, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978).
15 One can never be certain, based on Soviet sources, of the truth. Soviet history books are flexible documents. In addition military and political leaders, East or West, often reminisce to settle old scores. Khrushchev seemed truly pained in Khrushchev Remembers to read Zhukov in his Remembrances downplaying the political leader’s exploits in the WWII Ukraine. Political officers often fare badly in WWII memoirs, though L.I. Brezhnev seems to have served honorably. He was also chosen to march in the Moscow Victory parade in the composite regiment of the 4th Ukrainian front and was mentioned favorably once in Zhukov’s memoirs, although they were published in 1968, well after Brezhnev removed Khrushchev from power.
16 L.I. Brezhnev, How it Was. (New York: Pergammon Press, 1979), p 32.
17 David M. Glantz, Soviet Military Deception in the Second World War, (London: Frank Cass and Company limited, 1989).
18 L.I. Brezhnev, How it Was, (New York: Pergammon Press, 1979), p.3.
19 Andrew and Gordievsky, P. 5.
20 Deputy Director for Operations, CIA “Soviet Covert Actions and Propaganda (16 February 1980). Reprinted with editing as Soviet Covert Action (The Forgery Offensive), (Wash, D.C.: Government Printing Office (Washington, D.C.: 1982) p. 39.
21 Websters Ninth New Collegiate dictionary defines reflexion as … A mechanism used to regulate or guide the operation of a machine, apparatus or system(3.b.)
22 Lefebvre, Vladimir A, And Victoria D., Reflexive Control: The Soviet concept of Influencing an Adversary’s Decision making Process, (Denver, CO: Science Applications, Inc.:1984), p. 9.
23 M. N. Kadyrov, “Matematicheskaya Model’ otnosheniy mezhdu dvymya gosudarstvame, ” in Protsessy global’nogo razvitiya: Modelirovaniye i analiz : (Processes of Global Development: Modeling and Analysis) (Moscow: All-Union Scientific Institute for Systems Research (VNIISI) Sbornik trudov , 1984) pp. 87-99.
24 V.V. Druzhinin and D.S Kontorov,Voprosy voyennoi sistemotekhniki (Problems of Military Systems Analysis) (Moskva: Voyenizdat, 1976), p. 193.
25 I am indebted to Selden Biggs and his paper ‘Control and Soviet Military Decision Making.’ unpublished Department of Defense Intelligence document prepared for Directorate for Research, Defense Intelligence Agency, July 5, 1985 for his insights into Soviet forecasting, modeling and indirect control.
26 John Barron, Breaking the Ring, (New York: Houghton – Mifflin Company, 1987), p. 210 noted that during one meeting between John Walker and his handler,”the KGB officer stated that although the Soviets suddenly could not break the KWR-37 system, “with all the other systems, there is no problem.”Further analysts concluded that walker and Whitworth had endowed the Soviets with such insights into the concepts as well as the practical workings of American cipher systems that they probably were able to break some without the key. This meant that even though the Soviets no longer were receiving key material, they still might be able to read messages transmitted through compromised systems.”
27 Through a combination of turning every German agent in Great Britain and reading German codes via ULTRA, British intelligence was able to control German understanding of the Allied order of battle and influence key German military decisions – indirectly. See Sir John C. Masterman, The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939 to 1945. New Haven, Ct: Yale University Press, 1972. and Michael Howard, British Intelligence in the Second World War, Vol 5, Strategic Deception (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
28 George F. Kennan, The Nuclear Delusion. Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age , (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), pp. 100-101.
29 Albert Wohlstetter, “Underestimating Soviet Missiles: Legends of the Strategic Arms Race ,”Strategic Review 75-1, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Strategic Institute, 1975), p. 15. Wohlstetter points out that “after the brief period of the “missile gap,” a theory of regular overestimation grew with the fact of underestimating the size of future Soviet offensive forces. In annual presentations of programs and budgets to Congress by two Defense Secretaries, fifty-one predictions go beyond the observable to include expected changes in offense deployments that had not yet been visibly started. In forty-nine out fifty-one cases the eventual Soviet deployment exceeded the mid-range of the Secretaries’ estimates. In forty-two of the fifty-one, it exceeded the Secretaries’ high. Moreover, the underestimates were substantial. If one considers not the cumulative deployments predicted, but the expected change from what had already been observed, the difference between the reality and the estimates was very large indeed. The actual increase in missiles was, on the average, double the expected number or more.”
