CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The full retort from the U.S. spy agency's public affairs office is posted online at the CIA's Website. And it accuses author Tim Weiner -- whose new book "Legacy of Ashes" faults the CIA for decades of ineptitude -- of presenting a false history that focuses on failure and ignores successes. One of the biggest flops: Missing the collapse of the USSR.
Weiner has covered national security for The New York Times and his 702-page book quotes Henry Kissinger telling Chinese Communist Prime Minster Chou En-lai in 1971 that he had "vastly overestimated the competence of the CIA." Weiner's writing attempts to make a case that the agency's aura of being on top of world events was largely an illusion.
Ronald Reagan, the Republican president who gets credit for caging the Soviet Bear, might have found some of the language in the CIA's news release a bit quizzical if not downright disturbing. The agency says that it sensed as early as 1948 that the likelihood of war with the Soviets was nil. Reagan built a successful political career around the idea that the U.S. had to have superior forces, in numbers and technology, to keep the Russians at bay. He believed the USSR was a totalitarian state, the "evil empire" bent on expanding across the globe. He saw it as a malevolent society that was up to no good. The CIA now says it recognized "trouble signs" that the Soviet Union was shaky during the years Reagan was in office.
But Weiner , as Evan Thomas has written, sees the CIA as Charlie Brown trying to kick the football because it muffed one of the biggest socio-political events of the 20th Century. It failed to forecast the 1989 demise of the Marxist state ruled from Moscow, an event that ended the Cold War. The CIA's news release critical of Weiner tries to take issue with him on that point. But it reads like spin, and says the agency had been warning that the Soviets were growing weaker starting sometime in the 1970s. Here's the CIA angle:
"The book suggests that the CIA didn't predict the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a number of prominent outside observers have noted, the agency had warned of trouble signs in the Soviet Union on regular occasions since the 1970s."
Those "trouble signs" don't equate with collapse. Reagan certainly didn't think the Evil Empire was about to disappear while he was in office. He saw it trying to expand in Central America, Afghanistan and other global hotspots. In June 1982 he spoke to the British Parliament:
"Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent restraint and peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that it was the democracies who refused to use the threat of their nuclear monopoly in the forties and early fifties for territorial or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly been in the hands of the Communist world, the map of Europe -- indeed, the world -- would look very different today."