from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: The Missile Gap, Overclassification, and a Secret Panel

October 7, 2011

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

- Joan and John Bird, “Penetrating the Iron Curtain: Resolving the Missile Gap Through Technology,” CIA Historical Collections Edition, September 22, 2011.

“The “missile gap” was in essence a growing perception in the West, especially in the USA, that the Soviet Union was quickly developing an intercontinental range ballistic missile (ICBM) capability earlier, in greater numbers, and with far more capability than that of the United States.”

With the military branches and other military entities providing, exclusively, intelligence analysis on all aspects of the Soviet forces, including size, operations, and capabilities, it does not seem surprising the most egregious exaggerations of Soviet military strength emanated from the branch of service likely to benefit by an overblown enemy threat. The US Army and US Navy intelligence estimates of Soviet ICBM production were very conservative. In the National Intelligence Estimate NIE 11-8-60, Soviet Capabilities for Long-Range Attack, they estimated the Soviets would have only a few ICBMS by mid-1960 and about 50 by mid-1961. In the same estimate, the USAF confidently estimated the Soviets would have 35 by mid-1960 and about 200 by mid-1961. The CIA estimate fell between the two. However, as that NIE and the few following prior to September 1961 indicated, there clearly was little evidence to support any of those estimates other than a few flight tests of the first Soviet ICBM and some gross estimates of potential ICBM production capacity. All the estimates were of a larger force than existed."

- Jenna Jordan, “When Leaders Die, Terror Still Thrives,” The New York Times, October 4, 2011.

“Evidence shows that killing terrorist leaders — or “decapitating” terrorist organizations, in military parlance — rarely ends violence on its own and can actually have adverse consequences. Indeed, killing prominent leaders can motivate their followers to retaliate and increase sympathy for the militants’ cause among civilians.”

“For established terrorist organizations that are more than 20 years old, the likelihood that eliminating leaders will destroy the organization declines significantly. In fact, it becomes counterproductive as a group becomes more established.  Large groups can bounce back from the removal of leaders; this almost never cripples groups with more than 500 members. Also, religious and separatist groups are difficult to destabilize. In fact, religious groups that have lost their leaders are less likely to fall apart than those that have not.”

- By Elizabeth Goitein and David M. Shapiro, “Reducing Overclassification Through Accountability,” Brennan Center for Justice, October 5, 2011.

“The authority to classify documents exists to protect information that could threaten national security if it got into the wrong hands. It is one of the most important tools our government has to keep us safe. But many secrets ‘protected’ by the classification system pose no danger to the nation’s safety.”

“On the contrary, needless classification—‘overclassification’—jeopardizes national security. Excessive secrecy prevents federal agencies from sharing information internally, with other agencies, and with state and local law enforcement, making it more difficult to draw connections and anticipate threats. The 9/11 Commission found that the failure to share information contributed to intelligence gaps in the months before the September 11, 2001, attacks, cautioning that ‘[c]urrent security requirements nurture overclassification and excessive compartmentation of information among agencies.’”

- By Mark Hosenball, “Secret Panel Can Put Americans on ‘Kill List,’” Reuters, October 5, 2011.

“American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials. There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the pnael, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council.”

- The Nobel Peace Prize 2011, October 7, 2011.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”