30 John Collins, United States/Soviet Military Balance: A Frame of Reference for Congress< (94th Congress US GPO, 1976) p. 86.
31 William T. Lee, The Estimation of Soviet Defense Expenditures, 1955-1975:An Unconventional Approach, (New York: Praeger Publishers,1977), pp. 134-135. He notes that “In sum, the conventional wisdom of the CIA and SRI estimates has been, first, that Soviet NSE in 1970 was approximately the sum of the reported “Defense” and “Science” appropriations in the USSR State budget–some 21 to 24 billion rubles. In 1975, Soviet NSE would amount to 22 to 28 billion by these methodologies. Second, it has been held that the share of NSE in Soviet GNP declined more or less steadily from 11 percent in 1955 to about 6.5 percent in 1970, and to 4 to 6 percent currently. In terms of the Soviet measure of national income (NMP)(Net Material Product), NSE accounted for roughly 15+ percent in 1955, and is now down to 6 to 8 percent. Third NSE claimed about 6 to 9 billion rubles or only about 20 percent of total Soviet durables output in 1970. Currently, the share would be down to 8 to 14 percent. Finally, the CIA argued that because the share of GNP devoted to NSE is small and has been declining, because the institutional rigidity of the Soviet system prohibits rapid and substantial shifts of resources from one use to another, and because any such transfer from military to civilian products and services would only accentuate the declining trend in the ratio of output to inputs, the burden of NSE on the economy is light. Hence, little if any, improvement in economic performance would result form reducing further the share of GNP devoted to NSE. Indeed, economic growth might be adversely affected by such a transfer.
32 Soviet Military Power 1990, (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1990) p. 43.
33 In the summer of 1976, the PFIAB had fourteen members. These were William O, Baker of Bell Telephone Laboratories, and John S. Foster, Jr. to TRW, Robert W. Galvin of Motorola, and Edwin H, Land of Polaroid. retired Admiral George W. Anderson (former Chief of Naval Operations) and general Lyman L. Lemnitzer and Edward Teller. The remaining seven were John B. Connelly (former governor of Texas), Gordon Gray (one-time Secretary of the Army), Clare Booth Luce (writer), Robert D. Murphy (retired diplomat), George P. Schultz (then ex-secretary of treasury and eventual Secretary of State in the Reagan administration) and Edward Benet Williams (prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer). Leo Cherne, Director of Freedom House, directed the group.
34Richard Pipes, “Team B: The Reality behind the Myth,” Commentary, Vol 82, no. 4 (October 1986), pp. 25-40.
35 Admiral Donald Harvey, then former Director of Naval Intelligence, in a representative reaction to a 1980 briefing on the Soviet deception apparatus, commented.”…. I probably could be categorized as belonging to the Roberta Wohlstetter school of thought, which, if I understand that very splendid lady correctly, is that the United States, not uniquely but specially has a capability of self-deception far exceeding the capability of others to deceive us. ” Quoted in Godson, Roy (ed), Intelligence Requirements for the 1980s – Counterintelligence, (New Brunswick, New Jersey; National Strategy Information Centers, 1980), p. 83.
36 William R. Harris, “The Effectiveness of U.S. Counterintelligence and Its Congressional Oversight under the national Intelligence Act of 1980,” Testimony, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, April 2, 1980. See also his “Counterintelligence Jurisdiction and the Double cross System by National Technical Means” in Godson, Roy (ed), Intelligence Requirements for the 1980s – Counterintelligence, pp. 56-76.
37 Kenneth L. DeGraffenried, “The Art of Deception,” Global Affairs. Vol. IV, No.4, (Fall 1989): 168-170.
38 Soviet Military Power-1988, pp. 59-62.
39 Sir John C. Masterman, pp 186-189.