In other words, the absence of evidence became not only evidence that the Soviet weapons existed but that U.S. intelligence was too incompetent to find them. (Years later, it would become clear that the exotic weapons never existed, though the same tactic would be used by Wolfowitz and other hardliners in 2002-03 to sell the public on Iraq's non-existent WMD caches.)
Looking back, Team B's analysis of the Soviet Union as a rising power on the verge of overwhelming the United States is recognized by intelligence professionals and many historians as a ludicrous fantasy. Still, it distorted the national security debate in the late 1970s and drove Reagan's ascension to the top of the U.S. political system.
American right-wingers and neocons wielded the analysis like a club to bludgeon more moderate Republicans and Democrats who saw a declining Soviet threat. Team B also set the stage for a full-scale assault on the CIA's analytical division after Reagan won the presidency in 1980.
Purging the Analysts
As Reagan and his vice presidential running mate, George H.W. Bush, prepared to take office, right-wing hardliners wrote Reagan's transition team report on the intelligence community, suggesting that the CIA analytical division was not simply obtuse in its supposed failure to perceive the worsening Soviet threat, but treasonous.
"These failures are of such enormity," the transition team report said, "that they cannot help but suggest to any objective observer that the agency itself is compromised to an unprecedented extent and that its paralysis is attributable to causes more sinister than incompetence." [See Mark Perry's Eclipse.]
Even CIA official Robert Gates, an anti-Soviet hardliner himself, recognized the impact that the incoming administration's hostility had on the CIA analysts.
"That the Reaganites saw their arrival as a hostile takeover was apparent in the most extraordinary transition period of my career," Gates wrote in his memoirs, From the Shadows. "The reaction inside the Agency to this litany of failure and incompetence" from the transition team "was a mix of resentment and anger, dread and personal insecurity."
Amid rumors that the transition team wanted to purge several hundred top analysts, career officials feared for their jobs, especially those considered responsible for assessing the Soviet Union.
With Reagan in the White House, Team B's analysis became the basis for a massive U.S. military buildup. Hundreds of billions of dollars poured in to build weapons to close the supposed U.S. "window of vulnerability." The imminent danger of Soviet victory also justified U.S. support for brutal right-wing regimes in Central America and elsewhere.
Since Soviets were believed to be rapidly eclipsing the United States, it followed that even peasant uprisings against "death squad" regimes in El Salvador or Guatemala must be part of a larger Soviet strategy of world conquest, an assault on the "soft underbelly" of the U.S. southern border.
Any analysis of these civil wars as primarily local conflicts arising from long-standing social grievances was dismissed as fuzzy thinking or worse.
Nevertheless, early in the Reagan administration, CIA analysts mustered up the courage to challenge poorly supported charges against the Soviet Union, such as blaming Moscow for virtually all acts of international terrorism, including the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981.
The CIA Putsch
With William Casey, a fierce Cold Warrior installed as CIA director, the assault on the analytical division began in earnest. Casey put the analytical division under the control of his prote'ge', Gates, who installed a new bureaucracy within the DI, or Directorate of Intelligence, with his loyalists in key positions.
"The CIA's objectivity on the Soviet Union ended abruptly in 1981, when Casey became the DCI [director of central intelligence] -- and the first one to be a member of the president's Cabinet," wrote former CIA senior analyst Melvin A. Goodman. "Gates became Casey's deputy director for intelligence in 1982 and chaired the National Intelligence Council." [See Foreign Policy magazine, summer 1997.]
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